Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Global demand for coal could hit all-time high in 2022
- EU leaders quit without compromise on energy price hikes
- US: Joe Manchin rejects Democratic plan to ban New drilling in Atlantic and Pacific
- Goldman Sachs expects oil demand to hit record levels in 2022, 2023
- Google pledged to remove ads from climate denial sites, but many still run
- Five WWF Pakistan staff monitoring forest protection die in car crash
- A just transition to net-zero requires us all to play our part
- Ecosystem fluxes during drought and recovery in an experimental forest
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that coal power is on track to hit a new global record this year after an economic rebound that could drive worldwide coal demand to an all-time high in 2022, reports the Guardian. The IEA’s report says that the amount of electricity generated from coal power plants has increased by 9% this year after a surge in fossil fuel demand to fuel the recovery from Covid lockdowns, the paper explains, noting that “the global gas supply crunch…has also helped reignite demand for coal”. It continues: “The agency found that global demand for coal, including cement and steel making, rose by 6% overall this year. Although the total falls short of record levels of demand for the fuel in 2013 and 2014, the IEA warned that without a policy intervention that high could be surpassed next year.” The Financial Times reports the comments of Fatih Birol, the IEA executive director, who said: “Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions, and this year’s historically high level of coal power generation is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net-zero.“ Reuters notes that China “is expected to see a 9% year-on-year increase in 2021”, while generation in India “is forecast to grow 12% this year”.
In a Twitter thread unpacking the report, Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans notes that while the report is forecasting increases in coal use in China and India, it is also expecting “ongoing declines” in the US and EU.
The EU leaders’ summit ended early this morning “with a failure to agree on common language on energy issues, forcing the topic to be dropped from the Council conclusions”, reports Politico. The outlet describes “two key differences” behind the failure. The first was that “the Czech and Polish delegations reportedly pressed for an exemption from the ETS – blaming the soaring price of permits for the bloc-wide jump in power prices, a contention that many experts reject”. And the second was “an upcoming effort to include nuclear in the EU’s taxonomy of sustainable investments”, the outlet explains, “with pro-nuclear countries pushing for the issue to be mentioned in the conclusions, something rejected by anti-nuclear Germany, Austria and Luxembourg”. Although several draft revisions of the energy conclusions circulated, “in the end the effort failed and resulted in a rare abandonment of conclusions for an item on the summit’s agenda”, Politico says.
Reuters reports the comments of European Council president Charles Michel, who said: “We have realised that there were divergent opinions around the table and we were unable to reach agreement on the conclusions presented.” French president Emmanuel Macron said France and Germany would continue discussions in the coming days to find a compromise on whether the EU should label nuclear and gas as green investments, reports another Reuters article. It adds: “France wants to be able to attract green finance to fund the construction of new nuclear power plants in France, while Germany is phasing out nuclear and keen on switching to gas.” Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer said on his arrival that “we are against a greenwashing of nuclear energy…We have allies, among them Luxembourg, but of course also powerful opponents who are supporters of nuclear energy”, a third Reuters article says. And a fourth notes that Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that his country “very strongly supports the possibility of financing investments in gas and in nuclear power”.
The Financial Times focuses on the disagreements around the ETS, reporting that “European member states led by France and including Spain, Poland, Hungary, Latvia and the Czech Republic objected to the European Commission’s assertion that there were no irregularities in the EU carbon market, as they come under pressure over the cost of energy”. With the ETS carbon price “surg[ing] to more than €90 per tonne of CO2 last week…EU diplomats told the FT that a number of leaders demanded the Commission carry out more rigorous scrutiny of the price dynamics in the cap-and-trade system that covers carbon emissions. Some suggested direct political intervention in the market”. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told EU leaders the ETS was taking “money from the poor to give to the rich”, the paper reports, while “French president Emmanuel Macron and Czech prime minister Andrej Babis also challenged the EC’s assessment that there was little evidence of market speculation”. Bloomberg adds that “German chancellor Olaf Scholz told leaders the price of €90 per metric tonne of CO2 was hard and that €60 sounded more reasonable, but noted that it might be difficult to maintain that price as the broader system changes”. A report by the European Securities and Markets Authority last month “dismissed concerns over abuse in emissions trading, saying the surge in prices was driven by economic and political factors”, the newswire notes.
In other news, Bloomberg reports that “Europe could face a grim winter as nuclear outages in France put the continent’s energy market near a breaking point, raising the risk of rolling blackouts in the coldest months of the year”. It adds: “Electricite de France SA is halting reactors accounting for 10% of the nation’s nuclear capacity, worsening Europe’s energy shortages and leaving the continent at the mercy of the weather at the height of winter in January and February. Even before the outages, a shortage of natural gas had already forced Europe to rely on burning coal to keep the lights on.” Reuters reports that “British and European wholesale gas prices closed at record highs on Thursday after data indicated Russian gas exports to Germany through the major Yamal pipeline were not expected” today. And the newswire also reports that German energy regulator’s “eagerly-awaited decision” on fully certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline “won’t come in the first half of next year”.
A provision to ban new offshore drilling off the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts permanently has been stripped from a $2.2tn climate change and social spending bill after objections from Democrat senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, reports the New York Times. According to “two people with knowledge of the latest draft of the bill”, the paper says that “Manchin has also raised concerns about a provision that would cancel drilling leases and block future oil and gas extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”, although that remained in the draft legislation as of yesterday. In addition to “being a priority for Democrats”, the offshore drilling ban “also drew some support from coastal Republicans concerned about the potential for oil spills to damage their tourism and fishing industries”, the paper says. The Washington Post says that Manchin’s objection to the proposal “comes amid a broader rift between the influential senator and top Democrats over President Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which party leaders had hoped to pass by the end of the year. Despite months of negotiations and Democrats’ attempts to shrink the bill’s size to win Manchin’s vote, he has withheld his support and a long list of disagreements remain”. CNN reports that “another person familiar with negotiations stressed that negotiations on the committee’s provisions are ongoing”. Biden “appeared to acknowledge that his Build Back Better spending bill may not pass Congress…this year”, reports Reuters, saying in a statement that Democrats would seek to advance the legislation “over the days and weeks ahead”. Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell writes that while the clean energy and climate initiatives in the bill are “not perfect”, they are “nonetheless an improvement over the status quo”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “record-breaking winds tore through the US on Wednesday and early Thursday, causing the highest number of hurricane-force gusts in a single 24-hour period since at least 2004”. According to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Centre, more than 61 gusts of above 75 miles per hour (121 km per hour) were recorded across a number of mostly Midwestern states, the newswire says. Meteorologist Matt Elliot, who coordinates weather warnings for the centre, described it as “certainly an unprecedented event”. The Independent says more than 80 million people were affected by weather alerts during the 24-hour period, with 300 individual weather warnings issued. At least five people died, reports the Guardian, as the “extremely unusual storm system” swept across the Great Plains and Midwest “amid unseasonably warm temperatures, spawning hurricane-force winds and possible tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota”. The Hill also has the story, while Reuters notes that the dry and warm conditions “threaten yield prospects for winter wheat in the US Plains bread basket…as global supplies of milling wheat are tightening”.
Goldman Sachs expects average global oil demand to hit record levels in the next two years “on the back of rising demand for aviation and transport, as well as infrastructure construction”, Reuters reports. The bank said it sees steady growth in global oil demand until the end of this decade to about 106m barrels per day (bpd), as it expects only a gradual energy transition, the newswire explains. Damien Courvalin, Goldman’s head of energy research, told reporters: “You’ve already had record-high demand right before this latest variant and you’re adding higher jet demand and the global economy is still growing…You’ll see how we will average a new record high in demand in 2022, and again, in 2023.” At the same time, the Goldman Sachs Group has announced new targets for cutting the emissions of its customers, Reuters reports: “The bank said it would initially focus on oil and gas, power and auto manufacturing, aiming to reduce emissions in those high-emissions sectors by 2030. Starting with a baseline of 2019 levels, it said it would help oil and gas clients reduce emissions by 17%-22%, power by 48%-65% and autos by 49%-54%.”
In other oil news, a Reuters “exclusive’ reports that Exxon Mobil is preparing to bid today “for new blocks in Brazil’s deep-water oil fields, a focus area for its oil and gas production growth”. The newswire notes that “any bid would mark its first big investment since it decided to resume spending after a historic, $22.4bn annual loss in 2020”. The Financial Times speaks to Dutch climate litigator Roger Cox, who says he expects an “avalanche of cases against the fossil fuel industry and related industries like the car industry”. Cox secured a win against Shell in May when a judge in The Hague ordered the company to cut its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, the paper notes. The Independent reports on a “last gasp bid” to stop Shell using seismic surveys in the Wild Coast of South Africa – “a fragile ecosystem that is a vital whale breeding ground”.
Reuters reports that Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry said yesterday that it would not allow oil tankers to enter its Red Sea resort of Eilat as planned under a deal with partners from the United Arab Emirates to transport crude from the Gulf to Europe via Israel. The announcement “could lead to the cancellation of the deal, one of the biggest to emerge from the normalisation of ties between Israel and the UAE last year”, the outlet says. The Financial Times Energy Source column reports on new analysis by Verisk Maplecroft and Wood Mackenzie that suggests “600bn barrels of oil and gas, or approximately 40% of recoverable reserves, face high risk of disruptions because of climate change”. Finally, the Guardian reports that Sir David King – the UK’s former chief scientific adviser – has called for the Science Museum to end any deals with big oil corporations unless the companies meet strict environmental criteria.
Despite announcing ahead of COP26 that it would stop placing ads on sites that deny the scientific consensus on climate change, Google’s policy has “had limited effect so far”, reports the New York Times. The paper continues: “The Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit group based in London, said on Thursday that it had counted at least 50 new climate denial articles on 14 different sites, all published after 9 November, when Google’s new policy was to have taken effect. An earlier report by the centre’s researchers found that 10 of the most prominent publishers of climate denial content had received nearly 1.1bn visits in the six months before the climate conference.” The paper notes that “as of Wednesday, ads placed by Google were still running on scores of articles, including ones on major right-wing sites like Breitbart, that falsely called global warming a hoax and described the United Nations climate conference last month as ‘a gigantic eco-fascist gaslighting operation’.” Michael Aciman, a spokesperson for Google, said the company had reviewed the pages in question and had taken “appropriate enforcement actions”, the paper says – and confirms the adverts have been removed. The findings “underscore how Google has struggled to rein in even blatant examples of climate denialism”, the paper says.
Five WWF employees have died in a car accident in Pakistan while on their way to monitor a forest protection scheme, reports Climate Home News. The outlet continues: “The forestry experts died when their vehicle plunged into a deep ravine in Galiyat range in the early hours of Wednesday. They were travelling to Nathiagali, a town nestled among mountains and thick forests in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in northwest Pakistan.” A spokesperson for WWF Pakistan told the outlet that the organisation had been “deeply affected by this tragic incident”. They added: “We have lost young and passionate environmentalists and a senior forester who had been associated with the organisation for years. For many of us, this loss is deeply personal. We are still struggling to come to terms with the sudden loss of these precious lives and our thoughts are with their families.”
Writing in the Thunderer column of the Scottish edition of the Times, Prof Jim Skea – chair of the Just Transition Commission and co-chair of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – says that Scotland is “not a country that likes to shrink from a challenge” and that a just transition to net-zero is a “truly national mission”. Demolishing the chimney stack of Scotland’s last coal-fired power station, Longannet, last week was “a symbol of the transition under way to make Scotland a net-zero country”, Skea writes: “Scotland has a nice story to tell about our approach to climate change. We’ve talked the talk and it’s time to deliver. Obviously that must mean tough choices, hard work and careful evidence-based planning.” He continues: “Many of those whose livelihoods were bound to heavy industry, like those who worked at Longannet or dug the coal it burnt, know the enduring harms of big changes that never had fairness at their heart, where the transition from one way of living and working was simply decided on high with little thought for the communities affected.” There is “no doubt that climate action can bring multiple benefits, including quality green jobs and better social inclusion”, says Skea, “but history shows that for these benefits to be realised, we must plan and take decisive action”. So, he writes, “how exactly do we deliver big changes in a just way? How should they be paid for? And how do we urge people to pay their fair share? We all need to do our bit to make this a national endeavour rather than just leaving it to government.”
A new study shows that a forest’s response to drought is dependent, in part, on the water-use “strategies” and relative locations of the plants that make up the ecosystem. Researchers impose an artificial drought on an enclosed, experimental tropical rainforest ecosystem and analyse a wide range of metrics such as soil water content, carbon dioxide uptake and leaf respiration. They find that the relative importance of drought-resistant species in cycling carbon and water through the ecosystem increases under severe drought conditions. The researchers also note that increased emissions of volatile organic compounds under drought stress may promote the formation of aerosols, “representing a feedback that could favour rain and help relieve some of the forest’s drought stress”.
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