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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 24.02.2022
Government climate advisers say cut fossil fuels to lower energy bills

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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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News.

UK: Government climate advisers say cut fossil fuels to lower energy bills
BBC News Read Article

Many UK publications cover the new assessment from the government’s official climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), of plans to extract more fossil fuels in the North Sea. BBC News reports that amid rising household bills and uncertainty due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the CCC says the best way to help address high energy prices is to stop using fossil fuels rather than drill for more of them. According to the news website, the advisers also conclude that new North Sea projects would, in some cases, not deliver gas until 2050, the date by which the UK should have cut out nearly all gas from its power supply, according to its net-zero strategy. According to the Independent, the CCC warns those “advocating a new oil and gas bonanza in the UK” – presumably referring to the grouping of right-leaning climate-sceptic MPs and media commentators using the energy crisis to push back against the UK’s net-zero target – that high oil and gas prices are driven by global markets, and the best way to cut exposure to volatile prices is to reduce demand for fossil fuels, through measures such as home insulation and renewable power expansion. As the Financial Times notes in its coverage, the prime minister Boris Johnson “is being lobbied by some of his own MPs to step up North Sea production, to reduce the country’s reliance on imports”. New Scientist states that the CCC has also added that completely ending new UK oil and gas production is “credible” and would send a clear signal that the nation is serious about its climate goals. In its advice, laid out in a letter to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, the CCC says there should be a “presumption against exploration”, but stops short of telling the government to cease approving new fields due to impacts in areas such as energy security and jobs that are beyond the committee’s remit, the outlet continues. The Times leads on the fact that the advisers have “left the door open” for the government to approve more North Sea oil and gas drilling. The newspaper notes that the advice from the CCC comes as the government faces pressure from campaigners to stop offering exploration licences, and consults on its “climate compatibility checkpoint”. The Guardian captures the CCC’s message with the headline: “North Sea oil exploration should not proceed but can, says UK’s climate committee.” Meanwhile, the Sun (not yet online) leads its coverage by stating that the CCC says a string of new licences is “possible” and would not “break green goals”.

Meanwhile, discussions in the UK continue about the interaction between the energy crisis and the nation’s net-zero goal. The Independent reports that Treasury chief secretary Simon Clarke has told the all-party parliamentary group on the environment that it would be “positively irrational” to scale back the UK’s net-zero strategy, as a small cluster of Conservative backbench MPs have been calling for. Clarke noted that “it is economically rational for us to make this transition…it’s actually helping to mitigate those high costs” and reducing the UK’s reliance on gas, the website notes. The Sun says that Clarke “came out swinging against swathes of MPs who want to dump the PM’s green plans amid huge fears about spiralling costs”. It also adds that, according to Clarke, the chancellor Rishi Sunak will not raise taxes to pay for net-zero. According to the Daily Telegraph, Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, has told MPs that the net-zero transition will be rejected by the public unless the government is honest about costs and the public regards it as fair.

White House imposes sanctions on Nord Stream 2 pipeline company and CEO
Politico Read Article

US president Joe Biden has hit the Russian company that built the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany with sanctions, the day after Germany decided to suspend approval of the pipeline’s certification following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Politico reports. The $11bn pipeline, which would double gas deliveries from Russia to Germany, was awaiting a permit to start operations, the piece notes. According to an administration official speaking to Politico, the US State Department had worked behind the scenes to convince Germany to announce it would suspend the approval. The sanctions target Nord Stream 2 AG, a registered Swiss firm whose parent company is the Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, and its German chief executive Matthias Warnig, according to Reuters. The newswire notes that the US and the EU worry that “Europe’s most divisive energy project” will increase the continent’s dependence on Russian gas supplies and deny transit fees to Ukraine, which is host to another Russian gas pipeline. According to MailOnline, Biden said in a statement that “through his actions, president Putin has provided the world with an overwhelming incentive to move away from Russian gas and to other forms of energy”. In a separate Politico article, Yuriy Vitrenko, chief executive of Ukraine’s national gas company, tells the website that the EU should penalise Gazprom for antitrust abuses and shift its energy investments away from Russia. Another Reuters piece on Thursday morning states that oil prices have surged – with Brent crude breaching $100 a barrel for the first time since 2014 – as Russia launched further attacks on Ukraine.

After the announcement earlier in the week, Reuters reports that a German government spokesperson said the government’s decision on Nord Stream 2 certification would take more than a few weeks. The spokesperson also noted that the country had been building up its renewable energy capacity and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals to secure its own gas supplies, the piece continues. Meanwhile, a further Reuters story reports that Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan has gone to Moscow to push for the construction of a long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline to be built in collaboration with Russia.

Climate fears on back burner as fuel costs soar and Russia crisis deepens
The New York Times Read Article

Debate around the “critically important” transition to renewables has “taken a back seat to energy security” amid the conflict in Ukraine, due to Russia’s status as a key energy supplier to many nations in Europe and beyond, the New York Times reports. It states that a renewed focus by governments on energy independence may encourage policymakers to backslide on efforts to cut fossil fuels out of their economies. It quotes Ian Goldin, a professor of globalisation and development at the University of Oxford, who says that high energy prices could lead to governments deprioritising renewables, “which would be exactly the wrong response”. Reuters notes that Russia supplies Europe with around 40% of its gas, and reports on comments from Italy’s energy transition minister Roberto Cingolan that rising tension over Ukraine has accelerated the need for structural changes to Europe’s energy markets, including areas like gas storage. The piece adds that Italy has introduced a series of longer-term measures to tackle price rises, such as findings ways to accelerate the rollout of renewable power. Another Reuters piece reports that Japan and Australia are prepared to tap their oil reserves, together with other member nations of the International Energy Agency (IEA), if global supplies are impacted by the conflict in Ukraine.

In the US, Politico says Republicans are pinning high energy prices on Democrat president Joe Biden and his climate policies, despite a “steady increases in oil production since he took office” and forecasts that US gas production will reach record highs this year. In fact, the piece notes that Biden has few options available to avoid rising energy prices, with moves such as suspending the federal gasoline tax facing major hurdles in Congress. Officials have told Reuters that the Biden administration is not expected to target Russia’s oil sector with sanctions due to concerns about inflation and the harm it could do to its European allies.

A piece in BusinessGreen asks whether soaring gas prices could help drive a solution to the huge amounts of methane leaking from fossil fuel infrastructure. Finally, an interactive article in Reuters explores soaring gas flaring in Mexico, which the article says is “derailing its climate change pledges as it seeks to boost oil output”.

US holds biggest ever offshore wind sale along New York and New Jersey coastline
The Independent Read Article

Nearly half a million acres have been put up for sale along the New York and New Jersey coastline in the largest ever offshore wind sale to take place in the US, the Independent reports. It adds that developers were bidding on six areas of the shallow waters in an area called the New York Bight, between Long Island and New Jersey – the most areas ever offered in a single auction. Reuters noted that with bidding still underway on Wednesday afternoon, live bids for the six leases were set to “easily” top the $405m US offshore wind auction record set in 2018. A later Reuters article confirms that the auction attracted a record $1.5bn in bids on Wednesday, with bidding set to continue on Thursday. The newswire adds that this is the first offshore wind lease sale under president Joe Biden, who has made expansion of offshore wind “a cornerstone of his strategy to address global warming and decarbonise the US electricity grid by 2035”. It is also a “major step forward” for offshore wind in the nation, which until this point has lagged European nations in developing the technology. Bloomberg reports that these wind farms have the potential to generate between 5.6 gigawatts (GW) and 7GW of zero-emission electricity, enough to power around 2m homes. The escalating size of the auction has been driven by “pent-up demand for limited territory to build offshore wind farms and a clamour of state-level commitments”, noting that New York and New Jersey both having wind power goals for 2035, of 9GW and 7.5GW respectively.

In the UK, the Press Association reports that Keith Anderson, CEO of ScottishPower, has warned that the nation is at risk of falling behind in the race to be a world leader in renewable energy unless it speeds up its planning and regulatory systems. Finally, the Times reports that the UK’s capacity to store electricity in giant batteries is set to double after dozens of new projects won contracts through a government scheme.

China's coal miners pile up record $111bn in profit
Caixin Read Article

China’s coal-mining sector saw its profits double in 2021 to 702.3bn yuan ($111bn), Caixin – an independent Chinese financial publication – reports. Citing figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the outlet says that the “surging earnings” came as “the nation’s pandemic recovery ramped up demand for the pollution-emitting fuel source”. It also made coal mining “the third-most profitable sector tracked by the bureau, behind electronics and communication-equipment makers and chemical products manufacturers”, the website says.

Meanwhile, the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times reports that the country’s top economic planner has launched an investigation on the coal futures market after “certain types of thermal coal futures registered an abnormal price fluctuation”. The publication says that the prices of thermal coal futures had “fluctuated intensely in recent months”.

Separately, the South China Morning Post reports that China’s cement makers face “significant challenges” in adopting the technology “they need” to capture their carbon dioxide emissions. The newspaper cites the president of Canada-based Delta CleanTech. It describes the firm as “a technology supplier to industry leader China National Building Materials Group”. Another South China Morning Post article discusses a new five-year plan drafted by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the National Energy Administration (NEA) which spells out Chinese government plans to cut the cost of energy storage systems by 2025 and become a world leader in the technology by 2030.

Finally, new analysis by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) in Finland and US think tank Global Energy Monitor (GEM) finds that China started building 33 gigawatts (GW) of new coal capacity last year, the most since 2016, in “a sign the country is falling back on fossil fuels as economic worries mount”, Reuters reports.

Facebook fails to label posts from prolific climate change deniers, study finds
The i newspaper Read Article

A new study concludes that Facebook has failed to label half of posts from high-profile climate sceptic accounts, despite launching a section designed to educate users about such issues and counter false claims, the i newspaper reports. The article notes that the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) assessed 184 articles from publishers known for climate change scepticism which had received more than one million likes, comments and shares on the social network. In total, 93 of the most popular posts linked with the articles did not carry “informational labels” about climate change, while 91 did, including just one fact-checking label, the article continues. The Independent notes that all of these posts had been published since May 2021, when Facebook announced that it would begin using such labels to direct users to its climate science information centre. Vice adds that the articles sampled came from the “Toxic Ten”, a list of ten publishers “that account for up to 69% of Facebook interactions with climate denial”.

Estimating CO2 emissions for 108,000 European cities
Earth System Science Data Read Article

New research provides a CO2 emissions database for more than 100,000 cities across Europe. Using “spatially disaggregated” nationally reported emissions data, the results are provided per administrative jurisdiction at multiple administrative levels. The researchers have also created an interactive map of the data.

Comment.

How a little-discussed revision of climate science could help avert doom
Mark Hertsgaard, Saleemul Huq and Michael E. Mann, The Washington Post Read Article

A trio of climate experts have authored an opinion piece in the Washington Post explaining how changes in scientists understanding of climate science have big potential implications for the future. “For many years, the scientific rule of thumb was that a sizeable amount of temperature rise was locked into the Earth’s climate system,” they write, noting that this would mean that even if emissions were stopped overnight global temperatures would continue rising for 30 to 40 more years. “But guided by subsequent research, scientists dramatically revised that lag time estimate down to as little as three to five years. That is an enormous difference that carries paradigm-shifting and broadly hopeful implications for how people, especially young people, think and feel about the climate emergency and how societies can respond to it,” they continue. To reiterate, they state that if humanity cuts emissions to zero “global temperatures will stop rising almost immediately”. They note that as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prepares to release its new report, the fact remains that keeping temperature rise as close as possible to 1.5C will ensure better outcomes. “The best climate science most people have never heard of says that goal remains within reach. The question is whether enough of us will act on that knowledge in time,” they conclude. (See Carbon Brief’s article on this topic published last year: “Explainer: Will global warming ‘stop’ as soon as net-zero emissions are reached?”)

To Tory MPs seeking to derail the green agenda, I say watch out – we’re coming for you
Gemma Rogers, The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian has a piece by Gemma Rogers, an occupational therapist who is also a member of “Steve Baker Watch”, an organisation set up in the Conservative MP’s constituency of Wycombe in response to his activities with the “net-zero scrutiny group” of climate-sceptic Tory politicians, which opposes climate action by the government. “Steve Baker and the group of MPs and peers who make up the [group] are risking not only my future but that of my children. That may sound over-dramatic, but it’s what I firmly believe to be true – and it’s why I have set my heart on making Baker either change his climate stance or change his job of MP for Wycombe,” she writes. Rogers explains how she and other constituents pushed for Baker to take action on environmental issues, but were disappointed when they learned of his links to climate-sceptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which has recently attempted to rebrand itself as Net Zero Watch. “Baker only has a 4,000-vote majority. Although he has a majority-remain constituency, he was a chief advocate of the leave campaign. He can’t keep going against so many of his constituents’ views and interests and keep his seat,” says Rogers, issuing a warning to MPs “who are lethargic on the environmental issue” to “change your mind or change your job”.

Writing in the Times, the Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the foreign affairs committee, argues that “Europe needs to be more competitive in the race to decarbonise”. He adds: “What might it look like if governments were to frame climate change as a race to capitalise on soaring demand for low-carbon industries, part of a competition for the prize of global climate leadership?…Renewable technologies will become the next frontier of economic competition. Without a more competitive approach in Europe, we risk ceding the gains of the next century of growth industries to China. Decarbonisation will be just as much a story of competition as cooperation.”

Separately, an editorial in the Scotsman says: “We are currently facing three major crises: climate change, Russian military aggression, and sharp rises in the cost of living driven by soaring fuel prices…However, there is one thing we can do that would help deal with all three: massively expand our supplies of renewable energy.” It concludes: “In 2013, then prime minister David Cameron’s answer to rising energy bills was to “get rid of the green crap”. According to the award-winning Carbon Brief website, total UK energy bills are now about £2.5bn higher than they would have been if those ‘crap’ policies had been retained. It’s time to see that as the historic mistake it was.”

Science.

Emergent constraints on future precipitation changes
Nature Read Article

A new study uses “emergent constraints” – statistical relationships between aspects of the observable current climate and future change in model simulations – to refine projections of global average precipitation change. The results come from the fifth and sixth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP), in which precipitation change for 2051–2100 “is well correlated with the global mean temperature trends during recent decades after 1980 when global anthropogenic aerosol emissions were nearly constant”. The findings reduce the upper bound of precipitation change for 2051-2100 (relative to pre-industrial levels, as a percentage of the 1980-2014 average) from 6.2% to 5.2-5.7% under a medium emissions scenario.

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