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Daily Briefing

18.10.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Government to fund new nuclear power station as part of net-zero drive
Government to fund new nuclear power station as part of net-zero drive

News.

UK: Government to fund new nuclear power station as part of net-zero drive
The Daily Telegraph Read Article

Many UK newspaper preview the government’s long-delayed net-zero strategy which is expected to be published this week. The Daily Telegraph says in an “exclusive” that “funding for a new nuclear power plant will be announced before the 2024 election, the government will vow this week as it reveals plans to lower carbon emissions”. It continues: “The Telegraph understands a promise to agree financing for the new plant during the current parliament will be included in the government’s long-awaited net-zero strategy. The document, said to be more than 150 pages long, will detail how Boris Johnson plans to hit his pledge to bring the UK’s carbon emissions down to ‘net-zero’ by the year 2050. It will cover everything from shifting away from polluting cars to adopting greener heating in homes and precedes next month’s COP26. According to government insiders, the front-runner site to win the funding is Sizewell C, a nuclear power plant being proposed by EDF Energy for Suffolk.” The Financial Times says: “UK ministers will put nuclear power at the heart of Britain’s strategy to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in government documents expected as early as next week, alongside fresh details of its funding model.” Additionally, the Guardian says “the government is poised to approve funding for a fleet of Rolls-Royce mini nuclear reactors”. It continues: “A consortium led by the British engineering firm had already secured £210m in backing from private investors for the small modular reactor (SMR) project, a sum that the government is expected to match or better. Confirmation is expected before the spending review on 27 October, according to well-placed sources.” [The funding would go towards developing manufacturing capacity rather than the plants themselves, with Rolls-Royce having previously said the first reactor would cost £2bn.]

PoliticsHome says in an “exclusive” that “sector-specific carbon emission reduction targets for the year 2035 – which will be announced by the government in its net-zero strategy this week – are set to be far more ambitious for the power sector than others, including transport and heat and buildings”. It adds: “Energy sector sources have told PoliticsHome the following reductions for 2035 are expected to be announced: Power: 80-85% reduction in carbon emissions; Natural resources, waste and fluorinated gases: 39-51% reduction; Fuel supply and hydrogen: 53-60% reduction; Transport: 47-59% reduction; Industry: 63-76% reduction; Heat and buildings: 47-62% reduction.”

Several newspapers focus on what the Sun describes as a “fresh rift” between Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak over “splurging billions for green funds”. It adds: “Leaked documents revealed to businesses that the chancellor’s team has warned taxes may have to rise under the PM’s net-zero plans. Treasury officials are said to have accused the PM of ‘economic illiteracy’.” The Mail on Sunday has more details, saying: “When combined with the billions of pounds that the prime minister plans to spend on infrastructure projects and green policies, some Treasury officials fear that Britain could see its credit rating on the international markets downgraded. One source said the UK could ‘end up as the Venezuela of Europe’ – a reference to the South American country’s struggle to pay off a mountain of foreign debt. The source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The mandarins at the Treasury think Boris can only think in the short term and is effectively economically illiterate.’” The Observer also says it has seen leaked “confidential documents” which show that “the Treasury is warning of serious economic damage to the UK economy and future tax rises if the UK overspends on, or misdirects, green investment”. It adds: “Green experts said the ‘half-baked’ and ‘one-sided’ Treasury net-zero review presented only the costs of action on emissions, rather than the benefits, such as green jobs, lower energy bills and avoiding the disastrous impact of global heating. They said the review could be ‘weaponised’ by climate-change deniers around the world before COP26, undermining Johnson’s attempts at climate leadership on the global stage…A source at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed that the Treasury was ‘kicking back’ against many of the green plans being advanced by No 10 and [business secretary Kwasi] Kwarteng. ‘They are not climate change deniers but they are emphasising the short-term risks, rather than long-term needs, which is what we are emphasising.’” The Financial Times says “Rishi Sunak is considering a cut to the 5% rate of value added tax on household energy bills, in a move which would allow Boris Johnson to deliver a supposed ‘Brexit dividend’ and help families through a tough winter”. (Several newspapers, including the Times, note new weather forecasts for a cold winter in the UK. The Daily Telegraph says that “energy bosses are vying to bring two mothballed gas-fired power stations back into action as power prices soar”.)

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail says that “plans to introduce road pricing have been shelved amid fears the idea could kill off demand for electric vehicles”. It adds: “The Treasury has been examining proposals for the introduction of road pricing to replace the £30bn in lost fuel duty that will result from a move to electric vehicles. But Whitehall sources told the Daily Mail that the idea has been dropped. ‘Road pricing is not happening,’ said one source. ‘There is an issue around revenues that will have to be addressed in the future. But there are no active discussions around it at the moment.’” The Times reports: “Road pricing is also not expected to feature in a string of announcements planned for next week on the government’s net-zero strategy in the run-up to [COP26] However, government figures said it was a ‘conversation’ that needed to be had with the public…Polling from the Social Market Foundation thinktank that has been shared with the government suggests there is support for road pricing. When presented as a replacement for road and fuel duties, 39% of people backed the idea, with 26% against it.” The Sunday Times says that a new policy due to be announced this week will require carmakers to “meet annual targets in Britain, with fines for those who fail to move swiftly to phase out fossil fuels”. [The idea of a “zero emissions mandate” for carmakers, to drive the uptake of electric vehicles, has been proposed by the government’s Climate Change Committee.]

In other UK policy news, the Times reports that “ministers will pledge to bring down the cost of a heat pump to that of a new gas boiler by the end of the decade, as part of efforts to decarbonise home heating”. It continues: “The promise is expected to be included in the government’s heat and buildings strategy to be published by ministers on Monday. It will set out the government’s plans to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. Ministers will also pledge to invest £60m in heat pump innovation to help to make them smaller and easier to install. The cost of an installed heat pump is about £10,000, but Kwasi Kwarteng, the business and energy secretary, will set out the ambition to reduce this to £5,000 within three years.” An analysis piece in the Sunday Times says “£5,000 grants will sweeten the deal, but heat pump replacements are expensive and difficult to install”.

Finally, the Financial Times says “ambitious UK government targets to decarbonise construction are unlikely to be met because of labour and funding shortages, industry bodies have warned”. The Sunday Telegraph reports that “net-zero investors [are looking] to cash in on the countryside…[because] companies seeking to offset emissions and soaring timber prices are boosting the value of Britain’s farmland and forests”. And Bloomberg says the UK government’s “greening finance” plan, which could be published this week, means the UK “could become the first country to require private companies to show in detail how they will reach net-zero targets as part of a new green investment strategy”. (See Comment below for more on the UK’s net-zero policies.)

US: Key to Biden's climate agenda likely to be cut because of Manchin
The New York Times Read Article

There is widespread coverage in the US of the threat to Joe Biden’s climate agenda due to the stubborn opposition of a Democrat Senator who holds a pivotal vote. The New York Times says: “The most powerful part of President Biden’s climate agenda – a program to rapidly replace the nation’s coal- and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy – will likely be dropped from the massive budget bill pending in Congress, according to congressional staffers and lobbyists familiar with the matter. Senator Joe Manchin III, the Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia whose vote is crucial to passage of the bill, has told the White House that he strongly opposes the clean electricity program, according to three of those people. As a result, White House staffers are now rewriting the legislation without that climate provision, and are trying to cobble together a mix of other policies that could also cut emissions…At least four people in Washington close to the negotiations called the clean electricity program ‘dead’.” The Financial Times says that the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) in the bill “risks being gutted in the final stretch of negotiations on Biden’s economic agenda because of Manchin’s opposition, alarming many Democrats and climate experts…Senior Biden administration officials on Sunday played down Manchin’s opposition. ‘The administration and the president are committed to bold climate action, exactly what legislative form that takes is what’s being negotiated right now,’ said Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, on CNN. ‘The bottom line is we have to act on climate, for the good of our children and, by the way, for the good of our economy.’” The FT adds: “One person familiar with the negotiations said the CEPP measure was not necessarily off the table, and that the White House had not made any decisions about looking at other options. The Biden administration has been open to adjusting the plan to satisfy Manchin’s concerns. This could include allowing natural gas and coal producers to qualify for the incentives as long as they employed carbon capture technology. But it is unclear that this would be a sufficient compromise.” The New York Times highlights that Manchin’s own state, West Virginia, is “more exposed to worsening floods than anywhere else in the country”.

Another New York Times article says that “some House and Senate Democrats, smarting from a move by [Manchin to] kill a major element of President Biden’s climate plan, are switching to Plan B: a tax on carbon dioxide pollution”. In the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes: “There are two different ways to achieve [Biden’s climate goals]: the Clean Electricity Program, which incentivises utilities to increase the amount of zero-carbon power that they generate each year, or a carbon tax, which levies a fee on each tonne of greenhouse-gas pollution released into the atmosphere. If Congress can pass either of these policies, then Biden’s climate agenda will succeed, and the world will have a much better shot of avoiding the worst ravages of climate change by the middle of the century. If not, then Biden’s climate agenda will fall short.”

Russia offers to ease gas crisis as Vladimir Putin goes cold on COP26
The Times Read Article

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has not yet decided whether to attend the COP26 climate conference which starts in a fortnight, reports the Times. This is according to Russia’s UK ambassador who has provided the “latest downbeat assessment of the event”, according to the newspaper. It adds: “Russia has offered to ‘rescue’ Britain from high gas prices and said that it was in no hurry to reach net-zero…Asked on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show whether Russia should aim for net-zero faster than 2060, Andrei Kelin said: ‘We are not very much in a hurry, we do not want to jump. We do not believe that putting artificial goals and not very much calculated goals will help.’”

In other COP26 news, the Guardian says that “companies that stumped up millions of pounds to sponsor the COP26 climate summit have condemned it as ‘mismanaged’ and ‘very last minute’ in a volley of complaints”. It continues: “The sponsors, which include some of Britain’s biggest companies, have raised formal complaints blaming ‘very inexperienced’ civil servants for delayed decisions, poor communication and a breakdown in relations between the organisers and firms in the run-up to the landmark talks.” Meanwhile, the Independent says that “scores of the most respected climate scientists in the world have called on Boris Johnson to bring an end to new oil and gas development in the UK ahead of the COP26 climate summit”. Reuters says that former US president Barack Obama will travel to COP26 “where he will meet with youth activists and address the threat of climate change”. Climate Home News asks: “Once a vital feature of climate talks, has the huddle had its day?” And Reuters has a short explainer on the “sticking points” at COP26. BBC News has a Q&A on the summit.

The Times carries analysis under the headline: “Boris Johnson has heavy lifting ahead if COP26is to succeed.” It lists who is – and who is not – going to COP26. “With little over two weeks until the meeting starts, there are fears in the government that Johnson may have set the bar too high.” Tom Bawden in the i newspaper says that “success is far from guaranteed at the summit…That said, given how much is at stake, it is still possible that world leaders might just manage it.” Bloomberg says: “Boris Johnson has said his priorities at COP26 will be ending coal power and raising climate cash. Two weeks out from the start of negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland, the signs aren’t looking good.” The Sunday Times has a feature which says that “coal fires up an unlikely comeback ahead of COP26”. And the Observer focuses on China’s use of coal: “China, coal and COP26: can the world’s biggest emitter give up its dirty habit?”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that “a potential new SPD-lead German government wants to abandon coal as a power source eight years earlier than planned, a move that would be a big win for the planet but a challenge for a country already struggling with energy supplies”. And Reuters reports that “the junior partner in Australia’s coalition government said on Monday it would not be rushed into a decision on whether to support a target of net-zero emissions by 2050”. The newswire adds: “[Prime minister Scott] Morrison last week said he would attend [COP26], where he was expected to present world leaders…with Australia’s updated climate ambitions of net-zero by 2050. Morrison had sought the agreement of the National party, the government’s coalition partner, but its leader Barnaby Joyce said rural-focused lawmakers were unable to agree during a four-hour meeting on Sunday.” The Sydney Morning Herald says that “Joyce has downplayed the prospect of making deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in a blow to calls for greater Australian action on climate change”.

India set to update 2030 climate targets under Paris Agreement
The Economic Times Read Article

The Economic Times reports that India “is considering announcing its updated NDC [nationally determined contribution] at Glasgow”. According to a senior government official, this is likely to be “as part of the prime minister’s intervention at the leaders’ summit at COP26”. India’s updated climate pledge “could include a commitment to reduce emissions intensity by at least 46-48%…and increase the share of non-fossil fuel sources in its energy generation capacity to at least 60%, with the possibility of raising it to 66% by 2030”. The publication reports that the Indian government is discussing including “sub-goals for targets” “that would reflect climate actions [already] being undertaken in critical sectors”. However, it adds that many, “including the environment ministry, are against providing anything but topline targets”, as “sub-goals represent domestic policy”.

Meanwhile, AFP reports that “at least 25 people have died in landslides and floods triggered by heavy rains” in the south-western Indian state of Kerala. The floods have “brought back memories of the devastating August floods of 2018 and 2019”, but are unusual for mid-October, reports the News Minute. “Kerala has already received 84% of its share of what should have been the northeast monsoon”, even as the south-west monsoon “has not fully retreated”. It says meteorologists attribute the event to “a low-pressure area formed in the Arabian Sea…where both monsoons converged”, pointing to “anthropological reasons​​” for the rise of more tropical cyclones in the Arabian Sea.

Comment.

The Times view on road pricing: Hard yards
Editorial, The Times Read Article

An editorial in the Times laments the lack of leadership from Boris Johnson in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit. “Perhaps that will change [this] week when we are promised finally a raft of policies, including the overdue heat and buildings strategy,” it says, adding: “In the meantime, what we continue to get is an endless series of policy balloons floated to test public reaction.” The latest such balloon, it notes, is a plan under discussion to introduce road charging in order to make up for the £30bn a year in fuel duties that will be lost by the government in the switch to electric vehicles. “The government’s reticence on road pricing is hard to fathom,” the editorial notes, given evidence of public support for the policy. “In this, as in every other aspect of the country’s transition to clean energy, the government needs to lead,” it concludes.

Separately, a comment piece by Sunday Times columnist Charlotte Ivers reflects on the emergence of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, a group of [mostly anonymous] Conservative MPs that has been formed to challenge the government’s attempts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. While the prime minister has a large majority in parliament “it is mutiny among his own troops he will need to worry about,” she states. A comment piece in the Observer by chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley also criticises Johnson’s leadership on climate change and asks whether the UK has done enough to set the stage for COP26. If the event is not a success, questions will be asked about whether the UK used its “convening power” as the host effectively and maximised the use of its international influence, Rawnsley writes. “Johnson has poor relations with other European leaders, a cool one with the US president and a distant one with the leaders of China and India. That made it more, not less imperative, that he put in the hard yards of international diplomacy to try to make a success of this summit,” he says. Political editor Stephen Bush in the New Statesman says that the reported absence of Chinese president Xi Jinping could make it easier for internal opponents of the UK net-zero target, who argue based on the “supposed impossibility of getting China to commit to a sufficiently radical target”.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ineos chair and founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe says that hydrogen is the “dream fuel”, adding that “UK authorities have yet to get out of the blocks but hopefully soon will”. (Ineos has today announced plans to invest billions in hydrogen in Europe.) Meanwhile, Daily Telegraph columnist Juliet Samuel writes that ministers are “handing Britain’s electric car production to China,” citing a £400m investment in a Sunderland “gigafactory” that will make batteries for electric vehicles, which “is in fact controlled by a Chinese company called Envision”. In another Daily Telegraph article, industry editor Alan Tovey writes about the benefits of tidal power. “The tide is a reliable, predictable source of natural power – and one that the UK is ideally placed to harvest,” he says. A Times article by Sir Robert Watson, a former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), calls on the royal family to take a lead on the environment by rewilding their estates. “Announcing a plan to rewild now would be an act of truly global leadership on COP26’s trickiest missing piece: the need to treat biodiversity and climate as the same crisis,” he says. Elsewhere, a piece in the Sunday Times by climate-sceptic columnist Dominic Lawson criticises “royal lectures” from Prince Charles and the Queen on the topic of climate change.

Finally, Observer columnist Nick Cohen writes about the Insulate Britain protests which have been blocking roads in recent weeks. Cohen says that while their tactics have been “terrible”, their message should not be dismissed. “They might have said we live in a country that pays exorbitant prices and rents for substandard housing…Yet such was the incompetence of Insulate Britain, it turned a campaign to help everyone staring at their fuel bills in terror this winter into an elitist cause,” he says.

World energy watchdog guides us to a painless net-zero
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Sunday Telegraph Read Article

The International Energy Agency’s latest World Energy Outlook, published last week (see Carbon Brief’s coverage), has “systematically struck down every economic and social objection to net-zero”, writes international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Daily Telegraph. He continues: “​​For two decades the IEA was aligned with the fossil industry, apt to treat renewables and electric cars in its World Energy Outlook as a romantic niche interest. This year the data tables begin with supply figures for solar, wind, bioenergy, and so forth. The lines for oil, gas, and coal are relegated to the bottom. Those of us who follow the annual report as the catechism of the energy markets can only gasp with astonishment.” Evans-Pritchard concludes: “You could say that the IEA had to fall into line after the election of Joe Biden on a green deal platform. The agency is the servant of the rich consuming nations and they are signed up to net zero. But that only goes to underscore the larger point: the whole Western power structure has mobilised to force breakneck decarbonisation, and via the IEA it has at last come up with precise ways to achieve it. Resistance is becoming futile.”

Meanwhile, a Washington Post editorial continues the paper’s campaign for a US carbon tax, under the headline: “Why the US refusal to tax carbon creates a windfall for Saudi Arabia and Russia.” The paper argues that there are “two big risks in the world’s impending transition to a low-carbon energy future”, with the first being a failure to prevent “climate debacle” and the second being “that it unintentionally enriches and empowers the world’s autocratic regimes”. This second risk arises, the paper says, because the world still currently depends “overwhelmingly” on fossil fuels. It continues: “Demand for crude oil, in particular, is slated to rise along with population and economic growth well into the 2030s, according to the most likely scenario in the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2021.” [The IEA does not attach likelihoods to its scenarios and this sentence mischaracterises the trajectory of oil in the “stated policies scenario”, where it grows slowly to 2030 and then plateaus.] This is a risk, according to the editorial, because: “When the United States and other Western countries discourage oil production on their territory, and by their private-sector companies, in favour of climate-friendly alternatives, they create an opportunity for state-owned oil companies in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela to grab market share.” It concludes: “The solution is not to give up on a greener future, but to pursue it in a balanced way, reducing not just supply but demand – in the short run, and in a way that affects all producers, foreign and domestic, private and state-owned, equally. That calls for a broad-based tax – preferably on all sources of carbon emissions but certainly on gas, diesel and jet fuel.”

Separately, an editorial in the Sunday Times is titled: “COP26 can survive in Xi’s absence, but there’s hard work ahead.” Reflecting on the news that China’s president Xi Jinping is not expected to leave the country for the first time in nearly two years to attend the upcoming climate summit, the paper says: “It is possible to take a charitable view of Xi’s likely absence…If so, that is reassuring. It is also the case, however, that the diplomatic effort in the run-up to COP26 has been somewhat confused…Alok Sharma, the COP26 president, has worked tirelessly but could have benefited from more focused support from within government…Let’s hope momentum picks up in the final stretch.

Science.

Ocean warming threatens southern right whale population recovery
Science Advances Read Article

As the climate warms, southern right whales living in the Southern Ocean (SO) are less likely to survive El Niño events, according to new research. The authors model how southern right whales respond to changes in the frequency and intensity of El Niño, using a data series of individual whales photographed over 1971-2017. They find that El Niño events are likely to impede the whales’ population recovery – and could even cause population decline. “Such outcomes have the potential to disrupt food-web interactions in the SO, weakening that ecosystem’s contribution to the mitigation of climate change at a global scale,” the study concludes.

Climate change research and the search for solutions: rethinking interdisciplinarity
Climatic Change Read Article

A new paper argues that “interdisciplinarity” within climate change research “needs to be rethought”. To find solutions for climate change, the authors say that researchers need to “draw on interdisciplinary knowledge that marries natural sciences with social sciences and humanities”. However, they add that most interdisciplinary approaches “fail to adequately merge the framings of the disparate disciplines”. The essay concludes: “For different knowledge systems to work better together toward climate solutions, we need to reframe the way questions are asked and research pursued, in order to inform action without slipping into reductionism.”

THE BRIEF

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THE BRIEF

Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.