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Daily Briefing

19.10.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Heat pump grants worth £5,000 to help replace gas boilers
Heat pump grants worth £5,000 to help replace gas boilers

News.

UK: Heat pump grants worth £5,000 to help replace gas boilers
BBC News Read Article

The government’s new heat and buildings strategy – announced by press release late last night, but not yet published in full – includes subsidies of £5,000 for homeowners in England and Wales to replace old gas boilers with low-carbon heat pumps, BBC News reports. The outlet adds that the grants are part of the government’s £3.9bn plan to reduce carbon emissions from heating homes and other buildings, which includes £3.45bn to decarbonise buildings in England and Wales and £60m to drive technological innovation to develop “clean heating systems that are smaller, easier to install and cheaper to run”. It continues: “One energy firm, Octopus Energy, said it expected homeowners would initially contribute around £2,500 to the cost of installing a heat pump, roughly equivalent to the cost of a new gas boiler. The government subsidy would cover the rest of the cost.” However, it adds that Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, described the strategy as “meagre, unambitious and wholly inadequate”. The New Scientist adds that new gas boilers will be banned by 2035. [The press release does not use the word “ban”, instead saying it is the government’s “confirmed ambition” that all new heating systems will be low-carbon by 2035.] The Independent says that environmentalists are calling the plans “inadequate”, adding that only one in every 250 boilers in the UK will be replaced under the scheme. It continues: “Under the plans released by the government overnight a £450m boiler upgrade fund would be spread over three years until 2024, with grants provided to help replace just 30,000 boilers each year. Boris Johnson has previously set a target of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year across homes and public buildings by 2028 – which campaigners say he is now unlikely to meet.” The i newspaper also notes that the scheme is limited to just 90,000 households.

The Daily Telegraph says that as part of efforts to make heat pumps no more expensive than gas boilers by 2030, the government will remove environmental and social levies from electricity bills over the course of a decade, with a final decision due next year. The Daily Mail says in its headline that there are “warnings extra levies could spark public fury”. It reports: “Government sources also confirmed ministers will press ahead later this year with a plan to pile new ‘green’ levies on to gas bills. Levies on electricity will be cut in a bid to persuade consumers to switch to greener energy.” [The government press release does not say if levies will be moved on to gas bills.] The Guardian adds that Labour has condemned the plans as “more of Boris Johnson’s hot air”. It continues: “Some environmental groups said more urgent action was needed. Caroline Jones, of Greenpeace UK, said efforts to decarbonise housing were being hampered by ‘unambitious policies and inadequate funding’.” Politico notes that the heat and buildings strategy was originally due in spring, but was delayed “amid a tussle between chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Treasury, Boris Johnson’s Downing Street and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy over funding”. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen highlights the results of a new survey, which “show how low” public awareness is around the emissions fossil boilers”. [See the thread by Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans for more of the details in the heat strategy.]

Separately, the Daily Telegraph outlines the government’s net-zero strategy, due to be released today. It notes that nuclear energy and “untested” technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, battery capacity and hydrogen, feature heavily in government plans to decarbonise electricity. Meanwhile, the government has an ambition to install 5 gigawatts (GW) of hydrogen production capacity for use in heavy industry, manufacturing and transport by 2030, it adds. [This ambition was set out last year in the prime minister’s 10 point plan.] Similarly, ITV News notes that Johnson will also reiterate his promise to quadruple Britain’s offshore wind production in the net-zero strategy. The Times runs through the policies that it expects to see announced today – including a new nuclear power plant, new targets for car manufacturers to produce electric vehicles and carbon capture and storage projects.

In COP26 news, the Financial Times reports that landlords in Glasgow are raising their prices during the summit, and the Scotsman says that “plans to deal with an expected wave of arrests relating to COP26 protests have been thrown into chaos after bar associations refused to sign up to a proposed duty solicitor scheme amid an ongoing row over legal aid cuts”. Elsewhere, Reuters has published a list of “prominent figures” who are not expected to attend COP. Separately, Reuters outlines the main pledges and terminology associated with COP. And the i newspaper has published a Q&A and agenda for COP. Meanwhile, Bloomberg carries an interview with Boris Johnson, who says COP26 will be “extremely tough”. And DevEx says that Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, has warned that the UK government is “playing with fire” with its aid cuts ahead of COP26. (See Comment section below for reaction.)

UK: Boris Johnson to laud green credentials of firm that runs ‘UK’s largest carbon emitter’
The Independent Read Article

The Drax Group – which is accused by some campaigners of being Britain’s “biggest carbon emitter” – will be highlighted by Boris Johnson as an example of the “best of UK innovation and green technology”, according to the Independent. In an “exclusive” , the newspaper notes that Johnson will host 200 investors at a summit this week, where 12 companies – including the Drax Group – that are deemed to be supporting Johnson’s 10-point climate plan will be highlighted. The paper continues: “The Drax plant burns wood pellets, a type of biomass, to produce electricity. Burning the wood causes CO2 to be released into the atmosphere. In 2020, Drax’s CO2 emissions from its biomass and coal operations came to 14.8m tonnes – around the same as the annual emissions of Ghana, according to Ember. A spokesperson for Drax disputed the findings of Ember’s analysis, describing it as ‘completely wrong’. The firm argues that the emissions created by burning biomass for power generation have already been accounted for by replacing the trees.” The summit “marks post-Brexit Britain’s biggest push to woo investors”, according to Reuters. The Financial Times adds that £10bn in deals has been pledged ahead of the summit. Meanwhile, the Guardian notes that Drax has been dropped from an investment index of clean energy companies “as doubts over the sustainability of its wood-burning power plant begin to mount within the financial sector”. It continues: “Drax was once one of the largest coal power generators in Europe before it converted four of the generating units at its North Yorkshire site to burn biomass instead. It received more than £800m in government subsidies and tax breaks to support the conversion last year, and could expect billions more in the future. The company claims that burning biomass to generate electricity is ‘carbon neutral’ because the emissions from incinerating wood pellets are offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed when the trees they are made from grow.” Bloomberg adds that 15 companies in total were removed from the list.

In other UK news, Reuters reports that the UK is setting out new standard under which asset managers, pension schemes and some large companies will need to start disclosing their environmental impact. BusinessGreen adds that this will make it easier for consumers and investors to “support the green industrial revolution” and make it harder for companies to “greenwash”. And DeSmog reports that the heads of banks, including JPMorgan and Barclays, will attend a green investment summit at London’s Science Museum and Windsor castle tomorrow. The institutions represented provide more than £700bn in financing for the fossil fuel industry since the 2015 Paris agreement, according to the outlet. It continues: “Campaigners have criticised the expected presence of the ‘world’s biggest financiers’ of fossil fuels at the UK government event, which drew protests by Extinction Rebellion and Biofuelwatch activists on Sunday.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times says that the Science Museum has “doubled down on its sponsorship by oil and gas companies by striking a deal with a subsidiary of Adani Group”.

And the reviews are in for The Trick – a TV drama on ClimateGate (the 2009 theft and leaking of emails sent by climate scientists which spawned a wave of false conspiracy theories) that launched last night on BBC1. The Times says it was “dragged down by detail” and the Independent says it “fails to turn shocking data into tense telly”. But the i newspaper says the drama “made a valiant attempt at humanising and explaining the complex saga of ‘Climategate’” and New Scientist adds that the drama should be “applauded”. BBC Sounds also have a new five-part series about the saga called The Hack That Changed the World.

US Democrats battle over climate change plans in $3.5 trillion bill
Reuters Read Article

A $3.5tn bill for investment into social programs and fighting climate change is still pending in the US Congress. Reuters reports that, yesterday, negotiators of the bill “gave hints of progress”, but adds separately that “some Democrats were resigned to the increasing likelihood that a proposal to reduce carbon emissions will be weakened or scrapped”. It notes that Democratic Senator Joe Manchin “has been an outspoken critic of the bill, saying it spends too much taxpayer money and contains climate change provisions that would hurt his state’s coal mining industry.” Separately, Reuters reports that US lawmakers may implement carbon pricing measures if they are forced to drop the climate change section of the bill. It continues: “Focus has turned to the mechanism [carbon pricing] as Biden and his fellow Democrats may drop a major component of the spending bill known as the Clean Electricity Performance Plan that would reward power utilities for investing in renewable power and fine those who do not. Manchin has opposed that plan, saying utilities are already investing in renewable power, and should not get taxpayer money for doing so.” The New York Times says that Democrats are “courting Manchin”, who wants “weaker climate change provisions” in the bill. The Guardian adds that Biden’s climate agenda “appears to be hanging by a thread”. Similarly, columnist and economist Paul Krugman has penned an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled: “Joe Manchin Versus West Virginia”, stating “President Biden’s policy agenda is hanging by a thread. And the reason can be summarized in two words: Joe Manchin.” Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent says “Joe Manchin’s ugly new demands expose the absurdity of arbitrary centrism”.

In other US news, the Los Angeles Times and Forbes report that California is experiencing its driest year in nearly a century. The Guardian adds that scientists have predicted a La Nina event – which usually causes drying in the southern US – for a second year in a row. This could “intensify the drought much of the region is already in, including higher wildfire risks and water shortages”, it notes. Meanwhile, the Financial Times covers new research which finds that roughly one quarter of all US infrastructure is “at serious risk of flooding”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the US department of energy has announced $105m in funding for small businesses to pursue the deployment of clean energy technologies. And the Financial Times notes that Toyota and Peugeot owner Stellantis have unveiled plans to build battery plants in the US. Elsewhere, DeSmog reports that over 650 people have been arrested in DC during a week of Indigenous-led climate protests that call on Biden to “be the climate leader he promised to be”.

Governments grapple with energy challenges ahead of climate summit
Financial Times Read Article

There is continuing media coverage of the global energy crisis. The Financial Times says the “latest twist” in the story comes from Russia, where Gazprom — which supplies almost a third of continental Europe’s gas — increased its prices by 18%. It also says that members of the EU are “moving in two different directions” in response to the energy crisis, with France promising investment into nuclear, while Germany will phase out nuclear completely. A separate piece in the Financial Times says that energy prices are five times higher than a year ago. It adds: “While gas supplies have tightened globally as demand rebounds from the pandemic, with Asian consumption soaring, the International Energy Agency said this month it believed Russia had the capacity to boost exports by about 15% to Europe. Putin last week denied playing politics with gas supplies but indicated additional sales would need to be on Russia’s terms.” Meanwhile, Politico reports that the EU’s foreign policy chief is accusing Putin of using energy prices as “part of a geopolitical battle”. It continues: “His comments appear to contradict Putin, who last week denied charges that Russia is using its gas sales as a geopolitical weapon, calling it ‘just politically motivated chatter, which has no basis whatsoever’”. Reuters adds that the head of Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz said Russia was trying to blackmail Europe into certifying its Nord Stream 2 pipeline by keeping natural gas supplies lower. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that the Russia-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has been filled with gas ready for the first export. Meanwhile, City AM says that “financial think tank Carbon Tracker argues that most gas plants that are planned or under construction in Europe and the US will never break even”.

Elsewhere, the Financial Times and Reuters report that another UK energy supplier – Goto Energy – has collapsed due to the high prices. Reuters reports that the UK is facing a “fossil fuel dilemma” as COP26 nears, noting “[Britain] can burnish its green credentials by halting new oil and gas development in the North Sea, yet doing so will leave it more reliant on imported fuel”. Separately, Reuters says that Shell is taking on the customers of three other failed energy suppliers.Reuters adds that the power shortage in China is “threatening more pain for global supply chains”, saying separately that it is leaving the EU in a “gas bind”. Meanwhile, the newswire says that Italy is considering a new fuel poverty monitor as energy prices rise. Elsewhere, it says that Germany is not seeing any shortage in gas supply, adding that France is considering the possibility of petrol vouchers for low income households. Meanwhile, EurActiv reports that Germany is cutting its green electric levy by almost 43%, adding that “abolishment is in sight”. And Reuters notes that Poland “called for the European Union to cancel or delay parts of its plan to tackle climate change ahead of a summit at which EU leaders will wrangle over their response to surging gas and electricity prices”. In other EU news, EurActiv reports that “the outgoing president of Eurochambres, an association of European chambers of commerce, has criticised the EU’s environmental policy and called for more trade ‘with all parts of the world’, including China and Russia.”

Meanwhile, Reuters notes that Indonesia – the world’s biggest exporter of coal – is “facing challenges in hitting its output target for the fuel because of heavy rains”. Similarly, rain in India “ is threatening to stretch out a shortage of the fuel just as supplies to power plants rise”, according to Bloomberg. Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that, according to chief executive officer of commodities trader Mercuria Energy Group Ltd, it is “possible” that oil will hit $100 per barrel this winter. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the White House says it is “pushing OPEC to address oil supply issue”. Separately, the newswire reports that coal-fired electricity generation in the US is expected to be higher this year than last year, due to the high gas prices.

No change to Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target as Scott Morrison focuses on net zero deal
The Guardian Read Article

Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison has “all but ruled out increasing Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target despite sustained diplomatic pressure from key allies, including the US and UK,” according to the Guardian. It continues: “While stepping back from a significant attempt to increase the Abbott-era 2030 target after an effective Nationals veto on Sunday, Scott Morrison was more pointed on Monday about landing a net zero target ahead of the looming COP26 in Glasgow. The prime minister told Liberal party MPs net zero would be a cabinet decision, and it would be expressed as a nationally determined contribution under the Paris agreement… Morrison also warned there would be price to pay if Australia failed to join allies in embracing a 2050 target.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Barnaby Joyce – the climate-sceptic deputy prime minister of Australia – has acknowledges that Morrison can commit Australia to a new net zero target without the endorsement of the Nationals’ party room, telling reporters that Morrison has “his own right”. The Sydney Morning Herald adds: “Liberals backed Mr Morrison’s comments as a sign the net-zero policy would go ahead with or without some of the opponents within the Nationals, given the decision does not need a vote in Parliament or a consensus in the Nationals party room.” Meanwhile, writer and editor Jeff Sparrow has penned an opinion piece in the Guardian entitled, “Climate change is a national security issue, but not in the way Scott Morrison imagines”, outlining how climate change could drive international conflict. Elsewhere , Guardian write Greg Jericho writes that “Nuclear power is too costly, too slow, so its zero use to Australia’s emissions plan”.

China's power woes may worsen as demand surges amid coal supply lag
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports that China’s “power woes look set to intensify”. The newswire says that coal prices rose to “a record” on Monday after Chinese government data showed that the country’s coal output in September had dropped compared to August. These elements added to concerns that “domestic output may be unable to meet surging electric generation demand”, it notes. In a report titled, “China’s power shortages, housing struggles put the brakes on its economy”, the Washington Post looks at how the “rolling power outages” became one of the “challenges” that “are weighing on the world’s second-largest economy”. CNBC says that “China may have to set aside its ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions – at least in the short term – in order to tide over its worsening power crisis”. The report cites Gavin Thompson, Asia-Pacific vice chair at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. Thompson wrote that “the short-term reality is that China and many others have little choice but to increase coal consumption to meet power demand”, according to CNBC. However, Global Times – a tabloid run by People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party of China – reports that “power shortages in some parts of China will be eased in the near future with limited impact on the economy”. The newspaper cites an official from China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Another Reuters article says that “China’s aluminium output in September declined for a fifth consecutive month, official data showed on Monday, as ongoing electricity shortages in the country led to deeper cuts in industrial production”.

In other coverage about China’s power shortages, climate-sceptic columnist Ross Clark says in an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph that “the Chinese government is doing all it can to exploit the desperation of the West to get it to sign up to green pledges”. In an opinion piece for the South China Morning Post, David Dodwell, executive director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Study Group, argues that it is the US, not China, that is “threatening the foundations of multilateral cooperation”. An analysis written by CBC News’s business columnist, Don Pittis, says that “independent analysts” believe that China’s goal to peak emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality “could happen”. “But with Beijing boosting coal production and juggling a number of challenges at home, that’s far from certain,” the piece writes.

Meanwhile, Global Times has two “exclusive” reports about its interview with Caroline Wilson, the British Ambassador to China. The first piece says that, with the UK hosting COP26 and China hosting COP15 this year, the two countries “have a unique opportunity to work together to protect our planet, our economies and our livelihood”, according to Wilson. She adds that the UK wants to work with China to build on the two countries’ “legacy” of “long-standing collaborations on biodiversity protection and tackling climate change”, the publication writes.

The second piece is the transcript of the interview. Commenting on UK-China climate cooperation, Wilson says: “China and the UK must continue to stand together as we support partners around the world in meeting their climate commitments, whilst leading by example on decarbonising our own economies, making our air cleaner, and reducing reliance on coal.” Meanwhile, a piece in the Guardian says that former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and “other prominent global voices” have “urged” Xi Jinping and Joe Biden to meet before COP26 to “search for common ground”. Elsewhere, the Conversation discusses the Kunming Declaration on biodiversity, adopted at the 15th UN biodiversity conference on 13 October.

Elsewhere in Chinese state media, CGTN reports that the province of Gansu in north-western China started the construction of 39 renewable energy projects simultaneously last Friday. With a combined investment of $10.8bn, these projects are expected to have a total installed capacity of 12.85 gigawatts (GW), the outlet added. Local officials also hope that these projects can help them prevent and control desertification, China News Service reports.

Comment.

Boiler Police are not going to kick your door in & seize your trusty combi
Boris Johnson, The Sun Read Article

Writing in the Sun, UK prime minister Boris Johnson says: “At a time when people are already worried about rising bills caused by the worldwide surge in gas prices, Sun readers need to know the government are on their side and that we recognise their concerns. That’s why I insisted from the start that our plan for getting the UK to net zero had to be not only effective but also fair…So while we’re going to have to make some pretty major changes to the way we heat our homes, the Greenshirts of the Boiler Police are not going to kick in your door with their sandal-clad feet and seize, at carrot-point, your trusty old combi. Instead, we’re going to make carbon-free alternatives cheaper to install so that when you or your landlord next come to replace your boiler – something that usually happens every 15 years or so – it makes more sense to go with a cleaner, more efficient replacement that you know will help the planet.” He continues: “And with most of that electricity soon to be coming from wind farms in the North Sea, or state-of-the-art British nuclear reactors, UK consumers will no longer be at the mercy of sudden price rises caused by global markets. So we will protect consumers while going green…We will avoid catastrophic climate change not with panicked or self-destructive measures but with the uniquely creative power of free enterprise, driving down the costs of going green so that net zero will become a net win for families, businesses, the UK and the planet…Not so very long ago, our grandparents and great-grandparents gathered around the hearth to warm themselves by the coal fire. Within my lifetime the UK switched from toxic town gas to the safer natural variety on which we rely today. Change always brings with it trepidation. But by leading the way on net zero we can embrace the opportunities it brings — and set the country on course to a cleaner, greener, fairer future for us all.”

Meanwhile, in other UK comment, former Conservative party leader Lord Howard writes in the Daily Telegraph that “Britain must not retreat from its leadership on global climate change fight”. He says: “The economic cost of climate action has been the focus of recent political debates within the Conservative party. While the latest projections from the Climate Change Committee say it may cost 1% of GDP every year for Britain to reach net zero by 2050 – amounting in total over 30 years to less than our national response to Covid-19 these past 18 months alone – the cost of inaction is much greater. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that doing nothing about climate change would cause public debt to soar to 289% of GDP by the end of this century…We must be clear-eyed about what this transition away from fossil fuels would mean, in that it will drive competition of a different kind. China is already seeking to corner the market in lithium-ion batteries and solar panels, as it did with 5G. By acting now and getting ahead in net zero technology and developing diverse global supply chains for critical minerals, we can avoid being in hoc to China later this century.”

In the Times, William Hague, another former Conservative party leader, argues that “innovation will determine if we soar or stumble”. He adds: “A new export strategy, a net zero strategy, a national AI strategy, a digital strategy and a food strategy are all in the works. Soon we will have strategies coming out of our ears…Britain has the stated ambition of spending 2.4 per cent of GDP on research and development in the coming years but South Korea is already at twice that level. We seem to have moved away from having an “industrial strategy” that helped with life sciences, so would all these other strategies amount to a practical plan, or just an ambition?…The world is waiting to be convinced that our commitment to science and innovation is going to be large, sustained and locked in. This has to be Britain’s competitive advantage in the next decade. Be in no doubt: everything depends on this.”

Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Anna Markova, who is the Trades Union Congress’s co-lead on climate and industrial policy, says that “people don’t need catchprases: they need resources and empowerment so they can secure good green jobs”. And the New York Times carries an opinion piece by Eleanor Salter under the headline: “Britain says it’s leading the world on climate change. As if.”

Bangladesh PM: We need a global ‘climate prosperity plan’ not empty pledges
Sheikh Hasina, Financial Times Read Article

The Financial Times carries a comment piece from Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina, under the subheading “My country is investing for a zero-carbon future, but the world must commit at COP26 to make efforts like ours a success”. Hasina outlines the impacts of climate change in Bangladesh, but notes that “only a tiny fraction of global warming can be attributed to Bangladesh’s carbon emissions”. She continues: “We are committed to leading the path to a solution. This is not only because we wish to avert the worst of climate change; it also makes economic sense…With COP26 in view, we developed the world’s first national ‘climate prosperity plan’.” The plan includes measures such as obtaining 30% of energy by renewables from the end of the decade, and will create 4.1m new jobs this decade, along with a $860bn GDP benefit, according to Hasina. She adds that to limit warming to 1.5C, the world needs “a global version of our climate prosperity plan” and says that COP26 is “the best opportunity we will ever have to make one”. She continues: “As things stand, failure is a distinct possibility…Although recent net zero pledges from the EU, US and others are welcome, they are largely not accompanied by policies that give confidence that they will be delivered. The $100bn per year finance pledge made 12 years ago remains unfulfilled. This $100bn is tiny compared with what developing nations will need in order to build a zero-carbon future.”

Science.

Attribution of global lake systems change to anthropogenic forcing
Nature Geoscience Read Article

Changes in temperature and ice cover in lakes around the world over recent decades are “extremely unlikely to be explained by pre-industrial climate variability alone”, a new study says. The authors note that “ice-cover trends in reanalysis are consistent with lake model simulations under historical conditions, providing attribution of lake changes to anthropogenic climate change”. They find that “lake temperature, ice thickness and duration scale robustly with global mean air temperature across future climate scenarios”.

China’s future food demand and its implications for trade and environment
Nature Sustainability Read Article

A new study provides a “comprehensive forward-looking assessment” of the environmental impacts of China’s growing food demand. The researchers find that increasing demand, especially for livestock products, would “domestically require ~3–12 m hectares (Mha) of additional pasture between 2020 and 2050, resulting in ~−2% to +16% growth in agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions”. In addition, the “projected ~15%–24% reliance on agricultural imports in 2050 would result in ~90–175 Mha of agricultural land area and ~88–226 MtCO2-equivalent per year of GHG emissions virtually imported to China”, the study says. An accompanying News & Views article says the study estimates that “China’s food demands will first grow and then level off after 2030”.

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