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Daily Briefing

12.01.2022
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Hottest ocean temperatures in history recorded last year
Hottest ocean temperatures in history recorded last year

News.

Hottest ocean temperatures in history recorded last year
The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian reports that last year saw the hottest ocean temperatures in recorded history, marking “the sixth consecutive year that this record has been broken”. It cites a new paper published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences that reveals a heat record for the top 2,000m of all oceans around the world, despite an ongoing La Niña climate event, which cools waters in the Pacific. Among the impacts of these rising ocean temperatures are warmer waters that “supercharge storms, hurricanes and extreme rainfall” and “eats away” at the vast Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, according to the newspaper. The piece notes that this warming is “being primarily driven by the human-caused climate crisis”. CNN adds that, according to the scientists behind the work, “oceans will continue warming for decades after fossil fuel emissions are slashed”, meaning that “even if countries make good on their pledges to reduce emissions soon…further ocean warming will continue and communities must prepare for the far-reaching consequences”. Chinese newswire Xinhua also has the story, noting that besides absorbing heat, oceans currently also absorb 20-30% of human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, leading to ocean acidification. The Guardian has also published an opinion piece by one of the study’s authors, Dr John Abraham of the University of St Thomas in Minnesota, in which he states: “The information we used is absolutely crucial for understanding the planet. You could say that we took the Earth’s temperature – and the Earth’s fever is getting worse.” The Independent has a piece on an annual forecast of CO2 levels by the Met Office, which is also examined in a Carbon Brief guest post.

Meanwhile, Climate Home News reports on the impact of Typhoon Rai in the Philippines, which it says has reignited calls for “loss and damage” support for areas impacted by climate change, separate to humanitarian aid, to help communities recover and rebuild. According to the Third Pole, women in the north Indian state of Bihar are becoming more vulnerable to violence and trafficking amid increased incidence of flooding linked to climate change.

The Washington Post covers a series of six papers published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment demonstrating the impacts of the warming of the Arctic’s frozen permafrost. The piece notes that nearly 70% of the infrastructure in the permafrost areas of the Northern Hemisphere, including around 120,000 buildings and 25,000 miles of roads, are located in areas with high potential for thaw of near-surface permafrost by 2050. Reuters states that already “some roads are buckling and building foundations are cracking in northern Russia, Alaska, and Canada”. In its coverage, BBC News notes that five million people live on Arctic permafrost and climate change is causing the Arctic to warm two-to-four times faster than the rest of the planet.

Finally, the Guardian reports that last year was New Zealand’s hottest year on record, according to the country’s National Institute of Water and Aeronautic Research (NIWA).

Germany spells out ‘gigantic’ effort to cut emissions and boost renewables
Politico Read Article

Germany’s new climate minister Robert Habeck has announced plans to fix a “drastic deficit” in the country’s efforts to tackle climate change, adding that Germany had “significantly” missed its 2021 emissions target, Politico reports. He told a press conference that his ministry will put forward two legislative packages, one in April and the other before summer, that will come into effect by 2023 with a view to ensuring Germany gets back on track to meet its 2030 targets. According to the news website, Habeck, a Green party politician and vice-chancellor in the new German coalition government, said in December that the nation is likely to miss its climate targets in 2022 and 2023 as the country was starting “with a drastic backlog”. Reuters notes that “climate policy is one of the closest-watched areas for the new coalition government as Europe’s biggest economy shifts towards carbon neutrality”. It quotes a statement from the climate ministry that says in order to achieve its 2030 goal Germany needs to reduce its final energy consumption by 20-25% by then. The Guardian quotes the climate minister calling for a threefold increase in the speed at which emissions are reduced, arguing that Germany requires “massive national debate” to achieve the goals set out by his ministry. Associated Press states that, according to Habeck, Germany is on track to halve its emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels – “far off the government’s target of 65%”. In order to address the “gigantic” task of getting the country back on track, the new service says the government plans to revise subsidies for renewable energy, require solar panels on new buildings and adjust the rules governing where wind turbines can be built. The piece also states that “one reason for Germany’s rising emissions is the decision to switch off all nuclear power plants by the end of this year, increasing reliance on coal-fired power plants”, adding that the new government does plan to phase out coal power “ideally” by 2030 as well, with the help of more natural gas.

Meanwhile, a piece in Bloomberg counters this narrative around nuclear to some extent, noting the historical and political factors – notably fears about nuclear meltdowns following Chernobyl and Fukushima – that have shaped the German government’s approach to nuclear power. “Could Germany have cut carbon emissions faster had it given nuclear power a chance? No doubt…But we cannot expect people to always make the most rational choice,” the piece notes. It adds that “without Germany’s support for a nuclear phaseout, voters may not have been willing to stomach the bill for expensive renewable power”. For more about the new German coalition government and its approach to climate policy, see this Carbon Brief explainer.

US oil production set to eclipse previous record despite climate push
Financial Times Read Article

US oil production is set to break pre-pandemic records next year, “complicating the Biden administration’s ambitions to shift the country away from fossil fuels”, according to the Financial Times. It cites new forecasts from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) which suggest output is likely to rise to a fresh annual high of 12.4m barrels a day in 2023 and natural gas production will also set new records over the coming two years. The piece notes that this predictions come as higher energy prices drive new investment in developing oil and gas fields, following speculation that the country’s oil industry had already peaked before the Covid-19 downturn. It adds that while the Biden administration has promised a shift away from fossil fuels, it has recently leaned on the domestic oil sector to increase output. Reuters reports on separate EIA figures that show coal-fired power plants will account for around 85% of total US power capacity scheduled for retirement this year.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that the oil-and-gas industry is “failing to convince the public of its green credentials despite setting net-zero goals and investing in renewables”. It points to a survey by Barclays bank, which shows that more than 60% of adults in the UK and US had a negative perception of the industry, an increase of 5 percentage points since it last asked the question nearly two years ago. In related news, Reuters says that oil major Exxon has bought a 49.9% stake in Norwegian biofuels company Biojet AS “as it looks to strengthen its low-carbon business”. A DeSmog story reports on the finding from a new scientific paper that living near oil and gas drilling may increase pregnant women’s risk of developing gestational hypertension and eclampsia.

In the UK, an “exclusive” story from the Independent reports that unions, charities, thinktanks and green campaign groups have all called on the government to impose a windfall tax on oil and gas operators “to ease the pressure on families facing rising fuel bills”. It notes that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have also all called on such a tax. The Financial Times says that North Sea oil and gas producers have “rebuffed” calls for a tax on their profits. The newspaper says a one-off tax on the sector is one of several options being considered by the government, but trade body OGUK states that the Treasury is already benefiting from surging gas prices “without any need for a windfall tax”.

UK sued by NGOs for inadequate and imaginary climate goals
Bloomberg Read Article

The UK government is facing two lawsuits from environmental groups who say that its plans to achieve net-zero emissions in the coming decades fall short of what is required, Bloomberg reports. Both Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth plan to file separate suits in London this week challenging the lawfulness of the government’s net-zero strategy, it continues. The news website notes that while government watchdog the Climate Change Committee (CCC) broadly welcomed the strategy when it was released, despite some omissions, the green groups argue that the plans are “theoretical and don’t comply with the UK’s own climate change legislation”. They will also argue that much of the climate policy is predicated on unproven technology that will delay the transition away from fossil fuels, it adds. The Guardian notes that when the strategy was released in October, it “did not spell out how the strategy would be delivered or specify the cuts in emissions to be achieved in each sector”. The newspaper says that part of the Friends of the Earth action centres on the government’s heat and buildings strategy, which the group says failed to assess its impact on groups protected in law, including children, people of colour and those with disabilities. Carbon Brief has in-depth coverage of both the net-zero strategy and the heat and buildings strategy.

With the UK prime minister Boris Johnson facing a scandal over allegations of multiple parties held during Covid-19 lockdowns and angry Conservative MPs seeking answers over energy price rises, the Guardian reports that green campaigners close to the Conservative party say the government’s climate agenda is under threat. Despite issues with the government’s net-zero plans, the newspaper notes that “Johnson is still seen as more engaged with the climate crisis than any of his Tory rivals and has made net-zero a personal crusade”.

In more UK news, a new report by thinktank Green Alliance suggests the UK could squander economic and green job opportunities because of a crippling lack of skills, according to the Independent. Separately, the Times says that influential right-wing thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies has backed calls for a carbon border tax to prevent British manufacturers being undercut by cheap imports as they invest in decarbonisation. Meanwhile, EurActiv reports that as the EU plans similar measures, the lawmaker in charge of negotiating this levy for Europe has recommended drastic changes, including a faster rollout and more products added to the scope of the draft legislation.

Finally, in energy bills news, BusinessGreen reports that campaigners have criticised reports that the government is considering cutting the UK’s energy efficiency levy to lower prices. It quotes Ed Matthew, campaigns director at climate change thinktank E3G, who says that “cutting the ECO levy would be the worst way to cut energy bills”. Separately, the Independent reports that a Labour motion seeking to force a cut in VAT on energy bills has been defeated in the Commons by Conservative MPs. Finally, the Press Association carries comments from Centrica chief executive Chris O’Shea who says the energy crisis may last for two years.

Study forecasts China investment of $75tn in carbon neutrality
Asia Times Read Article

A new study has projected that China will invest the equivalent of $75tn (487tn yuan) in “carbon neutrality financing” over the next 30 years, Asia Times reports. The outlet says that the figure represents “five times [China’s] 2020 national output”, citing the 2021 study “by a consortium of government, academic and private-sector experts”. Bloomberg reports that “China is spending billions on new factories to produce polysilicon, used to make photovoltaic cells for solar panels”. It says that the move “should help rein in prices of the material after surging costs slowed the pace of new renewables projects”. Meanwhile, Reuters says that US electric carmaker Tesla “sold 70,847 China-made vehicles in December, the highest monthly rate since it started manufacturing in Shanghai in 2019”. The newswire cites “data from the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA)”. Reuters carries a separate report, titled “CNOOC raises 2022 production target, sees oil peak by 2030”.

Separately, the Global Times – a tabloid run by People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China – reports that “Indonesia’s coal exports to China have resumed in phases”. The newspaper states that “a dozen ships departed on Monday night heading to Chinese ports, with dozens more expected in coming days”. In related news, Bloomberg reports that “Chinese coal futures fell to the lowest level this year after Indonesia allowed some cargoes to leave ports as it considers lifting a temporary ban on exports of the fuel”. Additionally, Xinhua – China’s state news agency – reports that “workplace safety in China’s mining industry continued to improve in 2021”. It says that last year, “the number of coal mining accidents and casualties declined 15.8 per cent and 13.9 per cent year on year, respectively”. It cites “data from the National Mine Safety Administration”.

Elsewhere, People’s Daily reports that the Environment and Resources Department of the National Development and Reform Commission – China’s state economic planner – pledged to put the pursuit of carbon peaking and carbon neutrality in the “prominent position” of its 2022 work agenda. Another People’s Daily report explains China’s progress in saving energy and reducing emissions in the architectural industry.

Climate change overtakes pandemics as greatest worry for global experts
Sky News Read Article

Experts are now more worried about the failure to act on climate change than they are about infectious diseases, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual survey of global risks, which has been reported by Sky News. The piece notes that three environmental risks, namely climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss, were more worrying than anything else “as the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and major protest movements put the issue in sharp focus”. It adds that Covid-19 knocked climate worries off the top of the list in early 2020 and from 2017 to 2019 weapons of mass destruction were the biggest concern among polled experts as North Korea ramped up its nuclear programme. According to the i newspaper, the WEF risk ranking is informed by assessments from several major insurance and reinsurance companies, focus workshops, interviews and a survey of internationally recognised experts. It states that this year “marks the sixth year in a row that climate impacts have been ranked as one of the top threat facing the global economy”. However, the Evening Standard notes that UK experts specifically were more worried about failures of cybersecurity, and in fact climate change did not make it into their top five biggest concerns.

Comment.

The energy crisis is a parable for the failures of Tory Britain
Ed Miliband, The Guardian Read Article

The UK government needs “to stop the dither and delay of the last decade and act” on soaring energy prices, writes Ed Miliband – shadow secretary of state for climate change and net-zero – in the Guardian. Miliband notes that the Labour Party has put forward a plan to “levy a windfall tax on oil and gas producers, who have made billions in this crisis, to limit the expected price rise in April”. However, “crisis response is about learning the long-term lessons, not just taking short-term action”, he says. Miliband warns that “some people will tell you that the move towards green energy is the cause of the crisis we face”, but “the truth is the opposite”. He explains: “It’s is our dependence on fossil fuels that makes us more vulnerable and the government’s climate delay that has left us less resilient. Take energy efficiency. A proper home insulation plan could have significantly reduced household energy demand, and therefore our reliance on gas. But we have had systemic failure from the government, with the abolition of the zero carbon homes standard, the disastrous green deal and the chaotic Green Homes Grant. Emissions from buildings are as high now as they were in 2015. We have also seen an effective moratorium on onshore wind, cuts to solar subsidies and the stalling of the nuclear programme. All have made us less resilient.”

Meat and dairy gobble up farming subsidies worldwide, which is bad for your health and the planet
Marco Springmann, The Conversation Read Article

Writing in the Conversation, Oxford Martin Future of Food researcher Marco Springmann argues that agricultural subsidies “exacerbate the health and environmental issues of food production”. According to his analysis in Nature Communications, “about two-thirds of all agricultural transfer payments worldwide come without strings attached”, with “every fifth dollar used to raise meat, and every tenth dollar to make dairy products” that emit “disproportionate amounts of greenhouse gas emissions”. Springmann and Freund combined economic, environmental and health models to alter subsidy preferences conditional on “producing healthy and sustainable foods” and conclude that “changing the mix of food production…should be an essential part of reforming agriculture worldwide.”

In another comment in the Conversation, physical geographer Margaret Kadiri writes that the world “owe[s] a profound gratitude to the developing nations – including those from Africa – who agreed to the [Glasgow climate] pact.” In doing so, she writes, “they chose not to insist that richer developed nations…pay reparations to them for the damage they’ve inflicted.” Not only is the continent with the “smallest share” of emissions “heating faster than the rest of the world”, “almost half of the continent’s projected GDP” is vulnerable to changes to the tune of £1 trillion by 2023. Ways to close the gap, she suggests, are through “leveraging” “a subsection of article six” of the Paris Agreement “that allows countries with high emissions, such as the US and UK, to offset them through investing in sustainable initiatives like reforestation in low-emitting countries: including those in Africa”. Another option, Kadiri writes, “could be to redirect local government money”, including fossil fuel subsidies, “back into African economies, creating inclusive, environmentally friendly job opportunities”.

Science.

Impacts of permafrost degradation on infrastructureImpacts of permafrost degradation on infrastructure
Nature Reviews Earth & Environment Read Article

Between 30-50% of “critical circumpolar infrastructure” could be at “high risk” by 2050 as a result of thawing permafrost, according to a new study. The authors find that “permafrost degradation-related infrastructure costs could rise to tens of billions of US dollars by the second half of the century”. The paper is one of six in a collection examining the physical, biogeochemical and ecosystem changes related to permafrost thaw and the associated impacts.

THE BRIEF

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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.