Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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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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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US: House passes climate, tax and health bill
- Drought declared across large parts of England
- UK: Keir Starmer demands ban on raising energy prices
- Germany sees tidal shift in sentiment toward atomic energy
- Grenada's Simon Stiell set to be appointed UN climate chief
- Saudi Aramco: Oil giant tops own record with $48.4bn quarterly profit
- China: Total electricity consumption increased by 3.4% year-on-year from January to July
- Great problems need great solutions, not more dithering
- As drought blights the UK, our politicians have their heads buried in the sand
- Governments must seize the chance to transform our unsustainable energy systems
- Climate change is increasing the risk of a California megaflood
In the US, there is widespread coverage of the news that Congress on Friday gave final approval to the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill that will “pour billions of dollars into the effort to slow global warming”, according to the New York Times. The US title reports: “With a party-line vote of 220 to 207, the House agreed to the single largest federal investment in the fight against climate change…The bill now goes to [President Joe] Biden for his signature. The legislation would inject more than $370bn into climate and energy programs aimed at helping the US cut greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 40% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.” The New York Times publishes many other pieces on the bill, including an interactive article examining what is contained within the bill in detail; an analysis on what the bill means for electric cars; a second analysis on how the bill represents a victory for Biden; a guest essay on what the bill means for greening homes and an article on how climate activists are demanding more action despite the bill. The NYT climate forward newsletter also reports on “a huge side benefit of the new climate bill”.
The Washington Post carries coverage of the bill on its frontpage. Explaining the process to the bill being passed, it says: “It took a string of uncomfortable public clashes – seemingly intractable fights between party liberals and moderates including Joe Manchin – before Democratic leaders reached a delicate truce. The deal chiefly brokered between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer last month forced party lawmakers to accept what many saw as agonising compromises, as they had no choice but to jettison plans to expand Medicare, offer free universal prekindergarten and authorise a raft of new aid for low-income families. But Democrats on Friday still hailed the accomplishment, however unlikely it once might have seemed, by stressing it delivers on many of their past promises.” Reuters describes the approval as a “major legislative victory” for Biden, while the Guardian notes that Biden “is expected to quickly sign the legislation”.
Elsewhere, Bloomberg says that the bill “keeps hope alive” of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The Financial Times publishes “a guide” for the new bill. The Atlantic notes that “not even a single Republican” voted for the bill and asks whether it could one day be undone. The Guardian publishes an editorial on the bill, describing it as “leadership after Trump’s denialism”. In an editorial, the Washington Post examines all the progress this congress has made, which it describes as “more than you might realise”.
There is extensive coverage of the UK’s ongoing drought. The Financial Times reports that a drought was formally declared across large areas of England on Friday, as the UK experienced “its driest summer for 50 years”. The country’s Environment Agency confirmed drought status for eight of England’s 14 areas, spanning the south, east, south west and centre, the FT says. It reports: “Although the declaration of a drought – the first since 2018 – does not automatically trigger new restrictions, it does require the Environment Agency and water companies to accelerate their actions to manage the effects of unusually low water levels.” By Saturday, 13 rivers in England had reached their lowest level on record, the Independent says. The source of the River Thames has also reached its driest level on record, Reuters reports. In a story trailed on its frontpage, the Observer reports that ministers have been told that drought conditions could last until next year in some areas.
Many report on the impacts on farmers. The i newspaper says that harvests of staple crops including potatoes, carrots and onions are expected to shrink this year amid the drought. The Guardian reports the conditions have left farmers “begging for government aid”. Elsewhere, a separate Guardian story reports bottled water stations opened in Surrey after a “technical issue” at a treatment plant left people without running water. The Independent reports that wildfires increased by 500% in parts of the country over the weekend. The Guardian notes that firefighter numbers are down 20% since 2010. BBC News says that the drought is “putting electricity generation under pressure”. And the Guardian reports on a warning from doctors that hotter and longer summers could fuel skin cancer risk in the UK.
In addition, the Independent speaks to Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, who says the government must overrule local opposition to build more reservoirs. The i newspaper reports in an “exclusive” story that most UK companies have never prosecuted anyone for breaking the rules of a hosepipe ban.
In a frontpage story, the Observer reports that UK Labour leader Keir Starmer is calling for a ban on energy price rises this autumn “in a move that would save the average household more than £2,000 a year on gas and electricity bills”. It reports: “The demand to freeze the energy price cap at the current £1,971 level – blocking the regulator Ofgem from allowing a huge anticipated rise to around £3,600 in October – will place intense pressure on the Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to follow suit when one becomes prime minister.” Starmer’s plans were officially announced today and appear on the frontpages of the Daily Mirror, the Metro, the Times, the i newspaper, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph (more detail below).
The Daily Mirror reports that Starmer has a £29bn plan to ensure homes “need not pay a penny more” on energy bills this winter. According to the Mirror, Labour would raise £14bn of the £29bn by axing the £400 discount off energy bills from October – claiming “it’s not needed if bills are frozen”. The paper continues: “Another £8bn would come from the Tories’ windfall tax on oil and gas producers. Labour would backdate it to January and axe an “absurd loophole” that lets firms claim tax relief on 91% of reinvested profits. The last £7bn would come due to the freeze itself lowering the peak of inflation from 13% to 9% – slashing debt interest payments, Labour claimed.” The Daily Mirror also publishes an op-ed by Starmer on his plans. The Times reports that three-in-four Tory voters back Starmer’s energy plan. It adds: “Greg Hands, the energy minister, said the government was ‘working up further options for this winter’ to present to a new prime minister and acknowledged that ‘more is going to have to be done’. Both the Tory leadership contenders – Truss, the foreign secretary, and the former chancellor Rishi Sunak – have rejected freezing bills completely.” The Guardian focuses in on Labour’s plan for a windfall tax, which it describes as “beefed-up” version of the one implemented by the Conservative party. The i newspaper reports that Starmer’s announcement puts puts pressure on Truss and Sunak. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph carries comments from the director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, who says Starmer’s plans are based on an “illusion”. Similarly, the Daily Mail publishes claims from allies of Truss that Starmer’s plans could “make the energy crisis worse”.
In other UK energy news, the Sunday Times reports on a plan to cut an extra £400 from energy bills this winter through a “government-backed lending scheme for suppliers”. The Times reports that Boris Johnson admitted the government hasn’t done enough to help people with the cost-of-living crisis, in a piece which references new Carbon Brief analysis on how and why bills are increasing. The Daily Telegraph reports that Truss is considering stripping the £400 energy bills discount from high earners. The Sunday Times reports that two of the world’s biggest energy suppliers are calling for a bailout fund to cut bills. The Times reports that energy-intensive industries such as steel and paper mills could “have their power bills subsidised more by the government in an effort to increase the competitiveness of manufacturers as prices climb”. A second Times story says that the UK’s trade deficit in the first half of this year “reached its highest level as a share of GDP for any six-month period since records began in the mid-1950s”. The Sunday Telegraph reports that pubs and restaurants have warned they could be forced to close this winter without energy bills support. The Daily Mirror reports on a mother who died suddenly of Covid and was forced to leave her daughters with nothing after sacrificing her pension to pay rocketing bills.
Der Spiegel reports that, according to the survey carried out by the online polling firm Civey, only 22% of those surveyed are in favour of shutting down the three nuclear plants that are still in operation in Germany – Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland – as planned at the end of the year. It adds that 47% are in favour of continuing to operate the plants until the summer of 2023, a variant that is being discussed in the political sphere as a “stretch operation” – in other words, continuing to keep them online for a few months, but without the acquisition of new fuel rods. Even among Green Party supporters, “a narrow majority favours this approach”, says the outlet. “In political circles in Berlin, the nuclear debate is causing intrigue and increasing nervousness,” explains the outlet. However, as the Financial Times reports, German nuclear operators Eon, RWE and EnBW confirmed they had not procured additional fuel to extend the life of the three remaining plants beyond the end of the year when they are legally mandated to close. “Based on the existing legal situation, we assume that our nuclear power plant will still have to be shut down at the end of this year,” EnBW’s finance chief Thomas Kusterer said, according to the FT.
Meanwhile, Deutsche Welle reports that Germany’s economy minister Robert Habeck announced plans to limit heating in public buildings come winter and turn off some lights at night to conserve gas supplies, in an interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Public properties, except hospitals and other parts of the social system, of course, will only be heated to 19C”, Habeck told the paper. He also added that “more savings are also needed in the world of work”, reports Reuters.
Additionally, Financial Times reports that “Germany must cut its gas use by a fifth to avoid a crippling shortage this winter”, its top network regulator said. “If we fail to reach our target [of 20% gas savings] then there is a serious risk that we will not have enough gas,” Klaus Müller, head of the federal network agency (BNA), told the Financial Times. However, despite the supply volumes from Russia, which have been significantly reduced for weeks, the German gas storage facilities are more than 75% full again, reports Die Zeit.
Finally, ZDF reports that “to secure the energy supply in Germany, the transport of mineral oil, gas, coal and transformers should temporarily be given priority in rail transport”, according to the legal ordinance. Vice-chancellor Robert Habeck explained that “several crises are currently intertwined – the energy crisis triggered by the Ukraine war and extremely low water levels in the Rhine as a result of the climate crisis”, saying that “this makes it difficult to supply the necessary deliveries of steam coal and mineral oil.”
Climate Home News reports that Grenada’s former environment minister Simon Stiell is set to lead the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), replacing outgoing UN clime chief Patricia Espinosa. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres was responsible for the hire and his decision was signed off by the UNFCCC bureau on Thursday, according to Climate Home News. It adds: “Stiell is a veteran advocate for climate ambition from a vulnerable Caribbean island state. On the global stage, his calls for rapid reductions of emissions have put him at odds with big emerging economies like China, while his lobbying for climate finance has met resistance from rich countries like the US and EU.”
State-owned oil major Saudi Aramco has broken its own record with a $48.4bn (£39.8bn) profit for the second quarter of 2022, BBC News reports. It says: “It is a 90% year-on-year increase and marks the biggest earnings for the world’s largest energy exporter since its public listing three years ago. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen oil and gas prices skyrocket.” The Financial Times adds that the company’s chief executive warned that “spare capacity remained limited” despite record profits, with increasing demand linked to the end of pandemic restrictions in China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer. The Times also has the story.
China’s electricity consumption grew 3.4% in the first seven months of the year, China Electric Power News reports, citing a release from the National Energy Administration (NEA), China’s top energy regulator. The state-run industry newspaper says demand reached 4,930 terawatts hours (TWh) during January to July 2022, citing the data. It adds that by industry, the primary, second and tertiary industries consumed “63TWh, 3,255TWh, 853TWh of electricity, up 11.1%, 1.1%, and 4.6% year-on-year respectively”.
In other news about China’s suspension of climate talks with the US, the South China Morning Post writes that China’s decision has “raised concerns of a delay in global decarbonisation, with cooperation on methane emission reductions and the development of technology at risk even as both countries continue making progress on their own”, according to “climate experts”. Qin Yan, lead carbon analyst at data provider Refinitiv, is quoted saying: “It does not seem that the tensions will ease in the next few months, and the suspension will likely go on for some time, which is definitely not a good sign for COP27,” adding “it remains unclear whether the suspension will apply only to higher-level talks between government representatives or affect all communication between the two countries on climate issues”. Additionally, the Shanghai-based Caixin runs an article titled: “China’s climate envoy blames the US for Beijing’s decision to halt climate talks.”
Finally, a feature by Xinhua about China’s Shenzhou-14 spaceship writes that China has been a “pioneering country seeking to apply the technology of space breeding to agricultural farming on the ground”. According to Zhao Hui, an expert with the China Academy of Space Technology, the progress of the space industry may “offer new solutions for global agricultural development, biodiversity protection, as well as for climate change”, the article adds.
The ”top priority” for the incoming UK prime minister “must be to address the impact of higher energy bills on vulnerable people”, says an editorial in the Sunday Times. The projected increase in the energy price cap “threaten[s] to inflict more acute pain than the 2008 banking collapse”, the paper says, noting that “energy bosses who attended a meeting with Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi, the chancellor, on Thursday were disappointed by the lack of fresh thinking by the government”. The paper points to “interesting ideas from the private sector” – covered in more detail by Sunday Times deputy business editor Jon Yeomans – including a proposal by energy firms ScottishPower and Eon to create a special fund that would allow energy bills to be frozen and spread out the cost of higher prices over time. The editorial argues that “the scheme would relieve some of the pressure on consumers and is worthy of detailed investigation by ministers”.
A Daily Telegraph editorial also comments on the plan – which, it says, was followed by a suggestion from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to freeze bills this autumn – and notes that “the scramble for a workable and affordable solution is intensifying”. The paper says that leadership hopefuls Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are “at odds” over how to deal with rising bills. It continues: “Liz Truss has suggested that reversing tax increases would let people keep more of their own money, but the saving will be nowhere near enough to cover the gap. Some people on fixed incomes who pay no taxes will find energy costs impossible to absorb. Rishi Sunak had previously turned down the Scottish Power plan when he was chancellor and is wedded to more piecemeal help to pay for rising bills.” The article concludes: “A freeze will be a politically popular move and the Tories need to be prepared either to counter it or match Sir Keir’s scheme when it emerges. The obvious question to be answered is how much will it cost – one estimate says £40bn – and who will pay?” In an editorial, the Daily Mirror says it supports an energy bill freeze, adding: “The implications of a freeze – from subsidising suppliers to introducing public ownership– need to be finalised. But shielding folk from ruinous rises should be a given.” A Sun editorial says “Labour’s ‘fully-costed’ plan sounds anything but. Nevertheless, it is worth looking at.” The Daily mail is less keen, describing the plan in its editorial today as a “fantasy cure”. It adds: “Sir Keir says it would be met by extending and backdating the windfall tax on oil producers, a miraculous reduction in government debt repayments through lower inflation and scrapping the £400 rebate already pledged to every family. He claims these measures will raise the £29bn required and is due to flesh out the details today. At first sight however, it looks like fantasy economics.” Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves writes about Labour’s plans in the Sun. And Oliver Shah – associate editor at the Sunday Times – writes that the ScottishPower/Eon plan “would be a big bazooka, far superior to a separate idea floated by Zahawi this weekend under which suppliers would borrow from the Bank of England, or tap commercial debt guaranteed by the Treasury, to take £400 off bills”.
In further comment, Observer columnist Will Hutton criticises Liz Truss’s economic plans, writing that “reality is not allowed a look-in”. He says: “There is no recognition that what matters in a decade beset by a pandemic, climate breakdown, fragile energy markets and threats to food supplies is the resilience of a country’s energy, public health, water and farming systems to support business and civil society, in all of which the state has to play a leadership role. There is no comprehension that today’s economy is built on the ‘intangibles’ of knowledge, intellectual property and digitisation for which smart regulation – not no regulation – is foundational.” In the Sunday Telegraph, Stephen Littlechild – who was the UK’s Electricity Regulator 1989-98 – writes that expansion of the Warm Home Discount would be a better way to help reduce “energy bills of the poorest and most vulnerable customers”, rather than a price cap. The Sunday Telegraph also has a piece exploring the “crazy” decisions that “left Britain with no gas storage and vulnerable to Putin”. In the Daily Express, columnist Patrick O’Flynn says that “a national energy emergency needs to be declared right now, with Mr Johnson, his almost-certain successor Liz Truss and the outsider Rishi Sunak working together on a broad plan to protect vulnerable households”. Claer Barrett – consumer editor at the Financial Times – writes that “the cost of living emergency is already here”. And the Guardian looks at how the UK’s next prime minister can put the UK “on [the] net-zero path”.
Finally, climate-sceptic commentator Dominic Lawson has pieces in both the Sunday Times and Daily Mail. In the Times, he writes that “it’s ridiculous to blame a gas business for increasing its prices when that merely reflects its cost of acquiring the fuel”. In the Mail, he dismisses concerns on the fighting in Ukraine in the immediate vicinity of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia, describing the “vast majority of what passes for factual commentary on nuclear risks” as “actually fiction”. And in the Sunday Times, climate-sceptic contrarian columnist Rod Liddle complains about smart meters.
There is ongoing comment relating to the UK’s drought. In the Guardian, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas writes: “Getting a firm grip on this crisis requires both immediate and long-term solutions. Our lame duck government is offering neither. It’s clear that the privatisation experiment for water companies has failed. They’re fit for profit, not for purpose.” It comes as an editorial in the Observer is also critical of water companies, saying: “England’s largest water and wastewater service provider Thames Water, which supplies drinking water to 9 million customers in London and the Thames Valley, has admitted that it is losing more than more than 600m litres of water a day. That is enough to fill 240 Olympic swimming pools and is almost a quarter of all the water it supplies…Such staggering profligacy looks inexcusable, particularly at a time when we are experiencing empty reservoirs, hosepipe bans and visions of scorched gardens, parks and playing fields. Even worse, analyses indicate that, while water bills in England have risen noticeably over the past three decades, spending on improved infrastructure by water companies has, at best, flatlined or declined.” An editorial in the Financial Times agrees that “dire leakage data undercut[s the moral] authority of utilities”. A Times editorial argues against nationalising utilities in response to the issues. A Daily Telegraph editorial says the drought “has exposed Britain’s crippling short-termism”. It says: “. Green levies are one reason why energy bills are higher than they could be. Given such insistence that we must pay to prepare for more regular extreme weather, it is galling to find that when it occurs, we are not prepared after all.” (As Carbon Brief‘s latest analysis shows, green levies will fall from 5% of bills to less than 3% of the total in October.)
Writing in the Financial Times, Mark Carney, former Bank of England governor and co-chair of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, argues that the “financial sector can play a crucial role by redeploying its formidable firepower in support of climate action”. He says: “The financial sector will play a crucial role. Given the current limited ambitions and capabilities of traditional energy companies, investors need to redeploy their windfalls to the solutions of the future: wind, solar, hydrogen, nuclear and other clean energy sources. The current spending practices of oil and gas majors are misaligned with the transition to net zero by 2050. Investors should take this misalignment into account and redirect capital to companies with credible transition plans.” It comes as the Daily Telegraph publishes an op-ed titled: “Green funds might be saving the world – but here’s why they’re failing investors.”
Climate change may have already doubled the likelihood of “catastrophic” flooding in California, and larger future increases are likely due to continued warming, according to new research. The modelling study investigates 30-day “extreme storm sequences” – rather than single-storm events – to determine the physical characteristics that could give rise to “megaflood” conditions. The authors find that under an “extreme storm scenario”, runoff from future extreme storms in the Sierra Nevada could increase by 200-400% compared to historical levels, due to increased precipitation rates and decreased snow.