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Daily Briefing

22.11.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING House passes the largest expenditure on climate in US history
House passes the largest expenditure on climate in US history

News.

House passes the largest expenditure on climate in US history
The New York Times Read Article

The New York Times says that the US “took a major step toward fighting climate change” on Friday when the House of Representatives approved a $2.2tn spending bill that “includes the largest expenditures ever made by the federal government to slow global warming”. The newspaper adds: “The legislation provides $555bn for programmes that could significantly curb [fossil fuels]…However, the bill faces an uncertain path through the Senate and negotiations between the two chambers may change its form. On its own, the legislation isn’t enough to fulfil President Biden’s pledge that the US will cut its emissions by half from 2005 levels by the end of this decade. But it goes well beyond any other climate policy that has come before it, in the US and in most other countries. It features tax incentives to cut the costs to consumers and manufacturers of electric vehicles, electric heat pumps, solar panels, wind farms and other equipment designed to power the economy without pollution…The House passed the bill by a vote of 220 to 213, with one Democrat joining every Republican in opposition.” A separate New York Times article describes “what’s in the $2.2tn social policy and climate bill”. It says: “Once enacted, the bill could lower the US’s greenhouse gas pollution by about a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030, Rhodium analysis found – roughly the equivalent of taking all the cars in the US off the road for one year”. It adds: “The centrepiece of the new climate spending is about $320bn in tax incentives for producers and purchasers of wind, solar and nuclear power, inducements intended to speed up a transition away from oil, gas and coal. Buyers of electric vehicles would also benefit, receiving up to $12,500 in tax credits – depending on the portion of vehicle parts made in America, and whether it was built by union workers.” Politico has a feature about how Joe Manchin, the Democrat senator who holds a potentially crucial vote in the Senate, could be “enriched” by a power plant that buys coal from a company controlled by his family.

In other US news, CNN says that a senior Pentagon official has warned the US military is “not ready” to handle climate change. “We are not where we should be, and now is beyond the time when we need to get in front of that challenge,” deputy defense secretary Kathleen Hicks tells the broadcaster. Associated Press, via the Observer, reports that “lightning-sparked wildfires killed thousands of giant sequoias this year, adding to a staggering two-year death toll that accounts for up to nearly a fifth of Earth’s largest trees, officials said on Friday”.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “atmospheric rivers of the kind that drenched California and flooded British Columbia in recent weeks will become larger – and possibly more destructive – because of climate change, scientists said”. (For more on atmospheric rivers, see Carbon Brief‘s guest post from earlier this year.) Relatedly, the Guardian has an article headlined: “Floods and wildfires are now normal life in small-town Canada.” And the New York Times says that “Vancouver is marooned by flooding and besieged again by climate change”.

China leading the way with carbon capture technology
The Times Read Article

China is “outpacing its rivals” in the race to develop new carbon capture technologies, reports the Times. It adds: “In the last financial year, China generated 81% of all new carbon capture patents registered, making it by the far world’s largest producer of new carbon capture technologies, according to an analysis from BDO. In second place, the US produced only 9% of all new carbon capture patents, while Britain lagged behind other industrialised nations in generating only 1%. The South China Morning Post looks at the announcement made last Wednesday by China’s cabinet, the State Council, saying that it will establish a “special relending facility worth 200bn yuan (US$31.4bn) to support the clean and efficient use of coal, including advanced pre-treatment of coal, and developing a coalbed-methane value chain”. The Hong Kong-based newspaper adds: “China’s latest financing initiative for clean coal technology will help the country meet its energy needs while at the same time reduce the carbon intensity of its heavy industries and meet its goal of capping coal consumption by 2025, analysts said. But some argued that it could instead prolong the use of the fossil fuel and keep the industry alive in the mainland.” Meanwhile, the New York Times has a feature headlined: “How the US lost ground to China in the contest for clean energy.” It says: “Americans failed to safeguard decades of diplomatic and financial investments in Congo, where the world’s largest supply of cobalt is controlled by Chinese companies backed by Beijing.”

Australia’s Financial Review has a news feature about how a “cashed-up coalition focused on buying and prematurely shutting Asian coal-fired power stations expects to make its first acquisition within a year”. It adds: “The Asian Development Bank is leading the initiative, known as the Energy Transition Mechanism, on behalf of private and public institutions including the Japanese and Danish governments, multinational lender HSBC and the philanthropic foundations of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the Rockefeller family and the IKEA Foundation…The Indonesian and Philippine governments have signed up to the ETM and power stations in those two nations will probably be among the first acquired, while representatives of other governments, including Pakistan, have publicly stated their desire to participate.” The article says that “only China, India, Japan and the US have greater voting power within the bank” than Australia for which south-east Asian nations have “provided the strongest growth in demand for Australian thermal coal”.

In other China news, Reuters reports that “China’s daily coal output has stabilised at 12m tonnes, amid a raft of measures to ramp up power production, the country’s state planner said on Sunday”. It continues: “Beijing has been trying to cool a red-hot market for coal, China’s main fuel for power generation, after shortages led to electricity rationing for industry in many regions, adding to factory gate inflation in the world’s second-biggest economy. Coal stocks at ports and power plants have been picking up quickly, with stocks in power plants hitting 129m tonnes as of Nov. 14 and expected to hit 140m tonnes by the end of November, said state media CCTV.”

Finally, in the Economist, Greenpeace China’s Li Shuo writes about the “surprising vitality of green activism in China”. And Nature carries a feature about how “carbon neutrality institutes, and other initiatives to support a pledge to achieve net-zero by 2060, are popping up like mushrooms across China”.

UK: Net-zero heralds a new industrial revolution, says CBI boss
BBC News Read Article

Climate targets provide the opportunity for a “new industrial revolution” in the UK, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry will say later today at the CBI’s annual conference, reports BBC News. It adds that Tony Danker will say the country’s “industrial heartlands” could lead a new industrial revolution “as they did the last” with hydrogen production, off-shore wind, carbon capture, electric vehicles and batteries providing “a chance for these places to be world-leading again”. He will call on government to play “an active role” in creating these new industries, alongside businesses.

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, will also address the CBI conference, says the Times. It says he is expected to say that almost 150,000 new charging points for electric cars will be installed in England every year in an attempt to seize the opportunities of the “green industrial revolution”. The newspaper adds: “The prime minister will use a speech at the annual conference of the CBI to tout his government’s pledge that homes, supermarkets and workplaces built in England would be required to have electric vehicle charging points by law from next year. In addition, buildings that have more than ten parking spaces and which are undergoing major renovations will have to install charging points.” BBC News also has a preview of Johnson’s speech in which he is expected to say: “This is a pivotal moment – we cannot go on as we are. We have to adapt our economy to the green industrial revolution.”

Meanwhile, in other UK news, the Guardian reports that more than 5,000 new homes in flood-risk areas of England have been granted planning permission so far this year, as “local authorities try to tackle the housing shortage”. It adds: “Researchers analysing 16,000 planning applications lodged between January and September discovered about 200 had been approved, for a total of 5,283 new homes, in areas where more than 10% of homes were already at significant risk of flooding. Insurers said they were concerned about the numbers of homes being built where owners were at risk of experiencing ‘traumatic and devastating losses’. The Daily Telegraph has an article about the “flawed” Energy Performance Certificate system, headlined: “Great eco con: why homeowners are being punished for going green.”

Separately, the Daily Telegraph carries polling it has commissioned showing that “only a quarter of people think the COP26 climate change summit will be effective in tackling climate change”. It continues: “While 50% of people think the summit was useful for getting countries to agree to tackle climate change, only 28% think it will be effective in solving the problem. Only a quarter think it will make a big difference to them and their family, according to the survey of 2,000 people across the UK conducted by Opinium for the Telegraph.”

Quoting “those close to” him, the Observer says Andrew Marr “wants to be free of BBC rules so he can speak out on climate”. It adds: “Andrew Marr’s decision to leave the BBC was prompted by his desire to speak freely on environmental issues, as well as politics, and escape the daily online attacks he faces, it is believed. The high-profile journalist’s sudden move to LBC radio, announced on Friday, will allow him to drop BBC impartiality and so avoid some of the relentless criticism he receives across the political spectrum both on social media and from commentators.” BBC News says that Samantha Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, is urging parents and teachers to stop mocking young people by calling them “woke” for standing up for things they believe in, such as racism, sexism and climate change. Instead, she says they should keep up with the younger generation.

Comment.

Britain’s half-arsed climate summit
Esther Webber and Karl Mathiesen, Politico Read Article

Many publications still carry post-COP26 commentary and reaction. Politico has published a detailed account about how “disorder and disagreements at the highest levels of government left British negotiators feeling unsupported – sometimes even undermined”. It continues: “For all the frequent references to the ‘vital summit’, the UK often went about its mission with one hand behind its back, according to six former and current ministers, five officials in the UK government’s COP26 unit, as well as MPs and officials from the British civil service, also known as Whitehall…For a start, prime minister Boris Johnson had failed to convince two heavyweights around his Cabinet table. Chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss were longstanding sceptics of the plan – conceived of under former prime minister Theresa May – to host COP26. Their reluctance to embrace the summit, officials say, undercut efforts to assert the UK’s leadership by driving through green policies at home.”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, US climate envoy John Kerry argues that “COP26 prepared the world to beat climate change”. He says: “Add it up, and we have assembled both the team and tactics necessary to beat climate change. Now we all have a choice. We can bemoan that there still exists a gap between the world’s climate ambitions and its concrete commitments, or we can work ferociously to close them.” In the Guardian, New Zealand’s climate minister James Shaw says: “Yes, COP26 could have gone further – but it still brought us closer to a 1.5C world.” He adds: “Like many others, I would like to have seen a stronger outcome from COP26. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that much was achieved – and the final outcome does get us much closer to where we need to be than where we were a few weeks ago.”

Chloé Farand of Climate Home News explains how, “with the US refusing to budge on the text of the Glasgow agreement, African nations reluctantly accepted a promise of stronger voluntary support”. The article is headlined: “African nations settled for ‘moral pact’ with US on adaptation finance at COP26.” The Observer carries a piece looking ahead to COP27 in Egypt: “Several green experts and human rights activists have told the Observer they fear the ability of civil society groups to protest at the summit will be curtailed by Egypt’s authoritarian regime, reducing the pressure that can be brought to bear on leaders and ministers from the nearly 200 countries expected to take part.”

The Financial Times has a COP26 diary written by Lily Cole, the actor, activist and former model. She writes: “As Guterres concluded, the final COP text was a ‘compromise’. It’s hard to be bullish. But if we invest hope in the diverse people from around the world that the COP has magnetised, we just might get somewhere.” The Observer has a feature headlined: “Polluters face price pain as global carbon trading system moves forward.”

Finally, Dr Gavin Schmidt – director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies – has written a post on the RealClimate blog explaining the difference between a “net-zero” goal which focuses on CO2 compared to one focused on all greenhouse gases. He concludes: “Some parts of the climate community has been hostile to the use of ‘net-zero’ because, in their eyes, the ‘net’ part allows for bad faith actors to maintain current emissions while promising unrealistic amounts of negative emissions in the future to compensate. This is clearly an issue. Any net-zero pledge needs to be examined for credibility and the proposers need to be held accountable for the claims. I think it’s inevitable that some (maybe even all) such pledges will be optimistic about the magnitude of plausible negative emissions. But is net-zero the same as climate denial? My answer is no. Net-zero is a well-founded physical goal that is rooted in the science that climate deniers mostly try to ignore. Is the rhetorical flourish here useful? I don’t particularly think so – it mostly serves to confuse greenwashing (a real problem) with the science of the carbon cycle which people already have a hard enough time with. This isn’t to say that pledges and targets should not be scrutinised – of course they should, and some will be found to be less credible than others. But even though net-zero is not zero it is still geophysically meaningful and a useful concept for the general public to understand because it underlies the important conclusion that future CO2-driven warming is driven by future CO2 emissions.”

Climate denial is waning on the right. What’s replacing it might be just as scary
Oliver Milman, The Guardian Read Article

Writing in the Guardian, US environment correspondent Oliver Milman says: “This wrapping of ecological disaster with fears of rampant immigration is a narrative that has flourished in far-right fringe movements in Europe and the US and is now spilling into the discourse of mainstream politics.” He continues: “Simply ignoring or disparaging the science isn’t the effective political weapon it once was. ‘We are seeing very, very little climate denialism in conversations on the right now,’ said Catherine Fieschi, a political analyst and founder of Counterpoint, who tracks trends in populist discourse. But in place of denial is a growing strain of environmental populism that has attempted to dovetail public alarm over the climate crisis with disdain for ruling elites, longing for a more traditional embrace of nature and kin and calls to banish immigrants behind strong borders.”

Science.

Cost reductions in renewables can substantially erode the value of carbon capture and storage in mitigation pathways
One Earth Read Article

Cost reductions in wind and solar power could reduce the value of carbon capture and storage (CCS) by between 15-96%, according to new research. The study uses an integrated assessment model to explore how cost reductions in solar photovoltaics, onshore wind and offshore wind affect the value of CCS. The authors find that renewables have “greatest value and resilience to low-cost renewables in sustainable bioenergy/industrial applications”, while they “compete directly with CCS in electricity/hydrogen production”. They conclude that “targeted, rather than blanket, CCS deployment represents the best strategy for achieving the Paris Agreement goal”.

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.