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Daily Briefing

13.07.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Japan vows to slash financing of coal power in developing world
Japan vows to slash financing of coal power in developing world

News.

Japan vows to slash financing of coal power in developing world

In an interview with the Financial Times, Japan’s environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi has hailed a “turning point” in his country’s climate change policy after vowing to slash its much-criticised support for coal power in the developing world. The FT notes that Koizumi says Japan’s new strategy on infrastructure exports announced last week marks a clear change in approach, following opprobrium at last December’s UN climate conference in Madrid: “The new policy will curtail an important source of official finance for coal power stations in south-east Asia and help spur a regional shift towards cleaner energy – if Japan implements it rigorously. Although the country will still support the export of coal power turbines under some conditions, Mr Koizumi said that in practice they would be difficult to meet.” The paper explains: “Tokyo has provided billions of dollars of low-interest loans to build coal power plants in India, Vietnam and Indonesia through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, using equipment from manufacturers such as Mitsubishi Heavy, Hitachi and Toshiba. These projects have come under attack from environmental campaigners because they set fast-growing economies on a path towards decades of high carbon emissions, contributing to future climate change.” The Japan Times has a Q&A about the nation’s new “historic” coal policy which will see the shutting down of about 100 coal-fired power plants by 2030: “Of the 100 units being shut down, many are older, smaller-scale plants. Most of those predicted to be in operation in 2030 are newer, larger-capacity plants. But Japan will still face pressure to further reduce its reliance on coal, both domestically and abroad, and embrace renewable energy sources and other cleaner energy forms such as LNG.”

In the US, the Financial Times reports on the comments made by Matt Gallagher, chief executive of Parsley Energy, one of Texas’s biggest independent oil producers, who claims that US crude production has already peaked due to the recent price crash. “I don’t think I’ll see 13m [barrels a day] again in my lifetime,” the 37-year-old Mr Gallagher tells the Financial Times. “It is really dejecting, because drilling our first well in 2009 we saw the wave of energy independence at our fingertips for the US, and it was very rewarding…to be a part of it.” The FT adds: “In his interview with the FT he spoke of his admiration for the European oil supermajors that recently announced net-zero emissions goals. He also called for an end to flaring in the shale patch.” A comment piece in the FT by Derek Brower, who leads the newspapers energy coverage in the US, asks whether the “party is over” for US oil and gas: “Big oil blames eco-warriors. The American Petroleum Institute, a lobby group, hit out at a ‘barrage of baseless, activist-led litigation’. Dan Brouillette, Mr Trump’s energy secretary, cited ‘a well-funded environmental lobby, using our nation’s court system to further their agenda’. It is more than that. Duke and Dominion are both plotting net zero emissions futures. Battling environmentalists so they could build their pipeline across the Appalachian Trail would not have been a good look. The backdrop has changed, too. While the US will remain the world’s biggest oil and gas market, renewables are now its growth business.” A feature in the New York Times notes that “oil and gas companies are hurtling toward bankruptcy, raising fears that wells will be left leaking planet-warming pollutants, with cleanup cost left to taxpayers”. The Guardian also has a feature asking “what next” for the global oil and gas industry: “While oil and gas are not alone in struggling in the economic slump, the reality of the climate crisis is starting to bite, analysts say.”

In Australia, Reuters reports that Lucas Dow, chief executive of Adani Enterprises who steered through the notorious Carmichael coal mine and rail project, stood down on Friday, “as sinking coal prices add to climate change pressure to stretch the development timeline of a coal project in Queensland state”. The newswire adds: “The project has provoked bitter controversy in Australia because it would open up a new thermal coal basin at a time of growing concerns over global warming.” It continues: “The news comes amid increased pressure on Australia’s coal miners. On Thursday, one of the country’s biggest superannuation funds, First State Super, said it would divest from the sector by October 2020 as part of its response to climate change risks.” And an article in the Sydney Morning Herald notes: “In recent weeks, a roll call of Australia’s heavy-polluting miners, utilities and energy users have publicly committed themselves to carbon-reduction goals – aspiring to eliminate or negate all of their carbon emissions. It’s a trend that’s accelerating around the world.”

Financial Times Read Article
Andrzej Duda wins re-election as Polish president

Many outlets cover this morning’s breaking news that Andrzej Duda has won Poland’s presidential election. The Financial Times says: “With 99.97% of votes counted, Mr Duda, backed by the ruling conservative-nationalist Law and Justice party, had won 51.21% of votes. His challenger, former Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, backed by the centre-right Civic Coalition, had won 48.79%. Turnout was 68%. Both sides of Poland’s partisan divide cast Sunday’s election as a crucial contest for the future of the EU’s fifth-biggest member state, which is deeply divided between its conservative small towns and rural areas and its more liberal big cities.” Duda’s rightwing, nationalist (and climate sceptic/pro-coal) politics are now expected to put further strains on Poland’s relations with the rest of the EU. Politico says: “Duda’s success means another five-year term in office and is a big victory for PiS, which gets to continue its radical program of restructuring Poland and bringing institutions like the courts and media under tighter political control. It also means the growing tensions between Warsaw and Brussels over fears that Poland is backsliding on its commitment to liberal democracy are set to continue.”

Financial Times Read Article
Ministers cool on Chinese nuclear reactors

The Sunday Times reports that UK ministers have “cooled” on a Chinese- backed plan to build small nuclear reactors in the UK, saying it is the “the latest sign of the chill in Anglo-Sino relations”. The newspaper says: “DBD, a Cheshire-based engineering firm, was working with China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology to build a fleet of gas-cooled small reactors, and had hoped to win government funds. However, ministers have awarded £10m each to three rival projects — including an experimental plan for a fusion reactor. A version of the DBD reactor has already been built in China.” The Sunday Times adds that tensions are being fuelled further by increasingly strained government relations with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei: “Britain is also under increasing pressure from the US and Sinosceptic MPs not to let China invest in nuclear power plants in the UK. China General Nuclear hopes to defuse the row over plans to install its Hualong One reactors at Bradwell in Essex by dropping plans to invest at the Sizewell project in Suffolk.” Reuters also covers the news. The Sunday Telegraph says that the UK government is considering whether to take “golden shares” in Chinese-owned companies seeking to operate nuclear power plants, as well as insisting that the firms are led by British nationals. It adds: “A policy submission drawn up by Sir Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Commons liaison committee, states that the Bradwell B should be owned and operated by a British-based public limited company in which the Government would take a ‘special share’ – known as a golden share. The shareholding would enable ministers to block the sale of other shares to protect the security interests of the UK, prevent the appointment of board members, and ensure that one or both of the chairman or chief executive is a security-cleared British citizen, according to the proposals.” The newspaper says the plan is being considered by Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, and Nadhim Zahawi, the minister for business and industry.

Meanwhile, in other UK news, the Times reports that the Zero Carbon Commission is recommending that a tax on bovine flatulence should be imposed to encourage farms to cut greenhouse gas emissions: “The tax would give farmers an incentive to add methane-reducing supplements to their cattle feed. About 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock and more than 30% of that is from methane. Most of the gas produced by cattle comes from burps and a small amount from their rear ends.” The newspaper says one of the report’s co-authors is Rachel Wolf, who “co-wrote last year’s Conservative manifesto and once worked for Michael Gove alongside Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser”. The Times adds: “The report also recommends a carbon tax of about £100 a year on the gas used by the average household, rising to £150 a year by 2030, the year when it says installation of new gas boilers should be banned.” BusinessGreen covers new findings by UK-based campaign group Feedback which shows that “British banks Barclays and HSBC are among the world’s top five creditors to ‘Big Livestock’ firms, investing billions of pounds into carbon-intensive agribusinesses that produce chlorinated chicken and are alleged to fuel the deforestation of the Amazon”. The Independent says that “new data from the WWF and the RSPB reveals the extent of the UK’s demand for goods linked to the destruction”, adding: “Brazil represents 13.9% of the total UK overseas land footprint, meaning we currently rely on an average of more than 800,000 hectares of land – much of which was once rainforest – to supply our demand for agricultural products. This is equivalent to five times the size of Greater London.”

Separately, the Daily Mirror reports today that “more than 100 mayors, local leaders and energy businesses Siemens UK and EDF called for the government to invest in wind and solar power”. It adds: “Campaigning under the banner UK100, they said such a move would unlock £100bn of schemes, including up to £40bn for energy efficiency and create more than 300,000 jobs. The group will present its report to ministers today.” BBC News environment analyst Roger Harrabin asks for whether free home insulation is “too good to be true”? He continues: “The Green Homes Grant – which was revealed in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s summer statement – will be available via a website in two months’ time. You will apply for a voucher of up to £5,000 worth of work, of which you will pay one third or less. If your income is low, you will get £10,000 worth of work and you won’t pay a thing.” But Harrabin walks through some of the potential problems with a rushed-out scheme: “The last time the government tried a big energy saving scheme – the Green Deal – it exploded in their faces. Unlike this new plan, nothing was free. Instead householders were offered loans with interest so high they would have saved money going to the bank manager. Some of the small number of people who took up the scheme found dreadful faults. Insulation badly installed can create damp. Unsurprisingly, the scheme was scrapped.” Finally, City AM reports: “The City’s governing body has today launched an online survey on climate change as part of plans to launch a Climate Action strategy later this year. The City of London Corporation is developing a draft climate action strategy in a bid to reduce carbon emissions and be climate resilient in the future.”

Finally, the Independent reports on how “women have been shut out of Boris Johnson’s new key decision-making bodies, an analysis shows, sparking accusations that his government is ‘incredibly blokey’”. It adds: “Under a shakeup last month, strategy is set – on handling the pandemicBrexit, the economy and the climate emergency – by small committees of cabinet ministers, each chaired by the prime minister. But there is not a single woman sitting four of those committees, while home secretary Priti Patel is the sole female voice on two others. The analysis follows widespread criticism that the government is dominated by a very tight inner circle of just Mr Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings.”

The Sunday Times Read Article
EU bank demands €18bn plus pledges for more to help pandemic recovery, climate plans

Politico reports that the European Investment Bank has asked EU governments to “stump up nearly €18bn and commit €157bn more for the lender to support the bloc’s economic recovery and climate ambitions”. It adds: “EIB President Werner Hoyer told EU finance ministers at Friday’s Ecofin Council that it would need €17.7bn of fresh money paid in, according to treasury officials on the videoconference. The rest would be callable capital, drawn upon only if needed to cover losses.” EU leaders will debate the recovery blueprint this week. Politico also quotes an EIB note sent to EU treasuries on 9 July. “The capital costs to deliver on the ambitions outlined below amount at Group level to €157bn of subscribed capital increase of which €17.7bn paid-in capital,” said the five-page note, highlighting the EU’s plans to fight climate change and revive the economy. It adds: “Additional resources would be needed if the bank were to be asked to further step up its activities also outside of the EU.”

Politico Read Article

Comment.

Democrats are getting ready to govern responsibly on climate change

An editorial in the Washington Post argues that the Democrats in the US are “at least…treating it like the [climate change] emergency…remains”. It continues: “House Democrats released late last month a massive climate plan, a package of bills that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has vowed to advance through her chamber. Meanwhile, a committee that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders convened to reconcile their views on climate policy has agreed on some top-line principles. If the Democrats win big in November, they would have a shelf fully stocked with pre-written climate policies from which to choose. That alone puts them far ahead of Republicans.” However, the editorial soon strikes a different tone: “Still, the House’s very detailed plan is a huge policy grab bag that would require refinement if it were close to becoming law, and Mr Biden should be thinking now about how to winnow it down – and how to avoid promising too much to fringe activists during the campaign.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times has hosted an online debate asking whether Covid-19 has “created a blueprint for combating climate change”. In the Guardian, marine conservationist Carlos M Duarte looks at whether Covid-19 has helped efforts to improve the global environment: “There are already promising signs: a quarter of the EU stimulus package in response to the coronavirus crisis, totalling $826bn (£655bn), will be set aside for climate-friendly measures, such as clean energy technologies and transportation and sustainable land use. Biodiversity conservation and restoration must also be targeted to restore the ecological filters and barriers that shelter humans from future disease transmission from wildlife.”

Editorial, The Washington Post Read Article
Climate change: what Antarctica’s ‘doomsday glacier’ means for the planet

The Financial Times has an extensive feature today about the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, which “perhaps more than any other place in the world, holds crucial clues about the future of the planet”. Speaking to scientists who are currently studying the vast glacier, the article continues: “Understanding the Thwaites Glacier is not just academic – it is crucial for predicting how sea level rises will impact on cities, and how we should prepare for a radically different world. If Thwaites continues to deteriorate, then by the end of the century the glacier could be responsible for centimetres or tens of centimetres of sea level rise…As Antarctic ice melts and the glaciers slide toward the ocean, Thwaites has a central position, that governs how the other glaciers behave. Right now, Thwaites is like a stopper holding back a lot of the other glaciers in West Antarctica. But scientists are worried that could change.”

Leslie Hook, Steven Bernard and Ian Bott, Financial Times Read Article
Six months on a planet in crisis: Greta Thunberg's travel diary from the US to Davos

Time has published an essay by Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg which is adapted from the transcript of a radio programme produced for Swedish Radio and broadcast last month. Thunberg discusses, among other things, the pressure she felt choosing how she travelled to and from the US last year: “I consider every possible option. Zeppelin airships, solar powered airplane and even sailing across the Pacific Ocean and then taking the Trans Siberian railway home. The most likely outcome however is to stay somewhere in North America for the winter. Hundreds of people get in touch and want to help, but very few actually have something concrete to offer. The French and Spanish governments reach out and assure that they are going to help me find a way. However it is very unclear how they will do that. Two Nordic airlines email and offer to arrange a flight using “50% sustainable fuel and then use the remaining 50% on another flight so that in total it becomes 100% fossil free”. As if biofuels were sustainable. If I wouldn’t have been who I am I would probably have hitched a ride on a cargo ship, since they – unlike airplanes and cruise ships – don’t depend on paying passengers. But everything I do and say gets altered and turned upside down which leads to mockery, conspiracy theories and organised hate campaigns. Which in turn leads to death threats toward me and my family. And that build up of hate and threat is much riskier than all the storms in the world.”

Greta Thunberg, Time Read Article

Science.

Assessment of uncertainties in projecting future changes to extreme storm surge height depending on future SST and greenhouse gas concentration scenarios

The strength of typhoons affecting the Korean Peninsula is likely to increase with climate change, while the overall number of storms is expected to decrease, a new study finds. The locations of genesis and impact of the typhoons are also expected to be shifted towards the northwest and northeast part of the Korean Peninsula as the climate warms, the research says. “However, the extent of their change varies depending on the future sea surface temperatures and global warming conditions,” the authors add.

Climatic Change Read Article
Sea surface temperature in coral reef restoration outcomes

Coral reefs that have been planted by humans in attempt to combat the effects of climate change are themselves very sensitive to warm sea temperatures, a study finds. Water temperatures above 30.5C caused coral transplant mortality of above 30%, according to the results. The authors add: “Outplant survival increases when sites experience greater variability in temperature, where outplants are exposed to temperatures both warmer and cooler than the long-term mean.”

Environmental Research Letters Read Article

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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.