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Daily Briefing

14.01.2022
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Last year was the world’s sixth-warmest on record – US scientists
Last year was the world’s sixth-warmest on record – US scientists

News.

Last year was the world's sixth-warmest on record – US scientists
Reuters Read Article

Last year ranked as the sixth-warmest year on record, according to the latest data released by NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports Reuters. According to NOAA, 2021 average temperatures were 0.84C (1.51F) above the 20th century average, putting it just ahead of 2018, the newswire says, adding that 2021 is tied with 2018 in the NASA dataset. The Associated Press notes that “global temperatures, averaged over a 10-year period to take out natural variability, are nearly 2F (1.1C) warmer than 140 years ago”. It adds that a La Nina event “dampened global temperatures just as its flip side, El Nino, boosted them in 2016”. Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells the outlet that “the long-term trend is very, very clear. And it’s because of us. And it’s not going to go away until we stop increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”. Bloomberg notes that “the last eight years were the hottest in global records that date to 1880”. The newswire also reports: “Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit that looks at stations and ocean data, found last year to be virtually tied with 2015 and 2018 for the fifth-hottest year.” The Guardian leads with the finding that “nearly a quarter of the world’s population experienced a record hot year in 2021”. (The Washington Post has a nice map displaying this data.) The Guardian adds: “There were record-high temperatures in parts of northern Africa, south Asia and parts of South America last year, Arctic sea ice continued its decline and the oceans recorded yet another record year for heat content.” Bloomberg also has an interactive article on “the world’s troubling new tempo of temperature records”. Keep an eye out for Carbon Brief’s in-depth analysis of 2021 climate data next week.

In other temperature news, there is continuing reporting of Australia equalling its hottest day on record after the coastal town of Onslow in Western Australia reported temperatures of 50.7C. BBC News notes that “Onslow and the surrounding areas could see records broken again with temperatures set to rise slightly” today. ITV News says that “the average temperature at this time of year is 36.5C” for the area. The Guardian also has the story.

Global surge in electricity use could bring three more years of price rises
The Guardian Read Article

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned the global surge in demand for energy could spark another three years of market volatility and record power plant pollution unless countries make major changes to how they generate electricity, the Guardian reports. In its annual electricity report, the IEA says global demand for electricity surged by 6% last year, following the economic rebound from the 2020 pandemic recession. This is “the steepest increase since 2010 when economies began to bounce back from the global financial crisis”, the paper explains, adding: “About half of the growth in electricity demand took place in China alone, where it rose by an estimated 10% compared with 2020.” Globally, the IEA finds that renewable energy sources grew by 6% in 2021, the Guardian says, but this increase “was unable to keep pace with the surge in demand”. It adds: “In order to meet the rebound in demand for power, coal-fired plants generated 9% more electricity last year, or more than half of the global increase in power demand, to reach an all-time peak as gas became more expensive. Electricity generated by gas power plants grew by 2% last year…while nuclear generation increased by 3.5%.” The Daily Telegraph leads with the line that “electricity prices and carbon emissions will keep rising unless more money is invested in renewables”. It quotes the IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol, who said that“policymakers should be taking action now to soften the impacts on the most vulnerable and to address the underlying causes…Higher investment in low-carbon energy technologies including renewables, energy efficiency and nuclear power – alongside an expansion of robust and smart electricity grids – can help us get out of today’s difficulties.”

Birol has also penned an article, published on LinkedIn, in which he pushes back on “claims that volatility in gas and electricity markets is the result of the clean energy transition”. He writes: “These assertions are misleading to say the least. This is not a renewables or a clean energy crisis; this is a natural gas market crisis.” He says the IEA sees “strong elements of ‘artificial tightness’ in European gas markets, which appears to be due to the behaviour of Russia’s state-controlled gas supplier [Gazprom]”. He continues: “Unlike other pipeline suppliers – such as Algeria, Azerbaijan and Norway – Russia has reduced its exports to Europe by 25% in the fourth quarter of 2021 compared with the same period in 2020 – and by 22% compared with its 2019 levels…Against today’s low baseline, we estimate that Russia could increase deliveries to Europe by at least one-third, or over 3bn cubic metres per month. This equates to almost 10% of the European Union’s average monthly gas consumption – and would be the equivalent of a new LNG tanker delivering a full cargo of natural gas to Europe every day. Together with the current high level of LNG inflow, this would provide significant relief to European gas markets.”

Elsewhere, there is continued coverage of the role of Gazprom, with Politico reporting that EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager yesterday questioned Gazprom’s strategy to limit gas supplies at a time of increased demand. She told reporters: “It is indeed thought-provoking that a company, in view of increasing demand, limits supply…That is quite rare behaviour in the marketplace.” Reuters also has the story. Another Politico article says that, “in addition to the increased pressure from Europe’s competition enforcers, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell also insisted that Russia’s hopes of piping gas directly into Germany via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline were also dependent on its behaviour in Ukraine”. Borrell said: “Certainly the functioning of this infrastructure will also depend on the development of the events in Ukraine and the attitude of Russia,” adding that the future of the pipeline – expected to be approved by German regulators later this year – “is certainly linked to the military situation in Ukraine”. But if Russia de-escalates, “and nothing happens, then it’s in the hand of the regulator to decide,” he said. Politico notes that “Germany is frantically trying to keep Nord Stream 2 out of discussions on measures to punish Russia in case it attacks; Berlin has long argued that the pipeline is a commercial project that shouldn’t be linked to politics.” On the other side of the Atlantic, Reuters reports that “a US bill to slap sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline sponsored by Republican Senator Ted Cruz failed to get enough votes to pass” yesterday.

Also on energy prices in Europe, Bloomberg reports that Europe’s longer-term power prices fell “for the seventh session as milder weather and improved gas supplies brought down nearer-term prices”. The drop is down to more liquefied natural gas arriving in Europe and windier weather bolstering renewable output, the outlet says, adding that “power costs still remain historically high, with Germany’s year-ahead price, a benchmark for the continent, more than double its level this time last year”. The Financial Times Europe Express column says that ties between Germany and the Netherlands “have come under strain over Berlin’s requests for emergency Dutch gas supplies”. It explains that “the Netherlands has committed to shutting down Groningen, Europe’s largest gasfield, over concerns of earthquakes and mini-tremors caused by decades of underground pumping. But the field will have to keep producing well beyond forecasts this year, in part because of rising demand from Germany and Europe’s energy crisis”. In France, Reuters reports that finance minister Bruno Le Maire said in an interview with French daily Le Parisien yesterday that the increase of power prices this year will remain capped at 4%. As a result, French utility EDF said it was withdrawing its 2022 earnings guidance and that the group would have to sell more nuclear power to rivals, a separate Reuters piece reports. EDF warned it could take a hit of up to €8.4bn, says the Financial Times. EDF shares “were down 23.7% in early session trading” says a third Reuters article.

UK heavy industry unlikely to get government help with high energy prices
Financial Times Read Article

British industry has “reacted with dismay” after the government signalled it had “little appetite to provide immediate financial support to energy intensive users struggling with soaring gas and electricity prices”, reports the Financial Times. The paper says it has seen a letter sent from junior business minister Lee Rowley to the Energy Intensive Users Group last week that “play[s] down expectations of any intervention”. In the letter, Rowley points out that the most exposed sectors had received “extensive support” for a number of years, including “more than £2bn to help with the high electricity prices”. The letter “stopped short of ruling out any help”, the FT says, but a “subsequent meeting with Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, last Thursday subsequently failed to make any progress, according to three people familiar with the situation”. One industry executive warned that the government’s approach increased the risk of some companies having to shut down production, the paper says, while a second said “we are not looking for handouts. We are asking for policy engagement”.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Labour has accused Rishi Sunak of being “missing in action” on the unfolding energy crisis. The Daily Telegraph reports that a group of 25 charities and green groups – including Age UK and Save the Children – have written a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson to warn that the spike in gas prices could see an extra two million people pulled into fuel poverty. And the Press Association reports that unions have criticised the government for “doing nothing” to tackle the crisis as Ovo Energy – which has around 4.5m customers – is set to cut 1,700 jobs. Finally, Bloomberg reports that record gas prices mean that “power from once-expensive offshore [UK] wind farms is so much cheaper than conventional plants that they are paying millions of pounds back to the Low Carbon Contracts Company, the government entity in charge of the support mechanism”.

US Energy Dept to hire 1,000 workers in infrastructure boost –officials
Reuters Read Article

The US infrastructure bill that president Joe Biden is expected to sign soon will “boost investments in the US Department of Energy by the most since its founding in 1977 and create about 1,000 jobs in the agency”, reports Reuters. The newswire continues: “The bipartisan bill contains more than $62bn in incentives for emerging and traditional technologies for the department. Biden and his fellow Democrats in Congress are also seeking to pass a bigger reconciliation bill that has even more incentives for the energy transition, but which has been delayed by disagreements within the party.” DOE chief of staff Tarak Shah told reporters that “over the coming days, weeks, months, we are going to have to step up”, adding: “We anticipate somewhere around 1,000 new folks coming on board to help us spend this money efficiently and effectively for the American people.” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a video announcing the effort that the new “clean energy corps” will work on projects such as deploying clean energy and designing electric vehicle charging networks, reports the Hill. Shah tells the Washington Post that “we’re looking for people who have just graduated all the way to people who have been in the energy business for a long time.”

In other US news, Bloomberg reports that West Virginia senator “Joe Manchin, whose opposition is threatening to derail president Joe Biden’s massive social-spending plan, wants to expand at least one of its climate provisions: a tax credit to keep nuclear plants operating”. The article explains: “Manchin, the powerful Democrat from coal- and natural gas-rich West Virginia, backs the credit for nuclear plants that is tucked inside Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. Under the version passed by the House, a credit of as much as $15 per megawatt-hour could be claimed for the next six years. Manchin, whose support is necessary for Senate Democrats to pass the legislation on a party-line vote, wants the tax credit to last 10 years instead, according to three people familiar with the matter.” This angle could give Biden a “path for his green goals”, the outlet says.

Comment.

Nuclear power is the solution to our energy problems
Editorial, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

An editorial in the Daily Telegraph (published yesterday) declares that nuclear power “has always been [the] answer” to the challenge of emitting less CO2 while providing sufficient energy for a population of billions. The article says that “notwithstanding the objections of environmentalists and the difficulties of disposing of the waste, fission reactors are an essential component of any non-carbon energy mix”. It continues: “The other good news for nuclear is that it is no longer so expensive, vis a vis other energy sources, as to be uneconomic. Producing electricity from the planned Hinkley Point C reactor is now significantly cheaper than the average cost from all sources, an extraordinary turnaround caused by the spike in gas prices.” However, the paper says, “that is where the good news ends. Hinkley is being built by the French firm EDF which yesterday announced more delays to its flagship new generation reactor, at Flamanville, which uses the same technology”. The editorial concludes: “The plant should have been up and running 10 years ago and projected costs are four times the initial forecast. Until the fuel is loaded it is not clear how well the plant will perform and whether Hinkley can get under way before other reactors are decommissioned. It makes the case for a move to small modular reactors even more urgent.”

Elsewhere, Martin Vander Weyer – business editor of the Spectator – bemoans the closure of Scotland’s Hunterston B nuclear power plant last week. He writes that “the closure of so many nuclear sites before replacement capacity was even off the drawing board is an accidental outcome of decades of ministerial feebleness”. The shift towards wind and solar power means the UK is “increasingly reliant on a very unreliable aspect of nature: weather”, he says, adding: “As our nuclear estate shrinks, pray like the sailor for clear skies and fair winds.”

Doubling down on climate delivery in 2022
Chris Stark, Climate Change Committee Read Article

Writing on the Climate Change Committee’s website, chief executive Chris Stark looks at what is ahead as the CCC’s heads into its 15th year. The COP26 summit provided a “focal point for UK climate policy in 2021” and a “draw for new ambitions from government and new commitments from the private sector”, says Stark. Now the CCC’s attention will turn to “private sector delivery and implementation of the public policies to underpin it”. This will need to be achieved “in the context of a dramatic spike in global fossil fuel prices and new pressures on the cost of living, as we recover from the pandemic”, Stark warns. On reducing emissions, Stark says CCC analysis “will continue to be rooted in the key sectoral challenges: energy supply; surface transport; buildings; industry; agriculture; aviation; shipping; waste; fluorinated-gases and greenhouse gas removals”. He adds: “And we’ll continue to offer an integrated view of the UK’s infrastructure requirements, land use changes, and key questions over the use of biomass and carbon capture and storage. We plan a reboot in our approach to monitoring progress across these areas and we’ll deepen our advice on the specific circumstances in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.” The CCC’s publications “kick off in the next few weeks”, says Stark “with advice on new oil and gas licensing in the UK, and its compatibility with our climate objectives. And we’ll stay offshore with a new briefing on ‘blue carbon’ in coastal and marine ecosystems, drawing together the latest evidence on the climate contribution of UK waters. Over the year, we’ll also publish some deep dives into the new net-zero strategy, beginning with a review of the government’s approach to decarbonising heat and buildings, taking us into one of the most contested recent topics: how to decarbonise homes and support consumers at the same time”. Other areas of focus for the year ahead include climate change adaptation, international action and monitoring progress, notes Stark.

Why our secret weapon against the climate crisis could be humour
Adam McKay and Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, The Guardian Read Article

Adam McKay – writer and director of the Netflix film “Don’t Look Up”, a story about an Earth-bound comet that is an allegory for climate change inaction – and scientist Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson have a piece in the Guardian on why humour could be a “secret weapon” to spur climate action. They note that “despite a horrifying parade of extreme weather events fit for an apocalypse film, only 0.4% of corporate news airtime in 2020 was about climate”. This shows that “clearly we need to reassess how we’re communicating this massive story”, they say: “So, Don’t Look Up tries to do something that perhaps doesn’t feel natural with a story as dark as climate change: make the audience laugh. Because when people laugh together it gives them perspective, relief and, most of all, a semblance of community. This is not conjecture. Research shows that humour can lower our defences and make hard truths easier to hear.” McKay and Johnson write that “corporations, advertising and PR firms are turning even the most basic exchange of information into a sales pitch or ‘brand enhancement’ and it’s put us in a very dangerous place. What better way to rob this constant churning wall of spin, coercion and success porn than by simply laughing at it?” They conclude: “You see, when it comes to climate change, we are all in the writers’ room right now, deciding how the story unfolds and how it ends. And that story can be funny, dire, hopeful or all of the above. But not every story is guaranteed a happy ending, even though that’s mostly what we see in movies. So we can’t just sit back and watch. We are not an audience. Like it or not, we are in this story.”

Science.

Rapid glacier retreat rates observed in West Antarctica
Nature Geoscience Read Article

A new study finds that interactions between ice and the Southern Ocean may be driving glacier retreat at rates that are faster than current models predict. Researchers use satellite imagery to determine the grounding lines and surface elevations of three glaciers in Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea, then use these numbers to calculate glacial retreat and mass loss. They find a “sustained pattern” of retreat punctuated by “episodes of more rapid retreat. One glacier they studied retreated 3.5km over a period of less than four months in 2017 – a rate of nearly 12km per year. The authors note that while these rates of retreat are high in comparison to many other glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, they are “consistent” with retreat rates inferred from palaeo records.

THE BRIEF

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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.