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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- ‘Loss and damage’ debate set to dominate the COP27 agenda
- World aviation agrees 'aspirational' net-zero plan
- UK: Anger as Truss ignores her climate advisers’ call for energy-saving drive
- UK: Ministers hope to ban solar projects from most English farms
- UK: National Trust chief says Truss is ‘demonising’ conservationists
- Disagreements and delays: EU leaders punt on energy plans
- China is the wild card in the energy war with Russia
- The Guardian view on energy rationing: Truss cannot be trusted
- Greta Thunberg on the climate delusion: ‘We’ve been greenwashed out of our senses. It’s time to stand our ground’
- Using CMIP6 models to assess the significance of the observed trend in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
Many publications carry stories on how conversations around “loss and damage” could dominate COP27, the UN climate summit taking place in Egypt in a few weeks. The FT reports that world leaders “are gearing up for a renewed battle over how much financial support rich countries provide to developing nations, to help them cope with the consequences of rising global temperatures”. It continues: “The question of so-called ‘loss and damage’ funding for developing nations has been contentious for years, with rich countries reluctant to accept financial responsibility for climate change caused by industrial activity and offer compensation to poorer countries. But many developing countries, such as the low-lying Pacific island states vulnerable to sea level rise, are stepping up their demands. They want to see the creation of an international loss and damage finance facility.” (The FT story is part of a “special report on managing climate change”, which also features an article on how global food and energy crises “threaten to distract” from COP27 and an article on Egypt’s climate activists fear “consequences” for protesting at the summit.) Reuters reports on a document suggesting “Caribbean nations will unite to seek ‘loss and damage’ compensation” at the talks. Associated Press reports that Germany also “wants” loss and damage finance to be on the agenda at COP27. BBC News reports that young climate activists are also pushing for loss and damage finance to be high on the agenda at COP27. Bloomberg reports on how Pakistan’s recent floods could reignite loss and damage talks at the summit. (For more on loss and damage, See Carbon Brief’s recent week-long special series, including an in-depth Q&A exploring the question: “should developed nations pay for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change?”, an interactive timeline on the struggle over loss and damage at the UN climate talks, a feature exploring “non-economic” loss and damage, an article on its importance to COP27 featuring voices from John Kerry to Vanessa Nakate, and an online webinar on the topic.)
In other news, the FT reports that “the umbrella group of global financial institutions co-founded by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney is in urgent talks to review the terms of oversight by a UN climate change body, according to people familiar with the group”. Elsewhere, the Times reports that King Charles III may be sent to Canada for his first overseas visit rather than COP27 in Egypt. (The story doesn’t comment on whether this would coincide with COP15, the biodiversity summit taking place in Montreal in December.)
In coverage of a global plan to cut emissions from aviation, BBC News reports: “At a meeting in Montreal, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), pledged to support an ‘aspirational’ net-zero aviation goal by 2050. The plan, seen as a compromise by many, was accepted by the 193 countries who are members of ICAO. However green groups say the deal is weak and not legally binding.” The New York Times describes the agreement as a “milestone”, adding: “The target to reach ‘net-zero’ emissions would require the aviation industry to significantly step up its climate efforts. Previously, companies had relied on offsetting aviation’s emissions growth through tree-planting programs or through yet-to-be-proven technology to pull carbon dioxide out of the air. But to reach net-zero, companies and governments would need to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in increasingly efficient planes and cleaner fuels to sharply reduce emissions from air travel itself. And even those investments are unlikely to be enough, compelling countries and companies to adopt policies to curb flying itself, by scrapping fuel subsidies or halting airport expansion plans, for example, or ending frequent flier programmes.” Reuters and Associated Press also cover the deal.
The Observer reports that UK prime minister Liz Truss “has ignored the government’s own climate advisers in opposing an energy-saving campaign this winter…amid mounting frustration over her resistance to the plan”. The UK’s independent Climate Change Committee wrote to Truss last month outlining the need for a “comprehensive energy advice service” to tackle demand, according to the Observer. The newspaper continues: “However, Truss continues to oppose even a slimmed-down £15m public awareness campaign, understood to have been endorsed by business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg. The business department said there were ‘no plans for the government to tell the public to reduce usage for the sake of our energy supplies’.” The story also features analysis by Carbon Brief finding the UK’s gas imports would be 13% lower if successive Conservative-led governments had not “cut the green crap” over the past decade. It comes as BBC News reports that Nadhim Zahawi told its Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme that the proposed public information campaign on reducing energy demand was “pulled over cost”. BBC News adds that, according to its sources, “Truss is reported to have been ‘ideologically opposed’ to the campaign, fearing it would be too interventionist”. The Times also reports on Zahawi’s interview, focusing on his comments on how a public information campaign would be “wrong” because people can just look tips up online. The Daily Mail reports that Truss’s decision to scrap the public awareness campaign has sparked a “Tory rebellion”. The Times says this could force “another U-turn” as both “Tory MPs and industry bosses have said there was nothing wrong in offering advice that could save money”. Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports that a National Grid scheme to pay households with smart meters if they reduce use during peak hours on days when wind is low to avert blackouts this winter “will be made permanent to help the UK hit its net-zero goals”.
In other UK energy news, the Financial Times reports that the “government is pressing ahead with plans to cap revenues that renewable electricity generators are making from sky-high wholesale power prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”. The publication continues: “Companies generating power from wind and solar fear the plans, similar to proposals already announced by the European Union, will effectively amount to a windfall tax on renewable energy. The businesses involved in renewable power generation that could be affected include EDF Energy, RWE, ScottishPower and SSE.” BBC News reports that firms have described the move as “risky”, adding: “Firms are concerned that further price limits could upset the UK’s reputation for a stable regulatory environment and deter future investment. Energy bosses will discuss their concerns with the government on Monday.” In a second story published this morning, the FT reports that firms will warn the government today that the plan could “deter investment”.
In addition, there is further coverage of Truss’s plans for more North Sea oil and gas and fracking. The Guardian reports on the government’s decision to open a new oil and gas licensing round in the North Sea, noting it comes “despite threats of a legal battle from climate campaigners”. The Independent has an “exclusive” story on how 352 of the 898 locations being offered up under the licensing round – more than a third – “fall across areas designated to protect species and habitats among other important environmental features”. The Times reports on government plans to offer residents “between £500 and £1,000 to give their ‘consent’ to [fracking] gas wells being drilled near their homes”. The newspaper continues: “To kickstart the industry and minimise local opposition, the government is examining proposals to provide financial inducements to households living in a set radius around planned sites. If a majority of residents in the area agreed to the payments, the gas well would be considered to have been given ‘local consent’ – the test which the government has set out for wells to be approved. This could then circumvent the planning process and allow projects to go ahead if they met environmental criteria which would be assessed by local planning inspectors rather than having to be approved by council planning committees.” The story adds that, according to the ministers’ plans, “payments would still be made to all residents in the area – even if they had opposed the development”. The Sun also picks up on the story. The Daily Telegraph reports on a gas storage site in the North Sea that is “still not up and running” ahead of winter due to “drag[ged out]” talks between its owners and the government. The Sun also reports on a “multi-billion-pound’ deal between the UK government and Norwegian gas company Equinor, which apparently has Truss and chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng divided.
Separately, the Guardian reports on a warning that the UK could end its COP26 presidency next month “in disarray” “amid cabinet rifts on green policy and confusion over who will attend COP27”.
In an “exclusive”, the Guardian reports this morning that “ministers are planning to ban solar farms from most of England’s farmland”. It continues: “The new environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, is understood to oppose solar panels being placed on agricultural land, arguing that it impedes his programme of growth and boosting food production. To this end, say government sources, he has asked his officials to redefine ‘best and most versatile’ land (BMV), which is earmarked for farming, to include the middling-to-low category 3b. Land is graded from 1 to 5, and currently BMV includes grades 1 to 3a. Planning guidance says that development on BMV land should be avoided, although planning authorities may take other considerations into account. Currently, most solar farms are built on and planned for 3b land, so this move would scupper most new developments of the renewable energy source. Extending BMV to grade 3b would ban solar from about 41% of the land area of England, or about 58% of agricultural land. Much of grade 4 and 5 land is in upland areas that are unsuitable for solar developments.” To get the policy over the line, Defra “would have to get signoff from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities”, the paper notes, adding: “It is understood that BEIS ministers are against the move, as they are trying to show that they are not only deregulating the oil and gas industry and fracking, but also renewable energy. However, No 10 is understood to be sympathetic to the idea, with Truss having vowed to block solar farms on agricultural land during her election campaign.” (See Carbon Brief‘s recent factcheck on why ground-mounted solar is not a “threat” to UK farmland.)
In addition to critical coverage of the government’s energy plans, there is also reporting on the fall-out from its plans to scrap environmental regulations. On a story featured on its frontpage, the Sunday Times reports that “the boss of the National Trust has threatened to mobilise her 5.7m members in a mass campaign to defend the environment”. It continues: Hilary McGrady, who has been director-general of the charity since 2018, accused Liz Truss of ‘demonising’ conservationists and said her members were ‘outraged and worried’ about the threat posed by the new government’s policies.“ The National Trust has set out seven “red lines” the government “must not cross” in its pursuit of growth, the Sunday Times adds: “Charities are particularly concerned about new legislation which will result in hundreds of laws that were inherited from the EU after Brexit being either reviewed or ditched by the end of 2023. Some 570 of these laws cover environmental regulations – including water standards, air pollution thresholds, and protections for rare species and vulnerable habitats.” The Independent also picks up on the story. Also on its frontpage, the Observer reports that Truss is facing a “rural revolt” over her plans to weaken environmental protections. The Observer adds: “Senior party figures, including ministers under Boris Johnson’s premiership and former Tory leader William Hague, have joined the National Trust, the RSPB, the Angling Trust and Wildlife Trusts in criticising what they see as environmental vandalism.”
A meeting of EU leaders on Friday made little progress on a series of proposals to tackle the energy crisis, Politico reports. It says: “EU leaders left myriad questions unanswered Friday as they concluded a summit in Prague, delaying final decisions on combating sky-high energy prices to future meetings. Friday’s gathering – which lasted much longer than anticipated, reflecting the deep divisions among countries over how best to bring down energy costs – made no concrete progress on a series of proposals, including a controversial gas price cap.” The Financial Times also reports on the meeting, adding: “If there was one area on which EU leaders concurred during [the] informal summit in Prague, it was a fresh push for the bloc to hold talks with alternative gas suppliers to buy more quantities at lower prices.” It comes as an FT graphic shows that EU payments for Russian fossil fuels since the start of war have now reached €100bn.
Elsewhere, Politico reports that Russia’s gas squeeze threatens to halt EU trucks. In addition, the Guardian reports on a move from the European Commission to reform the energy charter treaty, which has historically enabled fossil fuel companies to sue governments for taking climate action against their emissions.
The “sharp decline” in energy import demand by China, the world’s “second-largest economy”, is “helping slow price rises sparked by Russian’s invasion of Ukraine”, explains a New York Times news feature. It adds that China’s “slump” in energy consumption is also “offering an unintended assist to the US-led efforts to choke off the enormous revenues Russia reaps as an energy exporter”. The article says that if the Chinese economy’s demand for energy “rebounds” in the coming months, China’s increase together with the Opec+ cuts could “strain the limits of global energy supplies” and make it “much harder” for the European Union to “limit” increases of price that Russia can “charge for oil that it sells to countries not in the European Union using ships or insurance from Europe”. Additionally, an article by Forbes quotes Ma Guonan, a senior fellow on Chinese economy at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis, who says that “China’s economic policy is “coming to a crucial crossroads” at the Chinese Communist Party Congress starting on 16 October, with choices to be made between more pragmatic support for the private sector and more socialist-leaning directions”. Ma adds: “The importance of economic development appears to have ranked notably lower on more and more occasions.”
Separately, the South China Morning Post writes that, according to a new report, China’s “growing reliance on gas supplies from both the US and Russia could leave it at the mercy of geopolitical forces”. Meanwhile, columnist John Kemp says in a comment piece for Reuters that China’s “reliance on imported gas is increasing despite government efforts to boost domestic output, creating an intensifying problem for both energy and national security”.
Bloomberg focuses on a paper that “serves as a ledger connecting those who have polluted with those who have suffered economically as a result”. The paper finds that from 1990 to 2014, the five most “prodigious emitters” – the US, China, Russia, Brazil and India – have “cost the world $6tn in losses in 2010 dollars”, the outlet notes, adding that “the damage attributable to the top two, China and the US, amounts to $1.8tn”. Nature carries an article which says that an analysis now “suggests that powering heavy industries with hydrogen could be a cost-effective way to reduce China’s carbon emissions – and its contribution to climate change”.
Elsewhere, the state-run newspaper Global Times says that the country’s Wing Loong-2H large civil unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is “designed to help improve the ability” of cloud seeding on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which is of “great significance to sustain living and agriculture-stock production there, as well as explore ways to cope with climate change”. Finally, S&P Global Commodity Insights writes that the “outlook for Asian hot-rolled coil (HRC) prices “looks bleak” in the fourth quarter of 2022 as “steel demand from Chinese property and manufacturing sectors is likely to remain weak” till the end of 2022, even though “some support may come from stimulus packages” with the Chinese government “targeting” domestic industries and consumer spending, citing “market sources”.
UK prime minister Liz Truss “might get lucky with a warm winter”, says a Guardian editorial, “but it is a weak and inadequate leader who gambles so much on something as unpredictable as the weather”. With the National Grid last week warning of disruptions to energy supply this winter, “Truss does not want to be the prime minister who imposed energy rationing, and appears to favour denial as the method to avoid it happening”, the Guardian says, adding: “She does not flatly rule out any prospect of shortages, but she belittles the risk by refusing to engage with it candidly.” The paper concludes that the “prime minister’s judgment is poor”, pointing to – among other things – the blocking of an “information campaign by the business department encouraging simple energy-saving behaviours…ostensibly because of the £15m cost”. That is “a small sum compared with the tens of billions that the government is committed to spend on holding bills down over the winter”, the editorial says: “In a very short time, the prime minister has established a record of saying things with confidence that turn out to be wrong. A difficult winter, with millions facing fuel and food poverty, would deplete the standing of any government.”
An editorial in the Sun says that Truss is “wrong” to use the grounds of taking a “commendable stand on the nanny state” as a reason to “rule out a campaign to urge Britain to use less energy”. It says: “One effect of her bills bailout is that, while the cost will remain eye-watering for most families, some people will now see no urgent need to be frugal. But energy will be short this winter. Wasting it makes blackouts ever more likely…The PM should think again. If we DO suffer power cuts, she will sorely wish she had tried everything to avert them.” An editorial in the Sunday Telegraph on Truss needing to “sell her reforms to the country” also supports “a major campaign to communicate the extent of the energy intervention”. The move “would make sense”, the paper says, “given that this is unfortunately the greatest welfare programme ever invented by any government, to urge consumers to be thrifty when using taxpayer-subsidised energy – and how best to use less of it”.
Columnists have also made similar points over the weekend. Observer writer Will Hutton warns that the UK is “the country taking the winter threat of Putin-induced energy shortages least seriously”. He says: “Her veto of a £15m public information campaign designed to suggest how citizens might save energy – because it represented a state intrusion into personal space – is an accurate window into Truss’s worldview. She truly believes this libertarian nonsense.” Sunday Times columnist Robert Colvile writes that experts are “baffled” that “the government is doing nothing to encourage people to use less energy and is offering only limited support for measures such as home insulation”. In the Daily Telegraph, columnist Tim Stanley says: “For a start, if the Government must borrow or tax to pay my bills, it’s entitled to ask me to be careful with how much I consume. Second, some kind of rationing seems inevitable this winter – because the primary cause of this price surge is a reduction in supply – and it would be better if this were voluntary rather than by compulsion. Asking us to boil less water in the kettle or switch off radiators in the spare bedroom seems small but adds up, deferring rolling blackouts.” Even climate-sceptic columnist Dominic Lawson says “our Government SHOULD be telling us how to use less energy”. He writes in the Daily Mail: “Nannying is telling an individual not to do something, for his or her own good. A public information programme of the sort proposed is an attempt to give people ideas of how to do something for the good of the nation as a whole.” In the Daily Express, columnist Leo McKinstry is less keen, pointing out that “a propaganda drive like the one in the 1970s would have been patronising”. He adds, optimistically: “Even in the Grid’s worst-case scenario, the power cuts in Britain will last just three hours at a time, hardly a catastrophe in the context of modern history.” And in the Daily Telegraph, climate-sceptic commentator Charles Moore criticises the BBC for trying to “rouse anger that the government is not producing propaganda about how to save energy”.
In other UK comment, Daily Telegraph world economy editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes that “plummeting global gas prices have slashed the cost of the UK’s energy price cap and may ultimately reduce the monthly subsidy to zero, greatly alleviating the strain on government borrowing”. An editorial in the Sun comments on a potential deal between the UK and Norwegian oil and gas firm Equinor. While “cutting a 20-year deal when supplies are scarce and prices are high risks locking us into overpayment…it also makes us shudder even to contemplate the alternative risk of returning to the blackouts of the 1970s”, the paper says, adding: “Business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg must drive down the price and avoid a destabilising market backlash.” Finally, in the Mail on Sunday, farmer Geordie Burnett-Stuart criticises “the rush for net-zero, at least as it applies to agriculture”, going as far to describe the “claim that livestock, such as cows and sheep, damage the environment by burping and farting” as a “methane myth”.
The Guardian carries an extract from the Climate Book by Greta Thunberg. It reads: “It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to keep calling out the bullshit of our so-called leaders. I want to believe that people are good. But there really seems to be no end to these cynical games. If your objective as a politician truly is to act on the climate crisis, then surely your first step would be to gather accurate figures for our actual emissions to get a complete overview of the problem, and from there start looking at real solutions? That would also give you a rough idea of the changes needed, the scale of them and how quickly they need to be put in place. This, however, has not been done – or even suggested – by any world leader.” Elsewhere, the Guardian speaks to nine climate figures about “great ideas” for “saving the planet”. In addition, i newspaper science writer Tom Chivers explores why “everything you thought you knew about how to fix the climate is probably wrong”. And the FT magazine publishes a feature titled: “Why does imagining the end of the world feel easier than saving it?”
The weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) observed over 2004-20 is “consistent with natural variability”, according to new research. The authors run models from the sixth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project under a pre-industrial scenario to estimate the natural variability of the AMOC. They conclude that the AMOC trend derived from observations “is not significant relative to CMIP6 model natural variability” – implying that climate change is not necessarily a driver of weakening to date. However, the study adds that “CMIP6 models largely disagree on AMOC variability, including at decadal and longer periods”.