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Daily Briefing

25.08.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Madagascar on the brink of climate change-induced famine
Madagascar on the brink of climate change-induced famine

News.

Madagascar on the brink of climate change-induced famine
BBC News Read Article

Madagascar is “on the brink of experiencing the world’s first ‘climate change famine’”, BBC News reports, citing the UN World Food Programme. The country is already suffering severe levels of hunger and food insecurity after four years without rain, it adds. The broadcaster reports: “The drought – the worst in four decades – has devastated isolated farming communities in the south of the country, leaving families to scavenge for insects to survive. ‘These are famine-like conditions and they’re being driven by climate not conflict,’ said the UN World Food Programme’s Shelley Thakral.” It quotes Thakral saying: “This is unprecedented. These people have done nothing to contribute to climate change. They don’t burn fossil fuels… and yet they are bearing the brunt of climate change.” The piece adds: “Although Madagascar experiences frequent droughts and is often affected by the change in weather patterns caused by El Niño, experts believe climate change can be directly linked to the current crisis.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “at least 13” people have been killed by floods in the Venezuelan state of Merida. In Spain, Bloomberg reports that the government plans to offer aid to regions affected by wildfires, after classifying them as emergency zones. In India, DownToEarth reports that over a fifth of the country’s land area is “facing drought-like conditions”, according to a real-time monitoring platform. It says the figure is up by three-fifths compared to a year ago, adding: “Uneven distribution and failed monsoon are among the major drivers behind the current situation.” Hindustan Times also reports on the drought-like conditions in some regions of India following “significant rain deficiency during monsoon”. Climate Home News reports that Afghanistan is “at risk of hunger amid drought and Taliban takeover”. It adds: “Afghans have found themselves caught in a vicious cycle of climate change and conflict for over 40 years…Water and land scarcity have increased community-level conflict, poverty and instability, which in turn have driven environmental degradation and the depletion of resources.”

Elsewhere, a New York Times visual feature has maps that “tell the story of two Americas: one parched, one soaked”. It explains: “The country, like most of the world, is becoming both drier and wetter in the era of climate change. It depends where you live.” A Guardian Q&A asks: “did the climate crisis fuel Henri and the Tennessee flooding?” It concludes: “Climate scientists say while it’s difficult to give a precise attribution, the fingerprints of the climate crisis are undoubtedly present to some degree.” CNN runs an article under the headline: “How climate change amplifies extreme weather like Tennessee’s deadly floods and NYC’s record rainfall.” Meanwhile, the Hill reports that wildfire smoke has led to the “worst air quality on record in Nevada counties”. The Guardian reports that “breathing wildfire smoke during pregnancy raises risk of premature birth, study finds”. For Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell uses his column to argue: “Wildfires are not a seasonal problem. The trauma is year-round.” A comment for the Guardian is titled: “Here in British Columbia, we have spent the summer running from cruel wildfires.”

US House advances Biden's multi-trillion-dollar domestic agenda
Reuters Read Article

The US House of Representatives has advanced President Biden’s $3.5tn budget proposals, Reuters reports. The vote allows House speaker Nancy Pelosi to continue pushing her “two-track strategy, whereby [a $1tn] infrastructure [bill] and the broader [$3.5tn budget] spending bill would advance in tandem”, explains NPR. It adds: “Pelosi and other leaders have insisted that the only way to make good on promises to address climate change and provide support to workers and families is to tie the two bills together.” The Washington Post reports concerns among climate activists that the Democrats have a limited window to pass “meaningful changes” before midterm elections in 2022, when the party could lose its majorities in Congress. Al Jazeera reports on the prospects for US climate action as part of the infrastructure and budget packages, in a piece headlined: “United States nears first major steps to control CO2 emissions.” In his Atlantic column, Robinson Meyer writes: “Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer will soon release an analysis showing that the budget-reconciliation bill and the bipartisan infrastructure bill will combine to reduce US emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030, according to a person familiar with the situation, who was granted anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the report on the record.” An editorial in the Boston Globe says the Senate “must approve” what it calls “game-changing climate legislation”, namely the Clean Electricity Payments Program that is currently part of Biden’s $3.5tn budget package and which would provide financial incentives for utilities to switch to zero-carbon supplies. The editorial says: “Of course, reducing emissions from electricity generation alone won’t be enough to stop the fires and floods. But it would be an important step toward slowing their terrifying advance.”

Meanwhile, citing “court papers”, Reuters reports that the Biden administration is to restart the federal oil and gas leasing programme in the next week, with an auction for licenses in the Gulf of Mexico “as soon as October”. It continues: “The move comes two months after the US Interior Department first said it would comply with a 15 June federal judge’s order blocking its months-long pause in oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. That order was a blow to a key White House effort to address climate change by reining in fossil fuel extraction. US president Joe Biden paused the oil and gas leasing program in January, pending an analysis of its impacts on the environment and value to taxpayers. Interior said in a statement that it is still conducting that review.” Bloomberg reports: “The decision is a blow to environmental activists who have pressed Biden to permanently block oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, having argued a warming world can’t afford to burn the fossil fuels they contain. But Interior’s announcement didn’t assuage oil industry allies who accused the agency of slow-walking sales. The Hill also has the story. Another Reuters article reports that an Illinois representative has “urged President Joe Biden to consider using federal emergency powers to save two struggling nuclear power plants in his state”.

Separately, Bloomberg reports that White House and other administration officials had been pushing for more stringent car emissions standards but that the US Environmental Protection Agency had stuck with “its industry-backed plan”. The publication, citing “thousands of pages of correspondence, analysis and drafts newly released from an interagency review of the measure”, adds that a credit scheme in the proposals “might undermine electric vehicle goals”, according to “at least one administration official”. Finally, another Bloomberg article reports how utility firm NextEra Energy is challenging attempts by a group of US solar manufacturers to push for extended solar tariffs on imported panels. The publication says NextEra wants the anonymous group to be identified or its request thrown out.

China's provinces still planning over 100GW of new coal projects – Greenpeace
Reuters Read Article

Local planners approved some 24 new coal-fired power stations in the first half of 2021, Reuters reports, citing Greenpeace research. The newswire notes that this brings the total in construction or earlier stages of development to more than 100 gigawatts (GW), according to Greenpeace, even though approvals in the first half of the year are down 80% on a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Workers Daily reports that 38 “open-pit coal mines” in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which had been shut down due to “incomplete land-use procedures”, have all resumed operation. The mines have been allowed to produce coal again after the authorities approved their applications in July. These mines have a combined production capacity of 66.7m tonnes per year, the report adds. On the same topic, My Steel, an industry news site, says that Ordos officials have “recently” called for efforts to ensure an increase in the production and supply of coal. They also set up a “special rectification” campaign against violations of regulations and laws in the city’s “coal resources” sector, the website says.

Elsewhere, Xinhua features one of China’s first villages to fully electrify its daily energy demand. The article, originally published by Shanxi Daily, explains how the village of Zhuangshang in Shanxi province pursues its zero-emission goal by using solar power, energy storage and other technologies to realise its energy transition. In addition, CGTN, the English arm of China’s state broadcaster, explores if video games simulating a future world under intensifying climate change can lead youths and governments to act on the issue.

US climate envoy Kerry expected to travel to China in September – sources
Reuters Read Article

US climate envoy John Kerry is to visit China in September, Reuters reports, citing “two people familiar with the plans”. [Earlier reports had suggested he would visit at the end of August.] Reuters says the trip will “continue [Kerry’s] efforts to carve out climate change as an area of closer collaboration amid deepening tensions between the two countries”, adding: “The visit would mark the second for the former secretary of state, who has led US efforts to convince the global community of the threat of climate change and urge them to accelerate efforts to curb carbon emissions.” [Another Reuters article reports: “US vice president Kamala Harris on Wednesday again charged China with bullying its Southeast Asian neighbours…Earlier on Wednesday, Chinese state media accused Harris of seeking to drive a wedge between China and Southeast Asian nations.”]

Separately, Chris Stark, the chief executive of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, has spoken to the Daily Express, telling the paper that the UK, as host of the upcoming COP26 climate summit, “absolutely should be putting more pressure on China, the US and India”. The paper quotes him saying: “It’s a great moment to apply pressure and it goes with that we also have to demonstrate how to do it…With our historic legacy that has caused a lot of problems for climate change in the past, we need to show we are willing to put plans into place and get to net-zero.” The paper runs Stark’s quotes under the headline: “China threat: PM told to demand climate change plan from Xi Jinping ahead of COP26.”

Cambo oilfield work postponed until next year after activists stage protest
The Independent Read Article

Preparatory work at the Cambo oil field project off the coast of Shetland, which has not yet received a development permit, has been postponed after protests from activists, the Independent reports. It says: “Greenpeace campaigners on Monday used kayaks to confront a ship in Norway preparing construction equipment for the fossil fuel production project.” It continues: “In a letter to the business secretary, Greenpeace argued that carrying out this work without a permit would be unlawful and urged the government to intervene. On Tuesday, the head of the oil company behind the project announced that the work would now be postponed until next year due to ‘operational issues’ and bad weather.” The paper adds: “The government has previously come under fire from campaigners, researchers and politicians for refusing to rule out approving the new oil field ahead of COP26, a global climate conference being hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November.” Bloomberg reports: “[Development company] Siccar Point said that some preparatory work that was due to commence shortly is now being pushed back into 2022…Siccar Point said that its contractor has regulatory consent for the installation of the conductor anchor nodes, which is separate to the approvals needed for the full field development.” DeSmog reports on Petrofac, a contractor on the Cambo development: “A firm being investigated on corruption charges and founded by a major Tory donor is a contractor on the proposed Cambo oilfield in the North Sea.” It adds: “Climate campaigners said the revelation showed the project was becoming ‘murkier’ all the time and that Boris Johnson should put a stop to the development.”

Extinction rebellion protest: XR blocks roads in Westminster during second day of London demos as 52 arrested
The i newspaper Read Article

There is continued coverage of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests taking place in London, with the i newspaper reporting that a total of 102 people have now been arrested during the action. It reports: “The latest action is part of a 12-day mass demonstration planned by the climate protest group, which included activists driving a van into a central London square with a demonstrator on top of the vehicle holding a flag that said ‘Stop HS2’. Others blocked traffic in Westminster by laying in the street.” The Times reports that XR has “set sights on [the] City of London”, with plans to shift its focus to the city’s financial centre next week. It reports: “Gail Bradbrook, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, said action would be taken against Barclays and HSBC, among others, but she expected most disruption to affect ‘the value of people’s brands’ rather than workers.” An editorial in the Daily Mail (not yet online) is titled: “Extinction Hypocrisy.” A comment for the Daily Mail by Sarah Vine, the wife of senior government figure Michael Gove, dismisses the protests as being in contrast to the “more immediate ‘emergency’ unfolding before our very eyes in Afghanistan”. She writes: “For a start, they’re preaching to the converted. Britain has long been at the forefront of dealing with climate change, even though we already have some of the lowest rates of pollution in the world.” [The UK’s per capita emissions are above the global average.] In the Daily Telegraph, a comment by Philip Johnston criticises the actions under the headline: “The limits to protest are not for Extinction Rebellion to decide.” A second piece in the Daily Telegraph, by climate sceptic commentator Ross Clark, rails against the “hypocrisy” of XR’s Bradbrook, who drives a diesel car. He writes: “[S]orry, it isn’t alright to drive a diesel car, nor indeed any car, when the campaign group you founded is simultaneously blocking streets and refusing to budge until the government agrees to your demand to end all net carbon emissions in just four years’ time.”

Shipping firm Maersk spends £1bn on ‘carbon neutral’ container ships
The Guardian Read Article

There is continued coverage of the news that shipping giant Maersk has placed an order for eight new vessels capable of running on methanol as well as traditional bunker fuel, with the Guardian reporting the cost as $1.4bn (£1bn). The paper says the ships could save 1m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, according to Maersk, adding: “The Danish company aims to only order new vessels that can use carbon neutral fuel as it seeks to deliver net-zero emissions by 2050.” Bloomberg reports the comments of Maersk vice president Morten Bo Christensen saying: “We don’t believe in more fossil fuels…A lot of our customers are very, very supportive of this.” It adds: “Maersk isn’t the only shipper starting to make the transition. Oil tanker owner Euronav NV has ordered new ships capable of one day running on ammonia or liquefied natural gas. Commodities trader Cargill Inc. has said it plans to add so-called wing sails to some of its fleet.” The Times says the ships are due to start operating from 2024 but “are expected to have to use conventional bunker fuel initially because ‘sourcing an adequate amount of carbon neutral methanol from day one in service will be challenging’, Maersk said”. Reuters notes that because ships have a lifetime of 20-35 years, Maersk would need to have a carbon-neutral fleet in place by 2030 if it is to reach its target of net-zero emissions by 2050. CNN and the Daily Telegraph also have the story.

UK: Consumer 'confusion' threatens net-zero homes plan
BBC News Read Article

Several publications pick up an open letter from consumer group Citizens Advice and others regarding upcoming government plans to decarbonise UK homes, with BBC News reporting the letter’s call for more financial support to make the changes. It adds: “Government plans to decarbonise homes are too complicated and confusing, according to a coalition of consumer and industry groups.” Sky News also reports the letter: “Energy use in homes accounts for 14% of the UK’s emissions, but householders are put off energy saving initiatives by horror stories and costs, PM told.” The i newspaper reports on an example “insulation nightmare”. BusinessGreen says the letter calls for enhanced consumer protections as part of the upcoming government strategy “to bolster public trust and confidence in the building decarbonisation agenda”. The Times reports on separate analysis from the National Housing Federation finding, the paper says, that homes in England are responsible for larger greenhouse gas emissions than cars. It runs under the headline: “Houses pose more danger to climate than vehicles.” Separately, Press Association via Evening Standard reports that water firm Yorkshire Water “has created a glimpse of how climate change could affect supplies in the future, to encourage people to save water”.

Comment.

Maersk points the way to a lower-carbon future
Editorial, Financial Times Read Article

An editorial in the Financial Times “commend[s]” the news that shipping giant Maersk has ordered eight ships that can run on “‘green’ methanol”, adding that the move nevertheless “throws a spotlight on how much the industry still needs to do”. The piece continues: “With freight costs often accounting for only a small proportion of goods’ retail prices, some in the industry hope higher fuel costs can ultimately be passed on to climate-conscious consumers.” It adds: “The International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that regulates shipping, has set a goal of halving the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from 2008 levels. But, hampered by divisions across its 174 countries, it agreed at a June meeting only on measures to reduce the ‘carbon intensity’ of the existing fleet – dismissed by environmental groups as feeble.” Another Financial Times comment in the Lex column says: “Maersk’s $1.4bn investment in carbon-neutral ships is the biggest step yet towards a green shipping industry. The move is better for the environment than it is for businesses irked by steep import costs. Decarbonisation is one reason why inflation in shipping overheads will take a long time to unwind.” It says many recent vessel orders are for ships that run on liquefied natural gas, which it say “might cut carbon emissions by about a fifth”, before adding: “Transitional fuels have their own perils. Ships have a lifespan of at least 25 years. There is a risk of being left with stranded assets as regulations tighten. The safest bet is to aim for carbon neutrality by leapfrogging fossil fuels, as Maersk is doing.”

Losing the generation game: could economic setbacks radicalise graduates?
Bethan Staton, Domitille Alain, Davide Ghiglione and Taylor Nicole Rogers, Financial Times Read Article

A Financial Times “big read” explores how “young adults feeling marginalised by mainstream politics are mobilising around issues such as climate change”. It continues: “Covid-19 has brought the inequalities facing young people into sharper relief. Hit disproportionately by an economic shutdown that disrupted jobs more than assets, young adults are mobilising around issues such as racial justice and climate change.” It reports the views of a series of authors and graduates: “[Computer engineering graduate Martino] Reguzzoni believes a generation mobilised by the pandemic will become more engaged in politics, more active on the issues that affect them and aware of holding politicians to account. ‘This will lead to a change in political parties, which will no longer be able to ignore issues such as climate change, education, sustainability and the mobility of our cities,’ he says.” The piece adds: “So called single-issue politics can be both radical and successful. In Germany, pressure from the Fridays for Future youth movement and a court ruling that climate law placed too much of a burden on future generations contributed to the government committing to more ambitious climate targets…And new climate organisations such as Green New Deal Rising, a youth movement in which young people pressure MPs to ‘feel the heat’ and take tangible action on climate change, are gaining momentum.”

‘Investment key to UK’s future success’
Gerry Grimstone, The Times Read Article

The UK is “charting a path to a cleaner, greener future that will leave the planet in a better state for future generations”, writes Gerry Grimstone, the Lord Grimstone of Boscobel and minister for investment, in a comment for the Times. He cites examples including Nissan’s decision to invest £1bn in its all-electric vehicle to be produced in Sunderland in northeast England and Canadian startup General Fusion’s commitment to building a demonstration fusion plant in Oxfordshire. He concludes: “We now stand ready to build back better and greener than before the pandemic: leading the way as an outward-looking nation which looks to the industries of the future, maximises opportunities for investment, and creates the new jobs and businesses that will level up every part of our country.”

Science.

Global scenarios of resource and emission savings from material efficiency in residential buildings and cars
Nature Communication Read Article

New research presents a “global-scale analysis” of the efficiency of material production for passenger vehicles and residential buildings. Future changes in material flows and energy use due to “increased yields, light design, material substitution, extended service life, and increased service efficiency, reuse and recycling” could reduce cumulative global GHG emissions until 2050 by 20-52GtCO2e for residential buildings and 13-26GtCO2e for passenger vehicles, the study finds. For residential buildings, wood construction and reduced floorspace show the highest potential, the authors say, while for passenger vehicles, it is ride sharing and car sharing.

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.