Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK: Ministers quietly abandon ‘green crap’ as focus shifts to food security
- UK: Energy market reform will cut fuel bills
- Food plan for England condemned by its own lead adviser
- Climate change a bigger threat than war, Fiji tells security summit
- Germany: Olaf Scholz admits mistakes in dealing with energy supplies
- China's NEV sales double in May
- ‘Asian water tower’ is facing a worsening supply imbalance, study finds
- Report casts doubt on net-zero emissions pledges by big global companies
- Rewilding must wait: we need farms set to all systems grow
- The Guardian view on an Indian summer: human-made heatwaves are getting hotter
- The emergence of prolonged deadly humid heatwaves
The Sunday Times’ frontpage leads with the news that “Boris Johnson has scaled back plans to rewild the country as the government retreats from the green agenda to focus on the cost-of-living crisis”. It continues: “Ministers last year announced a post-Brexit scheme that would pay farmers up to £800m a year – a third of the farming budget – to transform agricultural land into nature-rich forests, coastal wetlands, peatlands and wildflower meadows. But the fund, called the landscape recovery scheme, has been quietly slashed to just £50m over three years, less than 1% of the budget. The policy change is a significant victory for the farming lobby, which had opposed diverting money from food production.” It adds: “Conservation groups…described the U-turn as a ‘massive betrayal’. Others suggested a link to the Tiverton and Honiton by-election, due to be held in rural Devon on 23 June. Senior figures in Whitehall fear the change is part of a wider paring back of Johnson’s net-zero goals. During Johnson’s early premiership, his focus on climate change and nature was driven by the environmentalists who were part of his tight inner circle…But interest in environmentalism has waned in Downing Street since [COP26]. The cost-of-living crisis, increasingly vocal backbench critics and the deterioration in Johnson’s own authority have led him away from the green agenda. His fading commitment has coincided with a significant overhaul of Johnson’s senior team in Downing Street. Steve Barclay, the new chief of staff, and David Canzini, his deputy, are said to consider environmental issues a second-order priority.” The article also reports that sources have claimed that tensions have “grown in recent months between senior No 10 figures and the COP26 unit, run by Alok Sharma, over continued funding”. It says: “The Cabinet Office unit had 220 officials in November; by January it had been reduced to 150 and now has about 70 left. Sharma has resisted plans for further cuts…Johnson’s net-zero adviser Sam Richards, the former head of the Conservative Environment Network, left Downing Street last month…One influential government figure went further, branding Barclay and Canzini ‘useful idiots’ to the farming lobby and climate sceptics.”
The frontpage of today’s Times reveals that “ministers are drawing up plans to sever the link between the prices of gas and electricity in an effort to cut household bills for millions of families”. The article continues: “In what would be the biggest reform of Britain’s power market in decades, the government proposes to end the system by which the wholesale cost of gas in effect determines the price of electricity for consumers. More than a quarter of the UK’s electricity is from renewable sources, for which costs have been largely unaffected by rising global energy prices. However, the link has been blamed for exacerbating the cost of living crisis as it has forced customers to pay over the odds for electricity because of spiralling wholesale gas prices linked to the conflict in Ukraine. With more expansion of nuclear power and offshore wind generation due over the next decade, ministers believe that the pricing system is no longer fit for purpose. One expert has called it ‘unconscionable’. The Department for Business is expected to bring forward proposals for market reform ‘in the coming weeks’ as part of its energy security strategy. Legislation will then be introduced in autumn, within the energy bill…Ministers hope that the reforms will also make the market more transparent and emphasise to consumers the benefits of decarbonisation.” The article quotes a “Whitehall source” saying: “This will allow people to really see the benefits of all that renewable investment. Previously, gas was cheaper than every single renewable technology – now every single renewable technology is cheaper than gas. Hinkley point C, it turns out, was the deal of the decade.”
Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports that “Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s energy giant Ineos is ‘apoplectically cross’ after Michael Gove blocked plans for a fracking site in South Yorkshire”. The article says that a group of 35 “MPs and peers” – which the article implies are members of the Conservative party’s small cluster of climate sceptics politicians known as the “net-zero scrutiny group” – have written to the energy secretary about the government’s “review” of its fracking policies.
Meanwhile, the i newspaper covers new analysis by Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans which shows that “electric vehicle drivers are saving more than £60 in fuel costs every time they charge their car” (the analysis compared the cost of a tank of petrol with the cost of enough electricity to drive the same distance). Another article in the i newspaper covers “industry predictions” which claim that “the UK’s offshore wind workforce is set to more than treble over the next eight years to reach 100,000 employees by the end of the decade”. The Financial Times says that “the UK is poised to strike a deal to keep open a coal-fired power station that was set to close as the government scrambles to strengthen its domestic energy security”. It adds: “Ministers and EDF are expected to finalise plans this week to extend the life of the West Burton A power station in Nottinghamshire, which is run by the French energy company, from October to March.” The Observer interviews Octopus Energy’s Greg Jackson who says: “Climate change is no longer this vague thing: people are literally baking in India and Pakistan. I’m just gobsmacked anyone’s opposing this.” And, finally, New Scientist has an article headlined: “UK government admits its net-zero climate strategy doesn’t add up.”
There has been widespread coverage in the UK media over recent days responding to a leak – first reported by the Guardian on Friday, but also leaked to the Financial Times – of the government’s “food strategy” white paper, which is due to be published today. Today’s Guardian says: “The government’s lead adviser on food issues has condemned what ministers have billed as a landmark national plan to combat food poverty and obesity, saying it is ‘not a strategy’ and warning it could mean more children will go hungry. Henry Dimbleby’s verdict is further bad news for Boris Johnson as the white paper is a direct response to last year’s wide-ranging review of Britain’s food system, which was led by the restaurateur. Johnson’s plan was billed as the first such blueprint since rationing 75 years ago, positioning England as a leader on food and environment in a post-Brexit world. But the final plan strips away many of Dimbleby’s key recommendations.” Specifically, Dimbleby had recommended a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption. (See Carbon Brief’s Q&A about the proposed food strategy for England, which was published last July.) The Guardian also carries other reaction: “The food TV presenter and climate campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall condemned the lack of any plan to reduce meat and dairy consumption, calling this ‘just lazy and spineless and pandering to the food industry’s status quo’. Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, said: ‘It seems that what broke this strategy was not a lack of good intent but a narrow-minded ideology which believes government should not intervene to reshape diets.’ Louisa Casson, head of food and forests, Greenpeace UK, added: ‘By ignoring climate scientists and its own experts in favour of industry lobbyists, the government has published a strategy that, ultimately, will only perpetuate a broken food system and see our planet cook itself.’”
Dimbleby has also been interviewed by the Financial Times in which he warns of a potential “double disaster” if farm subsidies did not shift to mainly rewarding environmental work. The article continues: “His warning follows an emphasis on food security in the government paper, and a shift away from plans to fund large-scale rewilding projects. Prime minister Boris Johnson has ordered ministers to scale back environmental initiatives and focus on core cost-of-living issues, including food production. ‘The narrative from Number 10 has changed,’ admitted one government official.” BBC News says that Boris Johnson insists England’s new food strategy will “back farmers, boost British industry and help protect people against the impacts of future economic shocks by safeguarding our food security”. (See “Climate and energy comment” below.)
Separately, the Guardian covers the findings of an investigation by Open Democracy showing that “a minister, MPs and several aristocratic landowners have received thousands in public funds from a government subsidy [the renewable heat incentive] intended to stimulate the green transition”.
Fiji has told an Asian security summit that climate change is a bigger threat to the Pacific than military tensions, reports BBC News. Addressing a summit in Singapore which has focused on China-US tensions and the Ukraine war, Fiji’s defence minister Inia Seruiratu is quoted saying: “Machine guns, fighter jets…are not our primary security concern. The single greatest threat to our very existence is climate change…It threatens our very hopes and dreams of prosperity. Human-induced, devastating climate change…Waves are crashing at our doorsteps, winds are battering our homes, we are being assaulted by this enemy from many angles.”
Meanwhile, the Independent carries an interview with the prime minister of Barbados Mia Mottley who says: “We’ve been carrying the costs on our balance sheet of your behaviour…We’re not asking for the world. We’re saying: Look, put some money down and help us.” The Independent says: “Mottley, Barbados’s first female prime minister, has shone a light on the plight of small island and developing nations, demanding resources to help them adapt to climate change. In that effort, she’s become a powerful voice on the global stage, and was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world this year.”
German chancellor Olaf Scholz “has acknowledged mistakes” in economic cooperation with Russia, reports Die Zeit, adding that he stated in his opening speech at the East German Economic Forum that “we have relied too long and too one-sidedly on energy supplies from Russia”. Scholz is reported to have added that “the assumption that Russia is a reliable economic partner even in crises is invalid” and that this is why the expansion of renewable energy should be promoted.
Meanwhile, German local media outlet Echo24 reports that the German weather service (DWD) has issued a forecast of the effects that global warming will soon have in Germany. According to its calculations, “the average temperature in Germany for the years 2022-28 could be around 0.5 to 1.0С warmer than the average of 9.3С in the reference period from 1991 to 2020”, the outlet says.
In other German news, economy minister Robert Habeck has a plan “to bring peace to the Middle East through solar panels and drinking water”, according to Climate Home News. It details that after visiting the Jordan river, which divides Palestine’s West Bank region from Jordan, Habeck posted on Instagram about his support for the EcoPeace NGO and its proposed “Green Blue Deal for the Middle East”.
Elsewhere, EurActiv reports on the visit of German agriculture minister Cem Özdemir to Ukraine, where he shared scepticism with his Ukrainian counterpart Mykola Solsky towards Russia’s promises to grant safe passage for Ukrainian grain in exchange for the West easing sanctions. The minister is quoted saying: “Trusting Putin’s promises without there being any credibly, effective military guarantees would be kamikaze for Ukraine.”
Finally, Stuttgarter Nachrichten reports that some experts support fracking in Germany because “the production of 20bn cubic meters [of gas] per year through fracking is possible for decades to come, which corresponds to about half of the current natural gas deliveries from Russia”. However, the news outlet says that Habeck rejects fracking in Germany and has pointed to possible negative environmental consequences and legal hurdles.
Xinhua reports that the country’s “new-energy” vehicle (NEV) sales “maintained rapid growth momentum in May” amid the country’s “efforts to rev up the auto industry”, according to the data released by China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. “More than 2m NEVs were sold across the country” from January to May in 2022, up 111.2% from a year earlier, the state new agency notes. Additionally, the National Energy Administration (NEA) – China’s top energy regulator – held a video conference on Friday to “promote the development and construction of pumped storage projects”, China Electric Power News reports. The meeting pointed out that “accelerating” the development of pumped storage – an “important initiative” to help “achieve [China’s] dual-carbon goals” – is to “promote the development of new energy in a large scale and high proportion”, as well as to “meet that the inevitable requirements of power security”, the state-run industry newspaper notes. The Financial Times carries a feature looking at why China has “ramped up” coal power to “boost post-lockdown growth”.
Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post has published an article which explains “why multinational firms, eager to buy green power in China, find it hard to get enough to meet their decarbonisation goals”. The outlet cites David Fishman – a Shanghai-based senior manager at an energy consultancy called the Lantau Group – who said that “the biggest barrier is the lack of actual physical green volume to fill these [green power purchase] agreements, since the list of projects available to trade in the wholesale markets is relatively short”.
Separately, Reuters says that oil prices “dipped” last Thursday, but still “hovered near three-month highs” after “parts of Shanghai imposed new Covid-19 lockdown measures”. Elsewhere, Bloomberg writes that the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) – China’s top economic planner – and its energy agency NEA will let “new energy storage facilities” – which “mostly rely on batteries” – make money from “buying and selling electricity”, according to a joint statement released by the two government bodies. The outlet says the move is to “attract more energy storage investment in order to accelerate a build-out needed to eliminate carbon emissions from its power sector”. Finally, another article by Bloomberg highlights that thermal coal in China has “climbed above the government’s price caps” imposed in May, prompting regulators to “dispatch squads to major mining regions to ensure compliance”.
Global warming and atmospheric circulation changes will worsen water stress in nations downstream of the “Third Pole” – including India, Bangladesh and Nepal – where about 90% of water is used for irrigation, according to a new study covered by the South China Morning Post. It adds: “The team, led by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, called for more cooperation among those nations to develop new water use strategies. Their study, published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment on Tuesday, is the result of China’s second scientific research survey of the Tibetan Plateau. The survey began in 2017 and focused on the plateau’s glaciers, climate change and biodiversity changes. The Third Pole – which includes the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding Hindu Kush Himalayan mountain ranges – has the most glaciers outside the Arctic and Antarctica and is known as the ‘Asian water tower’. The region is the source of the 10 major rivers in Asia and delivers water to almost 2 billion people – about a quarter of the world’s population.”
Reuters covers a new stocktake of net-zero targets in the public and private sector which concludes that corporate plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions fall short of what is needed to combat climate change, with “major credibility gaps” found among the world’s largest companies. The newswire explains that Net Zero Tracker’s annual report is run in part by the UK-based Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and the University of Oxford, whereby they assess publicly available data for about 200 countries as well as large publicly traded companies, including those in fossil fuels. Reuters says: “Many companies with net-zero targets have set no interim emissions goals for before 2050, which the report said was ‘unacceptably low’ if the world is to halve emissions in the next eight years, as scientists say is needed. Carbon offsetting – or buying credits for emissions reduced elsewhere – also featured prominently among corporate strategies. Nearly 40% of the Forbes 2000 companies with a net-zero target plan to use offsets, despite concerns about the lack of regulation. Governments will need to impose legal standards and regulations to ensure net-zero progress, said co-author John Lang of the ECIU.” Bloomberg also has the story.
An editorial in the Sunday Times responds to the paper’s frontpage story (see above) revealing that the UK government plans to radically downscale its plans to “rewild” parts of the landscape: “The slashing of a post-Brexit scheme that would have paid farmers to transform agricultural land into nature-rich environments seems to be the product of internecine warfare in Downing Street. The focus on climate that marked the first phase of his premiership was attributed to pressure from his wife, Carrie Johnson, as well as the environment and foreign minister Lord Goldsmith and his brother, Ben Goldsmith. A harder-headed influence has fallen over No 10 with the arrival of Stephen Barclay and David Canzini as chief of staff and deputy chief of staff respectively…Advocates rightly point out that the health of farms and the health of nature are closely related. The change of policy should not pit one against the other. But it should put more emphasis on making sure Britain’s farmers can function successfully in a volatile world where inflation is ripping and other countries cannot always be relied on. After defence and energy, food is the third element of the post-Ukraine reality.”
The Financial Times carries a feature under the headline: “Food vs fuel: Ukraine war sharpens debate on use of crops for energy.” It begins: “Soaring food prices caused by the war in Ukraine have increased the risk of famine, raising pressure on producers of low-carbon fuels derived from crops and sparking a ‘food versus biofuel’ debate…some food companies and policymakers are calling for an easing of mandates for blending biofuels into petrol and diesel to increase global grain and vegetable oil supplies.” The Spectator runs a comment piece by climate-sceptic commentator Ross Clark arguing that “Boris’s rewilding obsession could backfire”.
Meanwhile, an editorial in the Times argues that Prince Charles should “scrupulously avoid political controversy” following reports that he is “appalled” by the government’s plan to send “illegal” immigrants to Rwanda. It says: “The royal family and their close advisers must be wary about a creeping politicisation of the monarchy. Prince William crossed that boundary in his address at the party at the palace this month, using the jubilee celebrations to express views on climate change. Praising the work of ‘visionary environmentalists’, the Duke of Cambridge said: ‘The pressing need to protect and restore our planet has never been more urgent.’ It does not matter that the cause of environmental concern is widely espoused by policymakers and opinion formers. The proper place for these sentiments is in public debate, not on great civic occasions. There is a reason for this. Very few policy initiatives come without trade-offs, and it is the task of elected governments to make difficult judgments about where these should lie. If the world is to move to a more sustainable pattern of consumption, this will involve paying more for renewable sources of energy. There may be an overwhelming case for this, but it would be irresponsible to maintain that there are no costs involved.” (Renewables are the cheapest way to generate electricity in most parts of the world.)
Finally, the Sunday Times has a feature headlined: “Can the UK really build eight nuclear reactors in eight years?”
An editorial in the Guardian focuses on heatwaves: “Heatwaves around the world – including this year in south Asia – have been made more frequent and hotter because of the human-made climate emergency. The world’s poorest people, who have contributed very little to global heating, will bear the brunt of it…Instead, the world is experiencing a ‘gold rush’ for new fossil fuel projects as the west seeks to reduce its reliance on Russian supplies. These are cast as short-term supply measures, but they risk locking the world into an irreversible climate disaster. There’s no good reason to be drilling for gas in the English countryside. Joe Biden’s decision last week to wield presidential power to manufacture green technology and send it to Europe was the right one. But the lethal burden of global heating will be borne disproportionately by the poorer world. That is where help should be disproportionately directed.”
Elsewhere in the Guardian, Fiona Harvey looks at 30 years of climate summits and asks: “Where have they got us?” And in the Observer, columnist Nick Cohen examines “why bankers close their ears to the ‘climate nut jobs’ talking about the end of the world”.
Six weather stations in the subtropics have already experienced “deadly humid heat” – defined as a “wet bulb temperature” of 35C or above, new research finds. The authors use temperature observations from more than 9,000 meteorological stations and simulations from 14 global climate models to determine the occurrence of “deadly humid heatwaves”. Looking ahead, they find that under 2C warming, 0.42% of the human population will be exposed to these deadly heatwaves lasting five days or more. The study adds: “At the end of the century, the percentage of land areas and human population exposed to deadly humid heatwaves lasting ≥ 3 consecutive days are expected to be 76-times higher than that under 1.5C warming level.”