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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 25.01.2022
More drilling for North Sea gas is an unrealistic strategy for bringing down energy prices, Alok Sharma says

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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.

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News.

UK: More drilling for North Sea gas is an unrealistic strategy for bringing down energy prices, Alok Sharma says
Sky News Read Article

COP26 president Alok Sharma has told Sky News that “extracting more gas from the North Sea is not a ‘realistic’ strategy for bringing down energy prices for UK consumers”. The statement is partly a response to the small cluster of climate-sceptic Conservative MPs in the “Net-Zero Scrutiny Group” who have called for the government to allow more drilling in the North Sea, arguing that it “would be beneficial in terms of security and cost”, according to the outlet. It continues: “Mr Sharma also rejected the idea that more North Sea gas would better protect the UK from any deliberate squeezing of supply by Russia. He said: ‘What we need to be doing is more of what we have been doing, which is building forward on renewables and obviously investing in nuclear’…He argued that the same formula is the solution to both the cost of living crisis and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.” Separately, the outlet has published a short clip of the interview.

Elsewhere, the Times covers a research note from Goldman Sachs analysts, which warns that “gas prices are likely to stay twice as high as normal until 2025 and Europe could face blackouts in coming months if the weather is unusually cold”. According to the newspaper, the analysts warn that “an escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine could push gas prices above the record highs set in December”. Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph reports that the UK is “on track to import an unprecedented amount of liquified natural gas this month amid a scramble for supplies as fears grow over a Russian invasion of Ukraine.” Meanwhile, the Guardian has published a piece entitled, “How vulnerable is UK energy system as tensions rise between Russia and Ukraine?” and Reuters carries an explainer on Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph has published an editorial headlined, “Germany is eroding Western resolve”, which argues that “if he is seriously not contemplating an invasion, [Putin’s] main aim must be to sow discord and expose division in the West. In this he is succeeding.”

Separately, the Daily Express has surveyed 3,000 of its readers if they would not swap their gas boilers for a new heating technology. It found that around 95% would not.

Sharma: Countries must deliver on COP26’s ‘fragile’ win with climate action
Press Association via the Independent Read Article

In further coverage of Alok Sharma’s comments made yesterday at Chatham House in London, the Press Association reports that he has described success at the 2021 Glasgow climate summit “fragile”, adding that, without action, the agreements made are just “words on a page”. The newswire continues: “Mr Sharma told the Chatham House audience that ‘collective self-interest’ had driven agreement, with leaders recognising that the science of climate change was clear, that inaction or delayed action would create immense risks and costs and there was an economic dividend to tackling the crisis. ‘Net zero is one of the clearest economic trends there has ever been,’ he said, adding that ‘clean is competitive’ and the global race to supply technologies and solutions for the net zero world was on…He said the G20 group of leading nations, which are responsible for 80% of global emissions, were his personal priority as part of efforts to urge all countries to revisit and strengthen their plans to cut emissions by 2030.”

This address was Sharma’s first major speech since COP26, reports BBC News, which says that “Mr Sharma is essentially in charge of the negotiations process until the next major conference, COP27, in Egypt in November.” The outlet adds: “At a number of points in his speech, Mr Sharma referred to the South African deal put together at COP26 [which offers help to the nation to move away from coal]”. Reuters says that Sharma has called on other nations to deliver on agreements made at COP26, saying that it is “time to honour our promises”. The full speech has been uploaded to the gov.uk website. The Scotsman also covers Sharma’s speech.

China to cut energy consumption intensity by 13.5% in five years
Xinhua Read Article

China’s energy consumption intensity – the amount of energy consumed per unit of gross domestic product – is set to be 13.5% lower than the 2020 level by 2025, Xinhua reports. According to the state news agency, the directive came from the 14th five-year plan (FYP) on energy conservation and emission reduction released by the State Council, the country’s highest administrative organ. (Read Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A on China’s 14FYP, which runs from 2021 to 2025.) China’s Securities Times reports that the notice lists 10 “key” projects for energy conservation and emissions reduction, covering sectors including agriculture, transportation and logistics, and coal utilisation.

Meanwhile, S&P Global Platts reports that China has carried out a “sharp” cut in its oil product export quotas – a move that “underscores Beijing’s determination to cut emissions while consolidating and reshaping its refining industry”. The outlet says that allocations for oil products “in the first batch of export quotas for 2022” have been “slashed by 56%” compared to last year. Separately, the South China Morning Post reports that a major Chinese manufacturer of raw materials for solar panels, GCL Poly Energy, is “ramping up production of a new generation of cheaper and more cost-efficient products”. The firm says the move “could help the nation meet its climate change goals”, according to the publication.

Elsewhere, Caixin – a Chinese financial publication – explains how Beijing will host a “green Olympics”. It says that, as the first global sports event after China’s President Xi made his climate pledges in 2020, “the Winter Olympics promises to be carbon-neutral”. The South China Morning Post says that Beijing and Hebei – a neighbouring province that will co-host the Winter Olympics – “will take temporary measures to shut down companies and stop traffic” during the games to “clean up the air”. Meanwhile, the Independent carries a story about the “true cost of [the] fake snow” that will be used at the event. In other news, MailOnline picks up a paper that assesses the link between “intense extreme” rainfall events and global warming in East Asia.

EU green finance advisors slam Brussels over nuclear, fossil gas
EurActiv Read Article

The EU Platform on Sustainable Finance – a European Commission advisory body – has criticised plans by Brussels to label gas and nuclear power as a “transitional” source of energy under the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy, EurActiv reports. The criticism was made in an opinion published on Monday, which argued that “fossil gas and nuclear power cannot be considered green under present circumstances”, the outlet says. Meanwhile, Climate Change News reports that Berlin “reiterated its opposition to nuclear power while calling on the European Commission to ease restrictions on fossil gas in the transition to a low-carbon energy system” in a letter to Brussels on Friday.

US: Plans to quadruple logging in US’s most popular forest – months after Biden’s COP26 reforestation pledge
The Independent Read Article

Environmentalists have warned that a federal blueprint for the future of the US’s “most popular” national forests involves opening up public land to logging, the Independent reports. According to the online paper, the new logging zones cover more than 12,000 acres of existing old-growth forests, as well as “significant portions of world-famous hiking routes, like the Appalachian Trail”. The paper says the move “appears to fly in the face of the global deforestation pledge formally unveiled by President Joe Biden at COP26”, in which world leaders agreed to halt forest destruction by 2030. It adds: “A key pillar of the Biden administration’s domestic plan to drawdown greenhouse gas emissions is conserving public lands and waters, including an increase in reforestation.”

In other US news, the Hill reports that the US Supreme Court “will review the question of which wetlands get protections under the Clean Water Act”. Reuters adds that the case pertains to the appeal of a couple who want to build a home on what the federal government has deemed to be “protected wetland”.

US: Large permian basin methane leaks are causing as much climate pollution as 500,000 cars
Yale Envronment 360 Read Article

A survey of oil and gas facilities in Texas and New Mexico reveals 30 “super-emitters” that release around 100,000 tonnes of methane each year – as much as half a million cars – Yale Envronment 360 reports. This is according to a three-year study by Carbon Mapper and the Environmental Defense Fund, the outlet says. It continues: “Gas leaks are notable both for their outsized impact on the climate and for being a relatively inexpensive problem to solve…Fixing leaks at the 30 Permian Basin super-emitters would save $26m worth of natural gas each year, according to the report.” It adds that despite their high emissions, the 30 super-emitters account for just 0.001% of the region’s total oil and gas infrastructure. Reuters also covers the report, noting the “the facilities, which include well pads, pipelines, compressor stations and processing facilities, were observed as ‘persistently’ emitting large volumes of methane over the three years of aerial surveys”.

Meanwhile, DeSmog has published a piece about problems with disposing of the toxic wastewater produced as a byproduct of fracking. “Fracking one barrel of oil in Texas can produce 10 times as much wastewater – and the region’s started running low on cheap options for handling that toxic water”, the outlet says. It notes that the oil and gas drilling industry typically injects the water back underground, but says this tactic is problematic, as it has been linked to a spate of earthquakes.

McKinsey: $9.2tn a year to reach net-zero emissions by 2050
Bloomberg Read Article

Achieving net-zero by 2050 could require spending of “$9.2tn [£6.8tn] a year annually through 2050”, according to a report by McKinsey, writes Bloomberg. [I]n return for stable planetary conditions, coal use would be virtually eliminated globally by 2050. Oil and gas production would drop 55% and 70%, respectively, and 200m new jobs would replace 185m positions the global economy no longer needed”, the outlet continues. The total sum needed each year to create a “net-zero” emissions economy “is equivalent to half all profits currently generated by companies globally”, reports Reuters. Bob Ward, a policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics said: “The McKinsey investment figures are not the net costs of reaching net zero globally, but instead the upfront annual costs without taking into account the benefits”, reports the Guardian.

Meanwhile, UN-convened investor group Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, who manage assets worth $10.2tn (£7.6tn), said its members would “aim to reduce emissions linked to their investments by between 49% to 65% by 2030”, reports the Financial Times. However, the alliance plan retains features that have drawn criticism from environmental groups, such as financing of new oil and gas projects, the outlet reports.

Comment.

Oil drilling near homes is dangerous and unhealthy. California should end the practice
Editorial, Los Angeles Times Read Article

The Los Angeles Times has published an editorial arguing that a plan from California governor Gavin Newsom to ban new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of homes, schools and healthcare facilities should be “praised”. It says that California has “lagged” on measures to protect its residents from the impacts of oil drilling, adding: “The state has allowed companies to extract oil essentially wherever they please — near homes and schools, child care centers and hospitals — exposing millions in mostly low-income communities of color to health-damaging pollution and noise.” It calls Newsom’s ban “a big step forward”, saying that it “should be praised for its expansive distance, which is based on the recommendations of an independent panel of public health experts”. However, it adds that the plan “does too little to address existing operations and must be strengthened if it is to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives”.

Separately, Nanette Diaz Barragán, who represents California’s 44th Congressional District, and O&M Solar Services founder Kenneth Wells argue against a proposal to cut solar incentives in California in a Los Angeles Times. They say the proposal “would dramatically weaken the state’s popular net energy metering program, cutting the credits on electric bills for the excess power generated by rooftop solar systems by up to 80%. It would also require solar owners in many communities to pay utilities a monthly ‘grid participation charge’ averaging $48, which would be the highest such fees in the nation.” The piece goes on to list the benefits of solar, and concludes that “in the name of equity, economic opportunity and environmental justice, California must continue to expand rooftop solar in our communities, not constrain it with the most punitive solar policies in the nation.” Elsewhere, the New York Times has published a piece entitled, “A fight over rooftop solar threatens California’s climate goals”, and the Financial Times reports that “a US solar power boom is at risk of stalling just as the country needs a surge in clean energy projects to meet its goals to strip carbon from electricity supplies”.

Science.

Limited impacts of carbon tax rebate programmes on public support for carbon pricing
Nature Climate Change Read Article

Carbon tax rebate programmes – where revenues are recycled to the public through “lump-sum dividends” – are currently having a limited effect in “reshaping the politics of carbon taxation”, a new study finds. The researchers use survey data from Canada and Switzerland – the only countries with climate rebate programmes – to show “low public awareness and substantial underestimation of climate rebate amounts in both countries”. The study concludes that “we find that perceptions of climate rebates are structured less by informed assessments of economic interest than by partisan identities”. An accompanying “policy brief” by the same authors notes that “rebates do not offer a panacea to public opposition to carbon taxation”.

North Atlantic cooling is slowing down mass loss of Icelandic glaciers
Geophysical Research Letters Read Article

A slowdown in ice melt from Iceland’s glaciers in the last decade coincides with “the development of an area of regional cooling in the North Atlantic Ocean to the south of Greenland”, a new study suggests. The area of cooling – known as “Blue Blob” – has been “mitigating atmospheric warming in Iceland since 2011”, the researchers say. In a future high-end warming scenario, North Atlantic cooling is “projected to mitigate mass loss of Icelandic glaciers until the mid-2050s”, the study says, after which high mass loss rates resume “as the regional cooling signal weakens”.

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