Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- More than 20,000 excess deaths were recorded in Western Europe during the summer's heatwaves
- EU puts energy crisis steps on hold to address gas price cap
- UK: Johnson and Truss join Tory rebellion over onshore wind farms
- Spain pushes ahead with windfall tax on banks and energy groups
- $1tn plan to help developing nations take on climate change gains momentum
- COP27 was disappointing, but US-China climate diplomacy is thawing
- The Times view on energy saving: price of power
- Growing polarisation around climate change on social media
- 2021 North American heatwave amplified by climate change-driven nonlinear interactions
More than 20,000 “excess deaths” were recorded in France, Germany, Spain and the UK during this summer’s heatwaves, according to a new report covered by outlets including MailOnline. The summer marked the hottest in Europe’s recorded history, exceeding the previous high by 0.4C, and the UK saw temperatures rise above 40C for the first time, the news outlet recalls. It adds that in England and Wales alone, 3,271 excess deaths – the number beyond what would have been expected under “normal” conditions based on historical data – were recorded between 1 June and 7 September. The Guardian notes that Covid-related deaths were excluded from the analysis, which also found that excess deaths were 20% higher in regions where extreme temperature red alerts had been issued. It also notes that analysis from the World Weather Attribution group of scientists concluded that the high temperatures see in the UK, France and Spain would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change. Bloomberg points out that extreme heat is dangerous because it makes “every existing medical condition worse” and can cause heat stroke in vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly and those who do physical work outside. In a separate story, the Guardian reports that the UK is experiencing an “apparent second spring”, in which plants are bursting back to life at the wrong time of year, after the UK recorded an unprecedented 10 months of above-average temperatures.
Meanwhile, an article in the Los Angeles Times considers recent research on heatwaves, including one study released this week that concludes they could become 20 times more likely to occur if current emissions continue unabated, and another that finds they may also become considerably hotter.
In Australia, the Guardian reports that ocean temperatures over parts of the Great Barrier Reef have reached record highs this month, “sparking fears of a second summer in a row of mass coral bleaching”. It notes that rising ocean temperatures driven by human greenhouse gas emissions caused six mass bleaching events along the reef in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2022.
The EU has put “on hold” efforts to pass a package of emergency measures to curb the fallout from high gas prices, Bloomberg reports. This comes after member states “struggled to resolve a deep split over a push to cap the cost of gas”, it continues. The piece notes that member states agreed on a stronger mechanism for joint gas purchases, limits to price volatility between days and faster permitting for renewable energy projects. However, Deutsche Welle reports that EU energy ministers “widely panned” a cap proposal from the European Commission, with several describing it as a “joke” because the criteria are so high that it might never be activated. At the same time, other states that were sceptical of introducing any kind of cap warned of a risk to supply stability, it continues. EurActiv says the commission has proposed activating the cap if the price per megawatt-hour (MWh) exceeds €275 ($286) for a fortnight in a row, but experts cited in the piece point out that the price of gas has never remained at that level for such a long time. According to the Financial Times, a group of countries, including Belgium and Spain, “said they would veto the plans unless a limit on gas prices could be agreed”. Meanwhile, it notes that other nations, such as Germany and the Netherlands, oppose a strict limit on wholesale gas transactions altogether. Politico reports that energy ministers will reconvene for another emergency Energy Council before Christmas, most likely on 13 December.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that EU governments remain split over what level to cap Russian oil prices at “to curb Moscow’s ability to pay for its war in Ukraine without causing a global oil supply shock”. It adds that more talks may take place today if positions converge. As with the gas cap, the talks stalled because a G7 proposal for a cap of $65-70 per barrel “was seen as far to high by some and too low by others”. Specifically, it says that Poland, Lithuania and Estonia want a cap of $30 as the current proposal would allow Russia too much profit. US president Joe Biden told reporters an oil price cap is “in play”, Axios reports. Meanwhile, Politico reports that “cracks are starting to show” in the alliance between European nations and the US, with representatives from the former expressing frustration that the US is profiting from the currently energy crisis. It quotes an anonymous “senior official” who says: “The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that is most profiting from this war is the US because they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons”.
Finally, the Financial Times reports on “fresh warnings from energy industry executives and analysts” that Europe’s energy crisis “is set to persist for years” unless the region reduces demand and secures new gas supplies.
Both of the UK’s most recently ejected prime ministers, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, have weighed in behind a Conservative rebellion “designed to end the de-facto ban on new onshore wind farms”, the Financial Times reports. They are backing an amendment to the government’s “levelling up and regeneration bill” which would end the existing block on land-based wind turbines – a policy introduced by former prime minister David Cameron in 2015 to placate Conservative members, the newspaper continues. The Daily Mail notes that Truss pledged to relax planning laws which led to the virtual ban on onshore wind, and bring them in line with other developments. However, it adds that the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, scrapped the policy when he took up his post last month. Also covering the story, the Times says this marks the “latest in a string of challenges” to Sunak’s authority from within his own party.
Meanwhile, in an “exclusive” story, the Guardian reports that Sunak is hiring vegan former special adviser Meera Vadher to be his head of environmental policy “as part of an effort to improve his green credentials”.
Separately, the Times reports on analysis by the Resolution Foundation thinktank that concludes the government’s plans to subsidise household energy bills will cost it at least £16bn over the first three months of next year. And the nation’s levelling-up secretary Michael Gove has said that the government’s long-awaited public information campaign to encourage people to save energy, rejected by previous prime ministers, will not be “nannying or patronising”, according to the Press Association.
The Press Association writes that the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has issued a “stark warning” about the UK’s ambition to reach its 2050 net-zero goal. “You haven’t got more than five years or so to actually get this right and make some decisions about what you want to do” to scale up things such as low-carbon heating in time, he said at the Lister Memorial Lecture in Edinburgh. The Economist has a feature about how the UK’s wind farms are essential to the country’s net-zero ambitions.
Spain’s Socialist-led government is pushing ahead with a plan to impose windfall taxes on banks and energy companies, as lawmakers approved the move “despite the concerns of international institutions”, the Financial Times reports. The temporary tax is expected to raise €7bn ($7.3bn) to dampen the impact of high energy costs and inflation, especially on low-income households, and having been approved by the lower house of Spanish parliament it will now go to the Senate for a final vote, the newspaper states. Reuters notes that energy companies threatened to take the government to court if the 1.2% levy on power utilities’ sales was approved in its original form, and it has since been subject to changes that mean the final amount of money raised will likely be lower.
Separately, another Reuters story reports that Finland is also preparing to introduce a temporary windfall tax on the excessive profits of energy companies.
The Wall Street Journal reports on growing momentum behind calls for financial system reform in order to leverage more funds to address climate change. It says supporters of such plans say rich nations need to overhaul their development banks in order to provide funds at below-market rates to developing nations for clean-energy projects, noting that they say “such efforts could expand lending safely by as much as $1tn”. It notes that the Biden administration supports such an effort to boost lending by World Bank and others, but some Republican lawmakers have criticised the focus on financing renewable energy.
The Economist has a feature titled: “Should rich countries pay for climate damage in poor ones?” It explores the topic of loss-and-damage finance, one of the key issues at the COP27 summit that ended last week. Meanwhile, Climate Home News has an article that looks back at the closing scenes of COP27, when the fight over a loss-and-damage fund gave way to a debate on whether to call for a phaseout of coal, oil and gas in the final text to emerge from the conference.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Senegal is set to receive around $400,500 in insurance payments from aid organisations in the Start Network to protect against the risk of drought. It notes that the insurance taken out by the groups was triggered on Monday at the end of the rainy season, in anticipation of drought next year.
Finally, the Daily Mail has a story about how much foreign aid the UK is paying to “mega-rich” China. It says the UK sent China £51.7m in aid last year, despite a pledge to end such “indefensible” handouts, noting that while the details have yet to be released, this “covered projects in areas such as tackling climate change”.
An editorial in the Economist presents a fairly negative outlook on the COP27 climate summit. It notes the lack of a “clear commitment to phase out the use of fossil fuels” and describes the loss-and-damage fund that emerged from the process as “a vague agreement”. It presents a gloomy outlook for loss-and-damage funding, which is suggests is marred by fact that China is currently categorised as a potential recipient of climate finance, rather than a donor. “It is hard persuading voters in rich countries to bankroll efforts to curb climate change (which is in their self-interest), let alone to hand over vast sums to politicians in poorer countries,” the editorial states. However, in more positive news, it says that “there was a modest breakthrough between two superpowers” – namely the US and China, as the latter agreed to restart formal talks. “More co-operation to fight climate change is needed. But even in its absence, great-power competition can help in some ways. In the cold war American-Soviet rivalry spurred research into technologies such as nuclear power and solar panels,” the article notes. It continues: “Both powers are also trying to buy influence by supporting green projects in poorer countries, from flood defences to renewable fuels. Even if this is for geopolitical reasons, the results are often benign”. Another Economist article reflects on the leadership shown by Pakistan and notably its climate minister Sherry Rehman at COP27, in its role as leader of the G77 plus China negotiating group of developing countries.
In the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes about the prospect of climate-related war. He notes that in the past, this would have mean considering the potential for “old-fashioned resource wars” caused by the effects of climate change, but says now a new threat has emerged. “As more countries have integrated the energy transition into their economies, a chance now exists that efforts to address climate change could encourage conflict in their own right,” he writes, giving the example of US-Chinese trade spats over semiconductors, which are needed for many low-carbon technologies.
A Times editorial calls the long delay by the UK’s Conservative government in implementing a public information campaign to encourage energy saving “short-sighted”. “Most European countries have been doing so since the early days of the Ukraine war, and the EU agreed this summer on a mandatory 15% reduction in gas use by all its members,” it notes. The newspaper says that the eight measures that ministers are likely to recommend, in a campaign led by ministers and celebrities, could save households up to £420 a year. “Residual concerns over ‘nannying’ mean that ministers are unlikely to recommend turning down thermostats or taking shorter showers, though these would potentially provide even greater savings”, it continues. The piece concludes that building insulation is, ultimately, the best long-term strategy.
Daily Telegraph world economy editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes in his column that while Russian president Vladimir Putin “lost his energy war” this year, “he may still win it next year by exhausting Europe’s will to resist through another gas and power crunch”. He says that Russia’s bombing of Ukraine is depriving Europe of energy imports, pushing the regions energy security even closer to the edge and threatening industry. “It is Putin’s bet that he can break Europe before it breaks Russia. He may also break Rishi Sunak’s government and Britain’s social stability unless gas storage levels are massively increased by next winter, and buttressed by an emergency campaign to insulate buildings,” Evans-Pritchard writes.
New research reveals “a large increase in ideological polarisation during COP26” on twitter – driven by “growing right-wing activity”. The authors analyse twitter discussions about the United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change over 2014-21. They find “low polarisation” between COP20 and COP25, but say that since COP21 in 2015, right-wing twitter activity has increased fourfold relative to pro-climate groups. The study concludes that “contrarian views and accusations of hypocrisy have become key themes in the Twitter climate discussion since 2019”.
The 2021 North American heatwave was made around 40% more severe by “nonlinear interactions between its drivers”, according to a new study. The paper finds that the heatwave was “probably driven in part by land-atmosphere feedbacks catalysed by long-term regional warming and soil drying”. In the 1950s, the peak daily regional temperature anomaly of the event was “virtually impossible”, the authors say. However, they find that the event is roughly a 200-yearly occurrence in today’s climate, and it could become a 10-yearly occurrence if the planet warms by 2C above pre-industrial temperatures.