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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 20.01.2022
More than 450 scientists call on PR, creative agencies to drop fossil fuel clients

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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.

More than 450 scientists call on PR, creative agencies to drop fossil fuel clients
PR Week Read Article

An environmental NGO and the Union of Concerned Scientists have coordinated a letter calling on the PR industry to drop fossil-fuel clients, PR Week reports. It continues: “The letter, signed by more than 450 scientists, said it is a major challenge to develop meaningful action that can overcome advertising and PR efforts by fossil-fuel companies that ‘seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risk of the climate emergency’.” Reuters reports: “More than 450 scientists on Wednesday called on the executives of major advertising and public relations firms to drop their fossil fuel clients and stop what the scientists said was their spread of disinformation around climate change.” It adds: “They sent a letter to the executives of major global public relations and advertising firms, including conglomerate WPP, Edelman and IPG…None of the advertising and PR firms or their clients were immediately available to comment on the letter.” The Washington Post also has the story.

Joe Biden admits defeat over $2tn Build Back Better plan
The Times Read Article

US president Joe Biden has said he is ready to break up his key “build back better” spending bill, a $2tn package that has failed to pass the Senate and contains major measures on climate change, the Times reports. It says: “The rebellion has been led by the Democrat senators Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, who balked at the cost of the sprawling spending plan, which aimed to bolster social care, education and fight climate change. Biden insisted he was still confident that by carving up the bill, he could ‘get big chunks of Build Back Better signed into law’.” The paper quotes Biden saying: “I think it’s clear that we would be able to get support for the $500bn for energy and the environment.”

Meanwhile, Climate Home News rates Biden’s first year in office: “A for targets, D for action.” It adds: “While the US president has had some climate wins abroad, domestic action has been held up back the Senate, the courts and rising fuel prices.”

In a comment for the Guardian, economist Adam Tooze writes: “When it comes to global policy, the Biden administration would clearly like to be seen as a serious climate leader – its climate envoy John Kerry played a suave part at COP26. But what can the US actually deliver? The carefully calibrated Build Back Better legislation, valued at $1.75tn, which was supposed to drive America’s energy transition, is stuck on Joe Manchin’s opposition.”

German leader champions new tack on climate at Davos event
Associated Press Read Article

New German chancellor Olaf Scholz used a speech at the World Economic Forum to call for a “paradigm shift” in the global approach to climate change, reports Associated Press. The newswire quotes him saying he would use his country’s leadership of the G7 during 2022 to “turn that group into the nucleus of an international climate club” and adding: “We will no longer wait for the slowest and least ambitious…Instead, we will lead by example and we will turn climate action from a cost factor into competitive advantage by agreeing on joint minimum standards.” Scholz said this “climate club”, adhering to minimum standards, would be open to all countries, Associated Press reports, adding: “The targets Scholz suggested for the climate club – the 1.5C cap and climate neutrality by 2050 – are already part of or implied by the Paris accord. More significant, Scholz said the club could seek to achieve those goals ‘by pricing carbon and preventing carbon leakage.’”

China launches campaign to plug greenhouse gas monitoring gap
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports that “China will force key industrial sectors and regions to take action to measure greenhouse gas emissions as part of a new initiative to improve data quality and oversight”. The newswire cites “an environment ministry document” reviewed by it. It notes that the “pilot programme” would require “China’s biggest coal-fired power providers, steel mills and oil and gas producers” to formulate “comprehensive new greenhouse gas monitoring plans” by the end of 2022.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg says that China “remains as reliant as ever” on fossil fuels despite adding “more renewable power than any other nation”. The outlet writes: “Last year, the share of coal and gas in power generation was stuck at 71%, the same as 2020.” Another Bloomberg report says that a satellite had detected “clouds of” methane coming from China’s main coal-producing region of Shanxi, citing information from a geo-analytics firm. Separately, CNN reports that China “produced more coal than ever last year as its power stations struggled to meet demand for electricity, undermining plans to curb carbon emissions”.

Elsewhere, Channel News Asia reports that “China’s thermal coal futures soared more than 6% on Wednesday” amid investors’ concern “over tight supply ahead of a national holiday (Lunar New Year) when coal mines typically slow operations or shut down”. Xinhua – China’s state news agency – reports that the Chinese government has said that the country “will step up efforts” to ensure energy supply during the upcoming Lunar New Year.

Comment.

UK: Achieving net-zero will prevent future fuel crises
Nick Fletcher and Richard Graham, Times Red Box Read Article

For the Times Red Box, Conservative MPs Nick Fletcher and Richard Graham write: “We are concerned that some commentators are describing a false choice between pursuing our net-zero goal on the one hand and keeping energy costs down for our constituents on the other. But the fact is the government’s net-zero strategy will make energy price shocks like the one we’re experiencing now much less harmful in the future, by increasing our supply of nuclear and renewable energy and reducing our demand for gas in heating and electricity generation.” The pair add: “Surging international gas prices are the reason why energy bills will increase so steeply in April when Ofgem’s new price cap takes effect.”

[Carbon Brief analysis published today suggests nearly 90% of the increase in energy bills in the year to April will be due to wholesale gas costs.]

Rachel Reeves interview: Top MP on how opposition 'malarkey may be about to end'
Ben Glaze, Daily Mirror Read Article

The Daily Mirror carries an “exclusive” interview with UK shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, ahead of a speech she is due to give today. The paper reports: “Citing technologies which will help meet the UK’s net-zero by 2050 pledge, Reeves promised to ‘invest in these new industries of the future that can create those good jobs and re-industrialise some of those parts of Britain – former industrial areas, coastal communities’.” It adds: “She wants the UK at the forefront of manufacturing, competing against rival nations to build wind turbines, electric cars and exploit carbon capture and storage.” The Daily Mirror says the Labour opposition “wants the government to ease the looming energy price hike for families by slashing the 5% VAT on dual-fuel bills”, as well as expanding the “warm home discount” for vulnerable households, funded by a windfall tax on oil and gas companies. The paper quotes Reeves adding: “We should be insulating our homes properly so that brings down people’s bills permanently.”

A feature for the Daily Telegraph looks at the “unglamorous way to save Britons £8bn”, namely energy efficiency, which it says “has a patchy record in the UK”. [Carbon Brief analysis published today shows that previous moves to cut support for home insulation, among other climate policy rollbacks over the past decade, are now adding £2.5bn to UK energy bills.]

In an editorial, the Guardian supports proposals from the UK’s opposition Labour Party to introduce a windfall tax on oil and gas companies “with the proceeds going towards the least well-off to help with bills”. It adds: “Over the longer term, the state needs to build up a much bigger renewables base so that the UK is less dependent on international oil and gas markets.”

In a comment for the Daily Mail, Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive of energy firm SSE, writes: “Only by building more of our own clean energy infrastructure here in Britain can we protect ourselves from the next energy crisis.” He says the third phase of his firm’s giant Dogger Bank windfarm, if it were operational today, would have “paid back over £1.6bn to consumers over winter 2021/22”, thanks to a contracted “strike price” of less than £50 per megawatt hour.

How Johnson's potential exit could affect UK climate action
Jess Shankleman, Bloomberg Read Article

An article for Bloomberg considers what it would mean for UK climate action if prime minister Boris Johnson loses his job, saying it “could signal a weakening of the UK government’s focus on cutting planet-warming emissions”. The piece continues: “Few, if any, of his potential successors have shown they want to speed up the transition to a greener economy.” It adds that chancellor Rishi Sunak is the “bookmakers’ favourite to succeed [Johnson]” and “last year tried to block spending on Johnson’s green measures”. The piece quotes one expert saying Sunak’s position on climate change “could get worse [if elected prime minister], but it could also get significantly better”. The next most likely successor according to Bloomberg, foreign minister Liz Truss, has “aligned herself with net-zero sceptics”, the publication says. It adds that other contenders such as Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt “have shown more of a commitment to tackling climate change”, but are less likely to win the Conservative Party vote.

For the Financial Times, UK chief political commentator Robert Shrimsley writes under a headline suggesting Johnson’s fall “would not change the Conservative agenda”. However, he adds: “It is also possible that leadership hopefuls will need to nod to the growing caucus demanding a dilution of the green taxes and energy levies that support the net-zero pledges. While no serious contender is close to climate change denial, the current energy price spike will be used by those MPs who argue for a slower transition away from fossil fuels, with commitments pushed to the back end of the 2050 target.”

Scotland's renewable revolution: Planned offshore windfarms have the potential to deliver ten times the energy as the former Longannet power station
Claire Mack, The Scotsman Read Article

Writing in the Scotsman, Claire Mack, chief executive of industry body Scottish Renewables, reflects on the “exciting” recent leasing round for up to 25 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind projects off the country’s coasts. She writes: “It is hard to illustrate the scale of the opportunity by discussing gigawatts alone, but the numbers are remarkable. Just before Christmas, the Longannet power station chimney in Fife was demolished…For almost 50 years, Longannet generated around a quarter of Scotland’s electricity with 2.4GW of capacity.” Mack points to three challenges in delivering the newly leased offshore projects: ensuring sufficient grid capacity to accommodate the electricity generated; ensuring the windfarms are built in a way that limits “potential impacts on birds, marine mammals and fish”; and collaboration across the supply chain.

In a comment for the Times, journalist Fiona Rintoul writes: “We know that Scotland needs the renewables revolution, about which there has been so much chat at Holyrood. We know that we must wean ourselves off fossil fuels in our own lives and as an economy. But can ScotWind leasing deliver the new, modern Scottish economy – stuffed to the gunnels with skilled, high-paid green jobs – that the government is promising?” She argues that Scotland should “be canny and keep something for ourselves, as the Norwegians did all those years ago with their oil”, by creating the equivalent of its oil sovereign wealth fund.

For the Herald Scotland, group business correspondent Mark Williamson says devolved administration led by the Scottish National Party “must not squander” the “historic” opportunity presented by the ScotWind leasing round.

An energy revolution is possible – but only if leaders get imaginative about how to fund it
Michael Grubb, The Conversation Read Article

Pointing to clean technology success stories such as the 85% reduction in solar costs in the last decade, Prof Michael Grubb writes in the Conversation: “What’s crucial is that these transitions all involved significant government action. Plus, most went ahead despite the fact that in many cases, early economic calculations suggested that developing renewables would be an especially expensive way to cut emissions.” Grubb continues: “Rather than relying on research and development to bring down costs through coming up with new inventions – or leaving the market to do so on its own through competition – governments used subsidies and public procurement programmes (government commitments to buy a certain volume of a new product) to keep costs down and boost uptake.” He adds: “These impressive outcomes show that traditional models of economic appraisal – calculating costs and benefits as if they were fairly predictable – are inadequate for making truly transformative change in sectors like energy, industry, transport and buildings.” Grubb concludes: “If we want to solve climate change, we first need to transform our economic thinking.” [Grubb and colleagues explore these ideas further in a Carbon Brief guest post published last year.]

In Tonga, a volcano-triggered tsunami underscores islands' acute climate risk
Kanupriya Kapoor and Gloria Dickie, Reuters Read Article

A feature for Reuters covers the recent tsunami in Tonga, which it says “laid bare some of the ways that climate change is threatening the islands’ very existence”. It adds: “By increasing temperatures and driving up sea levels, climate change will likely worsen disasters wrought by tsunamis, storm surges and heat waves, experts say.”

Separately, the New York Times reports that the volcanic eruption that caused the tsunami in Tonga “probably won’t cool the planet as some previous eruptions have done”. Similarly, the Independent reports under the headline: “No, the Tonga volcano won’t buy back time from the climate crisis.”

Climate change personal responsibility is a myth to excuse the world’s emitters
Ted Christie-Miller, City AM Read Article

Writing for City AM, Ted Christie-Miller, fellow UK thinktank Onward says that consumers “do have power in the pockets when it comes to tackling climate change” and that behaviour change “will also be pivotal”. But he argues that the “heavy lifting on climate change is not going to come from you and I alone”. This is because, he writes: “The transition requires an overhauling of the way we manufacture, heat, move, power, farm and much more…Buying keep cups or energy-efficient lightbulbs are good things but they will barely make a dent.” Christie-Miller continues: “The big emitters want you to think it’s up to you…personal responsibility [is] being pedalled from businesses and governments alike.” He concludes: “It may be true that people eat too much meat and fly and drive too much. But, getting to net-zero emissions requires fundamental changes to our economy and our infrastructure, which can only be implemented by those in positions of power: businesses and governments.”

Science.

Historical glacier change on Svalbard predicts doubling of mass loss by 2100
Nature Read Article

The rates of thinning of glaciers in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard “will more than double” over the 21st century, a new study says. Using an archive of historical aerial imagery from 1936 and 1938, the researchers “use structure-from-motion photogrammetry to reconstruct the three-dimensional geometry of 1,594 glaciers across Svalbard”. Comparing these reconstructions to modern ice elevation data, the researchers find “robust temperature dependence of melt rates, whereby a 1C rise in mean summer temperature corresponds to a decrease in area-normalised mass balance of −0.28 metres per year of water equivalent”. An accompanying News & Views article says the study “paints a different picture of future ice loss from that of previous studies, almost all of which projected that more ice would be lost during the 21st century”.

Impact of climate change adaptation on farm productivity and household welfare
Climatic Change Read Article

Farmers in Ghana that have been able to adapt to a changing climate are “more productive and have more household assets” than those that have not, a new study finds. Using data from 1,440 farmers in Ghana, the authors model the “factors that influence maize farmers’ decision to adapt to climate change and the productivity and household assets that result from both adaptation and otherwise”. The findings show that “access to information has a positive effect on the decision to adapt”, the authors say, adding: “Farms that benefit from adaptation do not become less productive with increases in temperature or rainfall.”

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