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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 25.03.2022
Nations ‘united’ in seeking to cut Russian oil, gas imports

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News.

Nations 'united' in seeking to cut Russian oil, gas imports
Associated Press Read Article

Nations including the US and much of Europe have issued a joint statement on “radically” reducing imports of Russian oil and gas after its invasion of Ukraine, Associated Press reports, adding that the countries also pledged to ensure their efforts did not fuel climate change. The joint communiqué was issued by 31 global energy ministers at a two-day meeting of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the newswire explains, with ideas for cutting Russian imports including new non-Russian supplies, cutting energy use and ramping up clean energy. The meeting was chair by US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm, AP says.

The Financial Times says the US and EU have announced a plan to supply an extra 15bn cubic metres (bcm) of gas to the EU by the end of the year, from the US and other suppliers. It says this confirms its reporting yesterday, with the additional gas going towards an EU target of reducing Russian imports by 50bcm. Reuters also reported the US-EU gas deal. It adds that EU leaders will also meet today: “The divisive issue of whether to impose an embargo on Russian energy, on top of the slew of sanctions already targeted at Moscow, will also come up but no decision is expected.” Bloomberg also has the story, with a second Bloomberg article saying EU leaders are meeting today to “debate ways to drain Putin’s war chest of energy funds”. The New York Times reports on “why the US can’t quickly wean Europe from Russian gas”.

Several Reuters articles report that Canada has said it can boost oil and gas exports to help replace Russian supply, that US refiners are turning to the Middle East after the country’s ban on Russian imports and that supplies from Kazakhstan have been hit by “disruptions at a Russian Black Sea port”.

Separately, Reuters reports in an “exclusive” that officials from the oil producers’ cartel OPEC are “uneas[y]” about the idea of a European ban on Russian oil. The Guardian reports Russian and Ukrainian activists calling for a European embargo on all Russian fossil fuels. Politico says Ukrainian climate activists and Polish conservatives have found “common cause in fighting Russian oil”. A Washington Post article visualises IEA proposals on how to radically cut imports of Russian oil and gas. It is titled: “Europe wants to cut Russian energy. Climate policies can help.” A Reuters analysis article says the global economy is still “hooked” on oil.

Germany: Coalition wants to suspend the shutdown of coal-fired power plants
Der Spiegel Read Article

Der Spiegel reports that the German government intends “to rely longer on coal as a safety net for energy supply” in order to reduce gas consumption from Russia, meaning plants would remain on standby for longer than planned. However, it quotes a statement from the governing coalition saying “we will ideally stick to the goal of phasing out coal by 2030”. The move is part of a wider set of measures reported by the Financial Times: “Germany’s ruling coalition has agreed a relief package expected to be worth about €16bn to ease the burden of rising energy costs, with measures ranging from a three-month fuel price cut to a temporary increase in the use of coal.” Reuters says the package includes fuel tax cuts, cut-price public transport tickets, accelerated renewable and hydrogen expansion, support for liquified natural gas (LNG) import terminals, higher funding for energy efficiency and a ban on fossil fuel heating from 2024.

Another article from Der Spiegel says that Germany plans to reduce dependence on Russian gas by 30% by the end of the year and halve oil imports from Russia by the summer, citing the German ministry of economy. Reuters picks up the report, saying it quotes a government memo as reading: “”By the end of the year, we aim to be almost independent [of Russian oil]. By autumn, Germany can be independent of Russian coal.” Separately, Politico German chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday “dismissed Russia’s demand that the EU and US pay for Russian gas in roubles”.

In other news from Germany, Clean Energy Wire reports that federal environment minister Steffi Lemke announced a plan for immediate action on climate adaptation for German municipalities. Handelsblatt adds that the ministry wants to spend an additional €60m by 2026 “to prepare the country for the extreme weather events of the future”.

Great Barrier Reef authority confirms unprecedented sixth mass coral bleaching event
The Guardian Read Article

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia has been “hit with a sixth mass coral bleaching event”, the Guardian reports. It cites confirmation of the event from the marine park’s authority, based on aerial surveys showing a 1,200km stretch of bleached coral out of the marine park’s entire 2,300km length. The paper says this is an “alarming milestone” marking the first time a mass bleaching event has taken place in a cooler La Niña year. It adds that widespread mass bleaching of corals on the reef was first seen in 1998 and again in 2002, 2016, 2017 and 2020, before this year’s event. BBC News also has the story, saying it is the fourth time in six years that the reef has experienced a mass bleaching. It adds: “Only two mass bleaching events had ever been recorded until 2016.” The broadcaster says: “A climate laggard among rich nations, Australia is often criticised for its strong support of fossil fuel industries. Earlier this week, UN secretary general António Guterres singled out Australia as a global ‘holdout’ on stronger efforts to cut emissions by 2030.” The New York Times says severe bleaching has been recorded across 60% of the reef’s area.

Satellite data shows entire Conger ice shelf has collapsed in Antarctica
The Guardian Read Article

An ice shelf “about the size of Rome” has “completely collapsed” in East Antarctica, the Guardian reports, citing satellite data. It says the 1,200 sq km Conger ice shelf collapsed around 10 days ago, with East Antarctica having experienced unusually high temperatures last week. The paper quotes Nasa’s Dr Catherine Colello Walker saying, while the shelf is relatively small, “it is one of the most significant collapse events anywhere since the early 2000s when the Larsen B ice shelf disintegrated” and adding: “It won’t have huge effects, most likely, but it’s a sign of what might be coming.” The paper quotes another scientist saying: “This collapse, especially if tied to the extreme heat brought by the mid-March atmospheric river event [that drove record temperatures], will drive additional research into these processes in the region.”

Russian agents charged with targeting US nuclear plant, Saudi oil refinery
Reuters Read Article

US and British officials have accused the Russian government of a campaign to hack into critical infrastructure including an American nuclear plant and Saudi oil refinery over the past decade, Reuters reports. The news came as criminal charges were unsealed in the US against four Russian government officials, relating to “two major hacking operations aimed at the global energy sector”, the newswire reports. It continues: “Cyber security analysts described the move as a shot across the bow to Moscow after US president Joe Biden warned just days ago about ‘evolving intelligence’ that the Russian government may be preparing cyberattacks against American targets.” The Financial Times also has the story.

UK: Electric car chargepoints to overtake fuel pumps
BBC News Read Article

The UK government has set out plans for 300,000 electric vehicle charging points by 2030, BBC News reports, up from the current level of 30,000. It says that the targeted level would be “almost five times the number of fuel pumps on UK roads today”, according to the Department for Transport. The broadcaster says that the plan gives more detail on how the government will spend a previously announced £500m fund to boost public charging stations. It also reports motoring group RAC saying the proposed rollout is not fast enough to keep up with drivers switching to EVs “en masse”, ahead of the 2030 ban on the sale of new combustion engine cars. The Times, the GuardianSky NewsBloombergBusinessGreen and the i newspaper all have the story. Separately, the Independent reports that online retailer Amazon has started using five fully-electric heavy-goods vehicles, the first of nine due to enter service this year.

UK: Lower energy bills for people near wind turbines considered
BBC News Read Article

The UK government is considering plans to offer lower energy bills to those living near onshore windfarms, BBC News reports. It says the idea could be part of the government’s energy supply strategy due to be published next week and which will, the broadcaster says, include plans for accelerating renewable energy in the UK. It says the strategy will also include plans to roll out more nuclear energy “as well as the government’s ambitions to loosen regulations around extracting North Sea oil and gas”. The article quotes Labour MP Darren Jones calling for the strategy to also include a focus on energy efficiency. Utility Week reports that energy firm Octopus has submitted proposals to government on how the time needed to plan and built an onshore windfarm could be “slashed from nearly a decade to less than a year”. It adds: “The supplier blames the bulk of the delay in commissioning projects on securing planning consents and grid connections.”

The Independent also previews the energy strategy, reporting comments from Treasury secretary Simon Clarke saying of North Sea oil and gas: “We need to get that production going to the maximum extent that we can.” It also quotes him saying the plan will mean “more new renewables, it means more new nuclear, and it means more oil and gas from the North Sea”. Reuters runs a story under the headline: “UK needs to go big on nuclear and offshore wind, [prime minister Boris] Johnson says.”

Separately, the Daily Mail has another article on Drax, the coal plant in Yorkshire that now mostly burns wood pellets. The paper says Drax “receives the equivalent of more than £2m a day in public subsidies, despite doubts over the environmental benefits”.

US regulators slow consideration of climate impact of new gas projects
Reuters Read Article

Regulators in the US have delayed requirements on considering greenhouse gas emissions before approving new gas projects including export terminals, Reuters reports, saying the decision comes “after lawmakers complained the policy would harm the industry just when European allies need gas due to the crisis in Ukraine”. Draft rules drawn up by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will not apply to pending projects until final guidance is issued, Reuters says. Associated Press also has the story, reporting that before yesterday’s decision, FERC had initially designated the draft rules in a way that would have applied immediately, to pending as well as future projects.

Bloomberg reports that efforts to replace Russian gas with US exports are “drawing applause from the fossil-fuel industry but risks undermining his campaign to combat climate change”. The outlet reports: “Administration officials insist that emergency moves being announced Friday, including a possible infusion of liquefied natural gas from the US, won’t derail long-term climate goals. Yet it’s causing friction with environmentalists who see it as a betrayal.”

Comment.

We're in a fossil-fuel war. Biden should say so
Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times Read Article

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “a war enabled and exacerbated by the world’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels”, writes columnist Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times. He continues: “The way out of this bind would also appear obvious and urgent. By accelerating our transition to cheap and abundant renewable fuels, we can address two grave threats to the planet at once: the climate-warming, air-polluting menace of hydrocarbons and the dictators who rule their supply.” Manjoo adds: “But I’m flummoxed why [US president Joe] Biden and the Democrats have yet to aggressively make the case for their [climate] proposals in the new context of war – to point out that climate policy is not unrelated to foreign policy, and that freeing ourselves from other people’s fuels is the best long-term solution to skyrocketing energy prices.”

In the Financial Times, columnist Martin Sandbu writes: “Everyone understands that shifting away from fossil fuels is also in Europe’s geostrategic interest. Yet, evidently, many leaders see political advantage in blunting the incentive to do so. The inconvenient fact is that capping prices, even reducing them simply by lowering energy taxes, will delay efficiency drives and tilt investment decisions away from non-carbon energy relative to letting the market work as at present.”

An article in the Conversation asks if war in Ukraine will “hasten the end of fossil fuels”. It concludes: “International resolve to cripple Russia’s revenue streams will not translate into comprehensive strategies for phasing out fossil fuels on its own. In its upcoming energy supply plan, the UK government has a chance to act decisively on the fuels bankrolling wars, raising household bills and heating the planet.”

Let’s blow a raspberry at wind farm opponents
Ann Treneman, The Times Read Article

Writing in the Times, the paper’s chief theatre critic Ann Treneman writes that the “obvious solution” to rising energy bills amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is to “create more energy here, at home, and have nothing to do with Russia or, indeed, Saudi Arabia”. Rebuffing critics of the technology in the cabinet, Treneman continues: “Lifting the ban on onshore windfarms is an idea whose time has come.” She adds that she “once thought windfarms were ugly but now see them as a necessary part of life and, in some cases, such as the slender arms turning off the coast of Margate, things of beauty.”

Separately, an article in the Independent asks if geothermal energy can “increase UK’s fuel independence?” Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph carries the views of David Green, chief executive of right-wing thinktank Civitas, who writes under the headline: “Britain could become a tidal energy superpower.” He says tidal energy is among the ideas “listed by [prime minister] Boris Johnson as a way of avoiding reliance on Putin’s Russia”. Green claims that “unlike other renewables”, schemes based in tidal river basins could be built with “no government subsidy”. (Wind and solar are expected to be “negative subsidy”, paying back to billpayers over their lifetime.)

Science.

The unseen effects of deforestation: Biophysical effects on climate
Frontiers in Forests and Global Change Read Article

A new study finds that in addition to sequestering CO2, trees around the world counteract climate change by providing an extra “biophysical” cooling effect that keeps global temperatures at least 0.5C cooler than they would otherwise be. Researchers analyse the scientific literature for data on the biophysical effects of trees, then combine this with estimates of how climate change will affect tree biomass. Globally, they find that tropical forests have a net cooling effect of about 1C, at least one-third of which can be attributed to biophysical effects, such as aerosol generation. In addition, the effects of these mechanisms on local temperatures are “very important, and can be very large”, the authors write.

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