Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Net-zero announcement: UK sets out plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions
- New taxes likely as part of UK’s net zero transition by 2050, Treasury warns
- UK: Boris Johnson strikes £400m deal with Bill Gates to boost green technology
- Big fossil fuel producers' plans far exceed climate targets, UN says
- China says: we want COP26 to be a success
- The Guardian view on the net zero strategy: not tough enough
- COP26 is the real thing and not a drill
- Greater than 99% consensus on human caused climate change in the peer-reviewed scientific literature
After a flurry of UK government policy documents were released on Tuesday, there is extensive coverage of these net-zero plans in the British press. BBC News has the details of the long-awaited net-zero strategy, which it says includes a variety of measures that are collectively meant to “dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions” to reach the country’s emissions target by 2050. The piece notes that the announcement comes 12 days before global leaders are set to meet in Glasgow at the COP26 summit to “negotiate how to curb climate change”. Among the measures highlighted in the BBC article are a mandate for car manufacturers to sell a set proportion of low-emissions vehicles each year and a further £120m to develop small modular nuclear reactors. It adds that while there has been “much speculation about a go-ahead” for Sizewell C nuclear plant in Suffolk, “funding has been a key sticking point and it seems an announcement has been put off until the chancellor’s spending review next week”. In its coverage, which quotes Carbon Brief policy editor Simon Evans, New Scientist notes that the government has drawn criticism for failing to show any of the emissions savings delivered by the policies outlined in the strategy. Press Association says that ministers hope the “landmark strategy” will set an example to other countries “on how to go green”. New funding present in the strategy and listed by the newswire includes £620m for electric vehicle grants and on-street charging, £500m for projects to develop new clean technologies and £140m to help initiate green hydrogen projects. However, it adds that “critics were quick to warn the strategy, which runs to more than 360 pages, did not provide enough policies or investment to drive the transformation needed to reach net-zero”. According to the i newspaper, the UK “will become the first European country to make it compulsory for car makers to sell a proportion of electric vehicles from 2024”. Sky News reports that business minister Greg Hands told MPs in parliament that the net-zero strategy will support up to 440,000 jobs. The Guardian’s coverage notes that critics of the plan say it “falls short on ambition and funding”. Announcing the plan, prime minister Boris Johnson said Britain will become the “Qatar of hydrogen”, according to the Daily Telegraph.
An analysis article by the Guardian’s environment editor Damian Carrington notes that within the hundreds of pages of the report “there is one glaring omission – [chancellor] Rishi Sunak”. Carrington writes that the net-zero strategy is still “seriously underfunded” and needs the chancellor’s support if if it going to work. Press Association has published a sectoral breakdown of the net-zero strategy under the headline: “How will the shift to a net-zero world change our lives?”. The i newspaper has picked out “six key points” from the strategy, including its focus on nature, such as peat restoration, as well as support for carbon capture and storage (CCS). Similarly, Reuters has pulled out some of the “key elements” from the report. A pessimistic tone is taken by the MailOnline, which lists some of the impacts on consumer as “a 50% hike on their heating bills” and “paying £10k or more for a heat pump” [the new heat and buildings strategy announced a call for evidence on rebalancing levies from electricity to gas, but said it will ensure impacts on bills are limited, and is aiming for heat pumps to cost the same to buy and run as fossil-fuel boilers by 2030]. A BBC News Reality Check article asks if the UK is on track to meet its climate targets, examining sector-by-sector progress. Other articles seek to explain what net-zero is, such as one in BBC News, and what to expected at the COP26 summit, such as this one in the i newspaper. The strategy also appeared on the frontpage of the Metro. Carbon Brief will soon publish its full analysis of the net-zero strategy.
There is also continued coverage of the government’s “heat and buildings” strategy, the full text of which was released yesterday, some 15 hours after the government press release. The Guardian states that energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said gas boilers could be banned in future “but the government believes the market should drive changes to home heating systems”. [The language in the document around a phaseout of fossil fuel boilers by 2035 suggested such a measure but stopped short of an outright ban, as Carbon Brief‘s analysis explains.] Another Guardian piece reports that the government is “exploring plans to link mortgages to green home improvements by imposing targets for lenders”. BBC News has a piece containing criticism of insufficient plans to subsidise heat pumps in the strategy.
Meanwhile, the Independent reports that Sir James Bevan, chief executive of Environment Agency, has said that hotter summers and less predictable rainfall as a result of climate change will create an increased risk of droughts and serious water shortages in the UK, presenting an “existential” threat.
Channel 4 has launched a new “our climate futures” platform in which “a ‘hologram’ of Jon Snow takes you on a journey through time and place to guide you through humanity’s potential futures – in which we either meet our climate targets, or miss them”. Finally, the Guardian reports on a new study that finds the “scientific consensus that humans are altering the climate has passed 99.9%”.
In a frontpage Financial Times story the newspaper, reporting on the Treasury review of net-zero that accompanied the government’s new strategy, says that UK households and businesses could face new taxes in the coming years as the nation moves towards net-zero emissions. According to the newspaper, the Treasury document notes that while addressing climate change is “essential to long-term UK prosperity”, eliminating fossil fuels “would lead to the drying up of receipts from fuel duty and vehicle excise duty”, worth £37bn last year, meaning new taxes might be needed to replace the lost revenue. Bloomberg says a “big question around the net-zero plan is how much it will cost, and who will bear it,” noting that the Treasury review placed an estimated a price tag of “as much as 2% of economic output in 2050”. [The Treasury review says costs are “highly uncertain” and amount to an estimated 1-2% of GDP “excluding air quality and emission reduction benefits”.]
In another frontpage article, the Times also reports that “Britons face higher taxes to pay for eco pledges”, noting the “black hole in its finances” left by fuel duty. The article’s first line undermines its headline, saying that “new” – rather than higher – taxes might be needed, according to the Treasury. The Daily Mail reports that as Johnson revealed his net-zero plans he was “warned by the Treasury that taxes and consumer costs could rise to cover the estimated £1tn bill”. [The Treasury review estimates that household energy spending would fall in real terms if the net-zero target is met.] The Sun reports – inaccurately –that the net-zero plans would leave a “£97bn green blackhole” to fill for the Treasury. Its figure comprises the £37bn from annual lost fuel duty plus £60bn from “potential public and private additional capital expenditure requirements”, not all of which would fall on the exchequer. The i newspaper also focused on the need for new taxes in its coverage of both the Treasury review and the net-zero strategy itself. In analysis by the newspaper’s political editor Hugo Gye, he writes: “No 10 insiders are adamant it would be premature to say which taxes will go up: over the next three decades, future generations of political leaders will have to thrash it out between them”. In its coverage, Press Association reports on the Treasury’s conclusion that it would be “cheaper for the world to combat climate change now than to do nothing and deal with the consequences”. It also notes that HM Revenue and Customs could raise an additional 1.3% of GDP in taxes with a new carbon tax.
The UK government plans to launch a £400m package of investment in new green technologies alongside US billionaire Bill Gates, the Guardian reports. Speaking at a Global Investment Summit at the Science Museum in London, Boris Johnson said the deal would support a “green industrial revolution” in the UK and help develop emerging technologies that are currently too expensive but are nevertheless essential to meet climate targets, the piece continues. The newspaper adds that among the technologies being targeted are carbon capture and storage (CCS), long-term battery life, zero-carbon aviation) and green hydrogen. Politico reports that the deal will see see Gates’ firm, Breakthrough Energy, and the UK government put up £200m each. It notes that the event, which was “designed to promote investment in Britain ahead of the COP26 climate summit”, attracted 200 investors – including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Blackrock – with nearly £10bn in deals announced. Bloomberg also has the story. Press Association reports that Johnson told investors “green is good, green is right, green works”. The Independent also covers the prime minister’s speech, in which he told investors that governments and the markets must work together to tackle climate change.
Reuters notes that the summit “marks post-Brexit Britain’s biggest push to woo investors, even leveraging the soft power of drinks with Queen Elizabeth”. The Evening Standard reports that the Queen welcomed the business leaders, presidential envoys and tech entrepreneurs to Windsor Castle for a reception following the summit. In a foreword to the official brochure of the summit, the monarch wrote that she was “proud” of how the UK is moving towards a sustainable future, but says “there is still much more to do”, it adds.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that two multibillion-pound CCS schemes in the north-east and north-west of England will be “fast-tracked” with the aim of having the technology up and running in Britain by the middle of the decade.
Separately, the Daily Mirror reports that Johnson has posed for “eco-friendly photos” in front of a hydrogen-powered JCB digger with “megabucks donor” and JCB tycoon Lord Bamford, “who frequently lends him his private jet”. Finally, Bloomberg reports that following an event on Monday at which the chancellor unveiled a green finance strategy, guests “were surprised to be served beef, the most greenhouse gas-intensive popular meat”.
Major economies will produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than is consistent with meeting climate goals set under the Paris Agreement, Reuters reports. These findings come from the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) annual production gap report, which assesses the difference between governments’ planned production of coal, oil and gas and production levels that are consistent with meeting Paris temperature limits, the newswire notes. It concludes that of the 15 major fossil fuel producers assessed, they plan to produce around 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting the degree of warming to 1.5C, and 45% more than is consistent with 2C, according to Reuters, which adds that this has not declined much since UNEP’s 2020 report. BBC News notes that instead of curbing emissions, many of the biggest emitting countries are “also planning to significantly increase their production of fossil fuels, according to the UN”. Separately, Agence France-Presse reports on a new study that finds “French oil and gas major Total deliberately downplayed the threat of global warming from the 1970s onwards”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that as COP26 approaches, African countries are calling for a new system to track funding from wealthy nations that are failing to meet a $100bn annual target to help the developing world tackle climate change. Another Reuters piece notes that Mexico’s foreign minister has said the nation will increase its climate change goals by 2022. Bloomberg reports that US house speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a congressional delegation to the international climate talks beginning later this month.
The Times reports that plans to deal with hundreds of arrests at COP26 protests have been branded a “disaster in the making”.
China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua has said that COP26 is “deeply significant” and that his country wants the summit to succeed. The official is quoted saying that China wanted to work with the international community to tackle climate change and would do its best to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2060. Xie also noted that an announcement has yet to be made by China’s foreign ministry on whether or not China’s president Xi Jinping will attend the climate talks in Glasgow, Reuters says in a separate report. Sky News says Xie told a press conference that his nation does “not need the actions taken by the UK to encourage” Beijing to be more ambitious on climate change.
Meanwhile, Caixin, a Chinese financial outlet, reports that Xie told a “carbon neutrality” forum in Shenzhen on Monday that China would contribute its “Chinese wisdom” to COP26. Moreover, at a separate “carbon neutrality” forum in Yantai yesterday, Xie said that the realisation of emissions-peaking and carbon-neutrality goals would require “immense efforts”, according to China Energy News. Xie added that regions must “go all out” to strive towards the targets “in a scientific and orderly manner”, the outlet reports.
In other news about Chinese officials, Li Gao, director-general of the environment ministry’s department of climate change, told ITV News that developed nations should take more responsibility for climate change rather than blaming others. “The climate change today is a result of the past emissions. So there is no way developed countries can shake off their responsibilities,” Li said. Furthermore, China’s vice-premier Han Zheng ordered the state macroeconomic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, to ensure sufficient energy supply for the country and a warm winter for the people, state news agency Xinhua and state broadcaster CCTV report. At a meeting yesterday, Han reasserted the government’s order to guarantee electricity supply this winter and next spring and “effectively increase” coal production capacity in line with safety and environmental requirements, the state-run outlets say.
Separately, Xinhua reports that the Chinese government’s instructions to increase coal production and supply to tackle power shortages have yielded “substantial results”. Citing the state macroeconomic planner, the state news agency says that the country has permitted 153 coal mines to boost their production capacity by a total of 220m tonnes – a move that is expected to increase 50m tonnes of coal output in the fourth quarter. But Reuters reports that China coal prices “hit a record high” yesterday. The newswire says the price hike was “buoyed” by a “widening” power crunch and cold weather despite the country’s efforts to boost coal output. Bloomberg also reports that coal futures in China “notched up another record” before coming to “a wild reversal in the final minutes of trading” on Tuesday. It adds that there were expectations that Chinese authorities would use new measures “to tame an extraordinary rally”. Another piece from Reuters notes that China’s power shortages hit growth in the country’s economy, “threatening more pain for global supply chains”. In more news about power shortages, S&P Global Platts says that northern China is seeing “an early start” to the winter heating season due to falling temperatures. Citing market participants and traders, the outlet says that the phenomenon will “boost demand for coal, natural gas and electricity sooner-than-expected” and is “bullish” for fuel prices.
The UK newspapers are full of reaction to the publication of the government’s net-zero strategy, including a wide range of editorials. An editorial in the Guardian says “in key areas it falls short”, adding: “Ministers had the chance to send a powerful message. Instead, they have hedged many of the new commitments in ways which risk undermining them.” An editorial in the Times says: “The good news is that the private sector is already driving progress towards net-zero. But if Number 10 is unwilling to use public money to subsidise new technologies until they achieve economies of scale, then it will have to rely on carbon pricing and regulation to force the pace of adoption.” An editorial in the Daily Mirror warns that “The Treasury avoiding public detailed costings is a tacit admission the bill will be high in the short term”. [The review includes estimates of the short and long term capital costs of a net-zero transition.] But, the paper adds, “saving the planet for future generations is a price worth paying”. The Financial Times says in an editorial that a “VAT cut on gas is [the] wrong way to keep the heating on”. It continues: “The plan [encouraging homeowners to replace their gas boilers with electric heat pumps] relies on the gamble that environmentally-minded early adopters will help fund the creation of cheaper versions, as they did for the windfarms that now surround Britain’s coast. That might be reasonable.” An editorial in the Daily Telegraph argues that “many of what we thought of as targets are hopes constrained by realities over which the government has no control…This is just the start of what will be a long and bumpy road to an uncertain green future.” The Independent says: “The government’s net-zero strategy is aspirational, but lacks real detail. No one should pretend, as Boris Johnson absurdly claims, that the move to a greener, more sustainable economic structure will be pain free.” An editorial in the Sun says: “Many of Boris’s eco promises are wishful thinking. He is mortgaging Britain to technologies that don’t yet work…We fear net-zero may become a millstone round our economy’s neck while other nations less committed to it thrive…The Sun wants a cleaner, greener planet. But the cost looks overwhelming.” Finally, an editorial in the climate-sceptic Daily Mail argues that “instead of gambling on a Micawberish green dream, Boris should set out a detailed, coherent strategy to safeguard our energy security over the next 30 years – and probably beyond”.
Meanwhile, there is a diverse spread of related comment pieces. In the Independent, Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband writes: “If the government’s proposals are not backed up by a proper investment plan for the decade, they will simply not deliver – not for the climate, nor for households, workers or industry.” Chaitanya Kumar, who is the head of environment and green transition at the New Economics Foundation, argues in the Guardian that “there are millions of jobs to be won and billions in economic gains to be had if we get this right”. Also in the Guardian, columnist Rafael Behr focuses on Boris Johnson: “Today he is a climate evangelist. Not long ago he was a sceptic. Today he is on the right side of the argument because the political facts changed to make it worth his while standing there. But the mood in the Conservative party changes more often and more violently than scientific consensus. Boris Johnson knows which is his true master.” Most of the right-wing newspapers carry the views of sceptics. In the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer says: “Sunak and the Treasury are absolutely right to draw attention to the potential costs of pursuing the Prime Minister’s green agenda. The transition to mass market eco-technologies is fantastically complicated and many of the proposed solutions are far from ready.
In rushing the fences, Britain is in danger of recklessly compromising this country’s growth and financial stability.” The Times carries the views of climate-sceptic Conservative MP Steve Baker, who styles himself as a “Brexit hardman”: “They must, however, hope and pray that the costs will come down and that someone will invent something to deal with the problems. It’s a strange way to run a country.” And the Daily Telegraph carries three separate comment pieces under the headlines: “Boris is courting political disaster by trying to guilt us into going green”; “The rush to heat pumps hasn’t been thought out”; and “Getting to net-zero will come at a price – no matter what Boris or Biden say.”
Finally, the Guardian columnist George Monbiot argues: “Drastic action is required to stop the Earth’s systems flipping into new states. Now should be our Pearl Harbor moment.”
Martin Wolf, the Financial Times’ chief economics commentator writes: that COP26 “may be the last chance” to put humanity on the path to net zero by 2050. He adds: “While there seems to be a clear path towards a zero-emissions energy economy, it is a really difficult one” that is “hard technically and even harder politically”. He continues: “The most pressing concern of governments must be exactly this: lighting, heating, cooling and transportation are not ‘nice to have’…Only by acting cooperatively can [governments] create the policy framework for such a big shift in private behaviour.“ He identifies the biggest challenge as being “financing the needed investment, in emerging and developing economies”, while calling for innovation and investments in “learn how to manage complex new electricity systems”, especially in developing countries. Meanwhile, former EU lead climate negotiator Morgan Bazilian writes in the Financial Times that his “modest proposal” is to “make the COP boring again” and that “celebrities can find another venue to burnish their climate credentials. He says that “the Paris deal’s results have been less impressive than the marketing narrative” and while it was “terrific politics…the deal’s internal machinery and tools…are insufficient for the urgency of the task”. He adds that most important activities at the COP “tend to be overshadowed by the set-piece political speeches, big delegation requirements, carefully mapped private dinners, glossy strategy launches, myriad new coalitions and crowded communications channels”.
In a comment piece trailed on the digital frontpage of the Independent, former Liberal Democrat party leader Vincent Cable asks: “Will COP26 be a serious flop? There is still time to turn things around.” He adds: “A key measure of success will be the constructive participation of the four big emitters of greenhouse gases: China, USA, India and Russia…As China and India forcefully point out, their cumulative contributions, and per capita emissions, are far lower than those of the main developed countries and, hence, their moral obligation less. But, looking forward, they are crucial.“ However, he concedes that “provided China and the US can accept that the climate crisis transcends geopolitical rivalry, there is still a reasonable prospect of heading off disaster”.
More than 99% of scientific papers agree that climate change is driven by human activity, according to a new study. From a dataset of more than 88,000 climate-related papers published since 2012, the authors examine a randomised subset of 3,000 publications. The study concludes that only four of the 3000 papers are “sceptical” of human-caused climate change. The authors say this study provides an update to a paper published in 2013 that “sparked the famous headline that 97% of the world’s science supported the climate change consensus”.
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