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Briefing date 16.03.2022
Net-zero rules on the chopping block to boost North Sea oil production

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Net-zero rules on the chopping block to boost North Sea oil production
The Daily Telegraph Read Article

Climate regulations for North Sea oil and gas extraction could be “watered down” in a bid to free “the west” from its reliance on Russian fossil fuels following the invasion of Ukraine, the Daily Telegraph reports. The newspaper notes that UK ministers are currently consulting on proposals for “climate compatibility checkpoints”, which drilling companies must pass to win North Sea licences, and which take into account UK oil demand, the availability of clean energy and the industry’s progress against emission-reduction targets. However, the government is now “considering ways” that these net-zero rules can be avoided, so that drilling could be allowed for geopolitical and national security reasons, it continues. Alternatively, a source tells Bloomberg that ministers could be given the power to grant exemptions in individual cases on those grounds, although no final decision has been taken on the matter as yet. The news website notes that, as it stands, the government is still consulting with the public and businesses on the proposed checkpoints, which have already been criticised for not being stringent enough. An analysis piece by the Independent’s environment correspondent Harry Cockburn concludes that the UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s plan to boost domestic oil and gas production “does not make sense”. For more on this topic, see Carbon Brief’s recent factcheck examining whether new UK oil and gas licences can ever be “climate compatible”.

This story comes against a backdrop of Johnson travelling to meet with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, asking them “to open the oil taps” in the hope of seeing off further price increases, the Independent reports. The Guardian reports on comments from Labour leader Keir Starmer, who has accused Johnson of “going cap in hand from dictator to dictator” to find alternatives to Russian oil supplies. Johnson has a “personal relationship with the Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman, and government sources suggest he could help persuade the Saudis to increase oil production”, according to the newspaper. BBC News’ political editor Laura Kuenssberg asks in an analysis piece what impact the prime minister’s trip will have, noting that “if the oil producing countries did conclude it might be in their interests to help, they might wonder what’s in it for them”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that oil prices have bounced back after earlier declines, “as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to stoke volatile trading with ceasefire talks the latest market trigger”.

Finally, the New York Times reports that prices for coal used to in the power sector have “hit record levels in recent days on fears that supplies from Russia could be disrupted”. The piece cites Steve Hulton, vice president of coal at Rystad Energy, a consulting firm, who says that coal buyers are trying to lock up supplies amid worries that sanctions on Russia could lead to a cutoff.

Blow to fracking in England as only five of 138 MPs in target areas voice support
The Guardian Read Article

The prospect of fracking in England has been “dealt another blow” as only five of the 138 MPs for constituencies with shale gas exploration licences said they would support fracking in their constituencies, reports an “exclusive” in the Guardian. It adds that, in total, 41 MPs said they would be against it while the rest either did not reply or declined to comment. Following mounting pressure from various backbench MPs amid the energy crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the newspaper notes that Boris Johnson’s spokesperson recently said that “all options” – including fracking – would be considered before the government releases its new energy strategy, expected in the coming days. However, the Guardian notes that supportive MPs are “unlikely to find support from colleagues in the areas covered by active onshore exploration licences”. It notes that many of the areas where fracking could be a possibility are in the “red wall” – previously dominated by Labour – where Conservative MPs representing those seats are “perhaps aware that their position could be difficult come the next general election”. Another Guardian piece reports on analysis by green thinktank E3G that finds the UK could eliminate all need for imports of Russian gas this year through a combination of energy efficiency measures, expanding renewable power generation and a campaign to help people change their behaviour.

In the US, Politico reports that Interior Department approvals to drill oil and gas wells on public lands have “dropped significantly in recent months”, with 95 approved in January, “a plunge from the zenith of 643 issued last April”. It states that “the reason for the permitting slowdown is unclear, but it comes as Biden administration officials have been pushing the oil and gas industry to increase drilling amid surging gas prices”. Finally, Reuters reports that a federal appeals court has rejected ExxonMobil’s effort to stop Massachusetts and New York from probing whether the oil company lied to investors and the public regarding what it knew about climate change.

Germany carbon emissions rise in setback for climate goals
Bloomberg Read Article

Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 4.5% last year, putting pressure on the new government “to get climate goals back on track”, according to Bloomberg. The piece notes that Europe’s largest economy has missed its emissions targets for two years in a row, and last year’s increase largely came from the energy sector. This was partly the result of Russia capping natural gas supplies to Europe for months “just as demand rebounded from pandemic lows”, it continues, noting that this forced Germany to rely more on burning coal to generate electricity. While a rebound from the Covid-19 related dip in emissions was expected, Clean Energy Wire reports that the country’s Federal Environment Agency warned that the “Corona windfall profits” in terms of emissions reductions were being lost too quickly. The article notes that both the transport and the buildings sectors failed their annual emission reduction targets. It quotes Dr Patrick Graichen, state secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, who highlighted the co-benefits of achieving independence from Russian fossil fuels and reaching climate targets, and emphasised the importance of structural changes to these sectors, which would including a boom in heat-pump installation this year.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the German RWE, one of Europe’s biggest energy companies, is preparing to bring “a string of German coal power stations out of retirement as part of efforts to wean the country off Russian gas”. The firm said it was reviewing plants that have been decommissioned, those that are scheduled to go off-grid this year and others that are currently kept on standby, noting that it would be up to the German government to decide how temporary these measures are. The Financial Times has a piece on Markus Krebber, chief executive of RWE, warning against halting Russian energy imports entirely, saying it would hurt German households and lead to lasting damage for industry. An opinion piece by Jeremy Warner, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph, questions the impact of sanctions, stating that Russia is “built to survive a prolonged economic siege”.

Meanwhile, another Financial Times story reports that US ally Pakistan plans to finalise a Russian-built gas pipeline despite international pressure to isolate Moscow economically.

EU countries support plan for world-first carbon border tariff
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports that EU countries have backed the bloc’s plan to impose a world-first carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions tariff on imports of high-polluting goods from 2026. This would include costs added to imports of steel, cement, fertilisers, aluminium and electricity – a move that is aimed at protecting European industry from being “undercut by cheaper goods made in countries with weaker environmental rules”. The piece notes that “the finer details will need to be worked out in upcoming negotiations”.

Separately, another Reuters piece reports that French Finance Minister Bruno le Maire has said that he and his fellow EU finance ministers have agreed to subsidise household fuel prices and offer support to companies hit by surging energy prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And according to analysis for the Times, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Treasury stands to make up to £2.9bn more from motorists in a tax windfall due to record petrol and diesel prices. It adds that Sunak has resisted calls from MPs to use his spring statement next week to cut fuel duty.

China's Belt and Road banks halted overseas energy loans in 2021
Bloomberg Read Article

Researchers from Boston University have found that the two main Chinese banks conducting overseas development financing – the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China – “didn’t make a single energy loan last year for the first time since before 2000”, reports Bloomberg. The outlet adds that this was the fifth year in a row that the banks reduced their lending to energy projects abroad. However, the researchers found that the banks have still provided $75bn in financing for such projects, more than any other lender including the World Bank.

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reports that China is going to continue developing nuclear power as part of its decarbonisation drive, at a time when the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is leading to “debate and soul-searching among other major nuclear powers”. China is set to build five new nuclear plants over 2021-25, according to its 14th five year plan, and it is expected to overtake the US and France as the biggest nuclear power in the world by 2030. The cost of nuclear power in coastal China is competitive with coal power, the newspaper says, and building new nuclear units “costs half of what it would in the US, UK and France”.

Separately, Reuters reports that the country’s coal output rose 10% in the first two months of 2022 compared to a year earlier. Demand for coal received a boost from the export ban in Indonesia, China’s largest overseas supplier, and the central government also encouraged coal miners to ramp up production ahead of the winter heating season. Elsewhere, China Daily reports that Ma Yongsheng, the president of state-owned energy giant Sinopec, has called for “preferential policies” for the development of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies in order to reduce carbon emissions in China’s energy sector.


Domestic gas is not the solution to Britain's energy security
Chris Skidmore, CapX Read Article

Conservative MP, former science minister and chair of the Net-Zero Support Group Chris Skidmore writes a piece for CapX opposing the idea of a reignited fracking industry in the UK. He notes that even fracking companies such as Cuadrilla have admitted it will not drive down people’s bills and when fracking was permitted, “barely two wells were ever operational”. The piece also points out that fracking remains “hugely unpopular with the public”. He continues: “Yet there is still a push by some in the press to reopen the fracking can of worms. We’ve seen the hype before. Fracking is still a political own goal. It was an electoral calculation which (rightly) led the prime minister to commit to a moratorium on fracking in the 2019 election manifesto”. Instead, Skidmore suggests the focus should be on “policies that are popular and are likely to actually work”, mentioning boosting home insulation and rolling out more heat pumps in homes. “Put simply, you can’t be a champion of struggling bills payers while calling for more gas and not saying anything about insulation. These false solutions are a distraction, and at a time of national emergency, that’s a threat to our security,” he says, noting that ultimately “net-zero will deliver much more homegrown clean energy”.

Other comment also pieces consider the question of fracking in the UK, including one by columnist Tim Stanley for the Daily Telegraph, who pours scorn on the idea of a “net-zero energy solution”. He says: “I don’t see how, as Labour says it wants, we’re going to beat the Russians, end poverty and eliminate carbon at the same time. It is a fantasy”. In the Times, political sketch writer Quentin Letts, captures responses from MPs to the question of fracking, the possible return of which he describes as the “stuff of Greta Thunberg’s adolescent nightmares”. The Daily Telegraph also has an opinion piece by Nigel Farage, who recently launched a campaign for a referendum on the UK’s net-zero by 2050 target, which was set into law back in 2019. Farage claims that the UK’s decision not to frack has “worked in the interests of Vladimir Putin” and says “politicians should have nothing to fear from a healthy debate on net-zero”.

A piece by Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee which cites analysis by Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans, is titled, “The Tories railed against ‘green crap’. Why trust them to solve the energy crisis now?”. Times columnist Alice Thomson says that while interest in renewables is increasing, ministers “must do more to help us build and pay for turbines and panels”. Meanwhile, Big Issue environment reporter Sarah Wilson warns that the government’s failure so far to make net-zero policies fair for the poorest people has “left the door wide open for sceptics” to insert their anti-net-zero messaging.

Losing this court case feels like we’ve lost our chance for a safe future
Anjali Sharma, The Sydney Morning Herald Read Article

The Sydney Morning Herald has a piece by Anjali Sharma, a student and climate activist who was one of the eight teenagers who, alongside an 87-year-old nun, convinced an Australian court that the government had a legal duty to children when assessing fossil fuel projects. Their case was overturned yesterday, after the Australian government won an appeal against the ruling that it has a duty of care to protect children from harm caused by climate change. “In this case, it felt like winning was everything. We lost, and I’m angry. I’m angry, and so devastated,” writes Sharma. “Today’s ruling does not change the minister’s moral obligation to protect young people from climate change. It does not change the science. It does not put out the fires or drain the floodwaters.” She concludes: “What I will say with absolute certainty, however, is that the world is watching the Australian government’s abhorrent failure to act on climate change. While other countries set strict emissions reductions targets and shift their focus to renewable energy, the Australian government approves more fossil fuel projects. Something has to change”. A Guardian piece by writer and lawyer Kieran Pender also considers the outcome of the case.


Projected climate-driven changes in pollen emission season length and magnitude over the continental United States
Nature Communications Read Article

Annual pollen emissions in the US could increase by 16–40% by the end of the century, new research finds. The authors use a “pollen emission model” and future climate data to determine how pollen emissions could change by the end of the century, assuming 4-6C warming above pre-industrial levels. They find that temperature and rainfall affect daily maximum pollen emissions, while increasing atmospheric CO2 levels increase pollen production. Meanwhile, land cover changes have a “relatively small” effect on pollen emissions compared to climate or CO2, it finds. “These simulations indicate that increasing pollen and longer seasons will increase the likelihood of seasonal allergies”, the paper says.

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