Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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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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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- New Russian gas projects face sanctions if Ukraine attacked
- UK rekindles option to cut VAT from soaring energy bills
- US judge annuls Gulf of Mexico oil auction over climate impact
- Australia: Morrison government announces $1bn pledge for Great Barrier Reef over the next decade
- John Kerry, US climate envoy, tells top polluters ‘we must all move faster’
- One in five UK councils have no climate action plan, campaigners say
- Climate change set to impact the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing
- Why climate change is inherently racist
- Impact of warmer climate periods on flood hazard in the European Alps
The UK and EU are preparing to hit new Russian gas projects with sanctions if the Kremlin orders an attack on Ukraine, reports the Financial Times, which notes that this is “the first time Europe has weighed targeting a sector it relies on for 40% of its gas imports”. According to “people briefed on the discussions”, the plans – being drawn up with US support – would severely curtail financing and technology transfer for new gas projects, the paper says. This is “seen as a way of striking at the country’s main industry while potentially avoiding some of the short-term pain that would be felt in western countries if energy flows were immediately disrupted”. The paper adds that “Europe’s willingness to target Russia’s vast hydrocarbons industry could affect European companies including BP, Total and Shell which invest in the Russian gas sector”. BBC News reports that the US has threatened to halt the opening of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – which would run from Russia to Germany – as part of potential sanctions. US state department spokesman Ned Price said that “I want to be very clear: if Russia invades Ukraine one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.” He added that he was “not going to get into the specifics” of how it would be stopped, but the US will “work with Germany to ensure” it does not proceed. Politico reports that Austrian parliament president Wolfgang Sobotka has said he would support sanctions against the pipeline. During a visit to the German capital, Sobotka told the outlet: “A clear position is needed here – and we certainly support sanctions up to and including Nord Stream and, of course, gas.” And, according to a second Politico article, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also supported the option, saying: “Allies have decided to prepare dissuasive sanctions to get Russia to face up its responsibilities, and the risks it is taking…This also means, for instance, blocking the Nord Stream pipeline.”
In related comment, Meghan L O’Sullivan – professor of international affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School – and Jason Bordoff – co-dean of the Columbia Climate School and the director of the university’s Center on Global Energy Policy – warn in the New York Times that “some may see Russia’s actions as the last gasp of a fading petrostate before the energy transition robs the country of geopolitical power. But that would be wishful thinking. The transition to a clean energy economy may actually empower Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and other petrostate leaders before it diminishes them”. And Edward Luce – US national editor and columnist at the Financial Times – writes that “Germany’s gas dependence [on Russia] was a logical outcome of former chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to hasten the end of German nuclear power”.
The UK government is “resurrecting a proposal to eliminate the value-added tax from energy bills as ministers consider ways to alleviate the growing cost-of-living crisis in Britain”, reports Bloomberg. The newswire continues: “[Boris] Johnson previously described cutting the 5% VAT as a ‘blunt instrument’ that would reduce bills for people who don’t need the support. But officials familiar with the matter said nothing has been ruled out and one said the measure reappeared this week in internal Treasury proposals. The officials all asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.” A VAT cut “could be announced before other possibilities, including extending financial help such as the Warm Home Discount for low-income households, cutting environmental levies and giving a rebate to some households through council tax”, the outlet says, which adds that “a fund to help energy companies slow the spike in costs that are passed on to consumers is under consideration”. (For more on rising wholesale gas prices and the impact on energy bills, see Carbon Brief‘s recent analysis.) At the same time, the Guardian reports that the Treasury “is becoming increasingly alarmed that Boris Johnson may be preparing to scrap the national insurance rise in a desperate attempt to placate rightwing Tory MPs as he fights to save his job”. The paper adds: “Johnson needs the support of backbenchers to stave off the threat of a leadership challenge in the coming days. As well as cancelling the tax increase, others have been demanding that he water down the government’s net-zero policies.”
An editorial in the Daily Mail says that Johnson “must refocus and redirect all his efforts to rebuilding public trust”. This should include heed[ing] ally Lord Frost, the former-Brexit minister, and clear[ing] out the neo-socialists, green fanatics and pro-woke advisers from Downing Street”, the paper says, adding: “Tougher policies to tackle Channel migrants, the flawed Northern Ireland protocol and energy self-sufficiency will reconnect him with millions of voters.” And writing in the Times, James Forsyth – political editor of the Spectator – warns that Johnson is now being “held hostage by his own MPs”. The prime minister’s new “MP-pleasing approach runs into trouble when placating one set of Tory backbenchers angers another”, says Forsyth: “On energy policy there are plenty of Tory MPs who would cut renewable subsidies to try to reduce bills this winter. But there are a large number of environmentally minded Tories who would regard this as supremely short-sighted. If Johnson moves to please the former, he would enrage the latter.”
A federal judge yesterday invalidated the results of an oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico saying the Biden administration had failed to properly account for the auction’s climate change impact, reports Reuters. The sale last November had generated more than $190m – the highest since 2019 – with 1.7n acres sold to the likes of Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the newswire explains. The decision by US District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington sends the proposed lease sale back to the Interior Department to decide next steps, explains the Associated Press: “The judge said it was up to [the Department of the] Interior to decide whether to go forward with the sale after a revised review, scrap it or take other steps” An interior department spokesperson said the government agency was reviewing the decision, reports the Financial Times. In his ruling, the judge said the Interior Department “acted arbitrarily and capriciously in excluding foreign consumption from their greenhouse gas emissions” and that it was required to do so under the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which says the government must consider ecological damage when deciding whether to permit drilling and construction projects, reports the New York Times. He added that any disruptions that revoking the lease sales might cause, “do not outweigh the seriousness of the NEPA error in this case and the need for the agency to get it right”. The Washington Post notes that the Biden administration “did not want to sell” the leases in the first place. The paper explains: “Shortly after taking office, President Biden suspended new oil and gas drilling on lands and waters owned by the federal government. But after a Louisiana judge struck down the moratorium last summer, administration officials said they were forced to go through with the sale.” The decision means the US government will have the chance to conduct a new environmental analysis to quantify the climate impacts of future oil and gas production, the paper says, which is “a step climate activists hope will lead to a different outcome”. Brettny Hardy, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, who worked on the case, tells the outlet: “We’re confident that once they do the emissions modelling right, given the climate crisis that we’re in, they will reach the decision that leasing doesn’t make sense right now.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post also reports that a year after announcing a halt to any new federal oil and gas leasing, “Biden has outpaced Donald Trump in issuing drilling permits on public lands”. The paper adds: “After setting a record for the largest offshore lease sale last year in the Gulf of Mexico, the Interior Department plans to auction off oil and gas drilling rights on more than 200,000 acres across Western states by the end of March, followed by 1m acres in the Cook Inlet, off the coast of Alaska.” And the Guardian reports on a new US study that warns “elderly people living near or downwind from unconventional oil and gas wells such as fracking sites are more likely to die prematurely”.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison will today announce that a re-elected coalition government would pour A$1bn (US$703m) into Great Barrier Reef conservation projects over the next decade, the Guardian reports. The announcement comes a fortnight after the opposition Labor party pledged A$163m (US$115m) to protect the reef, paper explains, noting that “it highlights the reef as a key election fight in the Cairns electorate of Leichhardt”. (In related comment, Lenore Taylor – editor of Guardian Australia – explains why the country’s election year “offers the chance to hold our politicians to account”.) The funding pledge also “arrives just days before Australia is due to send a report to Unesco about the state of the reef and its plans to protect it, before a critical meeting of the world heritage committee scheduled for July in Russia”, the paper adds. The Sydney Morning Herald says the new funding “will support the deployment of new technology, water management practices reducing threats from Crown of Thorns Starfish, protect key species and prevent illegal fishing. It includes coral seeding, the development of heat-resistant coral and climate adaptation work with turtles and other marine species”. Ahead of the official announcement, Morrison said: “This is already the best managed reef in the world and today we take our commitment to a new level,“ the outlet reports. However, Jodie Rummer – a marine biologist at James Cook University – tells the Financial Times that the government’s focus was insufficient because it overlooked climate change, which she describes as the “number one” threat. She adds: “It would be like you’re in a massive car accident and you get an arterial wound, and you’re gushing blood from your arteries, and paramedics show up and they want to put little Band-Aids on scrapes and cuts that are on your foot.” Reuters also has the story. (For more on the risks posed by climate change to the reef, see Carbon Brief‘s interactive.)
In other Australia news, an Independent “exclusive” reports that UK foreign secretary Liz Truss used a private government plane for her recent visit, burning “an estimated 150 tonnes of fuel and generat[ing] nearly 500 tonnes of CO2”. One environmental campaigner said that Truss’s use of the jet – rather than commercial flights, which “were available for the same itinerary” – was a “shockingly privileged and an outrageous source of emissions in the current climate emergency”, the outlet says. BBC News carries a response from Truss, who said: “Well, we have a government plane precisely so government ministers can travel.” The Guardian and i newspaper also pick up the story.
John Kerry – President Biden’s global climate envoy – yesterday warned nations that the world is “not on a good track” to meet its goal of pivoting away from fossil fuels in order to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change, reports the New York Times. The closed-door virtual meeting – called the Major Economies Forum on energy and climate – was hosted by Kerry and joined by ministers from the US, China, EU, Russia, UK and almost 20 other countries. Kerry asked ministers to outline what their governments are doing to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to follow through on promises made at COP26 last November, the paper explains: “The meeting was the first gathering since the Glasgow conference of leaders from major economies as well as small island nations and other countries particularly vulnerable to climate change.” In a statement after the meeting, Kerry said: “One thing is clear: we all must move faster in this decade to accelerate the transition from coal to renewables,” reports the Associated Press. According to senior US officials, “blueprints for how to cut methane emissions, and the technical or financial support that countries might need, were discussed”, reports the Financial Times. It adds: “Turning the COP26 commitments into reality was a key theme at the ministerial meeting…Also discussed was the possible creation of a goal for the proportion of newly installed power that should come from zero-carbon sources this decade.” Bloomberg also has the story.
A Guardian “exclusive” reports on new analysis revealing that more than one in five of all councils in the UK have no climate action plan. The research, carried out by not-for-profit campaigning organisation Climate Emergency UK, shows that of the 409 local authorities across the UK, 84 still did not have climate action plans, while 139 had not committed to reach net-zero emissions by a specific date, the paper explains. The group analysed the 325 plans according to 28 questions grouped into nine categories, including how well councils’ plans would mitigate the impact of climate change locally, whether climate and ecological emergency was integrated into existing policies, community engagement, climate education and the scale of emissions targets, the paper says. “Somerset West and Taunton district council topped the league with a score of 91%. Other high-scoring councils included West Midlands Combined Authority (89%), Staffordshire Moorlands (87%) and Solihull (85%). The average score across all UK local authorities was 46%.” Annie Pickering, a campaigns and policy officer at Climate Emergency UK, tells the paper: “It’s been three years since the first councils declared climate emergencies and our scorecards show that many councils are still not making action on the climate and ecological emergency a priority. Councils can have a real influence on creating low-carbon communities, and with the warmest new year on record in the UK, we need to see action fast.” The Independent also picks up the story.
Meanwhile, a Sun “exclusive” (from early yesterday) says that the EU will “sue Britain for a post-Brexit trade breach in a bonkers row about wind farms”. It continues: “France and Spain are spearheading an ‘envious’ bid from European Commission chiefs to try and steal thousands of British jobs, by insisting new wind contracts be opened up to businesses on the continent instead.” In what the paper describes as “the first major trade fallout between Britain and Brussels post-Brexit”, the EU is “expected to launch a formal dispute to World Trade Organisation bosses” as soon as yesterday. According to the Daily Telegraph, a European Commission spokesman insisted its assessment is “ongoing”.
In other UK news, the Financial Times reports on how “tougher planning rules designed to help curb climate change are threatening the viability of UK airport expansion plans”. The Guardian reports on warnings that Britain’s children are being failed by schools when it comes to learning about climate change. The Independent reports on new analysis from WWF, which shows that chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn budget is a “missed opportunity” on net-zero and “will instead drive up climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions with the impact of over 38m tonnes of CO2”. A Guardian piece considers whether road pricing is the “answer the UK’s net-zero car-tax conundrum”. And the Press Association reports on an interview with UK transport secretary Grant Shapps, in which he says a lot of environmental protesters are “anarchists” who “just want to find a basis upon which to take extremist action”.
The Winter Olympics 2022 – which will open in Beijing on 4 February – “will be made less safe for athletes” due to the “effects” of climate change, Yahoo News says, citing “a new report”. Concerns include “water scarcity, warm temperatures and poor air quality”, Yahoo News notes. The website says: “Due to a lack of precipitation and temperatures too warm to sustain snow, this year’s Olympics will be the first-ever to rely almost exclusively on artificial ice and snow in outdoor events.” S&P Global Platts analyses a new speech from China’s president Xi Jinping, saying that Xi has pointed to a “dual-control system” in the future for cutting carbon emissions and carbon intensity for the country.
Meanwhile, People’s Daily – the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China – reports that an expert from the International Olympic Committee has highly praised China’s ice-making technology as “very environmental”. The newspaper cites Arthur Gibert Sutherland, who is also a “special consultant” to the Beijing Organising Committee for the games. Sutherland commended China for using natural carbon dioxide (CO2) as a refrigerant, saying that the technology should be promoted worldwide, according to People’s Daily.
Separately, Shanghai-based news site Jiemian reports that China’s state economic planner has urged regional authorities and major coal and power companies to ensure coal production and supply during the Lunar New Year holidays. Reuters also picks up the story via Nasdaq. Furthermore, the South China Morning Post says that China’s coking coal imports “plummeted” in 2021 due to “an unofficial ban on Australian coal and coronavirus pandemic-hit Mongolian imports”, according to “analysts”. Elsewhere, Mining Technology publishes analysis titled: “Will China continue its ban of Australian coal?”
Finally, Reuters reports that on the latest forecast from China’s electricity council, which suggests “non-fossil fuel energy sources such as wind, nuclear, solar and hydropower may make up half of China’s total power generation capacity by the end of 2022, for the first time ever”. The Global Times – a tabloid run by People’s Daily – runs an opinion piece which states that China and Russia are “obliged to step up green energy cooperation”. The Economist‘s “daily chart”, citing analysis by Carbon Brief’s Dr Simon Evans, unpacks how “China now has nearly half of the world’s offshore wind capacity”. And Bloomberg opinion columnist David Fickling has a piece focusing on Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Co, which he says could “could kill the battery metals boom”.
In an article for BBC Future, freelance writer Jeremy Williams unpacks why “climate change and racism are two of the biggest challenges of the 21st century” and how the two “are also strongly intertwined”. There is “a stark divide between who has caused climate change and who is suffering its effects”, he writes: “People of colour across the global south are those who will be most affected by the climate crisis, even though their carbon footprints are generally very low. Similar racial divides exist within nations too, due to profound structural inequalities laid down by a long legacy of unequal power relationships.” Climate change is “often understood as an environmental issue, one that we are all in together, and therefore not something that could be in any way construed as racist”, Williams says. However, “there are deeper levels to racism”, he says: “It can be institutional, where people of colour receive an inferior level of service or care. When dealing with institutional racism, there may not be any one specific event or person that can be identified as the problem. The difference in how people are treated is buried away in processes and systems – ‘racism without racists’ as it is sometimes described.”
Williams speaks to Zambian climate activist Veronica Mulenga, who says that “historical and present-day injustices have both left black, indigenous and people-of-colour communities exposed to far greater environmental health hazards than white communities. Those most affected by climate change are black and poor communities. As a continent we are one of the hardest hit by the impacts of climate change and we are left behind as the world progresses toward a low-carbon economy. Without taking into account those most affected, climate solutions will turn into climate exclusion”. This exclusion extends to international negotiations, says Mulenga: “African voices are not well represented in climate summits, leaving climate justice out of the equation…At COP26 a lack of vaccines and funding available for African countries prevented many delegates and activists from taking part in the negotiations, including myself. Racism and white supremacy have long excluded African voices from environmental policy.” UN-led talks – including the most recent COP26 round in Glasgow – “have also failed to agree compensation for the loss and damage caused to the global south”, writes Williams. Anthropologist Jason Hickel tells him that “rich nations must compensate for the damages that their excess emissions have inflicted on other countries. Social movements in the global south have long been calling for climate reparations and it’s time for our leaders to take this issue seriously.”
A new study shows that 0.5-1.2C of warming may decrease the frequency of large floods in the European Alps by up to half – but a similar amount of warming may increase the risk of extreme flooding in some areas. Researchers use palaeoclimate records of flooding from the last 10,000 years at 33 sites across Europe and analyse the data for changes in flood occurrence between warmer and colder periods. They find that there are “significantly” lower rates of flood occurrence in warmer periods than cooler ones, but the frequency of extreme “100 year” flood events increased during warm periods in some locations. The results, they write, mean that “trends in large floods cannot be systematically extrapolated to obtain the trends in extreme floods”.