Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Nicola Sturgeon: Cambo oil field should not get green light
- China’s deputy foreign minister: Sino-US climate change cooperation inseparable from the overall sentiment of the two countries’ relations
- Biden sends 2016 climate treaty to Senate for ratification
- Brussels seeks to curb deforestation with food import ban
- Bill Gates' $4bn high-tech nuclear reactor set for Wyoming coal site
- Fossil fuels in the COP26 climate pact - why the US is the real problem
- Can high-tech capitalism address climate change?
- The importance of 1.5C warming for the Great Barrier Reef
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the proposed Cambo oil field off the coast of Shetland “should not get the green light”, according to BBC News. It notes that while Sturgeon had previously called for the “controversial new development” to be reassessed, this is the first time she has opposed it outright. While the decision on whether drilling should be allowed lies with UK authorities rather than the Scottish government, the first minister said “the presumption would be that Cambo could not and should not pass any rigorous climate assessment”, the piece continues. The Times reports that Sturgeon’s comments had angered senior figures in the industry who argue that demand will not reduce if Cambo is scrapped and that failing to approve it would lead to increased fossil fuel imports. According to the Independent, the decision is “politically significant” as Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) “has in the past talked up Scotland’s oil industry and linked it to independence”.
Meanwhile in the US, the Biden administration is set to auction oil drilling rights to 80m acres in the US Gulf of Mexico “days after joining a global agreement [at COP26] that for the first time targeted fossil fuels as the main driver of global warming”, Reuters reports.
Separately, an international liquefied natural gas (LNG) body, the International Group of Liquefied Natural Gas Importers (GIIGNL), has launched a “framework to establish rules to declare cargoes carbon neutral”, according to Reuters. The piece notes that for a shipment to be classified as “carbon neutral”, it would need to show transparent emissions data, cut emissions at its operations and use offsets for any that remain, including scope 3 emissions generated when the customer uses the fuel. Another Reuters piece reports that Bahrain’s Oil & Gas Holding Company has announced that it “aims to expand beyond fossil fuels to become a broader energy firm”. The Financial Times reports that the oil company Shell has been threatened by Dutch opposition parties with an exit penalty after its decision to move its tax base to the UK “triggered a political backlash in the Netherlands”. Dutch green party MP Tom van der Lee told the newspaper that he would expedite a proposal to create an “exit tax” which was initially designed to hit Unilever with billions of euros in fees for leaving the country last year.
Following language around “phasing down” coal use in the Glasgow Climate Pact that emerged from COP26, a piece in Climate Home News by University of Sussex researcher Dario Kenner asks why “oil and gas, which between them are responsible for more CO2 emissions than coal, [have] been virtually ignored” at every COP so far. An opinion piece in the Financial Times by Michelle Manook, chief executive of the World Coal Association, responds to the COP outcome, stating that “you can’t phase out or phase down coal while it is still critical to the energy needs of billions of people”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that India has temporarily shut down five coal power plants around the capital of New Delhi as part of an urgent drive to cut air pollution. Another Reuters story reports that, according to investors, plans to cut down on global coal use are “likely to be accelerated by corporate net-zero pledges and better ways of measuring where factories in the global supply chain get their power”. A further Reuters story states that, according to a senior BlackRock figure, coal and oil-fired power generation projects will find it difficult to secure investments going forward.
Finally, the Guardian reports on “Blockade Australia” a protest group that has seen two climate activists shut down activity at the world’s largest coal port by climbing machinery at the Port of Newcastle and bringing the export of coal to a standstill by pressing an emergency safety button. Australian Associated Press via MailOnline reports that New South Wales police have launched a “strike force” targeting some of the anti-coal protesters who have been blocking railways near the coal port, “threatening them with potential jail sentences up to 25 years”.
China-US climate change cooperation “is inseparable from the overall sentiment of the two countries’ relations” and needs efforts from both sides to create a “good atmosphere” for it, China News Service reports. The state-run newswire cites Xie Feng, China’s deputy foreign minister, who briefed reporters on Tuesday after a virtual meeting between China’s president Xi Jinping and US president Joe Biden. CGTN – the English arm of China’s state broadcaster – reports that, according to Xi, China and the US “should fully harness the dialogue channels and mechanisms” between their climate change teams to “advance practical cooperation and resolve specific issues”. Xinhua – China’s state agency – carries a readout of the Xi-Biden video conference. The official release says that Xi told Biden climate change “could absolutely become a new highlight in the Sino-US cooperation”.
On the same topic, in international media, Bloomberg quotes Biden as saying: “It seems to me we need to establish some commonsense guardrails, to be clear and honest where we disagree, and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change.” The outlet adds that Xi called for the two nations to work together to find effective responses to global challenges, including climate change. CNN reports that Biden “raised areas where the US and China can cooperate, including on climate change”. It continues: “The two countries recently surprised observers at the COP26 climate talks in Scotland with a joint pledge to cut emissions.” The New York Times says that the two leaders “reiterated their commitment” to the climate change issue during the meeting, but “much remains unclear about how the two governments will work together”. According to the Washington Post, Biden and Xi “discussed the existential nature of the climate crisis and the important roles played by their respective countries, the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases”. A host of other outlets, including Foreign Policy, CNBC, Al Jazeera, the Los Angeles Times, Sky News and the Guardian, also have the story.
Elsewhere, i newspaper environment reporter, Madeleine Cuff, says that the backlash against India and China “for forcing a last-minute change” in the wording of the Glasgow Climate Pact “risks spooking the polluting powers when the world needs them on side”. China Dialogue has a piece that provides a run-down of China’s “commitments and reservations” at the climate talks in Glasgow. The Financial Times reports that China needs to “unleash” $6.5tn in green investments and “radically reorganise” its economy if the world is “to win the fight against climate change”. The publication cites “analysts”. China’s state broadcaster CCTV reports that the city of Haiyang in eastern China’s Shandong province has started using heat generated by a nuclear power plant for its winter heating. Haiyang is the first city in the country to employ nuclear heat in this way, the official channel says.
Finally, Reuters reports that, according to vice premier Han Zheng, China will continue to add thermal coal and natural gas supply and ensure power generation capacity during the winter is higher than it was last year.
US president Joe Biden has sent a 2016 international climate agreement known as the Kigali Amendment to the Senate for consideration, the Hill reports. The agreement calls for countries to phase down planet-warming chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in products such as refrigerators and air conditioners, it continues. In September, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalised a rule which would make the nation compliant with the Kigali amendment, slashing the use of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years, Reuters reports. Nevertheless, the newswire notes that Biden urged the Senate to ratify the agreement “at the earliest date” and said it would help the US remain a leader in developing HFC alternatives and give US businesses access to growing markets abroad. Under the accord, which Bloomberg reports was ratified by China in June, countries are seeking to reduce HFC use by 80% by 2047, a move that it says could avoid as much as a half degree C in additional warming by the end of the century.
In a court filing, the Biden administration has indicated that it will continue Donald Trump-era regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, according to the Hill. The news website notes that the rule has been “sharply criticised by environmental advocates, who note it would do little to meaningfully reduce aviation emissions”. E&E News reports that the EPA’s aircraft rule put in place standards adopted by the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2016, “which critics say are technologically outdated”. After his inauguration, Biden directed the EPA to review the rule, but the agency has concluded that instead of revising the rule the administration will press for new international standards at an upcoming ICAO summit.
Finally, Reuters reports that a US judge has overturned a decision by then-president Donald Trump to allow a reimposition of tariffs on some imported solar panels. According to the news wire the Biden administration has since defended Trump, saying that he acted lawfully to close a “loophole” that he believed was undermining tariff protections against a significant increase in imports.
The EU is looking to ban imports of foods such as beef and coffee from areas at risk of deforestation, in “a landmark regulation designed to protect the world’s most vulnerable forests”, according to the Financial Times. The regulation would force companies to prove that products they sold into the EU’s single market did not contribute to illegal deforestation or forest degradation, it continues. The piece notes that the draft law, which will need to be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament, comes shortly after more than 100 world leaders pledged to end global deforestation by 2030 at COP26. Bloomberg reports that the draft law would cover soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee, as well as some derived products such as chocolate, leather and furniture. According to the news website, the European Commission estimates that the measures would cut at least 31.9m tonnes of CO2 emissions (MtCO2) every year.
An advanced nuclear power project founded by billionaire Bill Gates will be launched in Kemmerer, a town in Wyoming, with a $4bn demonstration plant that will get half its funding from the US government, Reuters reports. TerraPower’s Natrium plant will be built in Kemmerer, a remote western Wyoming town which is currently the site of a coal power plant, set for closure in 2025, the newswire continues. The 345 megawatt (MW) projects, which pending permits will open in 2028, will receive about $1.9bn from the federal government including $1.5bn from the recent bipartisan infrastructure bill, Reuters adds. The Guardian reports that “the project will employ as many as 2,000 people during construction and 250 once operational in a state where the coal industry has been shedding jobs”.
In the UK, the Daily Telegraph reports that Qatar is “poised to invest” up to £100m in Rolls-Royce’s plan to develop mini nuclear reactors, in a move that will “dilute Rolls-Royce’s 80% stake in the venture”.
Writing for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA, argues that while it was “entirely predictable” that India was blamed for “watering down” the final text on coal phaseout in the COP26 climate pact, the nation is in fact being “scapegoated”. “Largely escaping condemnation, again, was the US – despite the fact it is a major reason the text is not stronger, thanks to its staunch opposition to anything that might call for equity and fairness in UN legal text,” he writes. Wu says that he agrees the text is “far too weak”, stating that it should also have included language about oil and gas and should not be limited to phasing down “unabated” coal and phasing out “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies, but should have covered all varieties. “It is conveniently forgotten that a few days earlier, [India] actually suggested that the text be considerably strengthened. India made a verbal intervention that the phasing down of fossil fuels should include not just coal but all fossil fuels including oil and gas, and that it should be implemented on an equitable basis,” he continues. Wu argues that the “text that survived is carefully calibrated to align with US interests” – for example in omitting oil and gas – and notes that the US “has long been staunchly opposed to these ideas of equity, across all aspects of the UN climate talks”.
Writing in the New Republic, Kate Aronoff also argues that the US had a negative impact on climate negotiations in Glasgow, despite the Biden administration projecting “a mood of triumphant return”. “Privately, COP26 attendees from climate-vulnerable countries told a very different story: one in which, behind closed doors, current US negotiators bullied other countries and blocked more ambitious agreements, just as their predecessors had done,” Aronoff writes. In particular, she points to the US stance on blocking loss and damage finance for vulnerable countries.
Other publications continue to run stories assessing the impact of the COP26 summit. New Scientist chief reporter Adam Vaughan asks “what difference will the COP26 climate summit make?” and states that the deal “still amounts to an important ratcheting up of climate ambition”. Elsewhere, BBC News environment analyst Roger Harrabin has a piece titled “what did the scientists make of COP26?”, in which he gauges the mood among researchers and writes that “the scientists we contacted appreciated that COP offered practical solutions”. However, he also notes that “there are widespread fears that politicians won’t keep their promises”. Finally, a piece in Bloomberg by Ewa Krukowska looks at how the COP26 outcome could help “solve one of the trickiest problems in climate policy: how to boost confidence in the voluntary market for carbon credits”.
New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman writes in the aftermath of COP26 that he is unimpressed by the attitudes he sees across the political spectrum towards addressing climate change. He dismisses the attitudes of many “greens” who find different excuses not to act and the leaders who set long-term targets as “not serious”. He continues: “Serious was how we responded to Covid-19, when it really did feel like the world economy was ending: We fought back with the only tools we have that are as big and powerful as Mother Nature — Father Profit and New Tech”. Friedman says that while he “admires” the leaders who are making an effort to drive cuts in emissions “we will not decarbonise the global economy with a lowest-common-denominator action plan of 195 countries”. Getting there, he says, will require risk-taking entrepreneurs who make transformative technologies that enable ordinary people to make an impact without making sacrifices. “In short: we need a few more Greta Thunbergs and a lot more Elon Musks. That is, more risk-taking innovators converting basic science into tools yet to be imagined to protect the planet for a generation yet to be born,” he says.
A new study finds that limiting warning to 1.5C would reduce the frequency of coral reef bleaching events to just 3 per decade. The authors model heat stress in coral reefs until 2080 using models from the Sixth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) under a range of future warming scenarios. They project that under the most pessimistic future scenario (SSP5-8.5), thermal stress in coral reefs will be four times higher than today and “severe bleaching events” will occur annually. This scenario would have “grave implications for future reef ecosystem health”, according to the authors. They add that limiting warming to 2C would halve the frequency of bleaching events to one every other year.