Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Nord Stream 2: Vladimir Putin accused of ‘choking’ gas supply to push up price
- UAE launches plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050
- Google bans ads on content, including YouTube videos, with false claims about climate change.
- Where’s the beef? Britons eat 20% less meat than a decade ago
- China’s power crunch exposes tensions ahead of key UN climate summit
- The Times view on the effect of soaring gas prices: Energy shock
- Why UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak isn’t talking about net-zero
- Land-based implications of early climate actions without global net-negative emissions
The UK has accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of “choking off” the supply of gas to Europe to increase energy prices and win approval for its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the Times reports. It continues: “Ministers believe Russia is deliberately restricting gas exports as part of a strategy to force European Union nations into approving Nord Stream 2, a pipeline under the Baltic Sea.” UK prime minister Boris Johnson warned last night that approval of the pipeline by the EU would have “significant security implications”, the paper notes, and a No 10 spokesman said: “Although Nord Stream 2 will not directly impact the UK’s energy security, it could have serious implications for central and eastern European countries. Some European countries are nearly wholly dependent on Russian gas, which raises serious concerns about energy security.” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan – who met with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and other officials in Brussels yesterday – “said he would not speculate on whether Russia was manipulating gas prices”, reports Politico. “Russia has a history of using energy as a tool of coercion, as a political weapon,” Sullivan told journalists, adding: “Whether that’s what’s happening here now is something I will leave to others.” Speaking to the Financial Times, Fatih Birol – executive director of the International Energy Agency – urged Russia to prove it is a “reliable supplier” by helping alleviate the supply crunch. he said: “If Russia does what it indicated yesterday and increases the volumes to Europe, this would have a calming effect on the market…I don’t say they will do it but if they wish so, they have the capacity to do it.” Peter Apps – a writer on international affairs, globalisation, conflict and other issues – has a Reuters column on why “Europe’s gas crisis comes at perfect moment for Moscow”.
Meanwhile, the UK has enough gas supply capacity to meet demand this winter, grid operator National Grid said in its winter gas outlook yesterday, reports Reuters. The gas outlook report comes after UK wholesale gas prices “exceeded £3 ($4) per therm for the first time this week, having surged by about 500% since the start of the year along with soaring global energy prices”, the newswire says. Ian Radley, director of gas system operations, said: “We have a positive gas supply margin in all of our supply and demand scenarios, and there is a positive storage position as we enter the winter.“ At the same time, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said the electricity system’s capacity should also cope with the winter, reports the Press Association. ESO boss Fintan Slye: “Margins are well within the reliability standard and, therefore, we are confident that there will be enough capacity available to keep Britain’s lights on.” However, the Guardian notes that the “risk of power cuts…has increased…with the key ‘margin’ figure falling to its lowest in five years”. The paper reports that the amount of reserve electricity supply that could be called upon was expected to be 6.6% of demand, but could fall as low as 4.2%. Reuters reports that “soaring gas prices are forecast to drive a switch to oil and put more energy suppliers in Britain out of business”. Business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that by decarbonising the UK’s power supply, the government would ensure that households are less vulnerable to swings in fossil fuel markets, the Press Association reports. Speaking at a conference organised by trade body Energy UK, he said: “Relying on homegrown power generation will protect consumers from gas price fluctuations…And it will, in the long run, bring down bills. We will use the wealth of Britain’s natural resources to deliver cleaner, cheaper power.” Kwarteng also said that consumers need to continue to be shielded from the “exorbitant price spikes” in natural gas markets, reports Bloomberg, adding: “It’s going to be a very difficult time.“ Kwarteng “is due to hold talks with the representatives of energy intensive industries, such as steel and chemicals, to discuss the wholesale gas crisis”, reports the Press Association.
In Europe, Bloomberg reports that “a handful of governments have pledged about 10bn euros ($11.6bn) so far in subsidies and other assistance for consumers struggling with the unprecedented cost hikes”. Yet “much larger government intervention – and possibly mild temperatures – will be needed to avoid tens of millions of families across the continent bearing the brunt of price increases estimated to run into several hundred euros per household”, it says. Reuters reports that the Dutch government says it will consider measures to shield consumers from sudden rapid rises in energy price. The head of Russian gas producer Gazprom’s export arm warned yesterday that Europe’s soaring gas prices could destabilise the region’s economy and cooperation between producers and consumers could help balance the market, Reuters reports. Another piece in Reuters reports that Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has blamed EU action to combat climate change for the surge in energy prices and said that Poland and Hungary would present a united front on this issue at the next EU summit. And the Financial Times reports on new analysis that shows the “strength of the wind blowing across northern Europe has fallen by as much as 15% on average in places this year”.
And in the US, Reuters reports that the White House said yesterday it is looking at ways to relieve Americans’ energy costs, but has no plan to take any specific new actions for now.
The United Arab Emirates yesterday announced a plan for net-zero emissions by 2050 and investments in renewable energy amounting to 600bn dirhams ($163bn) in renewable energy, reports Reuters. This makes UAE the “first country in the Middle East and North Africa region to launch a concrete initiative” to achieve net-zero, the newswire explains. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: “We are committed to seize the opportunity to cement our leadership on climate change within our region and take this key economic opportunity to drive development, growth and new jobs as we pivot our economy and nation to net-zero.” While details are limited, Climate Home News reports that the net-zero target is for “greenhouse gas emissions”, suggesting that it is not just for CO2. Aisha Al-Sarihi, a researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, tells the outlet: “Is it good for [the] climate but perhaps the question is how committed is the country to reach the target.” The outlet also notes that UAE “is hoping to host the COP28 climate talks in 2023” with the only rival bid coming from South Korea. Bloomberg says that the move “will probably play well with the US, European Union and UK, who have pushed fossil-fuel producers to accelerate plans to reduce their emissions”. (COP26 president Alok Sharma tweeted that it was “a historical announcement”.) Bloomberg adds that the target “could also put pressure on neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, to make a similar pledge”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “South Korea’s government [has] said it would raise its greenhouse gas reduction goal from 26.3% to 40% by 2030, as part of efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050”. It adds: “The revised nationally determined contribution was proposed by the ruling party in June and will be officially introduced at [COP26].”
Google has said it will no longer display advertisements on YouTube videos and other content that promotes inaccurate claims about climate change, reports the New York Times. It continues: “The decision, by the company’s ads team, means that it will no longer permit websites or YouTube creators to earn advertising money via Google for content that ‘contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change’. And it will not allow ads that promote such views from appearing…The policy applies to content that refers to climate change as a hoax or a scam denies the long-term trend that the climate is warming, or denies that greenhouse gas emissions or human activity is contributing to climate change.” The new policy “will take measures to avoid demonetising content that accurately discusses climate change”, says Ad Week. The Google Ads teams says it has consulted experts such as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when defining what constitutes “scientific consensus”, the outlet notes. Axios says the move is “one of the most aggressive measures any major tech platform has taken to combat climate change misinformation”.
Daily meat consumption has fallen by almost a fifth on average per person in the past decade, the Times reports. According to a study by the University of Oxford, people have reduced the amount of red and processed meat they eat while slightly increasing their consumption of chicken, the paper explains, adding: “The findings suggest consumers are already beginning to change their eating habits in line with recommendations about reducing the carbon footprint of their diets and cutting consumption of unhealthy food.” However, despite the 17% decrease, the UK will need to “double these efforts” in order to meet a 30% reduction by 2030 – a target laid out in the UK’s National Food Strategy earlier this year, reports the Guardian. (For more on the strategy, see Carbon Brief‘s Q&A.) Lead author Cristina Stewart tells the paper: “I think the reductions that we’re seeing are positive, but we’re moving pretty slowly, and if we continue reducing our intake at the same rate, we’re not really going to be reaching these dietary targets.” BBC News and the Evening Standard also have the story.
Elsewhere in the UK, BBC News reports that environmental group Greenpeace has lost its case against the UK government over a North Sea oil field permit. The outlet explains: “Permission to drill the Vorlich site off Aberdeen was given to BP in 2018. Greenpeace argued in Scotland’s highest civil court there had been ‘a myriad of failures in the public consultation’ and the permit did not consider the climate impacts of burning fossil fuel. The Court of Session ruling means operations will continue at the field. Greenpeace plans to appeal.” Reuters also has the story.
Meanwhile, a Daily Telegraph “exclusive” reports that, according to “industry chiefs”, the government’s switch to greener petrol last month was a “major factor” behind the fuel crisis. Brian Madderson, the chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), said that some smaller petrol stations had been in the process of switching their storage facilities when the crisis hit because E10’s higher ethanol content can burn through rubber. He said: “For weeks we had been emptying our tanks of E5, the old fuel, as fast as we could to get ready for E10. We had all run our petrol stocks down.“ The PRA has also warned that the recovery from fuel shortages at petrol stations in England is happening too slowly, reports Reuters.
Finally, a Sky News “exclusive” reports on new analysis from climate thinktank Ember that shows a “taxpayer-subsidised renewable energy plant run by Drax is the biggest single source of carbon dioxide in the UK”. The Press Association reports that councillors are considering buying a solar farm in Manchester, but a feasibility study has concluded nowhere is suitable. And BusinessGreen reports that the government yesterday confirmed it is targeting a fully decarbonised electricity system across the UK by 2035.
A New York Times report analyses the widespread power rationing and blackouts that have struck China and their global implications in the lead up to COP26. The piece says that the efforts to tackle global warming means that China must “pivot away from coal immediately”, but the country’s “soaring energy demand and rolling blackouts mean it probably won’t”. The newspaper’s journalists visited Dongguan, a city known for its manufacturing industry in southern China, and reported on what the power shortages mean for the city, China and the world. Reuters reports that the US and European Union’s climate envoys yesterday urged China to step up its targets to cut emissions ahead of COP26. EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans told an EU conference that “we need more clarity from the Chinese, for instance, on when they’re going to peak out with their emissions, what their plans are with coal-fired power generation in China”, the newswire explains. While US climate envoy John Kerry said: “We hope China will join us in this effort to have serious enough reductions…China has to decide whether it wants to be counted as a genuine leader on this topic and also as a responsible nation with respect to global efforts.” BBC News presenter Ros Atkins has a video explainer on China’s climate change commitments.
Elsewhere, a short piece from Axios looks at how the “energy crisis” would impact the flow of goods from China to the US. Meanwhile, the Financial Times explains how the power crunch in China and India – described as “the two biggest drivers of global growth” – is “casting a pall over Asia’s economic prospects”. It writes: “Several leading China economists expect growth in the world’s second-largest economy to slow appreciably in coming months as power shortages hit industrial output and a property sector downturn further reduces activity.” Reuters reports that Chinese officials have “ordered more than 70 mines in Inner Mongolia to ramp up coal production by nearly 100m tonnes”. And BBC News has a piece on “tracking China’s steel addiction” in Wuzhou in southern China.
Separately, Boston University’s BU Today explains the US and China’s respectively climate ambition with an interview with Ma Xinyue and Prof Kevin Gallagher from the university’s Global Development Policy Center. AP reports that the CIA has announced that it would “ramp up efforts” to recruit Chinese speakers and create a China-centric “mission centre” focusing on emerging technologies and global issues, such as climate change and global health.
In Chinese media, CCTV, the state broadcaster, features the maiden voyage of what it calls “the first carbon-neutral container ship” from Germany. “Recently, in Germany’s Brunsbüttel, people used carbon-neutral synthetic liquified natural gas to fuel up the first commercial container ship,” the channel says. Elsewhere, an opinion piece in Economic Daily assesses the four “pairs of relations” that could affect China’s “dual-carbon” goals. The authors write that the country must handle these four relations “well” to help deliver on its climate goals: those between emissions peaking and carbon neutrality, economic development and emissions reduction, short-term problem solving and long-term aspirations, as well as production and consumption. Finally, Ta Kung Pao reports that Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said that her government had formulated “strategic directions” for cutting emissions from three aspects: the reduction of electricity generation, transport and waste.
In the medium term, the answer to the UK’s energy crisis “is clear enough”, says a Times editorial – “Britain needs to step up its investment in renewables and nuclear to reduce its reliance on imported gas”. However, “the reality is that there is little the government can do to alleviate the short-term pressures, other than keep its fingers crossed for a mild winter”, the article warns. The paper says that “it is becoming clear that much of the blame for the gas shortages across Europe can be laid at the door of Vladimir Putin”, adding: “The Russian leader has clearly been brazen in linking an increase in supplies of Russian gas, which its state-owned gas company Gazprom could easily provide, to German and European Union regulatory approval for the newly-constructed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic from Russia to Germany.” The move “underlines the folly of Germany’s decision to permit Nord Stream 2 to go ahead”, the paper says. There “is no question that Britain is particularly vulnerable to this global crisis”, the paper adds: “Past governments believed that there was no need to make expensive investments in storage facilities or new nuclear power stations because Britain had access to gas via pipelines from Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands, and in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar and America. But this overlooked the extent to which gas has become a global market. Britain must compete for LNG with Asian countries and, given its lack of storage, has less of a buffer.”
Elsewhere, a Daily Mail editorial rails against the “foolishness of successive governments in failing to grasp the danger to Britain of relying excessively on volatile and objectionable foreign powers for energy”. According to the paper, politicians “have blindly bought into the apocalyptic alarmism of climate activists – then pursued a brainless policy in response”. It adds: “Britain has vast unexploited oil and gas reserves. The country sits upon layers of shale. And we had the choice, years ago, to expand nuclear power generation. But a mixture of risk-aversion, nimbyism and the shrieking eco-lobby has meant such abundant energy sources are criminally disregarded. Instead, we are left at the mercy of unreliable renewables and imports.” Also in the Daily Mail, business correspondent Tom Witherow looks at the options to “take back control of our energy supplies”. These include “new North Sea gas”, “restart[ing] fracking”, drilling for oil in the Shetlands Islands, adding gas storage and “go[ing] nuclear”. Ben Wright – columnist and associate editor for the Daily Telegraph – writes that “hopeless ministers should have seen the entirely predictable gas crisis coming”.
In the Financial Times Unhedged column, US financial commentator Robert Armstrong writes that “a lot of commentary around the recent price spikes has been along the lines of, ‘this is what happens when you listen to Greta Thunberg and rush to sideline fossil fuels without replacing them with something better, you dummies’. This view is more naive than the idealism it criticises. Any effective path to decarbonisation was going to involve shocking increases in the prices of fossil fuels. How else does demand for fossil fuels fall, if not in response to prices? It was never going to be washed away by the milk of human kindness.” Armstrong says the “important thing” is what happens in response to falling supply and higher prices – “does it spur government policy and private investment back towards fossil fuels, or forward towards alternative energy sources?” And Gillian Tett – chair of the editorial board and editor-at-large, US of the Financial Times – has a piece on why “nuclear power can help fill the gaps in a tricky energy transition”.
Politico senior UK correspondent Esther Webber explores why UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has “taken a backseat when it comes to Boris Johnson’s big push to reach net-zero carbon emissions”. It is “possibly with good reason”, Webber writes: “Sunak, who holds the government purse strings and enjoys higher popularity ratings than the prime minister, has not been especially vocal on environmental concerns – even as Johnson makes a big play of hosting the COP26 climate summit next month. Some fear he’s swerving the hard choices needed amid concern about the public finances and the risk of spooking voters.” Webber notes that “a divide has opened up” in the government: “On one side sits the Treasury – currently in the process of formulating two big fiscal announcements – and on the other is the more bullish Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Downing Street.” Net-zero has “already become a bone of contention among Tory backbenchers, with whom Sunak remains closely connected”, Webber says. One member of the “net-zero scrutiny group” – set up by Conservative MPs – tells Webber that he felt it had Sunak’s ear: “The trouble with net-zero is it’s a lot of rich people telling poor people how to live their lives – I think the Treasury understands that.” However, “while it’s part of the Treasury’s job to hold out against demands for greater spending, the government is legally bound to deliver the carbon budgets it has set”, Webber notes: “The chancellor can argue for the most cost-effective approach, but he can’t duck the issue forever.”
On the same topic, James Kirkup – a writer for the Spectator – says “the biggest story of the Tory conference…was about something that wasn’t said, and the person who didn’t say it. Rishi Sunak’s silence on net-zero is a big deal, as the next few weeks will prove”. The chancellor didn’t mention net-zero in his conference speech, Kirkup notes: “Some of his colleagues suspect a narrow political calculation: let Boris own net-zero, so that when and if it starts to annoy voters (especially older, small-c conservative ones) then the PM gets the flak. Several people who have discussed net-zero with him recently came away with true impressions that he has doubts, but they also note that he is careful not to say anything to explicitly confirm that impression.” Kirkup warns Sunak that, despite his “tepid approach” to net-zero, “public opinion and capital markets are both shifting inexorably towards prioritising climate issues. Voters want action on the climate and markets want to fund it. It’s odd that a chancellor who wants to be the future of his party doesn’t appear keen to surf that wave”.
In other UK comment, musician Annie Lennox writes in the Times Thunderer column that she will “join people around the world to demand that political leaders [at COP26 will] take the action needed to avert this impending apocalyptic scenario”. And David Pilling – Africa editor of the Financial Times – asks whether African countries can “prosper by going green”.
Relying on large-scale carbon dioxide removal technologies to compensate for overshooting current climate targets may have negative implications for food security and nature, according to a new study. Researchers model different levels of climate change mitigation and net-zero scenarios, then examine how much land would need to be reallocated for bioenergy and CO2 removal in each potential future. They find that in the scenarios that involve a large overshoot of temperature targets require an amount of land that “could be considered infeasible or socially undesirable” in order to remove the excess CO2. Early climate action has “multiple benefits”, they conclude, “and avoids the need for drastic (mitigation-induced) shifts in land use in the long term”.
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