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Daily Briefing

01.10.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING PM urges action on ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’ ahead of COP26 climate summit
PM urges action on ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’ ahead of COP26 climate summit

News.

UK: PM urges action on ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’ ahead of COP26 climate summit
Press Association via the Belfast Telegraph Read Article

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has called on world leaders to make “bold commitments on coal, cars, cash and trees” at COP26 next month, reports the Press Association. Speaking via video link at the “pre-COP” meeting in Milan, Johnson said he had “seen positive progress so far, but it isn’t enough” and that he was looking forward to “meeting with leaders – from big emitters to climate vulnerable nations – to make sure COP26 counts”. He continued: “We need everyone to bring their ambition and action, so we can limit rising temperatures and set the world on the right path to net-zero emissions. That means bold commitments on coal, cars, cash and trees: to drive forward our green, industrial revolution with clean energy and electric vehicles, close the gap on the climate finance promised to developing nations, and halt devastating deforestation.” Johnson added that COP26 could be the beginning of the end of climate change as the shift on the scale needed is “perfectly possible”, reports Reuters.

Also at the pre-COP, Johnson told activists at a Youth4Climate event that they have “every right to be angry” about climate change, reports BBC News. “Young people around the world are already paying the price for the reckless actions of their elders,” Johnson said, adding: “Hundreds of millions of you are facing rising seas, failing crops, burning forests, and evermore ferocious storms, daily challenges that lead to lost opportunity. And your future is literally being stolen before your eyes.” US climate envoy John Kerry told the activists that COP26 must produce a “new level of transparency and accountability”, reports Reuters. Kerry added that more needed to happen to address climate change, but that was difficult against the “powerful interests that want business as usual”. Youth activists attending the meeting tell Reuters that they are asking for a seat at the table during COP26. While another Reuters piece reports that Italian prime minister Mario Draghi pledged that world leaders would listen to the demands of young activists after a meeting with Greta Thunberg. (Reuters has an article on whether this is “Greta Thunberg’s year” for the Nobel Peace Prize.) Draghi also told the activists that he was pushing countries to honour their climate pledges and stand ready, in some cases, to make bolder ones, says another Reuters piece. “The ecological transition is not a choice – it is a necessity,” he said.

Elsewhere at the meeting, COP26 president Alok Sharma warned that countries have not delivered all the needed commitments on emissions cuts or finance, reports the Press Association. Some of the biggest emitters, such as China and India, have not put forward new action plans, which they promised to do before COP26 as part of a communique from the G20 group of leading nations earlier this year, the newswire explains. Sharma said: “The ball is in the court of every G20 country that has not come forward, and we need to see them deliver on their promise…So it’s absolutely right that we continue to press the donor countries to do more, and we continue to press all countries, particularly the biggest emitters, to do more.” Sharma tells Politico that some governments had suggested that “parties that haven’t been more ambitious should be coming back on a much more regular cycle” to submit new climate targets, which could happen as soon as next year. Under the Paris Agreement, the next mandatory date for countries to return with new goals is 2025, the outlet notes. Sharma also told a press conference that more than 100 world leaders have so far confirmed they will attend COP26 in person, while China will send a delegation, reports Reuters.

India’s chief economic adviser KV Subramanian tells Reuters that the $100bn pledged from richer countries to help developing countries tackle climate change is “a drop in the ocean” and “their commitment needs to be much greater”. The Hindu also has the story. And Italy’s energy transition minister Roberto Cingolani said that Italy should double its contribution to around 1bn euros ($854m) per year, reports Reuters. “It’s not enough, but we must do it,” Cingolani said, adding he would advance the proposal which was, however, subject to a decision by the government, the newswire reports.

Energy crisis adds new hurdle to COP26 goal of ending coal
Bloomberg Read Article

US and European officials pushing for tougher climate action “are worried the energy crunch that’s snarling the global economy could also undermine” the COP26 summit, reports Bloomberg. It continues: “Government officials speaking on condition of anonymity said they were concerned that the squeeze in energy markets, surging prices, and the resurgence of coal will cast a shadow over efforts to curb emissions…The risk is that the price spike makes emerging economies – for example, India – more reluctant to ditch coal because that would threaten energy security, three government officials said.” It adds: “One official said that diplomats are likely to arrive in Glasgow with gas at the forefront of their minds, which could undermine the climate argument for emerging nations to shift away from coal. In the past, the issue may have been more easily sidestepped. Officials fear top gas-producing countries, such as Russia and Qatar, could also be emboldened to push their own national interests at COP26, threatening the switch away from fossil fuels.” Guy Newey, who was a political adviser to the UK government during the Paris climate summit in 2015, tells the outlet that “the key question is whether the spike in global gas prices makes China wobble on shifting away from coal…You need to challenge the narrative that a low-carbon future is a high energy cost future”.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the natural gas crunch hitting the UK and Europe is likely to intensify after China ordered state-backed companies to secure energy supplies no matter the cost. The paper continues: “Chinese state media quoted Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday as saying the country will secure its energy and power supplies following a series of blackouts and shortages that have forced a large number of companies to restrict output.” Reports later in the day said that central government officials had ordered state-owned energy companies to secure supplies for this winter at all costs, the FT notes, with the instruction had come directly from Han Zheng, the vice-premier who oversees the country’s energy sector and industry. The paper adds that “the move by China suggests that other parts of the world will face an even tougher time securing the fuel they need”.

The French government says it will block rises to gas and electricity prices, as it seeks to relieve the pressure of a global gas crunch and soaring energy costs across Europe, reports the Financial TimesPolitico and Reuters. It also called “for a review of the European gas and power markets to shed light on a current price spike and come up with a coordinated European response”, another Reuters piece says. A third Reuters piece says “British and European wholesale gas prices extended their rally on Thursday morning on supply concerns, forecasts of cold weather and short-covering ahead of the official start to the winter gas season on Friday, when heating demand picks up”. And a fourth notes that “US natural gas futures jumped over 7% to a fresh seven-year high as worries that Europe will not have enough gas in storage for the winter heating season boosted global prices to record levels”.

In the UK, energy regulator Ofgem has hired a City firm to act as special administrator in case a major energy supplier needs to be rescued, reports the Guardian. The Times adds: “Ofgem has put advisers at Teneo on standby following the collapse of nine energy suppliers serving more than 1.7m households in the past month.” And BBC News says that a “squeeze on household finances will become more acute as a new, higher energy price cap takes effect” from today. A piece on the frontpage of its business section, the Daily Telegraph reports that Bridget Rosewell, a member of the National Infrastructure Commission, has warned that poorest households are at risk of suffering the most if the UK uses energy bills to fund its switch to green power. Rosewell said: “We have got to be careful about the distributional consequences – poorer households may be locked into a particular form of home-heating and can’t afford to make a transition.”

In other coal news, Reuters and the Hill reports that Norway’s state-owned coal company has announced that it will close its last mine in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago in 2023. Reuters has an explainer on why India is facing a coal shortage. And a Nature Climate Change editorial says that “coal saw steep declines during the pandemic as energy demands decreased, and it is up to all of us to build on the opportunities of the world ahead and relegate coal to the past and leave it in the ground”.

UK: EDF says Sizewell nuclear plant can be built without China
Bloomberg Read Article

EDF Energy says that financing for its £20bn Sizewell C project is still possible even without financial support from state-run China General Nuclear Power, reports Bloomberg. Speaking on the sidelines of a conference this week, EDF chief executive Simone Rossi said “we can make it work in any way”, adding: “The key is a choice for government of whether the project is good for them to do it. If we do that the rest is secondary – who the investors are, what the model looks like, I think there are different ways to skin the cat but the key is maturing this decision in government and then we’ll follow whatever indications we receive.” The outlet notes that “Britain plans to legislate as soon as next month for a funding mechanism to spur the construction of new nuclear power plants to replace its ageing fleet of reactors”.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that UK retailers are still seeing “unprecedented” fuel demand. BBC News says that, according to the Petroleum Retailers’ Association, “more than a quarter (27%) of its members’ were still out of fuel on Thursday”. Reuters notes: “British ministers have repeatedly said the crisis is easing, though they ordered soldiers on Wednesday to start driving fuel tankers.” Another Reuters piece reports that UK business minister Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted that “data suggests we are continuing to see signs that the situation at the pumps is stabilising and in all parts of the UK forecourt stock levels are trending up”.

Elsewhere, climate activists Insulate Britain are continuing in their protests by again blocking the M25 motorway around London yesterday. Scotland Yard’s deputy commissioner told the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee that police officers are under so much pressure to quickly remove climate activists blocking the M25 that they are “putting their lives at risk”, reports the Press Association. While the Times reports that Conservative MPs have demanded tougher laws to deal with the protestors. Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said ministers should introduce a new penalty for this form of protest, adding: “Just because there are a number of middle-class little old ladies and people with dog collars fronting this does not make it a soft crime not to be taken seriously.”

Also in the UK, the BBC News Reality Check team takes a sector-by-sector look at whether the UK is on track to meet its climate targets. Sky News reports on a new poll by Opinium and the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) that suggests “just 25% of the public think a Conservative government led by Boris Johnson is the best choice to handle climate change and environment issues”. The polling also shows, according to CEN, that the vast majority of the public (“Red wall” and Conservative voters included) are behind net zero and most want to see the UK government doing more. Additionally, it shows Conservative voters think the UK should be taking action on climate change, even if other countries are not (65% agree vs 14% disagree). And the Independent reports on a separate poll – again by Opinium, but commissioned by the climate charity Possible – that finds 70% of people would back an official grant scheme to enable people to replace their fossil fuel boilers with low-carbon heat pumps.

China: Foreign ministry responds to Kerry's call for China to make further emissions-reduction decisions in the next 10 years
The Paper Read Article

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has responded to calls from John Kerry, the US climate envoy, for China to accelerate its emissions-reduction efforts before 2030, according to the Paper, a Shanghai-based news website. Hua stressed that “addressing climate change is a cause that requires the joint efforts of all countries around the world and calls for the concerted efforts of the international community”, the outlet reports. Global Times, a state-run tabloid, says that Hua highlighted that “China has always been a country of action in promoting global climate governance”. The publication adds that “addressing climate change also needs developed countries to face up to their responsibilities to show greater ambition and action”, according to Hua. (Read an official transcript of Hua’s remarks on China foreign ministry’s website.) Hua was replying to Kerry’s comments during an interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday. The outlet writes that Kerry “encouraged” China to move “more aggressively” to slash its greenhouse gas emissions before 2030. It says that he called the next 10 years a “critical decade” for “keeping global warming in check”.

Meanwhile, there is continuous coverage on the latest power shortages that have struck China. The Wall Street Journal reports that energy curbs in major Chinese production hubs are “threatening additional disruption” to the country’s manufacturing activity, which – as the newspaper points out – contracted for the first time in 18 months in September. The Financial Times says that manufacturing activity “suffered its first official contraction since the beginning of the pandemic as widespread power shortages compounded a loss of momentum across the country’s economy”. ABC News reports that “China’s sprawling power crisis has engulfed Beijing”. Reuters reports that “State Power Investment Corp, one of China’s top five power generators, urged its plants to boost coal supplies and generate more power for the north-east provinces at an emergency meeting”. BBC News analyses the causes behind the blackouts. It says that while similar problems have occurred in the past, “this year a number of factors have come together to make the issue especially serious”. Caixin has a similar piece. “An export boom, lack of coal and local government efforts to curtail industrial energy use and meet carbon reduction targets have contributed to this new wave of electricity cuts,” it says. Citing analysts, the article says that the power curtailments “could further drive up costs of industrial production and disrupt the global supply chain”. Reuters columnist Clyde Russell says that China’s coal crunch is “self-inflicted, costly and temporary”. He writes: “China is paying a high price for policies that curbed domestic coal output and imports, and led to a shortage of the fuel that still largely powers the world’s second-largest economy.” Reuters reports that “Taiwan may benefit from orders being shifted to the island if China’s power curbs disrupt the country’s exports”. The newswire quotes the governor of Taiwan Central Bank.

In other news, S&P Global Platts says that China’s Guangdong province will prohibit the building or expansion of coal-fired power plants and company-owned captive power stations in “the core area of the Pearl River Delta”. It explains the move is part of a broader clampdown on energy-intensive industries. The outlet quotes a notice from Guangdong Development and Reform Commission, the regional economic planner. Separately, Reuters notes that China’s infrastructure still relies on “carbon-intensive supply chains”. It cites a report from Greenpeace, adding that “emissions from China’s new infrastructure industries are 7.24% lower than in traditional infrastructure ”.

Finally, the Scotsman runs an opinion piece titled: “Climate change: China’s decision to stop funding overseas coal-fired power stations is a big step forward.” The article is written by Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. And Energy Monitor has a comment piece by Sebastian Shehadi – political editor and senior editor at Investment Monitor and a contributing writer for the New Statesman – on why “the success of COP26 rests on it providing an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative”.

US: House delays vote on infrastructure bill as democrats feud
The New York Times Read Article

President Joe Biden’s trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure plan “suffered a significant setback late last night”, reports the New York Times, when “House Democratic leaders, short of support amid a liberal revolt, put off a planned vote on a crucial plank of their domestic agenda”. Democratic leaders and supporters of the bill insisted the postponement was only a temporary setback, the paper explains, with the vote rescheduled for Friday, “giving them more time to reach agreement on an expansive climate change and social safety net bill that would bring liberals along”. However, “such a deal appeared far off”, the paper continues, and the delay was a “humiliating blow” to Biden and his party, “who had spent days toiling to broker a deal between their party’s feuding factions and corral the votes needed to pass the infrastructure bill”. The infrastructure measure, which would provide $550bn in new funding, would “begin the shift toward electric vehicles with new charging stations and fortifications of the electricity grid”, the paper says. However, “progressives have been refusing to support the bill unless agreement is reached on separate, more wide-ranging legislation dealing with climate change and social welfare”, explains BBC NewsReuters says that negotiations “could stretch for weeks or longer”. The Financial Times Energy Source column says that “this isn’t just a US matter”, adding: “What happens on Capitol Hill will determine whether the president has any credibility as he heads to Glasgow in November looking to cajole other countries into upping their game on climate change.”

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, yesterday said that he could not support a social safety net bill of more than $1.5tn, less than half the size of the package that Biden is attempting to pass, reports the New York Times. It adds: “In comments to reporters outside the Capitol, Mr Manchin laid out publicly for the first time the general outlines of what he would be willing to support, putting detail to what he has said for weeks – that he could not vote for a package anywhere near the size of the sprawling $3.5tn plan Democrats sketched out in their budget blueprint.” The Hill reports that Manchin also said that natural gas must be included in a clean energy programme within the package. He said: “I am all for clean energy, but I am also for producing the amount of energy that we need to make sure that we have reliability.” Mark Hertsgaard – executive director of the journalism collaboration Covering Climate Now’s – writes in the Guardian that Manchin is the “essential 50th vote in the US Senate that president Joe Biden needs to pass his agenda into law”, but has “longstanding opposition to ambitious climate action”. Manchin has a “massive climate conflict of interest” because he “makes roughly half a million dollars a year in dividends from millions of dollars of coal company stock he owns”, Hertsgaard says. The Wall Street Journal says that Manchin’s climate stance “should be no surprise”.

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday voted to confirm Tracy Stone-Manning to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) despite a decades-old tree-spiking incident that led to Republican opposition to her nomination, reports the Hill. It continues: “In a 50-45 vote, Stone-Manning was confirmed to oversee an agency that’s in charge of the nation’s public lands – including their use in energy production. Republicans opposed Stone-Manning’s confirmation because of a letter she sent in 1989 that mentioned tree-spiking, a tactic used to prevent logging that involves putting metal rods or materials into trees. It can both damage equipment and cause injuries.” The New York Times notes that Stone-Manning “will soon be faced with decisions over the future of oil and gas leases on federal land in western states”. Separately, Climate Home News reports that “US senator Ted Cruz is blocking president Joe Biden from appointing ambassadors and hindering climate diplomacy”.

Elsewhere in the US, officials in California have warned that they will consider imposing mandatory water restrictions if the state’s extreme drought continues this winter, reports the Los Angeles TimesReuters reports that US national security adviser Jake Sullivan planned on discussing high oil prices with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a meeting earlier this week. And Edward Luce – US national editor and columnist at the Financial Times – has a piece on Biden’s “rapid retreat on climate ambitions”, which notes that “it goes without saying that urging Saudi Arabia to pump up the volume is a step in the wrong direction”.

Comment.

Politicians need to be more active when it comes to greenflation
Gillian Tett, Financial Times Read Article

Gillian Tett – chair of the editorial board and editor-at-large, US, of the Financial Times – has a column warning of the threat of “greenflation”. The energy crunch, a new surge in demand for sustainable products and Covid-19 supply chain disruptions have “collided”, Tett explains, “pushing up prices for green goods in sectors ranging from pea protein used for non-meat foods to the commodities required for batteries in electric vehicles”. She suggests “three key steps” to counter the problem. She writes: “What politicians should do now is not so much ‘lead’ in [the climate change] fight, as ‘follow’ – in the sense of recognising that a green transition is likely to be very messy and uneven. They must step in to provide proactive solutions when market failures occur. In the UK, for example, the government should have prepared for the fact that renewable energy cannot (yet) plug the gaps created by declining fossil fuel generation. Similarly, surging prices for some commodities needed in green products suggest that western governments need to loosen regulatory rules that impede their production.” Second, governments need to create better projections of greenflation, and trade odds, Tett says, and third, “governments need to create safety nets to protect vulnerable parts of the population from price increases”. She adds: “Green warriors might argue that inflation is a small price to pay to prevent planetary catastrophe. Some economists might also mutter that a little of it makes it easier for governments to inflate away debts.”

Also in the Financial Times, Martijn Rats – global oil strategist and head of European energy research at Morgan Stanley – writes in the Commodities Note column about the “energy crisis and the bumpy path to decarbonisation”. And Mike Fulwood – senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies – writes in the Market Insights column that “it would take a longer and colder winter than last year to see a sustained rise in [wholesale gas] prices above current levels”. He adds: “A milder winter would allow European buyers to further replenish stocks and better withstand any potential cold spells in January and February. And if a cold snap does not come, we could expect gas prices to fall.”

In other UK comment, Guardian special correspondent Felicity Lawrence writes that “the case for cutting meat consumption is so compelling that you would think politicians would be less shy about making it”. Yet, she say, “while campaigners warn with increasing urgency that global livestock production is accelerating climate breakdown and causing devastating damage to nature and human health, governments remain reluctant to tackle meat-eating”. And the Economist has a piece on why “treating beef like coal would make a big dent in greenhouse-gas emissions”.

Science.

Decreasing subseasonal temperature variability in the northern extratropics attributed to human influence
Nature Geoscience Read Article

Human-driven greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing day-to-day temperature variability across the northern hemisphere, according to a new study. Researchers use air temperature data to analyse the trends in day-to-day temperature variability and find statistically significant trends in the wintertime over many parts of the northern hemisphere. Then, using climate models, they “identify the human fingerprint” on those trends, finding that it has “recently become detectable” and that it is “primarily” due to human-driven greenhouse gas emissions. They write that further research should be done to understand “the impacts of reduced temperature volatility on societal and ecological systems”. An accompanying News & Views piece writes: “Our influence on the climate is now so extensive that it can be detected in regional weather variations over a single human generation: past weather records are now a poor indicator of current weather risk.”

Observed strong subsurface marine heatwaves in the tropical western Pacific Ocean
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

New research shows that marine heatwaves (MHWs) – extreme weather events in the ocean characterised by abnormally warm temperatures – are much more common in the tropical western Pacific than previously thought. Using temperature data from 19 buoys across that stretch of ocean, researchers track the intensity, scale and duration of MHWs going back to 1985. They find that while MHWs on the surface are rare here, they “occur almost every year” below the ocean surface, often lasting for several weeks or longer. The authors note that this part of the ocean is a key habitat for important fish species like tuna and say that strong MHWs “are likely able” to affect fishery production.

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Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.