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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 16.02.2021
Rare deep freeze leaves more than 2 million Texas customers without power

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News.

Rare deep freeze leaves more than 2 million Texas customers without power
Reuters Read Article

Around 2.7m people in Texas and 4.7m people in neighbouring parts of Northern Mexico experienced power outages yesterday, as a winter storm in Texas forced the US state electric grid operator to “impose rotating blackouts”, Reuters reports. The newswire adds that temperatures between 2C and -22C were seen in Texas and that US president Joe Biden declared an emergency on Monday to unlock federal assistance. According to the outlet, nearly half of the wind power generation capacity in Texas was “knocked out” on Sunday. The Independent adds that Texan wind farms typically generate 25GW of energy, and that 12GW of capacity iced over on Sunday. However, according to Bloomberg, wind comprises only 25% of the states energy mix. The outlet reports that most outages “were plants fuelled by natural gas, coal and nuclear, which together make up more than two-thirds of power generation during winter”. Ars Technica adds that “increased competition for natural gas” could be one reason for the energy shortfall, which affected “everything from wind turbines to nuclear plants”. A separate piece in Reuters reports electricity prices “spiked more than 10,000%” – partly due to the rise in demand and partly because extreme weather conditions caused generating units to “trip offline”, forcing over 30GW of power off the grid. The Financial Times adds that some electric retailers “encouraged customers to take business elsewhere” in the face of “skyrocketing” electric bills. The New York Times says that “at least 150m Americans are in the storm’s path”.

According to the New York Times, some research suggests that “Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream”, allowing cold air to “escape” south, and resulting in “episodes of plunging temperatures”. An article by the “Capital Weather Gang” in the Washington Post also suggests that rapid climate change in the Arctic could be “helping to disrupt larger-scale weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere”, but notes that this is still “an area of active scientific research”. (See Carbon Brief’s 2019 Q&A on this topic.) Bloomberg notes that this “brutal cold” is rare in Texas and is “emblematic of a world facing more unpredictable weather due to the rising impact of climate change”. The outlet notes the irony that Texas is “home to some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies”, adding that the cold is “wreaking havoc on the energy industry itself”. According to Reuters, the “big freeze” has forced oil refineries in Texas to shut. A Forbes comment piece says that the blackouts “teach a hard lesson: climate change is costly”. The piece notes that California “went through a similar situation” a few months ago, when an “unprecedented heatwave” caused hour-long power outages. It adds that worsening extreme weather events due to climate change will cause more of these failures. Meanwhile, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal claims that the rolling blackouts show “the folly of eliminating natural gas and coal”, and the climate sceptic Fox News TV host Tucker Carlson “slams” the green new deal, seeking to blame “frozen windmills” on the power grid fail. News of the blackouts is reported widely, including in the Boston GlobeFinancial Post and Axios.

In other US news, the Washington Post reports that Biden is planning to remove hydrofluorocarbons – “greenhouse gases thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide” – from refrigerators. This is after a report suggesting that supermarkets lose 25% of their refrigerate charge every year. Bloomberg reports that “the Biden administration has gotten off to a rough start trying to reassure coal miners and oil workers whose jobs are threatened by the president’s fight against climate change”. Meanwhile, Yale Climate Connections reports that climate change is increasing the risk of flooding for landmarks in Washington DC.

Jaguar car brand to be all-electric by 2025
BBC News Read Article

Jaguar Land Rover has announced that it will make its Jaguar brand fully electric by 2025 and launch electric models of its Jaguar and Land Rover lines by 2030, according to BBC News. The Guardian reports that Jaguar Land Rover aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2039 and “will eliminate the internal combustion engine for its struggling Jaguar brand by 2025”. The outlet adds that the Land Rover brand will continue to provide hybrid cars until 2036. Forbes reports that the first all-electric Land Rover is due in 2024 and that five more will be released over the following two years. According to the Financial Times, the company expects 60% of its sales to come from zero-emission vehicles by 2030. BusinessGreen notes Tata Motors Group – the owner of the car brand – plans to spend £2.5bn per year on new technology for its cars. It adds that the conglomerate will invest in hydrogen fuel cells and aims to have a prototype driving British roads within the next year. The Times adds that hydrogen fuel cells are mainly being considered for the heavier 4X4 Range Rovers, whilst a separate piece in the Times says that Jaguar is looking to “reinvent itself as Tesla of West Midlands”. Meanwhile, a comment piece in the Times by chief business commentator Alistair Osborne states that Jaguar is “still playing electric catch-up”.

In other EV news, the Guardian reports that Coventry city council plans to build a “gigafactory” for electric car batteries beside the city airport. The outlet adds that the council will seek planning permission by the end of 2021 and hope to start production in 2025. The Daily Telegraph notes that the UK government has promised up to £500m for the development of gigafactories. BusinessGreen adds that, according to the council, the airport is a good site for the gigafactory due to its proximity to Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover. Meanwhile, a separate BusinessGreen article reports that NatWest and Octopus have teamed up to offer customers discounted EV charge points and installations, as well as home solar panels and battery storage. This deal would also allow NatWest customers a “dedicated electric vehicle charging and technology bundle”. Meanwhile, the Financial Times carries an opinion piece by Andy Palmer – chairman of Switch Mobility, and a former chief executive of Aston Martin and chief operating officer of Nissan. Palmer states that the success of the covid vaccine is largely due to lack of government “interference” and says that a similar approach should be used to tackle climate change. He urges caution for policymakers who “view electric vehicles as the only way towards a cleaner future” and notes that “electric vehicles may not be the best way”.

India: activist arrested over protest 'toolkit' shared by Greta Thunberg
The Guardian Read Article

An Indian climate activist has been charged with “sedition” over accusations that she “edited and circulated a document tweeted by climate activist Greta Thunberg relating to India’s ongoing farmer protests”, the Guardian reports. Twenty-two-year old Disha Ravi is the co-founder of the Bangalore branch of Fridays for Future, according to the paper. It adds that Thunberg “became embroiled in allegations of an international criminal conspiracy against India after she tweeted a ‘toolkit’ for people who wanted to show support for the farmers”. Police called Ravi a “key conspirator” in the ““formulation and dissemination” or a document supporting the protests, according to the Independent. Meanwhile, BBC News reports “widespread outrage” over the arrest, which many are calling “an attack on free speech”. Delhi chief minister has described the arrest as an “unprecedented attack on democracy”, the outlet adds, noting that several activists and journalists have been arrested in recent week in connection with the farmer protests. According to the Daily Telegraph, climate activists are accusing the government of “targeting people who demand greater action on social justice”. The story is also covered in Aljazeera and Reuters.

First UK homes with hydrogen boilers and hobs to be built by April
The Guardian Read Article

Two properties with boilers and hobs that run purely on hydrogen fuel will be built in Gateshead in April, the Guardian reports. The outlet adds that “as part of its plan to cut the carbon emissions from UK homes”, the government hopes to create a “hydrogen town” by the end of the decade. BBC News reports that the project has secured a grant of £250,000 from the government’s Hy4Heat Innovation programme. BusinessGreen reports that the show-homes will open to the public in April 2021 and notes in a separate piece that “hydrogen emits nothing but steam when burned, making it a much cleaner alternative to gas”. On this note, the Financial Times reports that “Luxembourg has joined the hunt for fossil-free technologies for hydrogen production”. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that the UK “saw clean power sources overtake fossil fuels on Britain’s grid for the first time in 2020” and the Economist, in a feature, reports that Britain has “reduced its carbon emissions more than any other rich country” since 1990 – largely due to the elimination of coal-burning power stations. A further BusinessGreen piece reports on an interim report from the Treasury published in December, noting that “hard won credibility can be quickly lost, as the recent approval of a new coal mine in Cumbria illustrates”. In other news, the i newspaper reports that green groups have warned the environment secretary in a letter that 70% of upland peat in England could be destroyed, despite a strategy announced last month to “clamp down” on the burning of “carbon-rich peat”.

In Scottish news, the Times reports that the environment secretary is “pretty confident” that Scotland can meet its target of a 75% emissions reduction by 2030. The outlet notes that the Committee on Climate Change recommended a 70% emissions cut and that CCC chief executive Chris Stark “told MSPs there are concerns over whether targets on cutting emissions can be met”. Meanwhile, a separate piece in the Times reports that “a Scottish built tidal energy turbine has been successfully deployed in Japanese waters”, as part of a pilot project. Politico runs a story entitled, “Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon’s green beauty contest”, reporting that Johnson will not want to be “out-greened” at the COP26 summit in Glasgow this year, but that “denying Sturgeon a platform would risk an ugly political row”.

Bushfire article in the Australian that fuelled misinformation cleared by press council
The Guardian Read Article

Australia’s press watchdog has ruled that an article in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper that “fuelled misinformation” about the Australian summer fires was “not misleading”, according to the Guardian. The article stated that the fires were started by arsonists and appeared in print and online during last summer’s Australian fires, the outlet reports, adding that it was shared by “prominent conservatives”, including Donald Trump. However, according to the paper, the adjudication states that “the publication took reasonable steps to ensure that the report was accurate and not misleading when reporting information from various authorities”. In other Australian news, Reuters reports that southern states in Australia will “need to import natural gas to fill a looming shortfall by 2024”. Meanwhile, an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by Felicity McCallum – an Awabakal woman – runs under the title, “I’ve got Hunter Valley coal in my blood, but Joel Fitzgibbon doesn’t speak for me or the valley I know”.

Comment.

The Guardian view on Boris Johnson's role: laundering the Tory brand
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

Boris Johnson’s response to the challenges of government “has been, mostly, to launder his reputation in either green soapsuds, the warm waters of ‘levelling up’ or the steamy fug of new technology”, says a Guardian editorial. On the environment, “the prime minister has produced policies that are pale shadows of their rhetoric”, the paper argues: “Last week, it emerged that hundreds of millions of pounds were withdrawn from the government’s green homes grant programme – undermining its flagship scheme for a green recovery. There is a well-founded suspicion that Mr Johnson has caved to lobbying from corporate party donors. The prime minister’s pledge to ban gas boilers from new homes by 2023 – which would have imposed costs on developers – was first made, then withdrawn and finally replaced with a later date. His promise last year to scrap taxpayer support for fossil fuel projects overseas would not have pleased big oil. Perhaps that is why we have yet to see the end of British interest in 17 such endeavours, including a major Brazilian offshore oil scheme that will contribute the same emissions as 800,000 cars annually.” Johnson “posed as a leader with a new gospel”, the paper concludes: “The prime minister should not be surprised if the public, sooner or later, judges him wanting and abandons his temple for another church.”

Elsewhere in UK comment, writing in the Times Red Box, Deirdre Michie – the chief executive of Oil and Gas UK – says that “the UK offshore oil and gas industry has been world-leading in its sustainability commitments and its willingness to tackle climate change head-on”. Focusing on the “North Sea transition” towards a “lower carbon future”, Michie writes that a deal with the government “will help us to continue to provide the affordable energy we need through oil and gas, produced with ever-decreasing emissions, while using our essential expertise and infrastructure to engineer the solutions that will be required for the future, including hydrogen and carbon capture and storage”.

How does Bill Gates plan to solve the climate crisis?
Bill McKibben, The New York Times Read Article

There is continuing coverage of Bill Gates’s new book about climate change – “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”. The New York Times carries a book review by Bill McKibben, the veteran US environmentalist, author and journalist. McKibben says that “this new volume could not be more timely”, but that the book “turns out to be a little underwhelming”. According to the McKibben, Gates’ “affection” for his planet “shines through clearly”, but he is “surprisingly behind the curve on the geeky parts”, and is “worse at interpreting the deeper and more critical aspects of the global warming dilemma”.

A separate opinion piece in the New York Times carries an interview with Gates, asking “why the world should listen to a billionaire with a private plane when it comes to the environment”. Meanwhile, Wired runs a long-read interview with Gates highlighting the concept of a “green premium” – the additional cost of using a green energy source – which can be zero, depending on the country. Politico publishes the transcript of an interview with Gates. According to the outlet, Gates says that Biden need to “go big on climate change — by fostering the major technological changes that can eliminate greenhouses throughout the economy by the middle of the century.” The Independent reports that, according to Gates, “ending the global Covid pandemic will be ‘very, very easy’ compared to the task of addressing the climate crisis”, while a separate piece in the Independent runs under the headline, “If Gates wants to be taken seriously, he will need to make personal sacrifices that, frankly, are not that big”. The Wall Street Journal runs a magazine feature on Gates’ book and the story also runs in MailOnline and the i newspaper.

Science.

Changes in fire weather climatology under 1.5C and 2.0C warming
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

The difference between global warming of 1.5C and 2C “may lead to a significantly increased hazard of wildfire in certain parts of the world, particularly the Amazon, African savanna and Mediterranean”, a new study says. The researchers assess “fire weather sensitivity” based on a set of multi-model climate simulations for 1.5C and 2C of warming. “Considering that rising temperatures are the most influential factor in augmenting the danger of fire weather,” the researchers conclude, “limiting global warming to 1.5 would alleviate some risk in these parts of the world”.

Increased carbon footprint of materials production driven by rise in investments
Nature Geoscience Read Article

Between 1995 and 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from producing materials – such as iron and steel, cement, chemicals and petrochemicals, aluminium, and pulp and paper – increased by 120%, a new study suggests. In terms of the first use of materials, two-fifths of the carbon footprint of materials is attributed to construction, and two-fifths to the manufacturing of machinery, vehicles and other durable products, the study finds. It adds: “As a proportion of global emissions, material production rose from 15 to 23%. China accounted for 75% of the growth.”

Observational constraint on cloud feedbacks suggests moderate climate sensitivity
Nature Climate Change Read Article

A new study aims to separate out the effect of global warming on different low clouds in order to constrain estimates of climate sensitivity. The researchers use satellite observations “that discriminate stratocumulus from shallow cumulus clouds to separately evaluate their sensitivity to warming and constrain the tropical contribution to low-cloud feedback”. Using their method, the authors find “an observationally inferred tropical low-cloud feedback that is two times smaller, and has a range that is five times narrower, than a previous multi-observational analysis estimate”. They conclude: “Continued weak east Pacific warming would therefore produce a weaker low-cloud feedback and imply a more moderate climate sensitivity (3.47K) than many models predict.”

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