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:
- Renewable energy pace must double to limit global warming, IEA says
- UK: 'Slam dunk fail' of £1.5bn green homes grant scheme calls net-zero plans into question, damning report warns
- Analysis: China 'adjusts' approach to coal after recent power crisis
- Arctic: Region may switch from snow to rain-dominated by 2060
- Shell won’t abandon green transition in face of higher oil prices, says CEO
- Hinkley Point C: Chinese nuclear plant fault may delay UK power plan
- Breaking up big energy will not solve climate change
- Communications in the IPCC’s sixth assessment report cycle
- New climate models reveal faster and larger increases in Arctic precipitation than previously projected
- The role of public relations firms in climate change politics
Despite record amounts of renewable electricity being added to grids around the world this year, the growth rate remains about half of what is needed annually to stay on track for net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report covered by the Financial Times. The newspaper notes that new renewable capacity is estimated to reach 290GW this year, up from last year’s record of 280GW. Fatih Birol, head of the IEA, tells the FT that the global energy supply shortage “definitely provides a setback”, but notes that renewable energy has remained “much more cost-competitive” than fossil fuels, emphasising that efforts to clean up the global power supply should not be blamed for soaring costs. In its coverage, the Guardian notes that the new record for renewables came despite the Covid-19 pandemic and rising costs for raw materials, noting that new climate and energy policies in many countries around the world have driven the growth. Reuters reports that renewable energy is on course to account for nearly 95% of the increase in power capacity in the world through 2026 and, by that year, renewable capacity “will equal the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined”. The article notes that China is leading the world in new capacity and is four years ahead of its own wind and solar targets, while India will double new installations between 2015-2020.
Separately, the Independent reports on a new study by thinktank the Tony Blair Institute that finds the UK must build the equivalent of a 1.2 gigawatt (GW) offshore wind farm – the largest ever built – every 10 weeks for the next 20 years to stay on course for its legally binding net-zero targets. According to the news website, the report argues that “fundamental market reform is now needed to deliver a net-zero energy system that is sustainable and keeps costs affordable for consumers”. Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that the government-backed UK Infrastructure Bank will invest as much as £250m in a private fund that is aiming to double the amount of subsidy-free solar power across the country.
In other UK news, the Press Association reports that, following an investigation by energy regulator Ofgem, National Grid and Scottish Power Transmission have agreed to pay a £158m penalty package “that will lower household bills” following a two-year delay to a subsea power cable project. According to the Guardian, the cable bringing renewable power from Scotland to England and Wales has caused home energy bills to rise and led to Scottish wind turbines being “paid to turn off on windy days” because there was no way to transmit their clean energy. Finally, the Daily Telegraph reports that former US president Donald Trump, speaking to Nigel Farage on GB News, has said he thinks Johnson is “making a big mistake” by backing wind power in the UK.
The failure of the UK government’s “green homes grant” scheme undermines confidence in its ability to deliver on its net-zero agenda, according to a new report by the Public Accounts Committee that is featured on the frontpage of the Yorkshire Post. The newspaper reports that, according to the committee, the £1.5bn spending programme was a “slam dunk fail”, providing vouchers to just 47,500 homes to help with home renovations, rather than the 600,000 that had originally been envisioned. In addition, it notes that £50m of taxpayers’ money was spent on administration costs, equivalent to over £1,000 per property that benefited. “We are not convinced that the department [for business, energy and industrial strategy, BEIS] has fully acknowledged the scale of its failures with this scheme,” the committee stated, according to the newspaper. In response, BEIS said that almost 80,000 vouchers had now been issued worth £335m, but noted that they had taken this experience into account when designing new schemes, it continues. According to City AM, by August 2021, 52% of homeowners’ voucher applications were rejected or withdrawn and 46% of applications by installers to participate in the scheme failed. In its coverage, the Guardian notes that these grants, which were meant to make homes more energy efficient and transition from fossil-fuel heating by installing heat pumps and solar energy, were “hailed by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, as a key plank in his green industrial revolution”. The newspaper also highlights some of the shortcomings of the US company ICF that was enlisted by the UK government to operate the scheme, which were identified by the committee.
Meanwhile, New Scientist reports that the UK government has refused its freedom of information request to release a spreadsheet showing how much each individual measure in its net-zero strategy will cut emissions. While the weekly magazine notes that the strategy does show top-level sectoral estimates of emissions cuts, it does not break down individual measures, such as developing new nuclear plants or switching to hydrogen as an energy source. It quotes Ed Matthew of climate change thinktank E3G, who says the refusal prevents the public from being able to assess the impacts of such measures and smacks of “secrecy and subterfuge”. A separate request for the same spreadsheet by the Press Association has also been refused on the same grounds, with BEIS stating that it was an internal document and releasing it would affect the “safe space” officials needed to discuss and review live policy debates over net zero.
China’s “policymakers and top power utilities” have “adjusted their stance” on coal-fired power generation due to the recent power shortages that struck a large part of the country, according to S&P Global Platts. The outlet says that policymakers and industry heavyweights have “called for a more realistic assessment of the energy transition instead of impulsive plant closures that endanger energy security”. It adds that the “reassessment” includes “making room for gas in the energy transition as a bridging fuel with half the emissions footprint” and “keeping coal plants as backup power sources instead of complete decommissioning”. Meanwhile, Philippe Benoit, in a comment piece for the Hill, writes that “when it comes to the climate necessity that China reduce its coal emissions, the Biden administration will need, as the Beatles counselled, ‘a little help from [its] friends’”. The piece continues: “That includes a sympathetic European Union (EU) and a recalcitrant Australia, as well as more political support domestically to address US coal emissions.”
Separately, China Daily reports that the country’s president, Xi Jinping, has called for China and Africa to join hands in promoting green development. The state-run newspaper says that Xi “underlined the necessity for both sides to promote green development, saying there was a need to advocate green and low-carbon development and actively promote solar, wind and other sources of renewable energy”. On the same topic, state news agency Xinhua reports that Xi stated China would work closely with African countries to implement nine programmes, including the green development programme. Xi added that China would also encourage its businesses to undertake 10 green development, environmental protection and climate action projects for Africa, Xinhua notes. A separate China Daily report focuses on a renewable energy project in Xinjiang, which produces “green hydrogen” using electricity generated by solar panels. The article says, according to plan, the project will be the largest of its kind globally upon its completion and will be capable of producing 20,000 tonnes of “green hydrogen” every year.
The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, reports that China’s grid-connected installed capacity for wind power has exceeded 300m kilowatts, dwarfing all other countries in the world for 12 years in a row. The publication says the capacity, reported by China’s National Energy Administration, is “1.4 times that of the EU at the end of 2020, and 2.6 times that of the US”. Another report by the Global Times says that China’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060 can help the nation “avoid $134tn in climate change losses by 2100”. The newspaper cites a report by the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University. The outlet adds the university also estimates that China suffers from $50bn financial losses, or roughly 0.4% of its GDP, annually caused by climate disasters.
The Arctic could switch from being dominated by snow to rain due to climate change in 2060, up to two decades earlier than previously thought, according to new research covered by New Scientist. According to the science news website, this transition will have “major consequences that risk accelerating global warming and devastating local wildlife”. The piece notes that this shift “has already begun”, with rain falling at Greenland’s highest summit earlier this year for the first time on record. (See more in Carbon Brief’s recent guest post on Greenland.) In its coverage of the study, the Guardian explains that while as it stands more snow falls in the Arctic than rain, this is expected to reverse in the coming years, “with all the region’s land and almost all its seas receiving more rain than snow before the end of the century if the world warms by 3C”. It adds that even if the world’s temperature rise is kept to 1.5C or 2C – the targets of the Paris Agreement – the Greenland and Norwegian Sea areas will still become rain dominated. However, Dr Gavin Schmidt, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the US said the claim of more rapid change was “unsupported”, the paper notes, because some of the new climate models forecast warmer than expected future temperatures. The Independent states that less snowfall will also affect what is known as “albedo feedback”, which is how reflective a surface is and whether the sun’s rays bounce off or are absorbed. The Agence France-Presse also covers the study.
Shell’s chief executive Ben van Beurden has said that while the oil and gas market may be tightening amid historically low levels of investment, this will not change his company’s strategy to shift from fossil fuels, Bloomberg reports. The news website notes that Shell is one of the oil majors that have pledged to shrink its traditional fossil fuel business, but some critics have raised concerns that high oil prices “might tempt these firms to stick to fossil fuels”. Meanwhile, a Reuters “exclusive” reports that Shell is considering a return to Libya, with a plan to develop new oil and gas fields and infrastructure, as well as a solar project. Another Reuters story reports that oil prices rose more than 2% on Wednesday, “recouping some of the steep losses from the previous session”, as the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meets to discuss how to respond to the potential hit to fuel demand from the Omicron Covid-19 variant.
Meanwhile, Associated Press reports that a “proposal to replace an oil pipeline that was shut down in 2015 after causing California’s worst coastal spill in 25 years is inching though a government review, even as the state moves toward banning gas-powered vehicles and oil drilling”.
In coal news, the Financial Times reports that an activist investor, Bluebell Capital Partners, has called on commodities group Glencore to “spin off its thermal coal business, divest non-core assets and improve corporate governance”. In a letter, Bluebell said that for the company, which is also a leading producer of battery metals such as copper, “a clear separation between carbonised and decarbonised assets is needed to increase shareholder value”. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Dutch government has said it will pay the company Onyx Power €212.5m to shut its coal-fired energy plant in Rotterdam at short notice, one of only four such facilities that remain the Netherlands.
Important safety components in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant “may need to be redesigned and the project could be delayed” following the discovery of defects that were detected at a similar reactor in China, according to the Times. The newspaper notes that the £22bn project, which is the UK’s first new nuclear power station for 30 years, is already well over budget and a decade late, but says that the current start date for electricity generation of June 2026 may have to be revised. An industry source told the Times that an investigation by the Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity was likely to show that the pressure vessel in question was “demonstrably safe”, but also that design changes were needed.
Bloomberg reports that the European Commission is considering allowing some natural gas and nuclear energy projects to be labeled as green investments in the short term. It notes that the projects would have to be finalised by 2030 and gas plants would have to replace coal and emit no more than 270g of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per kilowatt-hour. The New York Times has am article noting that while some European countries such as France and Poland are considering new nuclear power, others –notably Germany – “want to defuse efforts to include more nuclear power in Europe’s green energy mix”. In the US, energy secretary Jennifer Granholm has told Reuters that California could reconsider closing its last nuclear power plant as public support has grown for the energy source. Finally, the Financial Times has an article on “floating nuclear” in Russia.
The Daily Telegraph’s chief city commentator, Ben Marlow, has written a piece in response to the call for “commodities powerhouse” Glencore to get out of the coal-mining business by activist investors. He starts by noting that the investor in question, Bluebell Capital Partners, is “thought to have amassed a fairly inconsequential stake” so does not have much clout. “But there’s a more pressing reason that its campaign is destined to go nowhere. Splitting out or selling off dirty fossil fuel assets as a way for natural resources giants to beef up their green credentials achieves little beyond making them someone else’s problem, so it’s not clear what Bluebell means when it says Glencore’s approach is ‘morally unacceptable’,” he continues. Marlow adds that “in the hands of a state-backed producer in the developing world, for example, where fossil fuel producers often face little, if any, environmental pressure”. He concludes by stating that Bluebell reveals more about its intentions when it talks about an uplift in Glencore’s shares if the company takes the steps it suggests. “It wouldn’t be the first to use climate change as a cover to try to make a quick return,” he says.
A new paper – by two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) staff – looks at how the communications activities of the IPCC have progressed from the fifth assessment report (AR5) cycle to the sixth (AR6). The authors note that AR6 included “a more systematic approach to developing key statements to communicate the findings of the reports” as well as an “expanded the number and geographic range of its outreach activities”. The first product of the AR6 cycle – the 2018 special report on global warming of 1.5C – was “by some measures the most influential report on climate change to date”, the authors say, attracting “enormous media coverage, transforming and galvanising public interest in global warming”.
A transition from a snow- to a rain-dominated Arctic in the summer and autumn could occur with less than 1.5C of global warming, a new study suggests. The researchers compare the latest projections from the sixth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) with those from its predecessor CMIP5. The study finds that “Arctic rainfall increases more rapidly in CMIP6 than in CMIP5 due to greater global warming and poleward moisture transport, greater Arctic amplification and sea ice loss and increased sensitivity of precipitation to Arctic warming”. The shift would have “profound climatic, ecosystem and socioeconomic impacts”, the authors warn.
Major oil companies and electrical-supply manufactures are the “heaviest employers” of public relations (PR) firms in climate political action, a new study says. The research explores the extent and nature of the involvement of PR firms in climate political action in five sectors: coal/steel/rail; oil & gas; utilities; renewable energy; and the environmental movement. In absolute terms, “the utility and oil & gas sectors engage the most PR firms, and the environmental movement engages the fewest”, the authors find. They add: “PR firms developed campaigns that frequently relied on third-party groups to engage with the public, criticise opponents, and serve as the face of an advertising campaign.”