Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Russia to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 at the latest – Putin
- China says will secure energy supplies while meeting climate targets
- EU energy official says bloc must end reliance on foreign fossil fuels
- Biden plans to expand offshore wind turbines to US coasts
- EU to seek ban on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic
- UK's Prince William says great minds should focus on saving Earth not space travel
- Rich countries must bear the cost if we can ever hope to achieve a net-zero world
- If COP26 is a failure, the world will have to deal with the consequences
- Morrison must not outsource climate policy to the Nationals
- Heat pumps must be more than hot air
- Estimating a social cost of carbon for global energy consumption
President Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia will aim to be carbon neutral by 2060 at the latest, reports Russia’s Tass news agency. It quotes Putin saying: “Russia will practically seek after carbon neutrality of its economy. We set a specific orienting point here – not later than 2060.” Agence France Presse via the Moscow Times quotes Putin saying: “The role of oil and coal will decrease.” The newswire adds: “While the Russian president was notorious for years for his scepticism about man-made global warming, he has changed tune in recent months.” It goes on to quote him saying: “The planet needs informed, responsible actions by all market participants – both producers and consumers – focused on the long-term, in the interests of the sustainable development of all our countries.” According to one expert quoted in the piece, Russia’s existing plans would have seen the country’s emissions increase through 2050. Reuters also has the story, reporting: “Putin expects hydrogen, ammonia and natural gas to play a larger role in the energy mix in the coming years and said Russia was ready for dialogue to seek ways to tackle climate change.” Bloomberg calls the announcement a “stunning reversal”, but says Putin did not provide any details. It adds that Putin signed a climate law in July “creating a framework for green projects and development of carbon trading”. The publication adds: “Russia is also weighing a pledge to cut net carbon dioxide emissions by 79% from 2019 to 2050, according to a carbon strategy draft seen by Bloomberg News. The document is currently under discussion by ministers, the economy ministry’s press service said.” The Financial Times covers the story under the headline: “Putin denies Russia is restricting gas supplies to Europe.” Elsewhere, Forbes says Putin “has not yet decided whether he will attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this month in Glasgow, Scotland, because of concerns about the Covid-19 situation”.
There is widespread coverage of the Chinese government’s response to recent widespread power shortages. Reuters reports that China is aiming to “secure domestic energy supplies this winter while ensuring its climate change targets are met”, citing a state planning official. It says the comments follow widespread power cuts “driven by shortages of power-generating fuels, record-high coal prices and surging power demand”. Reuters reports: “‘China’s energy supply in this winter and next spring is guaranteed,’ Zhao Chenxin, an official from the National Development and Reform Commission told a news conference, adding that China’s long-term climate goals of peak carbon by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060 will also be met.” The Times says: “China has ordered coalmines to increase production by tens of millions of tonnes before the end of the year as President Xi prioritises a nationwide power crisis over reducing Beijing’s dependence on fossil fuels.” The Financial Times says China’s coal and gas imports have “surge[d]” in September “as Beijing raced to deal with a spiralling energy crisis that threatens economic growth”. Reuters also reports on a surge in imports.
Several publications report – inaccurately – that China has responded to the power shortages by announcing plans to build more coal power plants. [The country has not changed its existing plans to build more coal, as explained in Carbon Brief’s analysis and translation of the official instructions from the Beijing.] MailOnline runs the story under the headline: “China thumbs nose at climate targets as it plans to build more coal power stations.” Channel 4 News carries a video report under the headline: “China to build more coal-fired power plants after blackouts.” The Guardian reports that China’s recent announcements have “grim” short-term consequences, but says: “Veteran analysts talk of a wobble rather than a fall”. It adds: “Analysts say it could still meet its long-term emission reduction targets and may even have scope to raise its ambition at COP26”. In an editorial, the Daily Telegraph repeats the inaccurate line that “China has announced plans to build dozens more coal-fired power stations.” It adds – contradicting the statement from a Chinese official reported by Reuters above – that China “is now hinting that it will reconsider its timetable for reducing emissions”.
In other related analysis and comment, Reuters has a piece asking what Beijing’s liberalisation of power markets means for energy intensive industries, which “previously were able to lock in fixed power costs”. It says: “Some high energy users may face price increases in excess of the 20% rise, in order to encourage greater energy use efficiency, according to the state planner.” For Bloomberg, columnist David Fickling says that China’s power crisis “will affect industries worldwide”. He says: “If Beijing wants to manage this transition without crippling the economy, it’s going to need to release pressure on the supply side of the energy system at the same time as taking measures to reduce demand growth. That’s where renewables come in. At the same time that price curbs are being removed from dual-high industries, so capacity curbs are being lifted from zero-carbon power generation…With zero-carbon electricity already cheaper than most existing operating coal power plants, those changes may be just the spur to wean China from its addiction to solid fuel.” Fickling concludes: “Until now, China has shied away from the sort of rapid transition that it, and the global climate, needs. The teetering state of its coal-fired power system ought to be just the catalyst to accelerate that shift.” The New York Times says China’s power problems “expose a strategic weakness”, namely: “It is a voracious, and increasingly hungry, energy hog. China has also emerged as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases by a wide margin, thanks mainly to its already heavy dependence on coal.” In the Daily Telegraph, chief city commentator Ben Marlow writes under the headline: “China’s coal addiction is stronger than Western eco warriors.”
The EU’s top energy official, Kadri Simson, has said Russia’s failure to boost gas supplies during the current energy crunch show why the bloc should “wean itself off foreign fossil fuels and scale up renewables”, the Guardian reports. It continues: “[Simson] also defended the EU’s green deal plan to move to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, amid calls for a climate policy rethink from central European leaders, as she set out the EU’s response to the energy price spike after wholesale electricity prices increased by 200% over the last year.” The paper adds: “Politicians in Hungary and Poland have sought to link the EU’s emissions trading scheme – a key part of the bloc’s environmental policy – to the surge in gas prices. Yet independent analysis suggests energy price rises are largely driven by increasing global demand for gas.” Reuters reports the comments of the chief executives of a group of leading energy companies, who said yesterday that governments should focus on tackling fossil fuel dependence to avoid future oil and gas price shocks.
Separately, the Financial Times has analysis under the headline: “The EU’s electricity market and why soaring gas prices are driving bills higher.” In related news, another Financial Times article reports: “Americans’ home heating bills will rise sharply this winter, according to a federal government forecast, as a global energy crunch begins to reach the world’s biggest economy at a time of building concerns over inflation.”
The Biden administration has set out plans to expand offshore wind energy along “much of the US coastline”, BBC News reports. It says seven areas on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico will be auctioned for windfarms as part of President Biden’s plans for 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity by 2030. This is less than the targets set by the UK (40GW) and China (73GW), the broadcaster adds. The Times calls the announcement “the most ambitious project so far in the government’s commitment to tackle climate change” and says the areas would be leased for development by 2025. It adds that two key bills for Biden’s climate agenda are stalled: “Both bills are currently being blocked in Congress by infighting within Biden’s own party, the Democrats, however. With moderates balking at the colossal price tag, the president is locked in horse-trading with rival wings of the party and his historic legislation now risks being watered down.” Reuters also reports on the offshore wind plan and says it is part of the Biden target to decarbonise the US power sector by 2035. The Daily Telegraph says the plan could create 77,000 jobs, according to officials. It adds: “In addition to offshore wind, the Interior Department is working with other federal agencies to increase renewable energy production on public lands, [interior secretary Deb] Haaland said, with a goal of at least 25GW of onshore renewable energy from wind and solar power by 2025.” Bloomberg and the New York Times also have the story.
Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that Biden is “head[ing] to climate talks weakened by infighting at home”, adding: “Reclaiming global leadership isn’t easy when your domestic climate agenda is stalled.” Separately, the Washington Post reports that the chief executives of six major fossil fuel companies and trade associations “will testify at a blockbuster hearing this month about their role in spreading climate disinformation”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that US electricity demand is set to rise this year as the economy bounces back from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Energy Information Administration. Relatedly, BBC News reports that carbon dioxide emissions from the world’s major economies are set to increase in 2021, with the total from the G20 rising 4% this year after a drop of 6% in 2020.
The EU is to seek a ban on new fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, Reuters reports, citing the bloc’s strategy for the region, published yesterday. It says: “The European Commission proposal reflects the EU’s efforts to boost its role on the global stage, though it has limited influence in the Arctic. It is not a member of the Arctic Council, the regional coordinating body, though three of its member states – Denmark, Finland and Sweden – are.” The Guardian, Bloomberg and Politico also have the story. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Norway “will continue to explore for oil and gas in the next four years…the incoming centre-left government said on Wednesday”.
Prince William has taken, reports Reuters, a “thinly veiled swipe at the billionaires embroiled in a space tourism race, saying the world’s greatest brains should instead be focused on solving the environmental problems facing the Earth”. The newswire notes: “Speaking out on green issues has become a major feature of the British royal family, and William, 39, is following in the footsteps of his late grandfather Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, and his father, Prince Charles.” It adds: “In an echo of his father’s message earlier this week, William also said the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference COP26 summit in Scotland had to deliver. ‘We can’t have more clever speak, clever words but not enough action,’ William said.” BBC News also reports on William’s speech.
Meanwhile, in the Guardian, naturalist Chris Packham comments under the headline: “What can the royals offer COP26? A pledge to rewild their vast estates.” He argues: “Young people look at the monarchy and its sterile acres and see a huge opportunity to help cool the heating planet.”
Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, writes in the New York Times that “achieving the net-zero transition will require unprecedented levels of investment in technology and infrastructure. Investments in low-carbon projects in poor countries will need to total more than $1tn a year – more than six times the current rate of investment of $150bn”. He continues: “Based on research by my company, BlackRock, stimulating $1 trillion per year of public and private investment to reduce emissions will require closer to $100 billion in grants or subsidies from countries that can afford it, like members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and China. While the figure seems daunting, especially as the world is recovering from the Covid pandemic, a failure to invest now will lead to greater costs later…I believe it is possible to reinvent the existing multilateral development banks, multilateral agencies and climate funds so that they can channel grants and subsidies from developed countries more effectively. We need to leverage the local knowledge of these institutions and invest in solutions like green banks that can take this capital and blend it with international public and private finance.”
Meanwhile, Climate Home News reports: “Nearly 150 green groups have told rich governments they must make up for missing their climate aid target by delivering $600bn in total 2020-25.”
In a comment for the Times, Simon Nixon, the paper’s chief leader writer, says it would be “a mistake” to dismiss the COP26 climate summit as “just another talking shop”. He continues: “It is true that the prognosis at this point does not look promising…Yet everyone should pay attention to COP26, particularly businesses and investors, not just because there is still a chance that the stars will align. Next week G20 leaders will meet in Rome, where it is possible that Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister and present G20 president, will secure emissions pledges from laggards such as China, India and Saudi Arabia needed to keep the 1.5C target on track.” Nixon adds: “A successful outcome in Glasgow could unleash another powerful wave of investment into new technologies and sectors that are struggling to decarbonise.”
Meanwhile, Politico has a story titled: “The Davos crowd takes over COP26.” It says: “Many governments are afraid to lock in climate commitments, but chief executives and celebrities are going big on Glasgow this November.” Mint reports the comments of India’s environment minister, quoting him saying: “COP26 should focus on climate finance in scope, scale and speed, along with development and transfer of technologies and capacity-building support.”
An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald argues that Australian prime minister Scott Morrison “has a duty to take back control of the climate change debate and set out a long-term course”. It says his junior coalition partners in government, the Nationals, “should not have a veto over whether Australia endorses a target of net-zero emissions, which is the absolute minimum Morrison needs if he is to show his face at Glasgow, and whether Australia updates Tony Abbott’s weak interim 2030 target of 26% to 28% below 2005 levels”. The paper adds: “at the moment it looks like he is letting the Nationals’ internal party politics, rather than coherent economic analysis, set Australia’s climate policy”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports: “Australia’s big business lobby group, unions and two green groups joined on Wednesday to urge the government to invest in clean energy exports, just as politicians wrangle over new emissions targets ahead of UN climate talks this month.” It adds: “Pressure is growing on the government both domestically and internationally to set ambitious climate targets, but the conservative government has yet to come up with a plan amid concern about keeping voters happy in rural regions that are dependent on coal, gas and farming.”
Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Alex Luke, a researcher at right-leaning thinktank Onward, says that heat pumps “are highly energy-efficient and well-suited to the UK’s relatively mild climate, and are the only commercially proven low-carbon replacement for gas and oil-fired boilers on the market”. He continues: “The problem is that they cost, on average, around six times more than a gas boiler, produce lower output temperatures than their fossil-fuelled counterparts, take up more space and are more disruptive to install.” Luke adds: “[T]he UK is woefully off-track to meeting the 2028 target: on the current trajectory the goal of 600,000 installations per year will not be met until 2057 – nearly three decades too late. If this ‘big bet’ is to pay off, further innovation will be needed to lower their cost and boost their performance.” He goes on to set out various ways to proceed including reducing VAT on heat pumps from 20 to 5%, introducing a boiler scrappage scheme, making a proportion of the cost tax deductible and investing in training for installers.
A new study estimates that releasing one tonne of CO2 today will reduce total future energy expenditure by US$1-3. The findings are “based on an architecture that integrates global data, econometrics and climate science to estimate local damages worldwide”. The authors find that emerging economies in the tropics will see their electricity consumption rise due to warming, but add that heating reductions in cooler countries will offset this increase. The study concludes: “Our finding of net savings contradicts previous research, because global data indicate that many populations will remain too poor for most of the 21st century to substantially increase energy consumption in response to warming. Importantly, damage estimates would differ if poorer populations were given greater weight.”
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