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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 16.12.2021
Scholz vows climate action, Covid response in Germany revamp

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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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News.

Scholz vows climate action, Covid response in Germany revamp
Bloomberg Read Article

Incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz has made his inaugural address to the German parliament, promising, reports Bloomberg, to “transform Europe’s largest economy into a climate leader”. It says he “called for a wave of spending to upgrade the industrial economy and combat climate change” and quotes him saying: “We have resolved that this will be a decade of investment.” The publication adds: “Despite the bravado, many of the proposals remain vague. Climate protection policies to get Germany in line with the Paris accord are a work in progress that the parties only intend to finish by the end of next year.” Reuters reports: “German chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday his government would make Europe’s largest economy fit for the future by fostering investment in climate protection and digitalisation.” It quotes Scholz saying: “We have about 23 years ahead of us in which we must and will get out of fossil fuels which means the biggest transformation of our industry and economy in at least 100 years.” Associated Press says Scholz “promis[ed] that efforts to combat climate change will be central to [his government’s] agenda”. It quotes him saying: “Climate protection will be a central cross-cutting task in this government and we want to be measured by how successfully we deal with this task.” The Guardian says Scholz “also acknowledged the huge challenges Germany faced in tackling the climate emergency, including the fears many had about the impact a transition to climate neutrality might have on their lives”. It adds: “He promised a ‘fair distribution’ of the costs and said everyone would benefit from the ‘safety and security’ of switching to renewable energy…Private investment supported by government subsidies would also be at the heart of encouraging climate neutrality innovations, he said.” Deutsche Welle says Scholz gave a strong focus to climate change, “particularly on the transition to renewable energy”. It adds: “A major theme of the speech was placating fears about the personal impact that the climate change fight would have. Scholz said he understood concerns about the transition, with possible effects on jobs and quality of life. He said the transition to renewables should benefit everyone. ‘We are going to provide safety and security through change.’” [See the Carbon Brief Q&A for background on the German coalition’s climate plans.]

In other news from Germany, Reuters reports on the latest auction to close coal power plants in the country, with the owners of 533 megawatts agreeing terms to shut down. It says the auction was the fourth, with the next due in March 2022.

Europe's buildings in line for energy-saving overhaul
Reuters Read Article

The European Commission has unveiled proposals to require the renovation of the least energy-efficient buildings in the EU by the end of the decade, Reuters reports. It explains: “Buildings account for roughly 40% of EU energy use and most are heated by fossil fuels. The EU executive proposed on Wednesday that by 2030, all buildings in the EU with the worst energy rating – a ‘G’ energy performance certificate – must be renovated to a higher grade. G-grade homes must be renovated by 2030 and then F-grade homes by 2033. Non-residential buildings must be renovated faster – G-grade ones by 2027 and F-grade by 2030.” The newswire quotes Louise Sunderland of the Regulatory Assistance Project saying the proposals are a “massively missed opportunity” because they do not specify improvement to the best performing grades. It adds: “The buildings proposal must be approved by a majority of EU countries and the European Parliament.” EurActiv says the proposals – which would update to the EU energy performance of buildings directive – aim to renovate the 15% worst performing buildings in the bloc. It adds that they are part of the wider “Fit for 55” package towards meeting the EU’s 2030 climate targets. The publication says: “According to the Commission, focusing on the worst performing buildings will alleviate energy poverty and benefit the poorest households who cannot afford to renovate their homes and currently pay the highest proportion of their income on heating.”

In related news, Reuters reports that the European Commission has proposed legislation “to make oil and gas companies report their domestic methane emissions and fix leaks of the potent greenhouse gas, but companies abroad that supply most of Europe’s fossil fuels will be largely untouched”. It adds: “The proposed rules do not apply to the infrastructure that transports gas into the EU from abroad, despite demands from some investors, lawmakers and campaigners that they should. The EU imports 90% of the fossil gas it consumes and 97% of its oil. Most methane emissions associated with that consumption occur abroad in countries such as Russia, the EU’s biggest gas supplier.”

Climate Home News reports on a third proposal released yesterday: “The gas industry is set to continue to dominate EU decision-making on energy infrastructure, under a proposed reform of the EU gas market published by the European Commission on Wednesday.” It says the “central role” for the gas industry “rais[es] concerns about locking in polluting systems”. It adds: “The Commission’s impact assessment for cutting emissions this decade found that gas consumption should reduce 32-37% between 2015 and 2030…[EU energy commissioner Kadri] Simson said the plan ‘ensures a progressive phase out of fossil gas’ but didn’t respond to questions from reporters about how much the share of gas would be decreased this decade.” Bloomberg says of the gas market proposals: “The Commission unveiled Wednesday the planned revision of its gas market law to ensure the integration of renewable and low-carbon gases, such as biomethane and hydrogen.” It quotes EU climate chief Frans Timmermans saying: “Europe needs to turn the page on fossil fuels and move to cleaner energy sources…This includes replacing fossil gas with renewable and low-carbon gases, like hydrogen. Today, we are proposing the rules to enable this transition and build the necessary markets, networks and infrastructure.” The Financial Times says the proposals include “a ban on long-term contracts to import natural gas into the EU beyond 2049 in an attempt to end the bloc’s reliance on foreign producers led by Russia”. It quotes Pavel Sorokin, Russia’s deputy energy minister, saying: “Let’s wait for the decision they actually take. Normally, a discussion ends with a more weighed approach. So let’s wait until they are done talking and see the final proposals. Then, let’s wait another 10-15 years and see whether they remain in place.” Reuters says the proposal would allow “EU countries to jointly buy strategic reserves of gas, under plans that would also bolster gas storage”. [See the Carbon Brief Q&A on the first, larger tranche of the Fit for 55 package.]

Finally, Reuters reports on European Commission proposals, also released yesterday, setting out plans for a system to certify carbon removals “as a step towards establishing a regulated EU market to trade them and provide a financial incentive to store CO2”. It adds: “The European Commission said it will draw up a system of certifying carbon removals in 2022, by measuring CO2 removals from technologies and individual land holdings in the EU, and factoring in how long the CO2 would be stored. That would allow farmers and landowners to earn EU-recognised credits for removing CO2, and to sell the credits to polluters that need to balance their emissions.”

In comment related to EU policy, Caio Koch-Weser, chair of the advisory council of the European Climate Foundation [which funds Carbon Brief], writes for the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “The EU must not classify gas as a green fuel.” He explains: “It is deeply worrying that the EU is considering classifying gas – the polluting fossil fuel that scientific consensus agrees needs to stay in the ground – as a sustainable investment in its taxonomy. In the next few days, their proposal will be published by the European Commission for final approval by the European Parliament and the EU Member States.” Koch-Weser concludes: “This must not happen.” Meanwhile, Energy Monitor senior writer Dave Keating says the “Fit for 55 part II” proposals do not “reflect a climate emergency”.

US: Biden to toughen auto emissions limits to counter climate change
Bloomberg Read Article

Bloomberg reports that the Biden administration in the US is preparing to impose more stringent limits on car and truck emissions. It says: “The standards, set to govern passenger cars and light trucks from model years 2023 through 2026, will reverse a Trump-era move to relax the mandates and are set to be issued within days, according to three people familiar with the matter. Responding to pressure from environmentalists and public health advocates, the final requirements also will be tougher than an initial proposal outlined by the Biden administration earlier this year, said two of the people, who asked not to be named because the measure isn’t yet public…EPA officials in recent months were considering boosting the stringency of requirements for model year 2026 by as much as 10 grams of carbon dioxide per mile beyond the proposed levels.”

In other US news, there is continuing coverage of the impasse between Joe Biden and Democrat Senator Joe Manchin over the package of policies within the Build Back Better Act. The Hill says that “Democrats are divided over how hard to push [Manchin] to vote on President Biden’s climate and social spending bill before Christmas, with some lawmakers favouring an aggressive approach while others worry about killing the legislation by moving too hastily.” It continues: “Centrist Democrats…say it’s not absolutely necessary that the climate and social spending package get a vote before Christmas, especially if it’s not certain that Manchin and all 49 other members of the Democratic caucus will back it.” Reuters says “Democrats [are] at odds over Biden’s $1.75tn social spending bill”. The newswire adds: “Some moderate Democratic senators saw no urgency in [Senate majority leader Chuck] Schumer’s Christmas deadline but such flexibility infuriates liberals, who already swallowed a raft of compromises. They were promised quick action if they helped pass a separate $1tn bipartisan road and bridge-building infrastructure bill, which they did.” Meanwhile, NBC News says that the “White House is putting a spotlight on federal efforts to help coal communities and parts of the US that depend economically on the energy industry, with the Biden administration working to address concerns in those areas as it shifts the US away from fossil fuels.”

Separately, Associated Press reports from Pennsylvania: “The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives voted Wednesday to block the centerpiece of governor Tom Wolf’s plan to fight climate change, a cap-and-trade program to clamp down on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, although the chamber for now lacks the votes to stop it.”

Dutch explore nuclear 'taboo' as part of energy transition
Reuters Read Article

The Dutch “government-in-waiting” is considering plans to build two new nuclear reactors, Reuters reports, as part of a €35bn investment to cut the country’s emissions. The money would be spent over the next decade on investments including renewables, hydrogen, heat and electricity networks, the newswire says, citing a presentation from the incoming four-party coalition government. Politico also highlights the coalition deal’s reference to new nuclear plants, reporting: “The deal contains a strong domestic push for using zero-carbon energy, with a decision to extend the life of the nuclear power station in Borssele and construct two more.” The publication explains how the Netherlands will raise its climate goal: “The country will increase the ambition of its existing climate goals for 2030 from a 49% cut below 1990 levels to ‘at least’ a 55% cut, according to the deal. To ensure that target is reached, parties agreed ‘that our policy will focus on a higher target, which will be around 60% by 2030.’” The publication adds: “The new government will split up the joint climate and economy ministry, creating a minister for climate and energy who will be in charge of a €35bn Climate and Transition Fund. That money will be directed to building infrastructure for power, heat, hydrogen and CO2, as well as investments in greening industry, buildings and transport. Like the new German government, the Dutch coalition will introduce a floor price for carbon for allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System…The government will also aim for all new cars to be zero-emissions by 2030 and will increase its air ticket tax.”

Associated Press says the grouping yesterday “put the finishing touches”to its policy plans for the next parliamentary term, which will see prime minister Mark Rutte leading a fourth coalition government. The Guardian says the billions of investment “to fight the climate crisis” will help the Netherlands after “constantly miss[ing] its goals over the years and still [being] among the countries with the highest CO2 emissions per capita in the EU”. The Financial Times says of the incoming coalition: “On EU matters, the coalition agreement states the governing parties will support abolishing the unanimity votes required to make EU foreign policy, seek a stronger role for the European parliament and support EU-wide taxes such as a carbon tax and digital levy.” The Guardian “Animals farmed” reports that the coalition deal includes a €25bn plan to “radically reduce livestock numbers”.

UK cuts grants for electric vehicles for second time in a year
The Guardian Read Article

The UK government has cut grants for electric vehicles for the second time in a year, the Guardian reports, from £2,500 to £1,500 – “half the sum available to buyers at the start of the year”. The paper says: “Electric cars – which produce zero carbon dioxide exhaust emissions – accounted for 19% of cars sold in the UK in November, as carmakers bring a series of new models to market and demand soars amid rocketing fuel prices.” The Independent reports that grants for new electric cars have been “slashed by £1,000”, a reduction of some 40% from a maximum of £2,500 to £1,500. Bloomberg reports: “The decision will make funding to go further and allow more people to make the switch to EVs after sticker prices have come down, the government said. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said lowering the cap is a setback to the country’s plans to phase out internal combustion powered cars by 2030.”

In other UK news, a cross-party group of 50 MPs has written to the energy secretary to say that the use of biomass for electricity generation is a “scandal”, the Daily Mail reports. It continues: “The letter says the extra emissions produced by biomass ‘are the equivalent of three million Ford Fiestas on our roads’.” The paper says signatories include Conservative MP Peter Bottomley, Green MP Caroline Lucas and SNP leader Ian Blackford: “They say scientists warn that burning wood for energy will worsen global warming in the short term.” It adds: “A Drax spokesman said the plant played a ‘critical role generating 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity’ to keep the lights on and work toward net-zero.” BusinessGreen reports that Drax has announced investment of £40m “in [the] next stage of [its] pioneering BECCS [bioenergy with carbon capture and storage] project”. It continues: “The funding programme will also cover the costs of decommissioning the last coal infrastructure at the Drax Power Station, which has gradually been converted from the fossil fuel to run on biomass over the last 10 years, as well as site preparation works for the planned BECCS technology, Drax said.” It adds: “Critics argue the emissions impact of harvesting wood at scale to meet growing demand from the energy sector will outpace the ability of new saplings to suck carbon out of the air, undermining claims that BECCS can deliver negative emissions…However, Drax has repeatedly maintained that all the biomass it burns is derived from sustainable sources and argues the BECCS project can play a critical role in helping the UK meet its legally binding net-zero by 2050 target.

Comment.

Was climate change to blame for the tornadoes, or was it just really bad weather?
James B Elsner, The New York Times Read Article

Answering the headline question for his comment piece in the New York Times, Florida State University’s James Elsner write: “I’m a tornado climatologist…[and t]he answer is: it’s complicated.” Elsner continues: “We have started to detect changes in collective tornado activity, including more powerful storms, and are beginning to understand how these changes might be related to global warming. But much more work needs to be done to gain a fuller understanding of how the changing climate is influencing these deadly storms.” He adds that “global warming is probably playing a role through changes to the environments that support supercell [storm] clusters”. Meanwhile, in the Wall Street Journal, writer Daniel Lee has a comment under the headline: “The Midwest’s tornadoes predate global warming.” The piece is subtitled: “Activists who insist on a relationship between climate change and twisters can’t explain the deadly storms of yesteryear.” [This confuses causation with contribution.] An article for Wired recounts the history of extreme weather event attribution science.

Elsewhere, the Washington Post reports: “Historic wind storm slams central US, unleashes rare December tornadoes.” It says: “All of this occurred amid record-setting warmth in the central states, for the third time this month, helping to fuel the intensity of the extreme weather. Both Iowa and Wisconsin saw their warmest December weather on record Wednesday afternoon.”

European energy policy makes the rich richer
Mateusz Morawiecki, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, the prime minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki looks ahead to today’s European Council summit discussions on energy policy and says of the current energy crisis: “Russia and Gazprom are, for the most part, responsible.” He says the crisis “is reason enough to speed up energy transition and thus become independent of the unpredictable and aggressive policy of the Kremlin”. However, Morawiecki says the EU emissions trading system “is now being used to artificially inflate the price” and that “cash that companies should invest in the green transition is needed to cover ever higher CO2 emission prices”. He explains: “I will therefore be appealing for reform of the EU ETS when I attend the the European Council summit. This scheme was created to encourage investment in renewable energy sources, which at the time were significantly more expensive than conventional ones. Today things are different. The revolution in the market for renewable energy sources gives us opportunities to produce energy cheaply and cleanly.”

In related news, Bloomberg reports that the EU has been urged to “strengthen supervision of its red-hot emissions market to avoid distortions driven by financial investors, according to a report published on Wednesday”. It quotes one of the study authors saying: “If we let speculation run wild, this can sooner or later undermine the functioning of CO2 emissions allowance markets.” The publication adds: “While a group of countries led by Poland and Spain blamed speculators for the unprecedented spike and called to restrict market access for some financial investors, the EU’s market watchdog dismissed concerns over abuse. The recent surge was mostly caused by economic and political factors, the European Securities and Markets Authority said last month.”

Science.

Biogeochemical extremes and compound events in the ocean
Nature Read Article

A new study finds that the compound ocean extremes – concurrent instances of warming, acidification and low oxygen extremes – seen in today’s climate could be “a harbinger of what may become normal in the future”. Our understanding of open ocean compound extremes is currently “limited”, according to the study. The authors assess patterns and trends in open ocean extremes based on existing literature and simulations, and “discuss the potential impacts of individual and compound extremes on marine organisms and ecosystems”.

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