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:
- South Africa will only accept $8.5bn green energy deal on good terms, president says
- UK: Net-zero plans scaled back amid concerns over soaring fuel and heating bills
- Germany’s coalition deal kills combustion engine, saves the sportscar
- Russian coal mine: Death toll soars to 52 after accident – reports
- Wales aims to be first country to hit net-zero by eliminating greenhouse gas pollution by 2035
- The Guardian view on Germany’s government: green light for change
- Don't listen to the gloomsters. COP26 was a British success
- Climate and land-use changes reduce the benefits of terrestrial protected areas
- Impact of declining renewable energy costs on electrification in low-emission scenarios
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has said the country will only accept $8.5bn in initial funding to help it shift from coal to greener energy if the terms suit national goals, such as debt reduction and job creation, Reuters reports. At COP26, the US, UK, France, Germany and the EU announced a multi-billion dollar package to help South Africa accelerate a transition from coal. (See Carbon Brief‘s COP26 summary for more details.) However, Reuters says Ramaphosa “told lawmakers when responding to questions” yesterday that “this commitment from international partners does not mean we need to accept the offer, as such, or that we need to accept any unfavourable terms especially if the financing arrangements could impact negatively on the public fiscus of our country”. Ramaphosa added that most of the funding would need to be in the form of grants and that any loans would need to have concessionary rates, the newswire says. Ramaphosa also responded to concerns that coal miners and other workers would lose their jobs as a result of a transition. He said: “Normally [coal-fired power plants] would have been decommissioned and that would be the end: the town would close…We are now saying, with funding we will be able to recalibrate, repurpose these power plants [for renewable power].”
Proposals to include transport and heating in an expanded UK emissions trading scheme have been “significantly watered down after a backlash from senior government ministers”, reports a Daily Telegraph “exclusive”. The paper explains: “A consultation about what areas the scheme, which caps carbon emissions in certain sectors, should be applied to had included fuel used for vehicles and heating in the UK. But both of those elements have now been removed after fears that it could trigger a political storm, given that petrol and energy bills have seen marked increases in recent months.” Early drafts of the consultation said the scheme would be “radically” expanded, the paper says, but “that word is understood to have been dropped from the latest version of the document”. It adds: “The plans will still seek to bring in emissions trading for the marine sector and waste incineration, which could ultimately force up costs for shippers and councils. The door will also be opened to one day creating a trading emissions scheme for the agricultural industry by announcing a new push to measure carbon emissions there.”
In other UK energy news, the Press Association reports that household bills could increase by as much as £60 to pay for the recent failure of energy supplier Bulb. The company fell into special administration on Wednesday, with the government promising to set aside nearly £1.7bn to ensure it keeps the lights on for its 1.6m customers, the newswire says. However, it explains, “an official paper from 2013 reveals that the system’s architects envisioned the government placing the costs back on to the energy suppliers”. This is “ultimately likely to get passed on to households through their energy bills”, it says. A government official tells the Financial Times that the state would “seek to recover some of that money”, adding: “It is a loan. It will not be paid in one go, it’s an envelope that can be drawn down as and when it is needed.” The official also said that if wholesale energy prices went up, “then yes it would be fair to say the cost would rise even further”. The FT notes that “while the government considers this unlikely, it acknowledges the extra expenditure in this scenario would run into the hundreds of millions of pounds”. The charity Age UK has warned that rising energy prices could push an additional 150,000 older households into fuel poverty, reports the Daily Mirror.
Meanwhile, two more small suppliers have become the latest to fail in the face of record high wholesale prices, reports Reuters. Industry regulator Ofgem says new suppliers will be found for Entice Energy’s 5,400 customers and Orbit Energy Limited’s 65,000 domestic customers, the newswire says. The Independent notes that this takes the number of UK energy firms that have collapsed since August to 25. Bloomberg and the Guardian also have the story. The Times reports that “senior industry figures” have suggested that an executive of a failed energy supplier who has been hired by Ofgem could have been barred from taking senior roles at other companies under the regulator’s own rules. And the Daily Mail reports that chancellor Rishi Sunak has “blocked a multi-million-pound manufacturing bailout” backed by prime minister Boris Johnson. The paper explains: “Mr Johnson was understood to have been convinced that sectors including steel, chemicals and ceramics needed help and was preparing to sign off a bailout worth hundreds of millions of pounds. But the Daily Mail can reveal that Mr Sunak has successfully stopped the plan, which is no longer being considered.”
There is continuing coverage of Germany’s newly unveiled governing coalition deal, with Politico reporting that the new government has “almost” sounded the death knell for combustion engine cars. The outlet explains: “In its governing pact published Wednesday, the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP) committed to ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars ahead of the EU’s proposed phaseout date set for 2035. But there’s a caveat: the deal also includes a pledge to allow vehicles that run on synthetic fuels, a yet-to-be-scaled-up alternative to fossil fuels touted by the industry, to be registered ‘outside’ the emission standards rules.” (It is worth noting that Germany chose not to join a declaration on “accelerating the transition to 100% zero-emission cars and vans” at COP26 because it wanted to pursue the option of synthetic fuels.) The agreement means that “while the Greens have scored a victory in getting Berlin to ditch most engines sometime in the early 2030s, the FDP – and their sportscar-mad leader Christian Lindner – have won their own fight to keep classic models and high-end vehicles made by the likes of Porsche on the road”, the outlet adds. Reuters reports that environmental groups in Germany say the coalition agreement is not tough enough on transport. According to climate thinktank Agora and NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), the deal does not include policies such as a speed limit on highways and higher taxes on fossil-fuel emitting cars, the newswire says.
In other coverage, Reuters reports that industry groups have said that the new government must double down on its efforts to put an ambitious energy roadmap into law or risk missing renewable targets to offset an accelerated exit from coal. Kerstin Andreae, head of utility association BDEW, which represents power firms including E.ON, RWE and Uniper, said that “the early coal phase-out can only happen if we make coal-fired power generation obsolete”, the newswire reports. Christian Bruch, CEO of Siemens Energy, said “we have no time to lose”, adding: “It is now a matter of implementing the plans quickly and creating the conditions for private investments in the conversion.” The New York Times looks at whether Germany’s “debt brake” – which was written into the Constitution in 2009 and restricts annual borrowing to 0.35% of the nominal gross domestic product, amounting to roughly 12bn euros a year –will “stop its green ambitions”. There are “signs that the new government has found some back-door solutions to borrowing”, the paper says: “One is to exploit the temporary suspension of the debt brake during the pandemic. As finance minister, [incoming chancellor] Mr Scholz last year suspended the spending limit, which is allowed under a national emergency, and the coalition treaty says it will not be reinstated until the end of 2022. That gives the new government time to borrow money and put it in a fund that will continue to run even after the limit on borrowing comes back into force.” And Politico reports that Germany’s Greens yesterday delayed announcing their ministers for the country’s incoming government due to internal wrangling over who should get the posts.
At least 52 people are reported to have died in a coal mine in Siberia yesterday in Russia’s worst mining disaster in a decade, says BBC News. There are mixed reports of the initial cause of the tragedy, with BBC News and Al Jazeera reporting that the incident started when coal dust in a ventilation shaft caught fire, filling the mine with smoke. Reuters and the Associated Press say it was a leak of methane and a subsequent explosion. The majority of the 285 people in the Listvyazhnaya mine, in the Kemerovo region around 3,500km east of Moscow, escaped, says BBC News. However, the outlet says, “dozens of miners were unable to” and “rescue operations had to be suspended after dangerously high levels of methane were detected in the mines”. It continues: “One of the rescue teams then failed to emerge from the mine. The bodies of three rescuers were later found, bringing the official death toll to 14. Then late on Thursday several sources told Russian media agencies that no further survivors were expected to be found and the death toll had risen to more than 50, including six rescuers in total.” President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the families of the miners killed, reports Al Jazeera, calling it a “great tragedy”. He said: “I have spoken several times with Kemerovo Region Governor [Sergei Tsivilev] and the heads of rescue services…They are doing everything in their power but, unfortunately, the situation is not improving, and they are now risking their own lives. The necessary decisions are being taken on the spot. We hope that as many lives as possible will be saved.“ Associated Press says the disaster is “the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine, also in the Kemerovo region”. Reuters reports that police in Siberia said today that they had arrested two state safety inspectors suspected of criminal negligence leading to loss of life.
In other Russia news, the country’s central bank has said that Russia’s plan to reduce its carbon footprint by 2050 will require investments of 1-4tn roubles a year ($13.4-53.6bn), Reuters reports.
Wales is planning to adopt the world’s earliest net-zero emissions target following a deal struck in its parliament, the Daily Mail reports. The paper explains: “The principality aims to cut greenhouse gas pollution to zero by 2035 – ten years earlier than Scotland’s goal and 15 years ahead of the UK-wide 2050 target. A deal cut between Labour and Plaid Cymru in the Senedd launched a paper which states the Welsh government will ‘commission independent advice to examine potential pathways to net-zero by 2035’.” The Welsh government will seek advice from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the paper notes. ENDS Report also has the story.
Elsewhere in the UK, the Guardian reports that three young people are taking legal action against Boris Johnson’s government, accusing it of breaching legal obligations to take “practical and effective measures” to tackle climate change. The paper continues: “In a high court hearing in London on Thursday, Adetola Onamade, 24, Jerry Amokwandoh, 22, and Marina Tricks, 20, claimed the government was breaching their rights under the Human Rights Act to life and to family life by failing to do what was necessary to avert environmental disaster…Backed by the charity Plan B Earth, the hearing was an application to allow the case to go to a full hearing, with a judge expected to respond with a decision in the coming days.” The Independent reports on a separate court case in which environmental campaigners are challenging the UK government over plans to expand oil and gas exploration. The campaigners say that oil and gas firms have benefitted to the tune of £13.6bn from the UK government since the Paris agreement was drawn up in 2015, the paper reports, which “amounted to subsidising fossil fuel production”. These financial incentives “are at the centre of a legal case that will be heard at the High Court on 8 and 9 December”, the outlet says. Finally, the Guardian publishes a letter from Bob Ward – policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment – defending sponsorship of two Science Museum energy exhibitions from Shell and Adani Green Energy.
A Guardian editorial comments on the climate implications of Germany’s newly formed governing coalition. Angela Merkel’s departure “means her centre-right CDU-CSU alliance faces a period of eclipse and reinvention”, the paper says. Social democrat Olaf Scholz will take over, the paper says, and will take to deal with “tensions”, such as “investment pledges on infrastructure and climate crisis measures” that will “challenge the culture of budgetary restraint”. However, the new coalition’s wider agenda, “set out in the 178-page document hammered out since September’s general election, should not be dismissed as a steady-as-we-go programme”, the paper says. It explains: “With the Green party heading a new ministry for economy and climate protection, targets will require 80% of electricity from renewables by 2030, the phasing out of coal ‘ideally’ by the same deadline, and a sped-up abandonment of gas by 2040.”
Analysis in Politico by senior climate correspondent Karl Mathiesen and policy reporter Aitor Hernández says that there is a “dirty reality to Wednesday’s headline pledges of ‘ideally’ ending coal use by 2030, scrapping combustion engine cars by 2035 and aligning all government policies with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C – Germany will continue to rely on natural gas and nuclear power for many years”. The article looks at some of the barriers to the ambitions in the coalition deal, including “how to finance the transformation of Europe’s largest economy” and the “bigger issue” of “how to power Germany during the transition”.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Amber Rudd – who was the UK’s secretary of state for energy and climate change between 2015 and 2016 – says that COP26 “did indeed turn out to be something of a success”. She continues: “Where the 2015 Paris Agreement set out the framework for slowing down global heating, Glasgow is forcing the world to pick up the pace. Just look at the hard numbers. Before Paris, we were on track for 6C of warming. In the years that followed, we lowered that to 4C. Before the Glasgow summit, we were on track for 2.7C. Now estimates say we’re on track for between 2.4C and 1.8C.” Other successes from the summit – which were “thanks to the extraordinary abilities of British diplomats” – include the COP26 pact being “the first time that a reduction in coal use has been mentioned in an international agreement” and bringing “India more into the fold, signing them up to an ambitious decarbonisation plan”, Rudd writes. She argues that “it’s time to ditch the defeatist, fatalistic idea that there’s no point in Britain going through such pains when other countries pollute more”, adding: “Our country is one of the most influential in the world, and where we lead on climate, others follow. We can change world emissions through our finance, influence, and diplomacy.”
Joss Garman– UK director of the European Climate Foundation [which funds Carbon Brief] – uses his SubStack newsletter to look at who in the UK government “will end up owning delivery” of net-zero. While US president Joe Biden has “just announced a new White House office to coordinate cross-government efforts on climate”, there is a “strong domestic political rationale for [Boris] Johnson to follow suit with a beefed up No 10 climate operation”, Garman says: “The PM is the member of the cabinet who is most invested in this agenda. It is his legacy on the line, and it is fair to say that most other senior Ministers are not exactly chomping at the bit in their enthusiasm for sharing in it. The existing cross-Cabinet committee on climate is thought to have only met a handful of times, and certain departments are clearly not pulling their weight.” There are “other serious considerations that underline why a stronger enforcement function in Downing Street could be a good idea”, notes Garman: “The outcome of the Glasgow Summit, making progress whilst still leaving the world way off track from climate safety, only reinforced an impression for many working on the issue that the UN climate process can only be one forum of many for governments interested in achieving faster progress internationally. Seeing all climate policy through the COP lens alone would be to miss many other international opportunities for making progress.”
In other COP26 reaction, New York Times contributing opinion writer Christopher Caldwell criticises the “money men” that have “taken the thing over”. Describing the summit as “less like its predecessors and more like a second ‘Davos’” – Caldwell says the newly launched “Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero” is “vague”. He continues: “It involves ‘driving upward convergence around corporate and financial institution net-zero transition plans’ and using financial ‘levers’ to impose carbon-neutral rules on economic actors. The upshot: The alliance wouldn’t disburse the funds on climate ‘projects’. It would direct how those funds could be invested, favouring behaviours the finance industry deemed virtuous and freezing out those it deemed not. This would be an extraordinary concentration of political power in bankers’ hands – exactly the place where prudence might counsel us to fear power most.” Finally, journalist Sharanya Gopinathan writes in Vogue that “India’s Gen Z doesn’t think COP26 was a success”.
More than one-quarter of the world’s protected area networks will see “high rates” of climate change and land-use change by 2050, according to new research. The authors investigate the rate of climate and land use change across biomes and protected areas globally, using high and low future warming scenarios. They find that the most substantial changes within protected areas will occur in tropical moist and grassland biomes. They conclude: “Our findings can inform spatially adaptive natural resource management and actions to achieve sustainable development and biodiversity goals.”
A new study finds that if the Paris Agreement warming targets are followed, carbon pricing and progress in renewable energy technologies “could make electricity cheaper than carbon-based fuels”. The authors analyse “the role and potential of electrification for global and long-term deep decarbonisation strategies” using an integrated assessment model. They find that if warming is limited to 1.5C, with limited bioenergy and carbon dioxide removal, electricity could account for two thirds of final energy by mid-century – three times the current levels and “substantially higher” than in previous IPCC climate policy scenario estimates, they note.