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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 16.08.2022
Starmer says his radical plan to freeze energy bills is needed to cut inflation

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News.

UK: Starmer says his radical plan to freeze energy bills is needed to cut inflation
The Guardian Read Article

In continuing reaction to Labour leader Keir Starmer’s plan to freeze energy bills, the Guardian reports: “Keir Starmer has said Labour’s plan to freeze energy bills, funded in part by an expanded windfall tax, is the radical approach needed to help households and reduce inflation, contrasting it with the inaction of a ‘lame duck’ government… Quizzed on why he was spending close to £30bn on a scheme that also assisted better-off people, Starmer said that while some other targeted measures would remain in place, his was the best overall approach.” Separately, the paper reports that Labour “is planning a campaigning blitz in order to take ownership of its new energy price cap policy in case the next Tory leader bows to pressure and cancels the 80% rise expected in October”. Sky News adds that Starmer has called the plan “‘robust’ and a ‘real answer’ to soaring household bills”. However, the Daily Telegraph warns that the price cap freeze could cost £60bn – “almost the same as the Covid furlough scheme”, and the Daily Mail says that the plan has been “slammed” for its high costs. Elsewhere, the Times reports that “Keir Starmer fears next PM will steal his idea to freeze energy bills”. The Guardian outlines what different UK parties and the two Tory leadership hopefuls – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – are planning to tackle rising bills. “Labour unveils plan to freeze bills, Truss is relying on tax cuts, and Sunak pledges targeted help for poorer households,” the paper summarises.

Meanwhile, the Times reports on its frontpage that “Liz Truss favours giving targeted support to those who need the most help with their energy bills rather than increasing the £400 grant for every household”. The paper continues: “Truss has been deliberately ambiguous about her approach. She said this month that she did not favour giving people ‘handouts’ to help them with their energy bills but has not ruled out further support… A spokesman for Truss clarified that she would go ahead with the £400 discount for all households if she became prime minister. Senior allies said she was unlikely to extend it further.” Meanwhile, the Guardian carries a warning from former government chief scientific advisor Prof Sir David King that outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson “should intervene urgently to start insulating British homes and introduce fiscal policies to reduce bills”. The Independent reports that the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) thinktank estimates that £12bn of additional government help would be needed to ensure households to keep pace rising energy bills. The Daily Telegraph reports that around half of households currently have their boiler temperatures “unnecessarily high”. According to the paper, the Conservative Environment Network – a coalition of more than 100 Tory MPs – have said that governments should force energy suppliers to advise customers on how to turn down the temperature, to save on bills. The Daily Mirror carries a frontpage story entitled, “Heartbreaking reality of energy bills crisis”.

Elsewhere, the Conversation has a piece entitled, “Britain’s energy price cap was never designed to keep your gas and electricity affordable”. Energy Monitor reports that “the UK is heading for a winter of discontent”. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen covers research which finds that “insulating UK homes could offset Russian gas use twice over while saving bill payers £2,600”. And the i newspaper reports that as energy bills rise, home solar panels will pay for themselves in “just four pay for themselves in just four years”. The article quotes recent Carbon Brief analysis.

In other UK news, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Rough gas storage site in the North Sea – Britain’s largest gas storage facility, which has not been used since 2017 – “has been cleared to reopen by safety inspectors in a move that will allow it to start filling up for the winter within weeks.”

US: Biden to sign massive climate, healthcare legislation
Associated Press Read Article

US president Joe Biden will today sign Democrats’ landmark climate change and healthcare bill – known as the Inflation Reduction Act, reports the Associated Press, delivering what he has called the “final piece” of his pared-down domestic agenda. The newswire explains that “the House on Friday approved the measure on a party-line 220-207 vote. It passed the Senate days earlier with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a 50-50 tie in that chamber”. Biden is set to sign the bill during a “small ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House”, the article says, and then plans to hold “a larger ‘celebration’ for the legislation on 6 September once lawmakers return to Washington”.

UK: Dozens of flash flood warning as thunderstorms and torrential rain end heatwave
The Independent Read Article

The UK Met Office has issued three days of weather warnings for rain and storms across the UK, the Independent reports. The paper says: “There are 33 flood warnings in place amid fears the baked ground will not be able to soak up such intense bursts of rain. The downpours could produce 20-30mm of rainfall in less than an hour, with 40-50mm falling in around 2-3 hours in some spots, the Met Office warns.” Separately, the paper reports that “while the downpours may bring relief from the sweltering temperatures, scientists say they will do little to help the drought conditions”. The paper quotes a Met Office meteorologist, who called the downpour “the wrong sort of rain”, adding that “with the ground baked so dry, it’s very difficult for the ground to actually absorb the water very quickly”. The i newspaper reports that millions of people’s homes are at risk of flash flooding, while ITV News reports that London mayor Sadiq Khan was warned Londoners to prepare for flash flooding. BBC News also has the story.

Meanwhile, Independent reports on data from the Environment Agency, which finds that river flows at 92% of sites monitored were below normal last week. The paper adds: “River levels had decreased at all but two of the sites between 3 August to 9 August, while 29% were classed as below normal, 31% were notably low, while 29% were exceptionally low for this time of year… Water in reservoirs for England were at 65% of total capacity at the end of July – their lowest level at that point in the calendar year since 1995.” The Guardian carries a piece entitled “As drought hits, what are UK water company chief executives paid?”. The paper also reports that politicians and campaigners say that “water company bosses should be stripped of their multimillion-pound bonuses until they fix leaks and build reservoirs”. And a Guardian “weather tracker” article looks at drought conditions across the UK. The Independent reports that heatwaves and droughts will worsen as the planet warms. The i newspaper asks: “Parts of the UK had no running water this summer. Is this our future?” And the Guardian reports that a hosepipe ban is being introduced in Cornwall and parts of north Devon “for the first time in more than a quarter of a century”.

Elsewhere, the i newspaper carries a warning from farmers that the extreme weather will drive up the price of milk, bread and meat. Meanwhile, the Daily Express reports on the “triple threat” of water energy and food crisis, adding that drought could halve UK food production. And the Conversation reports that the drought is causing some trees to lose their leaves in August.

Germany: How the climate crisis contributes to low water
Der Spiegel Read Article

Whether on the Rhine, Weser, Danube or Edersee: the water levels in many rivers and lakes in Germany fell particularly early this year – and to deficient levels, reports Der Spiegel. It explains that “the combination of two weather extremes, which are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change, plays a central role here: arid phases with little precipitation and very high temperatures with high evaporation rates”. Climate researcher Diana Rechid from the Climate service centre Germany (Gerics) is quoted saying that “we had very little snow in winter”. This can be seen, for example, on the Rhine, which receives meltwater from the Alps, says the outlet. “We have to become greenhouse gas neutral as soon as possible to limit climate change,” Rechid told Der Spiegel. Rhein-Zeitung adds that low water has a substantial impact on shipping. The Federal Association of German Inland Shipping has warned that, “for inland shipping, low water levels mean that the ships can take less cargo with them to prevent grounding”, according to the newspaper. Die Welt carries a story about the impact of rivers’ low level on the mineral oil industry, which warns of possible bottlenecks at the gas stations at the end of the tank discount. The expiry of a tax break at the end of August represents a “logistical challenge for the industry”, explained the mineral oil association En2x on Monday. The paper says: “The low water on the Rhine and the high utilisation of the freight rail would make matters worse.” Handelsblatt’s story criticises the government’s inaction referring to 2018 when many were “surprised by the dryness of the Rhine in summer”.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Germany’s government has said that households will face additional annual costs of €290 to pay for “natural” gas. It details that “from October, consumers will have to pay an extra 2.419 euro cents per kilowatt hour for natural gas”, Trading hub Europe said in a statement Monday. “The levy is a consequence of Putin’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine and the artificial energy shortage caused by Russia,” German economy minister Robert Habeck is quoted in the article. Die Zeit reports that Habeck is pushing for social balance given the planned gas levy. For some, says the outlet, costs of “a few hundred euros more” per year are hardly noticeable, said Habeck in Berlin. For others, adds the article, against the background of high inflation, “it is the straw that might break the camel’s back”. However, another news article by Die Zeit reports that several associations and politicians “are calling for changes to the planned gas levy from 1 October”, noting that the Federation of German Consumer Organisations suggested postponing its start.

Elsewhere in German news, Der Spiegel reports that Norway currently has no way of expanding its gas supplies to Germany and Europe, according to Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre. “It’s not that we can simply decide politically, we’re delivering even more now,” said Støre at a meeting with German chancellor Olaf Scholz in Oslo. Norway has increased its gas exports and is currently delivering “the maximum that we can deliver”. The outlet explains that Norway is the second largest gas supplier after Russia for Germany.

Finally, Canada’s National Observer reports the potential green energy agreement between Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and German chancellor Olaf Scholz that could “prove pivotal to Canada’s nascent hydrogen industry”. It says the German government issued a statement confirming the agreement will be signed on 23 August in Canadian Stephenville, where a Newfoundland-based company plans to build a zero-emission plant that will use wind energy to produce hydrogen and ammonia for export.

US: Deadline looms for western states to cut Colorado River use
Associated Press Read Article

Seven US states are preparing for water cuts as officials “stare down a deadline to propose unprecedented reductions to their use of the water,” reports the Associated Press. The Colorado River, which is the primary water supply for 40 million people, runs through Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The newswire reports that “more than two decades of drought have done little to deter the region from diverting more water than flows through it, depleting key reservoirs to levels that now jeopardise delivery and hydropower production”. In June, the US Bureau of Reclamation gave the seven states a 15 August deadline to “figure out how to use at least 15% less water next year, or have restrictions imposed on them”, the article says. “After weeks of negotiations, which some participants say have at times grown tense and acrimonious, the parties have yet to reach an agreement,” reports the Los Angeles Times. The Hill quotes John Entsminger, the general manager of Southern Nevada Water, who criticised the “drought profiteering” of agricultural districts and blamed “collective inaction”.

Elsewhere, Inside Climate News reports that “northern Mexico’s water crisis is spilling into Texas, drying out the two bi-national reservoirs of the Rio Grande, on which millions of people and $1bn in agriculture rely”. Water levels have reached a “historic low”, Maria Elena Giner, commissioner of the International Boundary and Waters Commission, told the website. The Independent covers a new study by the non-profit First Street Foundation which finds that more than 100 million Americans will live in “intensely hot temperatures” in the summer by 2053. The Guardian also covers the new report, and adds that “the heat index in some areas above 100F (38C) for weeks on end”.

Comment.

The Guardian view on Keir Starmer’s bills freeze: smart politics needs smart economics
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

Many newspapers have published editorials in response to Labour leader Keir Starmer’s plan to freeze UK energy bills this autumn. A Guardian editorial says: “Labour’s policy puts the party on the side of ordinary people during a cost of living crisis – in sharp contrast to Tory appeals to the wealthy”. The paper notes the upcoming rise in energy bills to £5,000 per year in April 2023, and says that “by calling for the suspension of price hikes, Sir Keir has done the right thing at the right time”. It continues: “Three in four Tory voters back Labour’s energy bills plan. Even energy companies have suggested a version of Labour’s offer, with the industry proposing to voluntarily pause customers’ bills for two years and spread the cost of the gas price crisis over a decade or more”. The paper also quotes Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans: “Extending a household energy bill freeze for a year, says industry expert Simon Evans, would cost a further £44bn.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the Times calls the plan “Starmer’s chimera”. It continues: “It is a point in favour of Sir Keir’s proposals that he maintains they are fully costed. This sets them apart from the fiscal approach of Liz Truss, whose campaign for the Conservative leadership is predicated on unfunded tax cuts that would intensify inflationary pressures. But the economic demerits of Labour’s scheme outweigh its political potency”. The paper says that freezing energy bills “would be very expensive”, and concludes: “Sir Keir may think he is on to a winner. The Conservative leadership candidates should counter with sound, and not fanciful, economics and a real commitment to help those who are struggling.” Elsewhere, a Daily Mirror editorial (not yet online) entitled “Freeze the bills now” says that Labour “represent the decent, squeezed and worried majority by championing the freezing of energy bills”. An editorial in the Daily Mail is less keen, warning that “like most Socialist plans to spend other people’s money, Sir Keir Starmer’s proposal to tackle the energy bills crisis sounds good at first blush… But beware such gaudy baubles! In reality, Labour’s leader would be storing up a world of pain”.

Elsewhere, the Guardian’s financial editor Nils Pratley writes that “Labour’s idea may represent smart politics but it makes no economic sense to freeze prices for everyone”. Pratley writes: “There was no sound economic reason for Sunak to add a universally applied £400 element to a package that was otherwise rightly concentrated on vulnerable households, meaning those most affected by higher bills. That point, bizarrely, seems to have been lost on Sir Keir Starmer. The Labour leader has opted to back the most untargeted form of support this winter – a plan to freeze the price of energy for all consumers, rich and poor alike, at its current level for six months.” Sean O’Grady – associate editor of the Independent – writes that Starmer’s plan is “flawed” but has “some merit”. He continues: “The time has come to end the great experiment with privatising the retail energy market… the more radical approach, by Gordon Brown, of equity stakes in retail gas and electricity suppliers, makes much more sense. And Cat Rutter Pooley – the Financial Times‘ UK business writer – calls the energy price cap “a relic of another era”. She asks: “What’s the point in a consumer energy price cap that does very little to cap consumer energy prices?”

Meanwhile, climate-sceptic columnist Ross Clark writes in the Daily Telegraph that “Keir Starmer’s fantasy economics will only worsen the energy crisis”. The Daily Express also gives Clark a full page in today’s edition to make the same point. Daily Mail city editor Alex Brummer writes: “When it comes to economic illiteracy, Keir Starmer’s plan is in a class of its own”. Elsewhere, Sam Lister – the political editor for the Daily Express – has written a piece entitled “Labour’s price freeze plan ‘is just make-believe’, economists warned”.

In other UK comment, political commentator Alan Cochrane writes in the Daily Telegraph that “the fierce Tory leadership race would take on a more favourable aura if the pair put on a united front to fight soaring costs”. Elsewhere, Guardian columnist John Harris writes: “From the climate to water and energy, our country is facing multiple crises that are a product of total political failure.” Andrew Adonis – founding chair of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission and a former transport secretary – has penned an opinion piece in the Financial Times, arguing that “from nuclear power plants to reservoirs and railways, Britain is struggling to modernise its energy and transport systems”. He says: “It is farcical for Boris Johnson to suggest that the UK could now open one nuclear power station every year after a short planning process. Hinkley Point C, the UK’s one current nuclear power project, was initiated more than a decade ago and won’t be commissioned for at least another five years… As for renewables, which are central to the UK’s net zero ambition given the lack of nuclear capacity, politicians say and do entirely different things.” Meanwhile, Alistair Osborne – chief business commentator of the Times – notes the danger of sea level rise to the Sizewell C nuclear plant – which will be built on a Suffolk floodplain. Elsewhere, in the Mail+, Geoffrey Lean – a “leading environmental correspondent and author” – has written a piece entitled: “A freak summer… or terrifying glimpse of what is to come?”

Science.

Climate change threatens terrestrial water storage over the Tibetan plateau
Nature Climate Change Read Article

Water sources in the Amu Darya and Indus basins in the Tibetan plateau could decline by 119% and 79% respectively by the mid-21st century under a mid-range emission scenario, according to a new study. The authors combine satellite observations, land surface models and global climate model results to quantify the vulnerability of water supplies in the plateau, which provides water for almost 2 billion people in Asia. The study also finds a “significant” decrease in terrestrial water storage over the Tibetan plateau from 2002 to 2017, which reflects the “competing effects of glacier retreat, lake expansion and sub-surface water loss”.

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