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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 01.07.2022
Supreme court limits EPA’s power to combat climate change

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News.

US: Supreme court limits EPA’s power to combat climate change
The Washington Post Read Article

The US supreme court yesterday “sharply cut back the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to reduce the carbon output of existing power plants”, reports the Washington Post, which describes the ruling as “a blow to the nation’s chances of averting catastrophic climate change”. In a majority opinion authored by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr, he wrote: “Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day’…But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.” The court was considering the powers granted by the Clean Air Act, “which was written decades ago, before climate change was widely recognised as a worldwide crisis”, the paper says. The 6-3 ruling was split along ideological lines, says the Hill, “with its conservative justices opting to restrict the EPA’s power while the liberal justices disagreed”. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing a dissent for the three liberal justices, said the majority was constraining the federal government’s ability to address carbon emissions during a time of crisis, the outlet reports. She wrote: “The subject matter of the regulation here makes the court’s intervention all the more troubling…Whatever else this court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change. And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the court today prevents congressionally authorised agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.“ Justice Elena Kagan – another of the dissenting judges – warned that “the court appoints itself – instead of Congress or the expert agency –the decision-maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening”, reports the Associated Press.

At the heart of the case is “a disagreement over how broadly the EPA should be allowed to interpret portions of the 1970 Clean Air Act, particularly the sections that direct the EPA to develop emissions limitations for power plants”, explains the Financial Times. It continues: “Dubbed West Virginia vs EPA, the case was brought by a host of Republican attorneys-general and the coal industry. Their argument centres on a regulation that never took effect: an Obama-era proposal known as the Clean Power Plan, which would have mandated that power plants make 32% reductions in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. The supreme court ordered that rule to be suspended in 2016. That rule was later torn up by the Trump administration in favour of its Affordable Clean Energy rule, designed to support the coal industry. The Trump administration’s regulation, however, was struck down by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit last year. Challenging the lower court’s reversal of Trump’s rule at the supreme court, West Virginia has argued that the Obama-era Clean Power Plan relied on an overly broad interpretation of the Clean Air Act and gave the EPA excessive and ‘industry transforming’ power.” Rolling Stone magazine notes that “it’s now up to the Biden administration to propose a replacement”, but “it will be severely limited in its ability to do so thanks to the supreme court’s ruling”. The Guardian says that “not only was this case about a regulation that does not exist, that never took effect, and which would have imposed obligations on the energy sector that it would have met regardless. It also involves two legal doctrines that are not mentioned in the constitution, and that most scholars agree have no basis in any federal statute”. It adds that “the ruling could also have sweeping consequences for the federal government’s ability to set standards and regulate in other areas, such as clean air and water, consumer protections, banking, workplace safety and public health”.

President Biden described the ruling as “devastating”, reports the Hill, adding: “While this decision risks damaging our nation’s ability to keep our air clean and combat climate change, I will not relent in using my lawful authorities to protect public health and tackle the climate crisis.” And the EPA also issued a response saying they are reviewing the court’s decision, reports the Guardian. The EPA says it is “committed to using the full scope of its existing authorities to protect public health and significantly reduce environmental pollution, which is in alignment with the growing clean energy economy”. In what Reuters describes as “a rare criticism of a member state”, the UN called the ruling “a setback in our fight against climate change”. In contrast, Patrick Morrisey, the attorney general of West Virginia and one of the leaders of the challenge to the EPA’s authority, “welcomed the decision”, reports the New York Times. He said: “EPA can no longer sidestep Congress to exercise broad regulatory power that would radically transform the nation’s energy grid and force states to fundamentally shift their energy portfolios away from coal-fired generation.“ Politico carries more reaction from lawmakers and campaign groups.

BBC News notes that the court “hasn’t completely prevented the EPA from making these regulations in the future”, but “says that Congress would have to clearly say it authorises this power. And Congress has previously rejected the EPA’s proposed carbon limiting programmes”. The Independent quotes Jody Freeman, a Harvard Law professor and climate official in the Obama White House. She said there was a “silver lining” in the decision in that it leaves intact the EPA’s ability to determine the best system of emissions reduction, and therefore preserves the possibility of going “beyond the fence line”, referring to regulations that affect an entire industry, as opposed to an individual power plant. (Freeman also pens a piece in the Boston Globe about the decision.) Columbia University’s Michael Gerrard makes a similar point to Bloomberg, telling the outlet that the ruling “doesn’t undercut EPA’s other authorities to regulate greenhouse gases, such as imposing limits on motor vehicles (the largest source of GHG emissions), factories, and oil and gas production. EPA also has other tools to control pollution from coal-fired power plants”.

The Washington Post has an article on “all you need to know” about the case, the New York Times has an explainer on the Clean Air Act, and the Hill has all 89 pages of the court’s full decision. The Times and New Scientist also have the story.

UK to use climate and aid cash to buy weapons for Ukraine
Politico Read Article

The UK will take money it had earmarked for poorer countries to cope with climate change and give it to Ukraine as part of a £1bn military aid drive, reports Politico. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the additional military support at the NATO summit in Madrid yesterday. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed in a tweet that his department “has contributed to the effort by surrendering climate finance and foreign aid underspends”, the outlet reports. It notes that the UK “has fallen short of spending all of its allocated budget on climate finance in the past”, but a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy “refused to say how large the current underspend on climate finance or aid was, nor how much the office had diverted to the call for military aid”. Speaking to the Independent, Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “We have to question how on Earth a government that claims to be a leader in tackling climate change could have an underspend on tackling this global threat. It is understandable that the government wants to spend more helping Ukraine, but this money should come out of budgets that will further damage our climate: pots such as the £28bn earmarked for road building, and ending tax breaks for fossil fuel projects.”

Germany’s climate envoy breaks with Scholz on G7's gas funding
Bloomberg Read Article

Bloomberg reports that German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan “wasn’t impressed” by the signed G7 communique that would allow the most developed countries to support new gas projects, noting that Olaf Scholz pushed his counterparts to this deal. The article quotes Morgan saying: “It’s not what I would have hoped to have seen the G7 do…what to me is clear: the focus needs to be on the acceleration of renewable energy and energy efficiency.” Leaders have said new gas projects should be supported only on a “temporary” basis and in a way that avoids them becoming “locked in” to the energy system, adds Bloomberg. However, Climate Home News reports that Germany and Italy are considering supporting a gas facility in Argentina, despite analysts’ warning that it would take too long to build to provide a viable alternative to Russian gas and risk being stranded. The outlet continues that, in both meetings, with Olaf Scholz and Mario Draghi, Fernández discussed support for a gas liquefaction facility which would allow Argentina’s fracked gas to be stored and transported by sea to Europe.

Meanwhile, Tagesschau reports that German finance minister Christian Lindner is trying to delay a third relief package until 2023, which is supposed to help Germans during the energy and food crisis. Except for the fuel discount and the €9 ticket [for a travel pass across Germany], the previous packages have not yet reached the full effect, according to the FDP politician. The outlet quotes Lindner: “I am firmly convinced that the minister of finance must not be the beneficiary of inflation.”

Finally, Der Spiegel reports that “while Germany is desperately looking for new sources of energy, nuclear power from Ukraine could ease the situation in this country a little”. The Ukrainian energy minister German Galushchenko had already offered Germany a nuclear power supply last week, adds the outlet. In a guest article for the Wirtschaftswoche, he wrote: “A kind of insurance cushion can be created in times of weather-related declining generation from solar and wind power plants.”

UK ministers tap Barclays to secure investment for new nuclear plant
Financial Times Read Article

UK ministers have hired Barclays bank to lead a search for investors willing to back a new nuclear power plant at Sizewell on the Suffolk coast, reports the Financial Times. The paper says the ministers have “drawn up plans” with French state-backed EDF Energy “for a new company to replace the current joint venture that has been working on the Suffolk plant”. Both the government and EDF would each take a 20% stake in the new company. According to “four people familiar with the appointment”, the FT says that “bankers at Barclays have been tasked with finding investors to cover the remaining 60%”. It adds: “The revised structure would force out the Chinese state-backed nuclear company CGN from Sizewell C. CGN owns 20% of the current joint venture, with EDF holding the remaining 80%. But UK ministers want to avoid further Chinese involvement in British nuclear facilities, given a deterioration in diplomatic relations between London and Beijing in recent years. CGN is already funding a third of the cost of the Hinkley Point C plant that is under construction in Somerset and upon which Sizewell C is based.”

In other UK power news, the Guardian reports that the owner of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottinghamshire is in talks with the German government to secure emergency state support after Russia cut its gas supplies. It explains: “Uniper has issued a profit warning and is discussing ‘stabilisation measures’ with German officials after Russia’s Gazprom delivered just 40% of the gas it had ordered. The German group said it expected its earnings to be significantly below previous years as a result. Its shares plunged nearly 20% in response.”

Coal-rich, gas-poor China needs more carbon capture and energy storage tech for new power system, analysts say
China Morning Post Read Article

“Coal-rich and natural gas-poor” China must place “bigger bets” on both carbon capture and energy storage technologies as it “navigates a decarbonisation route that includes a huge renewable energy buildout while ensuring energy security”, the South China Morning Post writes, citing “analysts”. The outlet quotes Lin Boqiang, director of the China Centre for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, who says: “Coal power plants can be kept while making room for wind and solar power by reducing their utilisation rates. With the proportion of wind and solar power becoming larger, the utilisation rates of coal power plants can be lowered.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg draws out four “trends” from Statistical Review of World Energy, an annual report published by energy giant BP. The four trends highlighted are: renewables are now 13% of global power generation; wind and solar now generate more than nuclear power; China is now the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas; China generates more renewable electricity than Europe combined. Bloomberg writes that China imported “109.5bn cubic metres of LNG” in 2021, which is “1.3bn more than Europe”. It says that Asia has accounted for “70% of global LNG trade for the past decade”, during which time China’s shares of both global LNG trade and of Asia LNG trade have “more than tripled”. Bloomberg also highlights that “in 2021, China rockets past Europe, adding almost 290 terawatt-hours (TWh) of total renewable electricity generation in one year”.

Separately, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) – the country’s top economic planner – on Thursday jointly issued an implementation plan for “emission reduction and carbon sequestration in agriculture and rural areas”, reports China Energy News. The plan mentions “six” tasks – including energy saving and emission reduction in planting – and “10” actions, such as methane emission reduction in rice fields, the state-run industry newspaper notes.

Elsewhere, China Electric Power News writes that the first phase of a 3GW (gigawatts) wind power project in Inner Mongolia by China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) – a state-owned energy corporation – was connected to the grid on Wednesday. The state-run industry newspaper says this move marks the “official operation” of China’s “first single million-kilowatt onshore wind power base”. The equivalent full-load utilisation hours can reach “3,058 hours per year”, with an annual grid electricity supply of “over 3 terawatt hours (TWh)”, saving the use of “more than 920,000 tonnes of standard coal and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 2.5m tonnes per year”.

Additionally, Reuters says that Li Auto, a Chinese hybrid-electric car maker listed in New York and Hong Kong, is “taking advantage of a rally in its share price to raise $2bn” through fresh American Depositary Shares. Finally, there is a continuing coverage of CNOON’s climate action plan, with the South China Morning Post pointing out that the Chinese offshore oil and gas “giant” made “no mention of any ambitions to reduce so-called ‘scope 3’ emissions from its raw materials suppliers, logistics partners, and particularly its customers”.

Australia emissions trading scheme ends ‘10 years of policy dysfunction’
Financial Times Read Article

Australia’s new Labor government will introduce an emissions trading scheme next year, reports the Financial Times, “almost a decade after the previous conservative administration repealed its first attempt to price carbon”. Energy minister Chris Bowen said today that the policy – which, says the FT, “will only apply to industrial emitters and is much weaker than the previous scheme” – would end “10 years of policy dysfunction” on climate change. It will come into force on 1 July 2023 following industry consultation, the paper says, adding: “The new emissions trading scheme would apply only to industrial emitters such as smelters, miners and manufacturers. It would exclude electricity generators and emissions from buildings, transport and agriculture, and would be a softer policy than those in Europe, Britain and North America.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that “Western Australian authorities have recommended a 50-year extension of the country’s biggest polluting fossil fuel development, sparking condemnation from climate campaigners who warned it could add more than 4bn tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere”. And the New York Times reports on how “climate protesters in Australia face harsh new penalties”.

Blocked dividend sinks Gazprom shares
The Times Read Article

Shares in Russia’s state-backed gas giant fell by almost 30% yesterday and were suspended after its investors blocked the payment of dividends, reports the Times. Gazprom’s board had proposed last month paying a record annual dividend of 52.53 roubles a share, equating to more than $20bn, the paper says. However, after its annual meeting yesterday Famil Sadygov, deputy chief executive, said: “The shareholders decided that in the current situation it is not advisable to pay dividends based on the 2021 results.” The paper says that “Gazprom’s biggest shareholder is the Russian state but its shares are also traded in Moscow. Its dividends represented a rare source of income for Russian retail investors, after the west imposed sanctions on many Russian companies over its invasion of Ukraine”. It adds: “Gazprom is at the centre of the Kremlin’s efforts to weaponise energy in retaliation to the sanctions. Russia normally provides about 40% of Europe’s gas but Gazprom has limited its supplies through Ukraine and through the Nordstream 1 pipeline to Germany.” The Financial Times notes that “the shareholder rejection of the payout marks the first time since 1998 the company has not paid a dividend”.

In related news, Bloomberg reports that the EU has “suggested changes to its 20bn-euros ($20.97bn) plan to finance a shift away from Russian fossil fuels, seeking to alleviate member states’ concerns over the way funds from a carbon market-based tool will be distributed”.

Fuel-poor homes face taking £250 energy hit due to poor insulation
The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian reports on new analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) that shows people in “fuel-poor” households in England are facing annual bills about £250 higher than need be because of their poorly insulated homes. The paper continues: “The LGA has identified about 3m households where better insulation would save large sums for people struggling with the rising cost of living. About £770m is wasted each year trying to heat these leaky homes, according to analysis for the LGA by WPI Economics. The LGA has called for all fuel-poor homes to be properly insulated by 2030, and calculates that at least two-thirds of the 3m will need some form of government help to achieve this.” The LGA added that improving people’s homes would save about £500m for the NHS each year, as cold and damp homes contribute to illness, the articles says, and “would also lead to tens of thousands of new green jobs”.

Elsewhere, the Financial Times has a piece on “what the energy efficiency drive means for UK property rentals”.

Comment.

The supreme court tries to overrule the climate
Bill McKibben, The New Yorker Read Article

The US supreme court’s 6–3 ruling against the EPA is “the culmination of a five-decade effort to make sure that the federal government won’t threaten the business status quo”, writes veteran climate campaigner and author Bill McKibben in a piece for the New Yorker. In essence, he explains, “the ruling begins to strip away the power of agencies such as the EPA to enforce policy: instead of allowing federal agencies to enforce, say, the Clean Air Act to clean the air, in this new dispensation, Congress would have to pass regulations that are much more explicit, as each new pollutant came to the fore”. But getting Congress to “address our deepest problems is essentially impossible”, McKibben says: “The decision in Citizens United v. FEC, in 2010, empowered corporations to game our political system at will. That explains, in part, why Congress has not passed a real climate bill in decades. The efforts that Democratic administrations have made to try and control greenhouse gasses have mostly used provisions of the Clean Air Act because it is the last serious law of its kind that ever came to a President’s desk.” And as the US “can’t play a serious policy role, it won’t play a serious leadership role”, warns McKibben: “John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, who has been trying to rally the world for more aggressive climate action, is running out of cards to play.” There remains “an outside hope” that Biden’s Build Back Better bill “might still pick up 50 votes in the Senate before the fall, when Republicans could potentially regain control of Congress”, he says. But, he continues, “beyond that it’s hard to see exactly what the point of demanding federal climate action is now; why march on the Capitol or the White House if the supreme court won’t let elected leaders act even if they want to? And there’s no real way to march on the supreme court – it exists outside the ambit of normal politics – though rulings like this will also raise the pressure to expand the size of the court, if and when the Democrats have the votes to do so”.

In other reaction, a Washington Post editorial says the court “did not go as far” as some had feared, but “judges could still use the new precedent to overturn all sorts of rules they dislike”. It adds:“Sadly, ‘it could have been worse’ might be about the best Americans can begin to expect from this court, which took a hard right turn this session.” A Los Angeles Times editorial says “it’s devastating that the EPA will lose valuable regulatory tools to help slow climate change”. Writing in the Guardian, climate scientist Dr Peter Kalmus agrees that the ruling is a “devastating decision for humanity”. In the New York Times, Coral Davenport – who covers energy and environmental policy for the paper – writes that some experts say that the court’s decision “will soon [make it] mathematically impossible” to meet Biden’s goal of cutting US emissions in half by the end of the decade. In the New York Times Climate Forward newsletter, Manuela Andreoni warns that “the failure of the US – the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in history – to meet its climate targets would very likely mean the world will not be able to keep global warming at about 1.5C above pre-industrial levels”. The Atlantic’s staff writer Robinson Meyer speaks to Michael Wara, a scholar of climate and energy policy at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, to “get a better sense of the ruling”.

Elsewhere, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson writes that “nothing forced the supreme court to rule against a set of climate change regulations that had already become moot”. He continues: “Nothing except the self-righteous impatience of the ultraconservative majority to flex its muscles. Responsible political leaders need to assert themselves before this runaway court does irreparable harm. For the planet, there is no Plan B.” Erwin Chemerinsky – dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and contributing writer to the Los Angeles Times – writes that “the court’s hubris and its decision to give businesses a way to challenge every sort of federal regulatory power will do this nation great damage”. Rachel Cleetus – policy director for the climate and energy programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists – writes in Scientific American that the ruling “is a serious blow to the EPA’s ability to fight climate change – and could have dangerous repercussions beyond this case”. And Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman writes: “The reason the court’s conservatives appointed themselves the decision-makers on climate policy is simple: They don’t like what the EPA did. No real constitutional or statutory violation was at issue. They simply believe, as part of their conservative ideology, that the government shouldn’t combat climate change, so they’re going to stop the government from doing it. That’s not what they would say, of course. They would claim their convoluted reading of the Clean Air Act discovers the true meaning of the statute. But by sheer coincidence, they often manage to find the limits of laws and the Constitution precisely where their policy preferences begin.”

Striking a different tone, a Wall Street Journal editorial says the court has “restore[d] a constitutional climate” and “sets guardrails on the administrative state”. And climate sceptic columnist George Will writes in the Washington Post under the headline: “The EPA decision is the biggest one of all, and the court got it right”.

Why are we feeding crops to our cars when people are starving?
George Monbiot, The Guardian Read Article

In his Guardian column, George Monbiot criticises the continued use of biofuels in the face of global food shortages, warning that “the only consistent and reliable outcome of this technology is hunger”. He writes: “There’s nothing complicated about the effects of turning crops into biofuel. If food is used to power cars or generate electricity or heat homes, either it must be snatched from human mouths, or ecosystems must be snatched from the planet’s surface, as arable lands expand to accommodate the extra demand. But governments and the industries that they favour obscure this obvious truth. They distract and confuse us about an evidently false solution to climate breakdown.” In addition to “upward pressure on food prices”, biofuels “provide a major incentive for land grabbing from small farmers and Indigenous people”, he writes, adding: “As biofuels raise demand for land, rainforests, marshes and savannahs in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and Africa are cleared. There’s a limit to how much we can eat. There’s no limit to how much we can burn.” Monbiot concludes: “But we can’t use such fixes to solve our climate crisis. To leave fossil fuels in the ground, we should change our energy system: our need to travel, our modes of transport, the fuel economy of our homes and the means by which we heat them. Modern biofuels, used at scale, are no more sustainable than an older variety: whale oil. And burning food is the definition of decadence.”

In related news, the Daily Telegraph reports on new analysis by campaign group Transport and Environment, which shows that biofuels “are adding nearly £10 to the cost of filling up an average family car” in the UK.

Energy rationing is inevitable without a fundamental rethink of net-zero
David Frost, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Conservative peer Lord David Frost says that “either the net-zero target has to evolve or there must be compulsory demand control and rationing”. In his article, Frost says he “do[es]n’t see how” the UK can meet its 2050 net-zero target by putting in place an energy supply that is “both carbon-free and capable of generating the energy we need at a cost which people and businesses can actually pay”. And “the other way of reaching the target is to crush demand for energy so that it matches what can be produced, carbon-free, with the technology you do have”. So far, the UK government’s strategy “has been to obfuscate, pretend the technology is better than it is, and throw sand in our eyes with fantasies about thousands of green jobs based on renewables”, Frost says, adding: “When will it realise that these new jobs are a cost of renewables, not a benefit?” Instead, the government “must realise that it faces a crisis” and “keep the lights on or pay a heavy price”. Frost’s suggestion is to “drop the mad dash” for “medieval” wind power and instead “focus on the only acceptably low-carbon form of power available – gas”. He adds: “Get shale gas extraction going, commit long-term to the North Sea, put in place proper storage – and build some new gas power stations. By all means commit to nuclear, too – but only gas solves the problems in a meaningful time frame.” (Lord Frost’s confidence in gas overlooks the fact that, as Carbon Brief analysis from January showed, nearly 90% of the increase in bills over the last year is due to the rising price of gas, which has more than tripled over the same period.)

Science.

Mangrove dispersal disrupted by projected changes in global seawater density
Nature Climate Change Read Article

New research shows that climate-change-driven declines in seawater density could reduce the ability of mangroves to propagate, especially in the biodiversity-rich Indo west Pacific region. Researchers use a range of climate scenarios to project future sea surface density, then compare those values to the density of mangrove “propagules” – the structures that allow the plant to disperse. They find that as the ocean warms and freshens, the decreased seawater density will likely “alter dispersal trajectories of mangrove propagules” and increase the chances of the propagules landing in unsuitable locations. The researchers focus on a very high emissions scenario but state that the projected changes from this scenario are “generally consistent with reported global ocean temperature trends”.

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