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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 12.08.2022
The impact of drought in England: water restrictions, fire risks and farming hardship

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News.

The impact of drought in England: water restrictions, fire risks and farming hardship
The Guardian Read Article

frontpage story in the Guardian reports that a drought is likely to be declared in England today – “a move that will allow water companies to impose tough restrictions on water use as temperatures remain high across swathes of the UK”. It continues: “Hosepipe bans are likely to follow in areas that have not yet declared them, with people being urged to save water by not washing their cars, using lawn sprinklers or filling large pools.” The government will reach a decision today after a meeting of the National Drought Group, which seek advice from water companies, farmers and conservation groups. The Guardian says: “With temperatures likely to reach 36C in some places over the weekend, England is experiencing its driest nine-month period since 1976. South-east England received less than 10% of its usual amount of rainfall in July, making it the driest July since 1935. Rainfall has been at about 74% of its long-term average since last November.” The Times also covers the news, but says that drought might be declared in southwest England only and that the measure would be “largely symbolic…to convince the public of the need to use water wisely”. The Independent also covers the news, noting that “water companies have failed to meet their own targets for cutting household leaks and domestic use as parts of the country brace for a drought to be declared”. The i newspaper also covers the news on its frontpage.

A separate Guardian story notes Sainsbury’s and Tesco have halted sales of disposable barbecues over fears they could spark wildfires in the dry conditions. The Independent reports that London firefighters have seen an unprecedented rise in grass, rubbish and open-land fires in the first week of August, when compared to last year. Reuters notes that the UK’s four-day “extreme heat warning” began yesterday and runs across the weekend.

In France, the prime minister Élisabeth Borne has warned the country must fight “more than ever” to tackle climate change as she met with firefighters facing a “monster” blaze in southwestern France, according to the Guardian. It adds: “Local authorities said the massive blaze, which reignited on Tuesday, had destroyed more than 6,800 hectares (16,800 acres) of woodland in the Gironde area and the neighbouring Landes. Gironde had already seen about 15,000 hectares of pine forest destroyed in July before the same fire sparked up again this week and tore through woodland.” The Financial Times reports that France has activated the EU’s civil protection mechanism, triggering help to arrive from firefighters in Poland, Germany, Austria, Greece and Romania. Politico explores how the British and French heatwaves are affecting energy security, food prices, trade flows and biodiversity.

UK energy industry told to help with cost of living or risk windfall tax
The Times Read Article

The Times reports that UK energy companies have been told to use their “huge” profits to help bill payers or face further windfall taxes during a meeting where prime minister Boris Johnson “unexpectedly” showed up. The Metro covers the story on its frontpage with the headline: “PM turns up for meeting.” The Times reports: “After analysis predicted that energy bills could top £5,000 next year, Nadhim Zahawi, the chancellor, told the big electricity companies the cost of living crisis was ‘not just the government’s problem’. Urging a ‘spirit of national unity’, he challenged energy bosses to come up with ways to soften the impact of soaring bills.” Reuters reports that, according to the UK, energy companies “agreed to help”. However, Press Association notes that the meeting “failed to produce any immediate concrete help for struggling consumers, with Johnson acknowledging any ‘significant fiscal decisions’ would be be a matter for his successor”. The Daily Mirror says Johnson is now being accused of “doing nothing” to help struggling families, in a frontpage story with the headline: “Clueless.”

The frontpages of the Times and the Daily Telegraph carries stories on what the candidates to succeed Johnson would do about the energy crisis. The Times reports that former chancellor Rishi Sunak would spend £10bn to “cover the total cost of rising energy bills for up to 16 million vulnerable people”. He has also pledged to reduce every UK household’s bill by £200 by abolishing VAT on energy, the Times reports. The paper also carries his comments in full. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that foreign secretary and leadership hopeful Liz Truss has ruled out a further windfall tax on energy companies, dismissing the measure as a “Labour idea”. The Daily Telegraph adds that she promised to lift the ban on fracking, saying: “We need to make sure we’re fracking in parts of the country where there is local support for it.” The newspaper adds: “However, whether there would be local support for drilling to start remains unclear.” The Independent reports on how Truss’s dislike of solar power would cause “more pain for farmers”.

Elsewhere, Press Association reports that Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the energy bill price cap rise “should not go ahead”. In a story trailed on its frontpage, the Daily Telegraph reports that British EDF customers pay more than twice that of their French counterparts for energy. In addition, the Times reports that Sam Laidlaw, the former Centrica boss and founder of Neptune Energy, has warned that “the windfall tax could limit the oil and gas explorer’s long-term investment in Britain”.

Scholz confident Germany can weather energy crisis in winter
The Washington Post Read Article

German chancellor Olaf Scholz has “pledged his government won’t leave citizens freezing or unable to pay their energy bills but acknowledged that his country faces considerable challenges in the coming months”, reports the Washington Post. It quotes Scholz saying during his annual summer news conference: “We will do everything to help citizens get through this difficult time”. Bloomberg adds that it is “the third package of financial assistance to offset surging inflation stoked by Russia’s move to cut gas supplies”. Reuters reports that Scholz’s Social Democrat-led government has introduced an energy levy to ease the strain for companies buckling under high gas prices and is combining that with relief measures for struggling households. In this context, he described the planned tax relief package by Finance minister Christian Lindner as “very, very helpful”, adds Die Welt. However, Scholz “did not want to commit himself to details or a schedule, even when asked”, says the outlet.

Meanwhile, Die Zeit says experts expect only around 1% of electricity in 2023 to be provided by nuclear power plants. It continues that the Greenpeace nuclear expert Heinz Smital does not consider the continued operation of the German nuclear power plants to be sensible given their small share in electricity generation, adding that the reactors in the coming year could initially only be operated with “empty” fuel elements. In addition, Smital is quoted saying: “Anyone who thinks that the continued operation of nuclear power plants will contribute to independence from Russia is very wrong” because almost half of the nuclear fuel used in the EU comes from Russia and Kazakhstan. The Washington Post carries an editorial saying that “Germany must keep – and expand – nuclear power”. It says that “for its own sake and the sake of the broader European economy, Germany must reverse course and retain nuclear power”, adding that in the future, “Berlin must find ways to increase its nuclear energy capability, which in March 2011 consisted of 17 reactors, producing one-quarter of all German electric power”.

Finally, Bild reports that “the German glaciers, which are already dying, are currently suffering from an extreme meltdown”. There are currently five glaciers in Germany – all in Bavaria, says the news. It adds that last year’s prognosis was saying that “the ice giants would be gone in ten years”. The glaciologist Olaf Eisen explains to Deutsche Press Agentur: “2022 will be a record year, that’s for sure. The only question is: how much worse will it be than in the previous record year 2003?”

UK: Burning imported wood in Drax power plant ‘doesn’t make sense’, says Kwarteng
The Guardian Read Article

There is continued coverage of business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s remarks about Drax, the biomass power station in northern England. The Guardian reports that Kwarteng told a private meeting of MPs this week that the importing of wood to burn in the Drax power station “is not sustainable” and “doesn’t make any sense”. The Guardian says: “The remarks are significant as the burning of biomass to produce energy is an important part of the UK government’s net zero strategy and has received £5.6bn in subsidies from energy bill payers over the last decade. Scientists and campaigners have long argued that burning wood to produce electricity is far from green.” The Financial Times, the Times and the Daily Mail carry comment reacting to Kwarteng’s intervention. The Daily Mail comment claims that “environmental levies…comprise up to 25% of household fuel bills”. [The real figure is 5%.] Meanwhile, Reuters reports on how the UK is looking to fund the negative emissions technology bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

Comment.

How to help with energy bills
Editorial, The Economist Read Article

An editorial in the Economist examines how the UK and other European countries can weather the energy bills crisis. It says: “With no immediate end to the crunch in sight, it is time for some hard-headed thinking about how to live with higher energy bills…The cheapest protection is to trade natural gas across national borders, which imf modelling suggests could nearly halve the blow to GDP in the worst-affected countries. Next, within domestic markets, price signals have a vital role to play in curbing demand and ensuring that precious gas gets to where it is most needed. Ceilings on the price of natural gas used by power generators, as in Spain and Portugal, or a cap on household bills, as in France, may serve as emergency measures when a shock is fleeting.” Elsewhere, an editorial in the Times also takes on this topic, saying: “The government needs to help those who face a real risk of poverty and financial support does need to be expanded…Ultimately, it is more efficient to target money directly to lower-income households, through universal credit, rather than tinker with the bills by these expedients.” An editorial in the Daily Mirror says: “A lower cap on energy prices and additional support for those most at risk of fuel poverty should be put in place now.” An editorial in the Daily Telegraph says: “Any extra support [the next prime minister] might offer for this winter must be combined with a plan to comprehensively reform the energy market and reassess the broken rules and faulty assumptions that have left Britain so exposed.” An editorial in the Daily Express says: “Bold measures are needed to stop families being pushed into a frightening crisis in the coming months.”

Elsewhere, the Financial Times carries an op-ed from business columnist Helen Thomas who argues “UK energy tax breaks are at odds with [the] cost-of-living crisis”. An analysis in the Times by whitehall editor Chris Smyth argues that cost-of-living has become an issue neither Tory leadership candidate can ignore any longer. Similarly, the Financial Times has a comment piece by its whitehall editor Sebastian Payne, which argues that Conservatives “cannot afford to waste anymore time” with the looming economic crisis. In the Daily Telegraph, business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says the next prime minister “should not be bounced into stupid energy policies by this mood of near hysteria”, adding: “Little by little, collective global action is plugging the Russia gap. Once we get over the hump of panic buying there is no longer a fundamental mismatch of global supply and demand.”

Elsewhere in the Daily Telegraph, journalist David Frost once again uses the energy crisis as an opportunity to make unsubstantiated claims about climate policy, saying: “Our energy policy has been criminally negligent. The choice by net zero proponents to rely on renewables and interconnectors, and to run down storage, means we face blackouts, hideous business-crushing costs, and people shivering and dying in the cold.” A separate, but similar Telegraph comment by columnist Alison Pearson says: “Is it the fault of the British people that their leaders have been seduced by the siren call of the Renewables Blob who keep claiming that green energy is incredibly cheap and storage will come along any day now?” A Daily Telegraph piece by chief city commentator Ben Marlow describes the Lib Dems’ plan to tackle the energy crisis as “radical”, but adds “at least they have one”. And economist Julian Jessop writes in the Daily Telegraph on why he thinks Gordon Brown’s idea to renationalise energy companies (see yesterday’s email) would be a “disaster”.

Science.

Sufficient conditions for rapid range expansion of a boreal conifer
Nature Read Article

White spruce trees are migrating northwards in the Arctic at a rate of more than four kilometres per decade, faster than any such species has been known to move in modern times, according to a new study. Scientists chronicle the discovery of nearly 7,000 white spruce trees in the Alaska wilderness and examine the possible mechanisms driving the tree migration. They find a “suite of favourable conditions”, including increasing air temperatures, increasing winter winds and deeper snowpack that may contribute to the abnormally fast migration. They write that their observations can help improve models of forest advance and provide “important insights into the environmental conditions converting tundra into forest”.

Fine-scale monitoring and mapping of biodiversity and ecosystem services reveals multiple synergies and few tradeoffs in urban green space management
Science of The Total Environment Read Article

A new study shows how well-managed green spaces in urban areas can be a boon to both nature and human health, while combatting climate change and biodiversity decline. Researchers evaluate urban green spaces in central Texas on how they affect biodiversity and a range of “ecosystem services”. They identify many ways in which such spaces can support both biodiversity and climate goals, such as a correlation between tree species diversity and carbon sequestration. The authors conclude: “Overall, our results indicate that many aspects of habitat quality, biodiversity and ecosystem services can be simultaneously supported in urban green spaces”.

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