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:
- The US plans to bolster the fuel supply to Europe, in case Russia cuts off gas and oil
- Newly added installed capacity of China’s wind and photovoltaic power exceeds 100GW in 2021
- Storm Ana kills at least three in Mozambique and Malawi
- Rising temperatures threaten future of Winter Olympics, say experts
- Influential asset owners group lifts its climate change game
- UK: Chancellor urged to offer stamp duty discounts to encourage green home upgrades
- Delivering the Glasgow Climate Pact
- Europe must get serious about renovating homes to ease energy crisis
- Active fires show an increasing elevation trend in the tropical highlands
The Biden administration in the US has announced that it is working with gas and oil suppliers from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia to keep Europe supplied in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports. The move is part of an effort to “blunt the threat that Russia could cut off fuel shipments in the escalating conflict over Ukraine”, it adds. The article states that Germany has been especially wary about publicly declaring that it would introduce sanctions on Moscow if it invades Ukraine, adding that the nation has increased its dependence on natural gas imports after shutting its nuclear power plants. Reuters notes that the EU depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies and that any disruption to this would exacerbate the existing energy crisis. A US official stressed that any action by Russia to cut off supplies to Europe would also have negative consequences on Moscow’s economy, the Hill adds. According to the Guardian, if gas were to be diverted to Europe it would largely have to be in the form of liquified natural gas (LNG), but as it stands “the entire global market in LNG would not be sufficient to make up the shortfall”. Reuters has an explainer titled: “Could more LNG supplies get to Europe in the event of a crisis?” It notes that making up for lost Russian supplies “would be difficult because the world’s largest LNG exporters are already producing as much as they can of the gas that is super-cooled into a liquid form for transportation. Such an effort would have to involve rerouting vessels already on the water or ready for departure.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that coal will play a “vital” role in helping to keep the “lights on” in northwest Europe this winter. It notes that while in countries such as the UK coal now only makes up a small portion of the power supply, amid efforts to phase the high-emissions fuel out, “grid operators are paying a fortune to some utilities to keep them available as a last resort”. Reuters reports that analysts have raised their carbon market average price forecasts for the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) in response to persistently high gas prices, driven by concerns over supply from Russia. It adds that high gas prices “make it more economical for some generators to burn coal, which produces around double the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as gas plants”.
Bloomberg reports that the UK government has set the target for its 2022-23 power capacity auction 14% higher than National Grid’s recommendation, in preparation for next winter, according to a letter from business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. It quotes the minister’s comment that: “This target reflects the broader uncertainties within the power sector.” Meanwhile, BBC News reports that the part-owner of a £1.2bn UK-to-France power cable project blocked by the government has threatened to take legal action. Alexander Temerko, whose businesses have donated £700,000 to Conservative MPs, also said he would bring unspecified legal action against Conservative trade minster Penny Mordaunt, following her comments about the cable to France threatening UK energy security.
China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, reports that the installed capacity of the country’s wind and solar power has been expanded by more than 100GW in 2021, in a move that “heralds a good beginning for the 14th five-year [plan period]”. Citing statistics from the National Energy Administration, the state energy regulator, CCTV also says that the installed capacity of China’s offshore wind power has “jumped to the world’s number one” after the nation installed 16.9 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity last year. China’s current offshore wind capacity stands at 26.38GW, the broadcaster adds. An article in City AM, based on a tweet by Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans, reports that China built more offshore wind capacity in 2021 than the whole world did in the last five years.
In the US, the Financial Times reports that the US solar power boom is “at risk of stalling”, partly due to supply chain issues following a ban on imports of polysilicon, a raw material for solar panels, from China-based Hoshine Silicon Industry. It notes that the US administration will also have to decide whether or not to extend tariffs on solar panels from China, a move that analysts say has pitted “US economic competition with China against the Biden administration’s climate policy”.
Meanwhile, CCTV reports on China’s president Xi Jinping’s latest directives at a “collective study session” by the Chinese leadership on emissions peaking and carbon neutrality. The official channel airs a 10-minute news clip, showing Xi stressing the importance of the targets. China’s state news agency Xinhua reports that, at the meeting, Xi “stressed profoundly analysing the country’s situation and tasks on advancing the carbon peaking and carbon neutrality work, and making solid efforts to implement decisions and arrangements made by the CPC Central Committee (a political organ consisting of the country’s most senior officials)”. South China Morning Post says Xi described the nation’s twin goals of hitting peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 as “not something we are told to do but something that we must do”. The Guardian focuses on a different aspect of the president’s speech, noting that he also said China’s climate goals should not come at the expense of energy and food security or the “normal life” of ordinary people. Quoting the Xinhua report, the newspaper points to Xi’s comment that “reducing emissions is not about reducing productivity, and it is not about not emitting at all”. Reuters says the Chinese leader was “signalling a more cautious approach to climate change as the economy slows”.
Elsewhere, the South China Morning Post reports that Beijing “has unveiled 10 measures to conserve energy and reduce emissions”. Separately, the Washington Post says that Beijing faced “spiking pollution levels”, while Reuter says that “particularly heavy smog shrouded” the Chinese capital as the authorities pledged to take actions to improve air quality for the game. A separate Washington Post article reports on China’s efforts to “control the weather” to ensure the successful running of the Olympics. Finally, S&P Global Platts reports that China’s push for a “green” Olympics “will constrain steel, zinc and aluminium production through March”. (See the story below about “fake snow” at the Winter Olympics.)
Tropical storm Ana has killed at least three people in Mozambique and Malawi after making landfall on Monday, according to authorities cited by Reuters. The newswire also notes that hundreds of homes have been partially or completely destroyed and dozens of people have been injured. It notes that Mozambique and other southern African countries have been repeatedly struck by severe storms and cyclones in recent years, adding that experts say they have become stronger “as waters have warmed due to climate change, while rising sea levels have made low-lying coastal areas vulnerable”. The Guardian reports that heavy flooding in Malawi has forced the main hydropower station to shut down, leaving much of the nation without electricity. Associated Press reporting from the Monday notes that the storm has already caused widespread flooding in Madagascar, raising the death toll from recent heavy rains in the country to 34 people and displacing more than 55,000.
Separately, in northern Kenya, herders lost tens of thousands of goats and sheep last week following torrential rain and “once-in-a-generation floods” that hit the region, according to Reuters. The newswire adds that these floods followed a drought from October to December which weakened the herds, noting that experts say climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of such droughts.
In California, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that following an unusual wildfire in January, scientists are warning of a longer or even a “continuous” fire season throughout the year. It notes that a study by the science and news organisation Climate Central estimates that the threat of wildfires in western states already lasts 105 days more today than it did in the 1970s. Finally, the Washington Post has a story about new research raising the “uncomfortable possibility” that climate change could not only make weather more severe but also harder to predict, meaning less time to prepare for floods, storms and heatwaves. “It seems that colder climates are just inherently more predictable than warmer ones,” one study author is quoted as saying.
The Guardian reports on a new study that concludes rising temperatures caused by climate change mean future Winter Olympics “will struggle to find host cities with enough snow and ice”. Specifically, the research finds that of 21 previous Winter Olympics cities, only one would be reliably cold enough by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trajectory, according to the newspaper. It notes that if emissions are “reduced in line with the Paris Agreement” [the study specifies that this means a low-emission RCP 2.6 scenario], nine cities would still be reliable in the 2080s. The Guardian has also produced graphics and charts to show the location of different Winter Olympics cities and their futures under climate change. The Independent also covers the story, noting that it comes as the Beijing Olympics begin next week, marking the first time events will be run entirely on artificial snow. According to the Times, this reliance on artificial snow – which it links to climate change – could be dangerous for athletes due to its composition, which makes ice formation more likely. It also notes that the new study “calls for more transparent assessments of the environmental impact of relying on artificial snow”. BusinessGreen says the artificial snow could lead to further environmental damage due to pesticides that are used to keep manmade snow cold. The BBC News Reality Check team has an assessment of China’s pledge to deliver a “green and clean” Winter Olympics, which critiques Beijing’s plan to make this the “first carbon-neutral Games”, which has involved constructing new wind and solar projects and relocating a forest from the site of one of the ski runs.
Meanwhile, Sky News reports on a warning from UK archaeologists that 22,500 sites of archaeological significance across the nation are under threat from climate change. The news website states that as peatlands dry out due to shifting weather patterns, the preserved, buried artefacts they contain – including organic materials such as wood, leather, textiles and sometimes even human flesh – could be destroyed.
A major investor group with $10tn under its control has pledged to expand its plans for cutting emissions from its portfolios, the Financial Times reports. The UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, which is made up of 69 large institutions, said its members would aim to reduce emissions linked to their investments by 49-65% by 2030, it adds. The piece notes that the group’s framework now also includes sectors where emissions cuts are difficult to achieve, such as agriculture, concrete and aluminium, along with infrastructure debt equity and infrastructure debt. However, it notes that the plan retains features that have drawn criticism from campaigners, who argue, for example, that asset managers must stop the financing of new oil and gas projects altogether.
The Daily Telegraph has a piece titled “counting the huge cost of net zero – and who’s going to pay it”. It is based on work by the consultancy McKinsey, which concludes that the global effort to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 will cost $275tn in spending on physical assets, working out at around $9.2tn annually, which is an increase of around $3.5tn compared with today. The piece says that “despite the costs, it may be the only good option”, quoting McKinsey as saying the rewards would “far exceed the mere avoidance of the substantial, and possibly catastrophic, dislocations that would result from unabated climate change”. BusinessGreen has an analysis piece that explores the McKinsey report further.
An energy-saving stamp duty incentive could be “transformational” for reducing household emissions and energy bills in the UK, according to a coalition of over 40 industry groups, businesses, and charities cited by BusinessGreen. The Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG) has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak to make the case for such an incentive, which would involve adding green stipulations to the stamp duty paid by those buying land or property in the UK, it continues. The news website says that the group argue this would help protect new homeowners against high energy bills. An “exclusive” story in the Independent states that UK homes are “not becoming green quickly enough due to flaws and gaps in government support”. It cites the the first wave of the £3.8bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, which saw a trial run of £62m to 17 councils earlier this year. The piece quotes a councillor who says “we need further and faster support from government”.
A piece by Camilla Born, advisor to COP26 president Alok Sharma, on LinkedIn provides a brief overview of the UK presidency’s priorities for this year, 10 weeks on from the conclusion of the Glasgow summit. “Did we achieve more than we hoped? Yes. Does that mean we have time to take a step-back from climate diplomacy? No,” she writes. The piece emphasises “a new era in action on adaptation and loss and damage” and the importance of climate finance. Born says that at the event the world “internalised a new set of benchmarks for what good climate action looks like”, namely ending coal, curbing methane emissions and reversing deforestation. She adds that countries and investors also started to consider how to shift the trillions in climate finance needed to address global warming. Citing Sharma’s comment that “the goal of limiting warming to 1.5C was still alive but its pulse was weak”, Born notes that “in the harsh light of climate science [countries] recognised they would need to go further and come back with NDC’s – national climate plans – aligned with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement”. At COP27 in Egypt later this year, the world will be on the look out for evidence of policy and legislative change, as well as changes in national headline targets, to match this ambition. “As presidency we will work with countries to help fulfil this expectation, building through fora like the G20, G7 as well as multilateral institutions, our campaign architecture – such as the Energy Transition Council – and bilateral partnerships,” she says.
The Independent has a comment piece co-authored by climate activists Vanessa Nakate and Luisa Neubauer which describes the political response to climate change as “absurd”. They write that as they both turn 25, “so far, no climate conference, political promise or ‘deal’ has helped us. The loss and damage caused by this crisis grows week by week. By the time we both reach 30, the decisive decade will almost be over.”
The EU needs to urgently cut its gas consumption through better insulated homes and accelerating the take-up of renewable heating, according to Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the Paris Agreement and chief executive of the European Climate Foundation (which funds Carbon Brief) in the Financial Times. She writes that with more than 40% of the gas the EU imports used for heating buildings, and a third of European homes using gas for heating, the region needs a reliable, local alternative amid the on-going gas price crisis and mounting tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Tubiana notes that the European Commission has already pledged a “renovation wave” as part of the EU green deal and “now it is time for member states to launch this in earnest”. She continues: “We need to match this political will and public desire with a credibly financed vision of the warm and affordable homes we want to live in, and with the laws and policies to make it happen”. The piece also states that such moves would both help states to meet their Paris Agreement climate goals and provide a “huge economic opportunity for rebuilding a post-pandemic economy”.
Writing in the New York Times about the unfolding events at the Ukraine border, columnist Thomas Friedman picks up on a line spoken by US president Joe Biden in a news conference on the subject. According to Friedman, Biden told Russian president Vladimir Putin that Russia has something more important to worry about, namely “a burning tundra that will not freeze again naturally”. Friedman continues: “I’m pretty sure this was the first time a US president ever tried to persuade a Russian leader to get out of his neighbour’s front yard and focus instead on saving his own backyard – because as Siberia is affected by climate change, it will threaten Russia’s stability a lot more than anything that happens in Ukraine.”
The number of active fires in the tropical highlights has increased since the start of the 21st century, while the opposite trend has been seen in the lowlands, new research finds. The authors use the “MODIS Collection 6 active fire products” to investigate variations in the elevation of active fires over 2001-19. The study finds that 77% of fires over this time were seen in the tropical highlands. Meanwhile, the annual number of active fires across the globe decreased over this time period, with an average of 4.5m fires recorded per year.