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Daily Briefing |


Briefing date 17.01.2022
Tonga volcano may erupt again, New Zealand scientists warn

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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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Tonga volcano may erupt again, New Zealand scientists warn
The Times Read Article

There is widespread global coverage of the huge eruption on Saturday of the undersea Hunga-Tonga-Ha’pai volcano in the Pacific. The Times says it “could erupt again” after “Nasa satellite images showed a dark cloud of ash being flung ten miles into the air”. The newspaper adds: “Prof Shane Cronin of Auckland University said that studies of eruptions of the volcano in about 200AD and 1100AD suggested it was likely to remain active for some time…’The eruption episode could last several weeks or months,‘ Cronin said.” BBC News says “up to 80,000 people” in Tonga could be affected after the eruption “covered the Pacific islands in ash, cut power and severed communications”. No deaths have been reported so far.

Climate scientists are still monitoring the eruption. Writing on Twitter yesterday, Carbon Brief’s Dr Zeke Hausfather said: “We finally have post-eruption SO2 [sulphur dioxide] measurements in and it looks like it is probably not enough to meaningfully affect global temperatures. That being said, more measurements will be taken, and more eruptions are possible.”

Meanwhile, the Times reports that Sentinel-1B, “one of two high-powered satellites that work together as ‘Europe’s eyes on Earth’ has shut down, cutting off a leading source of data that helps scientists monitor the planet’s health and improve humanity’s wellbeing”. Politico says: “One of Earth’s most important satellites for observing disasters, climate change and environmental destruction went dark in the days before Christmas – and it’s not waking up.”

UK households facing ‘fuel stress’ will treble to 6.3m – thinktank
The Guardian Read Article

Several UK outlets cover a new report published by the Resolution Foundation warning that, says the Guardian, that “the number of households suffering from ‘fuel stress’ – those spending at least 10% of their family budgets on energy bills – is set to treble to 6.3m overnight when the new energy price cap comes in on 1 April”. The newspaper adds: “Fuel stress will no longer be confined to the poorest households, according to a study by the Resolution Foundation. Low- and middle-income families will also find it hard to cope as they spend a far greater share of their family budget on these essentials than higher earners. The forecast will add to calls for the government to take action to avert a cost-of-living catastrophe after global energy market prices surged to record levels.” The Sun says the report shows: “Struggling families across the ‘Red Wall’ are set to be the worst clobbered by the cost of living crisis. One in three across the North East and West Midlands are set to be plunged into fuel poverty because of the hikes.” It adds: “Anxious Tory MPs have warned Boris Johnson that he must fix the cost of living crisis if he wants to stay on as prime minister. One told The Sun: ‘He needs to ditch the green c**p and sort out the cost of living. Stop banging on about foie gras and bringing in pints of champagne and go back to the bread and butter issues which actually affect people.’” The Times also covers the same report and quotes Jonny Marshall, a senior economist at the foundation: “Fuel stress levels are particularly high among pensioner households, and those in poorly insulated homes – a stark reminder of the need to modernise Britain’s leaky housing stock and curb national dependency on gas for power and heating.” Separately, the Sun says “Boris Johnson risks losing Tory voters by keeping VAT on energy bills, a decisive poll reveals today”. It continues: “A whopping 85% of Brits who backed the PM in 2019 say ditching the 5% levy would be a vital saving when heating costs rocket in April.” The Independent, meanwhile, reports that three in four Conservative voters support a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to help support struggling families, according to a poll by Savanta ComRes. (See Comment below for more on the cost-of-living crisis.)

In other UK news, the Guardian reports that “Scotland’s largest-ever auction of permits to construct offshore windfarms is expected to raise up to £860m when the results are announced on Monday”. It adds: “Crown Estate Scotland, which is running the auction, hopes that windfarms with as much as 10 gigawatts of new generating capacity will be built over the next decade, effectively doubling the amount of electricity generated in Scottish waters in a transition which has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs. The programme, known as ScotWind, has attracted frenzied interest from domestic and international bidders, and could set new records for values placed on the plots of seabed being leased for turbines.” BBC News runs the same story under the headline: “Will ScotWind auction deliver a renewables revolution?”

Meanwhile, the i newspaper says that “analysts are warning that the cost [in the UK] of electric car batteries is set to rise this year for the first time ever, in a reversal of the usual trend for green technology to become cheaper”. And the Guardian says that “a high-profile UK fracking company has been taken over by a green energy group and now has an anti-fracking campaigner as a director”.

China coal output hits record in Dec and in 2021 – stats bureau
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports on new data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics showing that “China’s coal output hit record highs in December and in the full year of 2021, as the government continued to encourage miners to ramp up production to ensure sufficient energy supplies in the winter heating season”. The newswire adds that “China’s 2021 power consumption rose 10.3% year-on-year to 8.31 trillion kilowatt hours (kWh), the National Energy Administration said in a separate statement”.

Separately, Reuters also reports that China’s coal imports dropped in December – from an 11-month high in November – but its full-year imports in 2021 were the highest since 2013. The newswire says that China imported 30.95m tonnes of coal in December while its all-year imports stood at 323.22m tonnes. It cites statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China. Mysteel – a Shanghai-based website publishing commodity news and analyses – reports that China’s “coal and lignite imports” increased 6.6% year on year during 2021. The outlet notes that “the on-year growth was the fastest mainly during June-December due to domestic supply tightness”.

Meanwhile, Guangming Daily – a Chinese state-run newspaper – has an article titled “the Beijing Winter Olympics will achieve carbon neutrality completely”. The publication says that organisers of the games elaborated on their carbon-neutral ambition in a new report on Thursday. The Global Times – a state-run tabloid – says that, according to the report, the Beijing Winter Olympics “had achieved 98% of its sustainable development commitments as of 30 September 2021, with carbon emissions during the Games set to be fully neutralised”. Xinhua – the state news agency – has a video piece listing the specific “carbon neutral” measures.

Elsewhere, S&P Global Platts notes that “higher carbon prices in China could result in tighter supply of commodities like metals and energy”. It says that such a situation would, in turn, result in higher commodity prices “that will eventually be passed on to consumers”. It cites analysts from Swiss investment bank UBS. Finally, an opinion piece carried by the South China Morning Post examines the “evolution of language used to describe global warming”.

EU budget offers debt loophole to battle climate change
Politico Read Article

Politico says that, “according to five EU officials and a briefing document obtained by Politico”, the European Union’s “ €1.2tn war chest – also known as its long-term budget – has emerged as a possible workaround on how to finance the expensive fight against climate change despite carrying heavy debt from the pandemic”. It adds: “European Commission staffers and treasury officials are debating the idea in Brussels behind closed doors…this push is continuing even though frugal-minded countries such as Austria, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands have already voiced skepticism over the concept. Deputy finance ministers discussed last Tuesday the idea of using the EU’s next seven-year budget, which runs through 2027, to help Europe reduce its use of fossil fuels. That meeting was preparation ahead of their bosses’ monthly meeting in Brussels next week.”

Meanwhile, the Financial Times says that “Europe’s gas crisis could speed the transition to clean energy and the adoption of green hydrogen as a viable alternative to oil and gas, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena)”.

Global heating linked to early birth and damage to babies’ health, scientists find
The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian reports that six new studies have found that “the climate crisis is damaging the health of foetuses, babies and infants across the world”. The newspaper adds: “Scientists discovered increased heat was linked to fast weight gain in babies, which increases the risk of obesity in later life. Higher temperatures were also linked to premature birth, which can have lifelong health effects, and to increased hospital admissions of young children. Other studies found exposure to smoke from wildfires doubled the risk of a severe birth defects, while reduced fertility was linked to air pollution from fossil fuel burning, even at low levels. The studies, published in a special issue of the journal Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, spanned the globe from the US to Denmark, Israel and Australia.” The Evening Standard also covers the new findings: “One of the studies found that pre-term births were 16% more likely in areas experiencing heatwaves.”

Met Office forecasts a Britain of militia war, bartering and child labour
The Times Read Article

The Times covers a “ground-breaking project” commissioned by the UK Met Office which explores five different paths the nation could take up to 2100 as climate change advances. The newspaper describes one of the scenarios: “It is 2070 and Britain as we once knew it has vanished. The government has collapsed, the police and justice system no longer exists. Militias control feudal microstates within the UK, with people accepting severe restrictions on freedom in exchange for work and protection.” It explains the context: “The scenario is one of five different outlooks called shared socioeconomic pathways, a UK-version of a framework used by international climate scientists and economists to examine how societies and economies might change over this century. The Met Office report was carried out by Cambridge Econometrics, a consultancy firm, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and the universities of Edinburgh and Exeter. It was funded by the Met Office and UK Research and Innovation, a government-funded body.” The Mail on Sunday also covers the new scenarios, saying: “It is a bleak forecast even by the Met Office’s standards – the complete collapse of society leaving armed militias and criminal gangs to roam the land unchallenged.”


The Guardian view on high energy prices: buffer stocks can stabilise them
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

An editorial in the Guardian focuses on rising energy prices: “Carbon-based energy will fade, but it won’t disappear completely…Britain should look to John Maynard Keynes for answers. The basic fault of commodity markets, he saw, was the private sector’s failure to make effective use of stockpiling…Producing and consuming countries have conflicting interests when it comes to key commodities but they share an interest in stable prices as a pre-condition for sustained investment. Keynes saw a pricing policy as a solution to high, unstable prices. This makes sense but is anathema to current economic thought. Britain closed its last big gas storage facility in 2017, a shortsighted decision by Centrica that left the country able to store only 2% of its annual demand. Other big gas importers, by contrast, can store at least 20%. As the economist Isabella Weber notes, the orthodox view today is that the state should put ‘free prices’ above welfare considerations…The answer to soaring bills is not to raise interest rates and make families poorer. Instead, Britain should have a serious conversation about key commodities as a source of power and their absence as a strategic vulnerability; and heed the wisdom of the past to deal with crises of the present.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the Sunday Telegraph says “the government has slouched towards social democracy…raising taxes with greater abandon than Labour ever did, obsessing about achieving carbon net-zero at extreme speed, regardless of the price, and failing to tackle the explosion in inflation and other costs…Are Extinction Rebellion, anti-car activists, supporters of big government and higher taxes and Greta Thunberg now queuing up to defend the prime minister? Successive Tory governments have bent over backwards to give the Left everything it wants with no electoral payoff whatsoever. Key to political survival is loyalty, to remember who put you where you are and why.”

In other UK comment, Ben Marlow in the Daily Telegraph says “France’s nuclear-powered domestic supply has meant its energy has remained cheaper, allowing it to ride out the shock for much longer…A plan to cap power price rises at 4% will be implemented with state-backed supplier EDF forced to shoulder the bulk of the burden…True, such intervention is not without its pitfalls, but at least [Macron has] acted decisively, which is more than can said of those in Whitehall”. In the Sunday Telegraph, Liam Halligan argues for the government to “scrap VAT on energy now and claim a Brexit dividend”. An editorial in the climate-sceptic opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal focuses on the UK, saying: “The cause of this fiasco is green-energy favouritism amid a global surge in fuel prices.” In New Scientist, Adam Vaughan counters such views saying in an analysis piece: “Rising energy costs have seen wind farms substantially refund environmental levies for the first time, showing they are likely to be the solution to, not a cause of, soaring bills.”

Other outlets focus on Boris Johnson’s future as UK prime minister as he faces the fallout from the “partygate” scandals. The Sunday Telegraph pointedly carries an interview with Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister who recently resigned from government. He tells the paper: “I accept climate change is a problem – I just don’t think it’s necessarily the most significant problem the country faces at the moment. And I feel we are rushing at some of this stuff, bringing in unnecessary measures too soon.“ In the Times, Charlotte Ivers says: “Bereft without Brexit, the Tories have a new bone to fight over: net-zero.” And in a SubStack post, Joss Garman of the European Climate Foundation [which funds Carbon Brief], asks: “Have the Downing Street parties put Net Zero in jeopardy?”

California needs to do more than just throw money at climate change. It must act
Editorial, Los Angeles Times Read Article

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times notes that “for the second year in a row, California has been blessed with a massive budget surplus, and governor Gavin Newsom is again seeking to spend billions of those dollars responding to climate change”. It continues: “Newsom is right to take advantage of this windfall to do more to adapt to the warming climate and push the state toward a carbon-free future, and the Legislature should support his proposal. But allocating money is not enough…Tens of billions worth of climate funding sounds like a lot, but in reality that spending will not go very far unless it is backed up with new and more aggressive targets and mandates to slash greenhouse gas emissions and swiftly phase out fossil fuels.” In the Washington Post, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says: “2021 was climate chaos. Let’s make 2022 better.”

Meanwhile, Henry Mance in the Financial Times says: “If air travel has lost its charm, that’s no bad thing. We should be relieved the pandemic is weaning people off flying, and use the pause to boost green aviation.” And the Daily Express carries an extract of Hot Air, the new book by the Met Office’s Prof Peter Stott, under the headline: “Sly tactics of the climate change deniers and how they gamble with our planet.”


Climate pathways behind phytoplankton-induced atmospheric warming
Biogeosciences Read Article

Phytoplankton can cause local warming of the atmosphere of 0.71C by altering the air-to-sea CO2 exchange mechanism, resulting in higher atmospheric CO2 levels, new research finds. The authors use an Earth system model to determine “the contribution of air–sea heat versus CO2 fluxes in the phytoplankton-induced atmospheric warming”. They note that phytoplankton absorb light, which can affect ocean heat exchange, CO2 exchange, dissolved CO2, solubility of CO2 and sea-ice-covered area. They add that phytoplankton also drive an atmospheric cooling of 0.02C by increasing the amount of “outgoing longwave radiation”.

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