Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
Expert analysis direct to your inbox.
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.
Sign up here.
Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK bets big on nuclear, offshore wind in energy security push
- Germany unveils plans to accelerate green energy expansion
- Britain to launch public system operator for future energy mix
- China state refiners shun new Russian oil trades
- US lawmakers slam Big Oil for high gasoline prices
- ‘Major misjudgment’: how the Tories got their energy strategy so wrong
- Scientists have just told us how to solve the climate crisis – will the world listen?
- Are terrestrial biosphere models fit for simulating the global land carbon sink?
There is widespread coverage of the UK “energy security strategy” announced via press release at 10.30pm on Wednesday. (The strategy remains unpublished.) Bloomberg says the strategy “ramped up plans to build new nuclear power stations and offshore windfarms”. It outlines the key elements listed in the government press release: an “ambition” to develop “up to” 24 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2050; an “ambition” for “up to” 50GW of offshore wind by 2030, up from the current target of 40GW and including “up to” 5GW of floating wind; a new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas; £30m to help develop heat pumps; a consultation on planning rules for solar projects, which “could” grow fivefold by 2035; and an “aim” to double the government’s “ambition” for hydrogen projects to 10GW, with at least half from “green” hydrogen. Bloomberg notes that the plan had been due for publication in early March, but was delayed by “wrangle[ing] with the Treasury over additional funding for nuclear power and energy efficiency measures. In the event, Wednesday’s announcement contained little new funding beyond some money for heat pumps and [a £120m] nuclear fund.”
BBC News says up to eight new nuclear reactors “could” be built on existing sites as part of the strategy. It adds that under the proposals, “up to” 95% of the UK’s electricity “could” come from low-carbon sources by 2030. Analysis within the article by BBC News environment and energy analyst Roger Harrabin says environmentalist and energy experts “cannot believe the government has offered no new policies on saving energy by insulating buildings”. He adds: “They say energy efficiency would immediately lower bills and emissions, and is the cheapest way to improve energy security.” He quotes a “Downing Street source” saying the strategy was now being seen as an energy “supply” strategy. The Financial Times leads with the ambition for a “fivefold boost to offshore wind power capacity”. It says the strategy “backed away from setting firm targets for other cheap renewable technologies”, promising instead to “consult on creating ‘local partnerships’ in a ‘limited number of supportive communities in England’ that might wish to host new onshore wind”. It says: “Few if any of the measures contained in the strategy will relieve the immediate financial pressure on British households from spiralling energy bills.” The Times reports: “The 40-page strategy will commit to reviewing planning regulations for nuclear and offshore wind.” It adds that planning rules could also be changed to encourage the development of solar power. It quotes a “government source” saying: “The business case for renewables is absolutely there. The issue is planning and consenting. So it’s about streamlining that: the best thing we can do is enable the technology and get out of the way.”
A frontpage story in the Daily Telegraph says the plan aims for “vast increases in nuclear, wind and solar power”. It says that after existing plans to approve one new nuclear plant during this parliament, the strategy points to two more approvals in the parliament after the next election. (Governments cannot bind their successors.) The paper notes: “The strategy includes few hard number commitments to new spending, likely to see critics question its deliverability.” The i newspaper says the Treasury “has agreed to bring three nuclear projects to a final investment decision before 2030”, starting with Sizewell C in Suffolk before the next election and – according to “Whitehall sources” – this would be “followed by Wylfa in Anglesey and then Oldbury near Bristol next parliament”. It adds: “The proposals mean four power stations, each hosting two nuclear reactors, [would] be either under construction or given the go-ahead within the next eight years, committing to one new nuclear reactor a year, rather than one a decade.” (Sky News is one of several outlets instead reporting that the strategy “targets the building of one nuclear reactor a year”. This appears to be incorrect.) The i newspaper says the prime minister “was forced to scrap onshore wind and solar targets from the plans, following warnings from Tory backbenchers that he would face a major rebellion”. It says an earlier draft of the strategy had put forward proposed targets for the technologies.
A frontpage story for the Guardian has the print headline: “PM’s push for nuclear power splits Tories and angers green groups.” Online, it says the plan puts nuclear “at heart of UK’s energy strategy”. The paper quotes one “insider” calling the preparation of the strategy “chaos”. It says ambition for onshore wind is missing from the strategy due to “opposition from within the Conservative party”. Another Daily Telegraph article says that as part of the strategy, the government “plans to move £160 of annual levies on to gas bills to encourage homeowners to choose greener methods of heating their home and help end the UK’s reliance on gas”. It adds: “The government has given no timeline for the switch, but has previously suggested it would wait until gas prices come down.”
Sky News “analysis” quoting Carbon Brief deputy editor Dr Simon Evans explains how “speeding up the change to net-zero [might] save us all money”. The Daily Mail coverage says of the ambition for 95% low-carbon power by 2030: “But it was unclear last night precisely how the government could achieve this without energy bills rocketing.” BusinessGreen, Politico, Press Association and the Independent also have the story. Reuters coverage of the strategy says the UK will ban Russian oil and coal by the end of the year. The Sun also reports the coal ban.
Separate coverage from BBC News looks at the plan to “accelerate domestic production of oil and gas in the North Sea” as part of the strategy, with a licensing round to launch “this autumn”. (The average time from licensing to production in the North Sea is 28 years.) An article for the Guardian previewed this aspect of the strategy.
The German government has presented plans to “speed up the expansion of renewable energy, as the need to reduce the country’s heavy reliance on Russian fossil fuels adds urgency to its green transition plans”, Reuters reports. It says the package “envisages green energy accounting for 80% of the power mix in Europe’s biggest economy by 2030, up from about 40% now and a previous target of 65%”. The newswire adds that further legislation is expected later this year ,“in particular regarding energy efficiency in buildings and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector”. Associated Press says the 600-page “Easter package” has been approved by the German cabinet and “lays out ambitious goals for the expansion of offshore power and declares the installation of renewable energy to be of ‘overriding public interest’ – a trump card meant to cut through Germany’s often lengthy bureaucratic processes”. Targets include expanding offshore wind from 8GW to 30GW by 2030 and 40GW by 2035, as well as more than doubling onshore wind to 115GW by 2030 and “almost quadrupling the existing [solar] capacity to 215GW by the next decade”. News channel n-tv reports that federal finance minister Christian Lindner calls for the exploration of domestic oil and gas reserves. Another Reuters piece says Lindner “wants Europe’s biggest economy to stop imports of Russian oil and gas as soon as possible, but it is not feasible immediately, he told Die Zeit weekly”. China Dialogue asks whether Germany can “wean itself off Russian oil and gas”.
A comment for Taggespiegel Background says the Easter package has been met with “scepticism”. It notes that the Free Democrats, part of the governing coalition, “considers a complete decarbonisation of power generation in 13 years to be hardly achievable”.
Finally, Clean Energy Wire reports that “German industry association BDI said it supports the European Commission’s proposal to ban the import of coal from Russia in reaction to possible Russian war crimes in Ukraine, but warned against extending the ban to gas imports”.
The UK government has announced plans to launch a publicly owned energy system operator, Reuters reports, to “help the country meet its net-zero emissions climate target”. The “Future System Operator” will, the newswire says, “oversee the integration of technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage into existing gas and electricity systems”. The Financial Times says the change will require primary legislation. The Times quotes business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng saying the shift to net-zero requires “a shift to a more ‘whole system’ approach, coordinating the ever more integrated electricity and gas systems, both onshore and offshore, while looking ahead to the emerging markets of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage”. BusinessGreen and Bloomberg also have the story.
Reuters reports in an “exclusive” that “China’s state refiners are honouring existing Russian oil contracts but avoiding new ones despite steep discounts”. The move heeded “Beijing’s call for caution as western sanctions mount against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine”, the newswire says. It notes that it had learned the information from “six people”. Nikkei Asia reports that PetroChina, Sinopec, and CNOOC – China’s “big three” state-owned oil and gas companies – are raising their capital investment budgets this year to “the highest level seen since 2014 amid an energy security push from Beijing to boost domestic production”.
Meanwhile, Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) – described as China’s “largest” electric-vehicle (EV) battery manufacturer – is “set to complete its first investment in Europe after gaining approval for a facility in Germany”, the South China Morning Post reports. The outlet says that the move would put CATL “closer to Tesla and other major customers”. Citing a company statement from Tuesday, the newspaper notes that CATL had received the “green light to produce battery cells in the state of Thuringia” in central Germany as part of its €1.8bn ($2bn) “bet to capture the global shift in demand for EVs”. Yicai also covers the news, adding that CATL plans to “create 2,000 jobs” in Germany. Elsewhere, an opinion piece on Bloomberg highlights that the US is “losing the EV battery race to China”. It says that “China is already well ahead of the competition and has cornered 60% of the world’s powerpack supply”.
Additionally, the Beijing municipal government issued guidelines on pollution prevention and control on Wednesday, stating that the goal is to “significantly improve the level of ecological conservation and basically eliminate the days of heavy air pollution by 2025”, the state-run newspaper Global Times reports. According to China Daily, another state-run paper, China’s State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) – a state-owned electricity generation company – is “gearing up” to expand its nuclear power-based heating projects to “the whole Jiaodong peninsula” on China’s east coast, following the “successful completion” of the country’s “first” such commercial project in Haiyang, a county-level city in Shandong province. Separately, China Energy News says that in the first quarter of 2022, China’s national railway transported “350m tonnes of thermal coal, an increase of 21.54m tonnes or 6.5% compared with the same period last year”.
Finally, Nature has three articles about China. One of them features Qiang Zheng, a microbiologist at Xiamen University in southeast China who is “working to understand” how oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO2). The second focuses on Jie Zeng, a chemist at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in eastern China. He explains how he “captures” the CO2 produced by heavy manufacturing and uses it “productively” in batteries. A third article assesses China’s efforts in pursuing its goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060.
Oil executives “defended themselves in the US Congress on Wednesday from charges by lawmakers that they are gouging Americans with high fuel prices”, Reuters reports. It says the firms said they are boosting energy output. Bloomberg says the executives were accused by Democrats of “profiteering”, with some in the party calling for a windfall tax. BBC News says they “vowed to increase production this year as they defended themselves from accusations of profiteering from the war in Ukraine”. The Hill also has the story.
Analysis from the Guardian asks “how the Tories got their energy strategy so wrong”. It says “betting big on nuclear, hydrogen, oil and gas while passing over energy saving measures…is a huge missed opportunity”. Analysis from the Independent says the strategy “looks doomed to fail on its own terms”. Press Association looks at the options to cut reliance on Russian fossil fuels and curb energy bills. A comment for the Guardian asks why the government is backing nuclear “when onshore wind is so much better”. A comment from Mirror environment editor Nada Farhoud (not yet online) says: “A rapid expansion of our vast renewable resources and a nationwide drive to better insulate homes has long been championed as an easy, quick and cheap way to keep bills low and safeguard the health of the planet. Instead, the government is set to order more drilling for gas and oil in the North Sea in defiance of its own net-zero targets.” Farhoud also cites Carbon Brief analysis that found nearly 650 onshore wind and solar projects have planning permission and could, if built, save more gas that the UK currently imports from Russia. A comment for the Daily Express (not yet online) from former energy secretary Andrea Leadsom says the strategy “could not be more timely” given rising energy bills. But she says she is “concerned [it] may not do enough to tackle the cost of energy this winter”. Leadsom calls for better energy saving advice and a “permissive” planning regime for renewables and fracking where there is community support.
Commenting in the Guardian, Prof Simon Lewis from the University of Leeds and University College London writes that “despite the despair of mounting global problems”, the latest IPCC report “shows some grounds for hope” as it “covers solutions” and “is essentially a manifesto for ending the fossil fuel age”. He points out that its “blunt and clear” summary “acknowledges realities that scientists and campaigners have known for years but governments often avoided directly admitting”, such as the fact that “North America and Europe have made the greatest contribution to the crisis we are living through”, one “driven by how the world’s wealthy currently live, consume and invest.” According to Lewis, “the most heartening section of the report is on alternatives to fossil fuel use” and that “there is a cheaper, cleaner way”. He concludes that “with the tsunami of suffering that is about to engulf UK households from soaring energy costs set by skyrocketing gas prices, everyone in government needs to see this message”.
In another comment in the Guardian, climate scientist Peter Kalmus writes that he “hate[s] being the Cassandra” and that he’d “rather just be with my family and do science[,] but feel[s] morally compelled to sound the alarm”. He writes that “if everyone could see what I see coming, society would switch into climate emergency mode and end fossil fuels in just a few years” and that “[t]here is no way to fool physics”. He finds that “business as usual” juxtaposed with current and near-future climate disasters is “so surreal that I often find myself reviewing the science to make sure it’s really happening, a sort of scientific nightmare arm-pinch”. After years of “explor[ing] other ways to create social change…at no small risk to my scientific career”, convinced that “facts alone were not persuading world leaders to take action”, Kalmus asks “[h]ow can I plead any harder?” He concludes that it’s time everyone joined the “ranks of those who selflessly risk their freedom and put their bodies on the line for the Earth” and that “solidarity is a wonderful balm.”
Leading epidemiologist Prof Fiona Stanley writing in the Guardian argues that “it seems that powerful industries – fossil fuel, tobacco, alcohol and sugar/fast foods – have much more influence on government decisions that affect our children than our careful research, which, if implemented, would vastly improve public health for all and reduce the need for expensive health expenditure in the future.” Given the reversal of a landmark ruling “that found the Australian government had a legal duty to children when assessing fossil fuel projects”, she asks “who has a duty of care to protect children from harm caused by climate change…and what about the increasing evidence that changes in climate and environmental degradation contribute to pandemics such as Covid?”
Meanwhile, in a piece for the climate-sceptic opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, chief executive of brokerage and advisory firm Strategas Jason De Sena Trennert writes that “[t]he widespread exploration and production of fossil fuels that started in Titusville, not quite 170 years ago, has done more to benefit the lives of ordinary people than any other technological advance in history”. He points out that someone who “can afford a Tesla [might] probably find it hard to imagine that there are some 3.5 billion people on Earth who have no reasonably reliable access to electricity”. He adds that “even less obvious may be the way rich countries’ pursuit of carbon neutrality at almost any cost limits economic opportunities for the world’s poor and poses serious geopolitical risks to the West.”
Finally, in the Atlantic, staff writer Robinson Meyer argues that “the world’s most ambitious climate goal – to keep the planet’s average temperature from rising more than 1.5C above its preindustrial level – is still technically feasible”, but is “probably impossible to achieve” and getting there “has never seemed particularly likely”. He argues that “allowing a fantasy of 1.5C to outlast its feasibility could curdle hope into bad assumptions, foolish thinking, or worse”.
A new paper assesses how well terrestrial biosphere models reproduce the processes that drive the CO2 exchange between land and atmosphere. The authors note that reference datasets based on observations – mainly derived from field measurements and satellite images – “can differ considerably, causing benchmark scores to be low”. Model scores “are often of similar magnitude as benchmark scores, implying that model performance is reasonable given how different reference data are”. The authors conclude that “the performance of models is encouraging given how uncertain reference data are, but that ample potential for improvements remains”.