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Daily Briefing

28.10.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING UK cuts taxes for short-haul flights in budget ahead of COP26
UK cuts taxes for short-haul flights in budget ahead of COP26

News.

UK cuts taxes for short-haul flights in budget ahead of COP26
Bloomberg Read Article

There is widespread coverage of UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s third budget, delivered yesterday just a week after the government published its net-zero strategy and only days before hosting the COP26 climate summit. Bloomberg reports that Sunak “promised to cut taxes on fuel and flying” in a move that is “likely to anger environmental campaigners”. It adds that the chancellor also said he would increase air passenger duty on long-haul flights: “A Treasury official said that the effect of the changes to the tax would be carbon neutral when the cut to levies for domestic flights is balanced against the rise in ones for long-haul journeys.” The Press Association via Belfast Telegraph runs the headline: “Chancellor criticised for lack of climate action ahead of COP26 talks.” The Financial Times runs under the headline: “Green campaigners hit out at Sunak’s tax cut on domestic flights.” It says the rail industry has also criticised the move, quoting the head of the Rail Delivery Group saying: “If the government is serious about the environment, it makes little sense to cut air passenger duty on routes where a journey in Britain can already be made by train in under five hours.” The paper adds: “Sunak offered no major new green spending promises. Instead, he re-announced an array of previous commitments.” In coverage featured on its digital frontpage, the Independent reports: “Rishi Sunak has been accused of undermining the UK’s response to the climate emergency, after his Budget included measures to make it cheaper to take internal flights and drive cars that emit greenhouse gases.” The Guardian also features the story on its frontpage, with a print subtitle stating: “Chancellor criticised for lack of green measures ahead of COP26 summit.” Politico also has the story. The i newspaper reports “anger” at Sunak’s decision to halve domestic air passenger duty and freeze fuel duty for the twelfth year in a row, adding that the chancellor’s speech “barely mentioned climate change”. Another piece from the i newspaper says the chancellor “was warned he needed to take more action to curb the number of flights in the UK just hours before he approved a tax cut to make flying within the UK cheaper”. It adds that analysis from the Green Alliance thinktank said the budget fell billions short of the investment needed to meet the UK’s climate goals. Forbes calls Sunak’s budget a “climate void”, noting that the chancellor did not use the word “climate” at all in his speech to parliament.

In other budget news, the Times reports that the cut in UK foreign aid from 0.7% of gross national income to just 0.5% is to remain in place until 2024 “prompting anger from campaigners that the cut will remain for another two years”. It quotes one saying: “If government is serious about tackling global challenges, as it should be on the eve of G20 and COP26, it should commit to returning to 0.7 now.” The Daily Telegraph reports concerns that the return to 0.7% could be undermined by “accountancy trickery”, whereby “areas not traditionally deemed overseas development aid (ODA) are included” in the total. It explains: “While the details remain hazy, NGOs say the wording of the budget document has only increased their concerns that donations of surplus vaccines, debt relief and special drawing rights – reserves released by the International Monetary Fund that the UK is channelling towards lower income countries – will be listed as ODA.”

There is also broad coverage of the news that Sunak announced up to £1.7bn in government funding for a new nuclear plant, with Reuters saying this was accompanied by the launch of “a new funding model [the government] hopes will entice more British backers to new projects”. Bloomberg says the funding “could unlock” the Sizewell C new nuclear project in Suffolk, which it says is the “only large-scale plant under active consideration” and is being developed by French utility giant EDF. The Guardian says it “understands the funding is likely to be used to back the planned £20bn Sizewell C”. It adds: “The first investment would be enough to hand the UK government an 8.5% stake in Sizewell C, and potentially oust China General Nuclear (CGN) from the project with help from private investors…The Guardian understands that the government is eager to replace CGN, which has a 20% share of Sizewell, through a combination of government and private sector investment, due to growing security concerns over Chinese involvement in critical national infrastructure.” The Times also says the £1.7bn in government investment “is intended to reduce Chinese investors’ influence on the plant”. It adds: “On Tuesday the government confirmed a new funding model for nuclear plants, which is intended to make Sizewell more attractive to investors by shifting some of the financial risk to households and businesses in their energy bills.”

Carbon Brief has in-depth coverage of the climate and energy-related elements of the UK budget and spending review. In related news, Bloomberg reports that the UK energy industry “is calling for an end to investment in new natural gas-fired power plants unless there are plans to eliminate the emissions by the 2030s”. It adds: “The move seeks to bring Britain’s power sector in line with a government plan laid out last week.” Finally, the Press Association via Belfast Telegraph reports the reaction to the budget from Democratic Unionist Party MP and long-time climate sceptic Sammy Wilson, who it says “has accused the government of ‘climate hysteria’”. It quotes him saying, incorrectly, given the current spike in energy prices is almost all due to high fossil fuel prices: “one of the reasons for higher energy bills is the fact that we are turning our back on cheaper fuels”.

UK PM Johnson: COP26 outcome is in the balance
Reuters Read Article

UK prime minister has said the outcome of the COP26 climate summit is in the balance, Reuters reports. It reports Johnson telling parliament yesterday: “COP26 is both unbelievably important for our planet, but also very difficult, and it’s in the balance.” Another Reuters piece says that Prince Charles is to deliver the opening address at the summit, after his mother the Queen pulled out on doctors’ advice. A third Reuters piece quotes a Chinese minister saying that doubts over the provision of climate finance are the “biggest obstacle” facing the talks, adding that it was a matter of “mutual political trust” for rich countries to meet their pledge of giving $100bn a year. Another Reuters article says that climate finance needs to increase to $5tn a year by 2030, according to researchers. The Financial Times reports that the chief executive of South African state utility firm Eskom is in talks over a COP26 deal for $30bn in concessional lending, to help close its ageing coal plants and make the switch to renewables. The piece says: “As the host of this year’s UN meeting in Glasgow, the UK government in particular is hoping to unveil financing plans at the summit to wean major developing countries off coal in line with global pledges to end use of the fossil fuel.” The Hill previews three “issues to watch” at the summit, namely climate finance, efforts to tackle methane emissions and “finishing the Paris rulebook”. Reuters reports that Australia will not back a pledge, led by the EU and the US, on cutting methane emissions to 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. But it adds that New Zealand “may join two dozen other countries in signing the Global Methane Pledge”. Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that Brazil is “seek[ing] to burnish is climate credentials” ahead of COP26. It quotes one Brazilian congressman saying: “In the past (COP25) conference, in Madrid, the government sabotaged every discussion. We will not be as big of a nuisance this time.”

Meanwhile, BBC News reports that a BBC World Service opinion poll of over 30,000 people “finds that 56% want their countries to play a leadership role at the critical COP26 meeting next week”. It adds: “The desire to see ambitious goals set in Glasgow has grown substantially since 2015. Concern about climate change is also at its highest point since 1998.” (Another poll of 27,000 people for the European Investment Bank, reported by Reuters, finds most EU citizens think their government will fail to tackle climate change, the newswire reports.)

In other COP26 developments, the Times says an “eleventh-hour deal” has averted the threat of train strikes during the summit, meaning it has “narrowly avoided transport chaos”. The paper adds that rail strikes would have come on top of action by other workers: “About 1,500 refuse workers, school cleaners, caterers and caretakers – represented by the Unite, Unison and GMB unions – plan to walk out during the conference.” BBC News says that protestors are planning “high-impact disruption” at the talks, with the Extinction Rebellion protest group saying it will use “non-violent direct action”.

US: Biden edges towards $500bn climate change deal
The Times Read Article

A final agreement on US president Joe Biden’s budget bill is being held up “by wrangling in his own party”, the Times reports, adding that he “wants to proclaim [at COP26] in Glasgow that he is spending more than $500bn on climate change measures”. The paper continues: “As part of the intensive negotiations to have his two big infrastructure bills approved by the Democrats, Biden has told left-wing party members that the ‘prestige’ of the US overseas is ‘on the line’.” It quotes one Democrat senator saying the budget bill will be “the biggest climate bill in human history. At least half a trillion dollars. That’s a pretty good story to tell at the Conference of Parties [COP26]”. The New York Times reports: “Democrats are still searching for ways to strengthen the climate provisions in President Biden’s environmental and social policy bill just days before he is set to appear at a United Nations climate summit that begins on Sunday in Glasgow.” It adds: “Biden hopes to point to the bill as evidence that he will be able to meet his ambitious promise that the US will cut its planet-warming pollution 50% from 2005 levels by 2030. As it stands now, passage of the bill, which is expected to include roughly $500bn in spending on climate and environmental provisions, would get the US up to half the way toward that target, according to an analysis by Rhodium Group, an independent policy research firm.”

In the Guardian, a comment by Simon Jackman, chief executive of the United States Studies Centre, argues: “Congress constraints mean the US and Australia aren’t so far apart on climate after all.” He argues: “Joe Biden’s exhortations for major economies to do more may not match what he is able to legislate.” For Reuters, columnist Clyde Russell writes: “Australia’s widely criticised plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 shows the scale of the global challenge ahead of the Glasgow climate summit, namely achieving real, actionable commitments instead of vague and hopeful statements.” The piece is titled: “The real risk of Australia’s panned climate strategy is that others follow.”

Shell should be broken up, says US investor Daniel Loeb
The Times Read Article

A US investor and “corporate raider” has used its stake in Shall to call for a break up of the oil major, according to the Times. New York-based hedge fund Third Point has framed the company as trying to “do it all” as it seeks to invest in renewable energy while also making use of its oil and gas assets, the newspaper states. “As the saying goes, you can’t be all things to all people,” wrote Third Point chief executive Daniel Loeb in a letter to investors seen by The Times. “In trying to do so, Shell has ended up with unhappy shareholders who have been starved of returns and an unhappy society that wants to see Shell do more to decarbonise.” According to the article, Third Point wants Shell to be split into at least two businesses to draw a line under a “difficult two decades” for shareholders. Bloomberg reports that “activist investor” Loeb has built a considerable position in Shell, with Third Point taking a $750m stake, equivalent to about 0.4% of the company, “according to a person familiar with the matter”. According to the news website, Loeb has argued that Shell’s fossil fuel entity could “focus on slowing down its spending, selling assets and returning cash to shareholders” while the energy transition business could “aggressively invest in renewables and other carbon-reduction technologies”. Reuters also has the story, noting that like other oil majors Shell has been facing mounting pressure from investors and governments to decarbonise in recent years.

In a separate story, Bloomberg reports that Shell has “responded to external pressure by setting a more ambitious target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from its operations,” stating it will reduce these emissions by 50% by 2030, compared to 2016. The piece notes that these “Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions” are not the same as the Scope 3 emissions released when customers burn fuel. It also adds that the news comes as the company’s profit rises less than expected on high prices. The Financial Times says that the oil major, which is “under growing pressure on several fronts,” saw adjusted net profit from July to September fall to $4.1bn, from $5.5bn in the previous quarter. According to Reuters, Shell has set a net-zero emissions target for 2050, but is under pressure to make faster progress following a Dutch court ruling in May that ordered it to cut all of its emissions, including Scope 3, by 45% by 2030.

Finally, another Bloomberg piece states that Shell has received another blow after Europe’s biggest pension fund, ABP, announced it would divest €15bn (£12.7bn) worth of fossil-fuel assets by early 2023. Not only does the fund hold €0.5bn in Shell stocks and bonds, it has also been a “historical ally of the firm, voting in favor of Shell’s energy transition plans, while abstaining or voting against competing and more stringent, resolutions by Dutch activist group Follow This,” the website reports.

COP26: Cut meat intake and flights, urge world’s scientists
The Times Read Article

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientist, has called for behaviour change to tackle climate change rather than relying on “some magic new technology”, the Times reports. The paper says Vallance made that call as he released a joint statement “from nearly 40 government scientific advisers around the world urging leaders gathering at the COP26 climate conference to deliver ‘clear pathways for achieving emissions reductions targets’”. The group of 38 senior scientific advisers to governments including Argentina, Australia, UK, India and Mexico have published a statement calling for detailed climate action plans, not just pledges, Reuters reports. The advisers include the UK’s chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance, who is quoted telling journalists: “The 1.5C (limit) is achievable provided action is taken. Action needs to be more than just a pledge; it needs to be backed up by clear plans and those plans need to be monitored.” The i newspaper also has the story.

Comment.

Budget 2021: How green is chancellor Rishi Sunak?
Roger Harrabin, BBC News Read Article

In an analysis piece, BBC News’s environment analyst Roger Harrabin looks at how the UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s policy announcements in yesterday’s budget “could impact the environment”. Harrabin explains: “Stopping flying is one of the single best things you can do for the climate – but flying within the UK will become cheaper, thanks to a halving of air passenger duty.” He continues: “Despite rumours that the chancellor was set to end the freeze on fuel duty, he brought good news to drivers by extending it for the 12th year…Meanwhile, the government says it wants people to drive less, but it is expanding the road network.” Harrabin adds: “The radical group Insulate Britain have caused mayhem for weeks now – but it hasn’t moved Sunak to put more funds into home renovations.” An editorial in the Guardian reflects on the budget, saying: “Sunak spoke to his own tribe by confidently cutting taxes for domestic flights, freezing fuel duty and splurging on roads – in breezy defiance of the prime minister’s green messaging ahead of climate talks at COP26.” An analysis piece by Guardian environment editor Damian Carrington is titled: “Rishi Sunak’s budget is gambling with the climate crisis.” It says the budget made “no serious investment in [the] UK’s green future”, meaning that the chancellor “has chosen to gamble that the market will deliver instead”. Carrington says: “That is a very high-stakes bet in the face of a climate emergency.”

Net-zero is not enough – we need to build a nature-positive future
Frans Timmermans , Achim Steiner and Sandrine Dixson-Declève, The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian features a piece calling for a “nature-positive future” written by Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-president of the Club of Rome. As societies around the world are rebuilt following Covid-19, they write that “we are faced with a unique opportunity” to “chart a planetary response to our planetary crisis – a response that puts nature at the centre”. They notes that climate, biodiversity and human health are interdependent and that nature is not given enough recognition as an “essential piece in the puzzle of a resilient future for all”. The piece continues by noting the potential for job creation and economic growth brought about by a “nature-positive” recovery from the pandemic, and says that the “Planetary Emergency Plan”, published by the Club of Rome and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has identified key actions that could “support a paradigm shift”. The piece gives the examples of “shifting towards regenerative models and reforming our food systems” as examples of actions that come with a variety of benefits from improving global health to achieving net-zero emissions. The authors say: “To successfully emerge into a sustainable future that lies within planetary boundaries, but also lifts a billion people out of poverty, the transition needs to be global”. They note that over the next eight months, global leaders will meet during three global Conferences of Parties (COPs), for biological diversity, climate change and desertification, and say these events “offer a chance for a global emergency response to our planetary crisis”.

COP26 is last chance for world leaders to buck up and protect the planet for generations to come
Stanley Johnson, The Sun Read Article

Writing for the Sun, Stanley Johnson, the father of British prime minister Boris Johnson and international ambassador for the Conservative Environment Network, sets out his personal priorities for the COP26 climate summit, including the meeting “formally adopt[ing]” a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and “rich nations guarantee[ing] adequate funds for poorer nations”. Other entries on his “personal wish list” include: “That India, China and Australia set out their own detailed plans to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels in the next ten years and achieve them.” Meanwhile, an analysis article for Politico is titled: “Why the COP26 climate summit won’t save the planet.” It says the 1.5C limit “may already have slipped away” and adds: “Countries are also starting to hedge on 1.5C, with some top government advisers in Europe already privately preparing to explain to the public why 1.6C, or 1.7C might not mean total failure. But they can’t completely drop the target.” An article for Quartz profiles China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, arguing that he “is the most important person attending COP26”. It adds: “all eyes will be on how China plans to meet its existing commitments – or deepen them”.

In other related comment, the cover story for this week’s Spectator, by the magazine’s editor Fraser Nelson, is titled: “Cop out: Boris’s battle to save the climate summit.” Nelson writes: “The PM wants to get countries to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But how to get a deal, if the main players aren’t at the table?” Elsewhere, Iain Martin writes in the Times: “The city hosting COP26 offers a lesson in how poor leadership and bad decisions can trigger decades of sharp decline.” He adds: “You may have heard that the city is in terrible shape before COP26. There is rubbish in the streets thanks to industrial action by refuse workers. ” In the Daily Telegraph, William Atkinson writes about the UK’s net-zero strategy and its hosting the COP26 summit under the headline: “Terrorising children is no way for the government to pursue its green agenda.”

Why the Science Museum must work with energy giants
Mary Archer, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mary Archer, chair of the Science Museum Group, defends the decision to take sponsorship from companies such as Adani Green Energy, a firm that is part of the Adani Group, which includes major coal mining activities. Archer writes: “As a result, some activists have derided our sponsorship deal as greenwashing. We reject this dismissive description, and not only because it ignores the reality that this partnership will intensify, not quell, the noisy complaints from Adani’s opponents, but also because only by engaging with energy giants can the world develop better energy solutions.” Archer continues: “How can India fund the transition away from coal, while also meeting the economic aspirations of millions? It is going to need companies like Adani Green Energy to do the heavy lifting, with a commitment to making a historical green shift at the same time.” She concludes: “The huge change our planet is crying out for is going to require difficult decisions and uncomfortable coalitions, and the demonisation of the energy sector will hinder, not help, that difficult journey.” Meanwhile, the Press Association via Belfast Telegraph reports: “Climate activists end overnight protest at Science Museum over fossil fuel sponsors.”

Science.

The urgent case for stronger climate targets for international shipping
Climate Policy Read Article

Strengthening the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) emissions targets within two years is “imperative” to bringing global shipping in line with the 1.5C warming limit, a new perspective paper says. Using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the IMO, the authors use the concept of carbon budgets to “evaluate proportionate 1.5C emissions pathways” for international shipping. The paper concludes that “significantly stronger short- and longer-term targets need to be set for the sector to be compatible with the Paris Agreement’s goals” – namely, “34% reductions on 2008 emissions levels by 2030, and zero emissions before 2050, compared with the sector’s existing target of a 50% cut in CO2 by 2050”.

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Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.