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Daily Briefing

27.07.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING UK electricity grid’s carbon emissions could turn negative by 2033, says National Grid
UK electricity grid’s carbon emissions could turn negative by 2033, says National Grid

News.

UK electricity grid's carbon emissions could turn negative by 2033, says National Grid

National Grid, the UK’s electricity network operator, has, reports the Guardian, published a new “vision” report saying that CO2 emissions from Britain’s electricity system could “turn negative by as early as 2033 if the UK uses carbon capture technology alongside more renewable energy to reach its climate targets”. The Guardian adds: “In National Grid’s most progressive vision for Britain’s pathway towards its 2050 climate targets it claims that net carbon emissions from the electricity sector could turn negative within 13 years by using carbon capture technology alongside bioenergy sources…National Grid expects a boom in renewable energy projects, including at least 3GW [gigawatts] of new windpower capacity and 1.4GW of solar generation every year from now until 2050, alongside a widespread rollout of electric vehicles, which will effectively act as smart-charging ‘batteries’ to help balance the electricity grid. It also expects a revolution in consumer energy use, including significantly better energy efficiency and the end of gas boilers.” Bloomberg says that National Grid concludes “the number of electric cars on Britain’s roads will jump to 30m in the next 20 years”. The Times says “Britain will fail to hit its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 if it relies on a steady transformation of its industrial and consumer economy”, according to National Grid. ReNews quotes National Grid’s head of strategy Mark Herring, who says: “Although these are not firm predictions, we’ve talked to over 600 industry experts to build this insight and it’s clear while net-zero is achievable, there are significant changes ahead.”

In other UK news, the front page of the Sunday Telegraph’s business section carries an exclusive about how “senior Conservatives are this weekend demanding a review of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant after a Sunday Telegraph investigation found a Chinese state energy company is more closely involved in the project than previously disclosed”. Amid rising tensions between the UK and China over security concerns within major infrastructure projects, the newspaper says: “The Sunday Telegraph found conflicting statements from the Chinese and the French over the number of Chinese workers on the site. CGN [China General Nuclear] has said it has ‘more than 100 engineers and technical experts working on Hinkley’, while EDF has put the number at between 20 and 30.”

Separately, the Sunday Telegraph reports “taxpayers are in line for a bill of up to £30bn to make the railways greener, according to a leaked Network Rail report”. It adds: “The document urges Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, to take action immediately or risk missing the Government’s 2050 net-zero carbon goal. The 231-page analysis by state-backed tracks and stations owner, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, shines a light on how Britain’s railways have failed to keep pace with electrification overseas. In order to meet Britain’s climate change commitments, 15,700km (9,756 miles) of track, on which predominantly diesel locomotives run, needs to be upgraded. Some 12,500km must be electrified over the next 30 years, the confidential report finds. It is due to be signed off by the Network Rail board this week.” Another Sunday Telegraph article says that “Grant Shapps…has been forced to lobby against his anti-car policy in his own constituency after barriers meant to aid social distancing turned a village high street into a ‘ghost town’.” The Sunday Telegraph has also published an editorial on the same topic, which argues: “The government mustn’t leave drivers at the mercy of anti-car fundamentalists, or else there will be repercussions at the ballot box – after all, this is meant to be a red wall, popular, democratic government, not a Lib Dem nightmare. Are you listening, Mr Shapps?”

Meanwhile, the Guardian carries a report about how a report by government-funded academics suggests that the “UK could eliminate the majority of the CO2 emissions from road freight by installing overhead charging cables for electric lorries on ‘e-highways’ across the country”. It adds: “The plan for a so-called electric road system would cost £19.3bn and put all but the most remote parts of the UK within reach of the trucks by the late 2030s, with the potential for the investment to pay for itself within 15 years, according to the report by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight.” And a survey reported by the i newspaper shows that the “public favour spending on better cycling routes and bus services over major road building investment”. It adds: “According to the poll of 2,000 British adults by Opinium, 40% of people want to see investment in local bus services, and 37% of people want investment in cycling infrastructure. By comparison, fewer than one in seven people want money spent on more or bigger roads.”

The Times says that “Boris Johnson is to end Britain’s support for ‘dirty’ global oil and gas projects for fear of tarnishing the country’s reputation on climate change”, adding: “The prime minister has ordered a review of the use of government export finance guarantees that have helped to fund billions of pounds worth of fossil fuel projects around the world. It follows controversy over the government’s decision this week to give £900m in loans and guarantees to a gas pipeline project in Mozambique…Government sources claimed that Mr Johnson had been ‘bounced’ into approving the scheme by the Whitehall agency in charge of the project UK Export Finance (UKEF). They said the scheme had been too advanced to cancel when Mr Johnson was made aware of it but had made his displeasure clear about the investment. ‘The PM was pretty furious and immediately asked for a review of UKEF’s policy on fossil fuel,’ the source said.”Finally, Reuters reports that “more than 100 high-profile parents from tech entrepreneur Martha Lane-Fox to fashion designer Vivienne Westwood urged Britain’s government on Sunday to ensure economic recovery from the pandemic tackles climate change and puts children at its centre”. The Independent adds that the demonstration was organised by Mothers Rise Up and Parents for Future UK: “Parents [gathered] outside Downing Street…where they [created] a real-life wind farm with handheld bamboo turbines to signify the low-carbon recovery they say is required ‘to create jobs for our children today and help ensure a safe climate tomorrow’.”

 

The Guardian Read Article
Critics hit out at ‘stupid’ cuts to EU’s green transition fund

There is continuing reaction to the European Union’s Covid-19 response package which was agreed last week following lengthy negotiations. The Financial Times reports: “EU leaders’ decision to cut tens of billions of euros from a fund to help Europe’s green transition risks undermining Brussels’ attempts to accelerate emissions-cutting goals over the next decade, experts warned…EU27 leaders took the axe to a proposed ‘just transition fund’ (JTF) for the most polluting regions of Europe, scaling it back from a planned €40bn to €17.5bn in an attempt to strike a deal on the union’s €750bn response to the coronavirus pandemic…But drastic cuts to the JTF mean beneficiaries have further reason to resist attempts to speed up carbon-cutting targets. Poland was in line to suffer at least a 50% cut in aid under the smaller JTF, an EU official said, down from a projected €8bn from the previous proposal.” The FT quotes Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP from the Netherlands, who says: “The decrease in the JTF is not helpful – it is stupid.” He warned, says the newspaper, that the scale of the cuts – pushed for by the “frugal” alliance of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden to reduce the final volume of a coronavirus spending package – would give an “easy argument” to countries who oppose higher emissions goals. “It was stupid prioritisation from the frugals,” he adds. BusinessGreen says that, although MEPs have no veto over the deal, the “EU Parliament has demanded a role in overseeing the recovery package, and it also has a binding say over the EU’s long-term budget, for which top priorities include furthering the Green Deal and net-zero transition”.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “Poland’s biggest coal producer, state-run PGG, is likely to announce within days deep cuts in coal output and the closure of a number mines as part of a restructuring plan that is expected to prompt protests by miners, industry sources said”. The newswire adds: “Poland generates almost 80% of electricity from coal and is the only member of the European Union that has not pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. PGG’s management will meet with trade union representatives on Tuesday to present the restructuring plan. The proposal will include closing a few mines and keeping only the most efficient ones open and reducing salaries, two sources familiar with the situation said. One source said that as a result PGG annual output would be reduced by much more than 10% but not as much as by half. Another person said the goal might be to phase out coal mines in the Silesia coal region completely by 2036.” Climate Home News reports that “data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI), a London-based price reporting agency, predicts that by 2030 there will be at least 16 [battery gigafactories] plants operating across [Europe] with a total annual production capacity of 446GWh [gigawatt hours]”.

Financial Times Read Article

Comment.

Japan and China should stop promoting coal

An editorial in Bloomberg argues that “it’s essential that [national Covid-19] rescue efforts don’t add to an even bigger global danger: climate change”. It adds: “The governments of China and Japan, especially, need to keep this in mind. By continuing to fund new coal projects at home and abroad, Asia’s two largest economies threaten to doom any chance of slowing global warming below 1.5C.” The editorial says: “The Covid-19 crisis offers a chance to reverse course. Given low fuel prices and reduced demand, governments around the world have a window to cut fossil-fuel subsidies, freeing up money for pandemic aid. Rather than offering other countries debt relief on financially unsustainable coal projects, China could cancel them outright and offer help with solar and wind technology – in which it’s a world leader – instead.” It concludes: “Those considerations ought to be compelling by themselves, but here’s another for good measure. Former vice president Joe Biden has pledged, if elected in November, to impose carbon tariffs on nations that don’t meet their climate obligations. Global carbon pricing might be on the way.”

The Financial Times has a “big read” about how the “pandemic has persuaded some investors of the potential financial damage from global warming”. It says that “asset managers [have now joined] forces with eco-warriors”. However, it cautions: “In the US there is a growing pushback against investors acting as climate warriors. Asset managers are gearing up for a row with the Trump administration over a new proposal that threatens investors’ ability to incorporate ESG principles into pension portfolios. At the same time, many well-known asset managers are still reluctant to vote against management, meaning the vast majority of climate resolutions do not pass.”

The Sunday Telegraph has a feature by Oliver Gill about how a debate now “rages over most effective way to power cars and buses”. In the feature, part of a double-page spread on UK-China industrial relations, Gill explains the growing tensions between the advocates of hydrogen fuel cells and electric batteries. The feature concludes: “The biggest name in green transportation is not sitting on the fence. Tesla’s Elon Musk has attacked fuel cell technology as ‘staggeringly dumb’ and ‘mind-bogglingly stupid’. Labelling them ‘fool cells’, the entrepreneur once told shareholders ‘success is simply not possible’. Musk has benefited from strong demand for Tesla vehicles in China and billions in subsidies for a factory in Shanghai. As east-west tensions rise and hydrogen advocates find a more receptive political audience, the billionaire and Beijing may find his predictions tested.”

BBC News has published a feature by chief environment correspondent Justin Rowlatt about what the heroin industry in Afghanistan “can teach us about solar power”. He explains: “The first report of an Afghan farmer using solar power came back in 2013. The following year traders were stocking a few solar panels in Lashkargah, the Helmandi capital. Since then growth has been exponential. The number of solar panels installed on farms has doubled every year…It is easy to understand why trade has been so brisk. Solar has transformed the productivity of farms in the region. I’ve got a video shot a couple of weeks ago on an opium farm in what used to be desert. The farmer shows us his two arrays of 18 solar panels. They power the two electric pumps he uses to fill a large reservoir. He films the small canal that allows him to use the water to irrigate his land. All around, his fields seem to be flourishing. He harvested his opium crop in May, now he is growing tomatoes.”

Editorial, Bloomberg Read Article
In 100 days, the climate emergency may be even more serious. That's why we’re launching this series

John Mulholland, the Guardian’s US editor, explains why the newspaper has launched a new series called the “Climate Countdown”: “In just four years the Trump administration has set about dismantling much of the progress that has been made. By withdrawing from the Paris agreement it will now weaken the global resolve to tackle the climate crisis. The stakes could scarcely be higher and with your help we can put this issue at the centre of our 2020 election coverage. The election will be a referendum on the future of democracy, racial justice, the supreme court and so much more. But hovering over all of these is whether the US will play its role in helping take collective responsibility for the future of the planet…Over the next 100 days, the Guardian US will publish a series of stories about the many impacts of the climate crisis. The series will focus on people of colour and vulnerable communities across the globe, who are uniquely vulnerable to the dangers of a heating planet. We will examine Joe Biden’s proposals to tackle climate change and whether they are up to the task. And we will elevate the young people whose entire futures will be shaped by the crisis and the world’s response to it. The series is sponsored by We Are Still In and We Mean Business, but the content is editorially independent from the sponsors.” The series also begins with a video and explainer on “what the US exiting the Paris Agreement means” and another video explainer on “why Trump abandoning the climate fight puts the planet in even more danger”.

John Mulholland, The Guardian Read Article
Donald Trump wants a fight on the green new deal. So do we.

Writing in the Nation, Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, and John Podesta, former senior advisor to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, argue: “For whatever reason, Trump has decided that the Green New Deal – a proposal to save our country from environmental and economic disaster – is going to be his main electoral punching bag in the 2020 campaign. If that’s the fight he wants to pick, we say: Bring it on. And new polling shows the Democratic party should welcome the fight, too…But here’s the deal: Running boldly on tackling the climate crisis, running on a Green New Deal, these are policies that can be popular in all 50 states. Democrats should run toward, not away from these fights. The evidence is clear: If we loudly make the case for bold climate action, we will win.”

Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Oliver Milman has a feature about how “Joe Biden’s $2tn plan to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from the US electricity grid within 15 years has been applauded by climate campaigners, but the enormous overhaul will have to pick its way through a minefield of community as well as lobbyist opposition…Should Biden defeat Donald Trump in the November’s presidential election, however, the sheer scale of the energy transformation risks a backlash from communities unhappy with the nearby placement of new solar and wind infrastructure.”

Varshini Prakash and John Podesta, The Nation Read Article

Science.

Large scale tropical deforestation drives extreme warming

Large-scale tropical deforestation is driving extreme local temperature rise, a new study finds. Trees provide shading and cooling and once they are removed, bare land heats up at a much higher rate, the authors explain. The authors say: “We used satellite observations to quantify the local temperature changes in deforested patches of rainforests across the tropics and found local warming larger than that predicted from more than a century of climate change under a worst-case emissions scenario.”

Environmental Research Letters Read Article
Late 1990s’ cool season climate shift in eastern North America

Since 1990, eastern North America has experienced a shift towards warmer winter weather and the earlier arrival of spring, a study says. This shift is linked to atmospheric circulation change associated with changes in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The findings “illustrates the importance of climate system variability within anthropogenically driven climate change”, the authors say.

Climatic Change Read Article

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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.