Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK: Households with gas boilers face green levy
- US: At least 22 dead after 17 inches of rain in Tennessee
- China ETS: Emissions prices settle at record low
- UK: Extinction Rebellion gears up for two weeks of climate protests across London
- India says to exceed emission cut targets, further reduction hinges on climate fund
- The devastation in the land of my father is the stuff of nightmares. We must all act before it's too late
- How a green taxes revolt in Redcar could force a change in Tory energy policy
- Climate effects on US infrastructure: The economics of adaptation for rail, roads, and coastal development
The Times reports another preview of the UK government’s delayed and much-anticipated “heat and building strategy”, which it says it due to be published next month. The newspaper says: “Households with gas boilers face levies to fund low-carbon alternatives to contribute towards meeting the government’s net-zero target, a landmark review has suggested. The [strategy] will conclude that gas users could face higher bills and charges as part of the move towards low-carbon solutions, such as hydrogen boilers and heat pumps. [It] commits the government to addressing the fact that electricity is significantly more expensive than gas and that ‘price distortions’ will need to be looked at in the mid-2020s to avoid consumers being penalised for moving to heat pumps and hydrogen boilers…The Times has previously disclosed internal estimates suggesting that gas bills could increase by as much as £175 a year. Boris Johnson has repeatedly said the government will protect the most vulnerable consumers.” Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph reports on its frontpage that business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has “admitted” to the newspaper in an interview that heat pumps are not “much worse” than the gas boilers they will replace. The newspaper, quoting Kwarteng saying fears over the performance of heat pumps were being “exaggerated”, adds: “Kwarteng conceded that, while gas boilers had been ‘refined over many years…heat pumps are still in their infancy”…He added: ‘I don’t think actually heat pumps are that much worse than boilers. All I’m saying is that they could be improved if there was more investment.’”
In other UK news, the Independent reports in an “exclusive” that “controversial plans for the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years face losing financial backing as uncertainty over the project drags on”. The online newspaper adds: “Proponents of the proposal for a new coal mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria claim it will create 500 new jobs in a region facing economic decline. However, leading academics and activists say the project is incompatible with climate targets and that green investment in the region could create many more jobs than a new coal mine…Financial documents seen by the Independent show that ‘uncertainty’ caused by the public inquiry has put the project at risk of losing the support of its principal backer.” The Times says that “drivers of older cars face paying about £100 a year more for fuel when ‘greener’ petrol is introduced next month, according to an analysis by the AA”. It adds: “Owners of up to 700,000 cars will be expected to switch to premium-quality unleaded because of changes to the standard grade. From September, regular petrol will be blended with 10% bioethanol, which is made from materials such as crops and waste wood, to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That is double the proportion in existing petrol.” The Guardian reports that “opting for hydrogen that is made using fossil fuels rather than renewable electricity could create up to 8m tonnes of carbon emissions every year by 2050, according to an analysis of government data”. And the Sunday Telegraph says that “subsidised wind farms…have returned almost £4m since April last year – the first time they have repaid any money since 2017”. It continues: “The figures, from official data analysed by Cornwall Insight for the Sunday Telegraph, provide a window into the protection for consumers under a flagship green energy subsidy system. It comes as the government is planning a similar system to subsidise a massive ramp up in hydrogen production as it races to hit climate goals.” (See Carbon Brief’s new Q&A about the UK government’s plans for hydrogen.)
Separately, the Press Association reports that shadow business secretary Ed Miliband has said that “Boris Johnson must take personal responsibility for crucial climate talks or risk letting the last, best chance to curb dangerous global warming slip by”. The newswire reports Miliband saying that it is “in the balance” whether COP26 will secure needed action – or see the same mistakes that led to failed climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Finally, Tony Juniper, the veteran environmental campaigner who now chairs Natural England, has told the Daily Telegraph that Johnson’s government is reversing the decline of nature in the UK for the first time since the Industrial Revolution and will set Britain on a path to becoming “nature positive” by 2050. The paper continues: “[Juniper] said he has ‘never seen this level of attention, ambition and activity on the natural environment’ and vowed that the decline of the UK’s carbon footprint would be met with the creation of new habitats and landscapes.”
Extreme weather events continue to make headlines around the world. In the US, Associated Press reports that “record-breaking rain sent floodwaters” that have killed at least 22 people after surging through Middle Tennessee: “Up to 17 inches [43cm] of rain fell in Humphreys County in less than 24 hours Saturday, appearing to shatter the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall by more than 3 inches, the National Weather Service said.” The Guardian covers the Caldor fire in Northern California which it says is “growing out of control” and has “charred nearly 154 sq miles of trees and brush in the northern Sierra Nevada since 14 August”. BBC News says that “more than 120,000 US North East homes are without power after Tropical Storm Henri made landfall at Rhode Island”.
Meanwhile, a news feature in the Times focuses on the fires in Siberia: “The largest in Russia’s recorded history, the Siberian fires were bigger than all the other blazes in the world this year combined, covering almost 23m acres, an area larger than Portugal. They have pumped 800m tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the start of June, more than the annual emissions of Germany, Europe’s biggest polluter. One of the individual blazes was said by Greenpeace to be a contender for the planet’s largest fire since records began.”
The Guardian says that “spurred on by this summer’s record temperatures, Greek scientists have begun discussing the need to name and rank heatwaves, better known for their invisibility, before rampant wildfires made the realities of the climate crisis increasingly stark”. The New York Times interviews Athens’s new “chief heat officer” Eleni Myrivili who “has been tasked with finding ways to help the Greek capital cope with ever-hotter heat waves that are expected to be part of life for years to come”.
Separately, the Sydney Morning Herald says that Australian scientists have “challenged the latest UN-backed global warming report, saying it underestimated the likelihood major weather events driven by processes in the Pacific will become more extreme as the planet heats”. The paper says new research reveals that the latest models show that the frequency and ferocity of El Niño and La Niña events will increase this century.
China’s carbon prices fell to 49 yuan/t (£5.5/t) of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) last Friday, the lowest level since the national emissions trading scheme (ETS) started trading on 16 July, Angus Media reports. It noted that the scheme’s trading volumes also dropped last week. The outlet cites Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment, who has said that the ETS “is a new initiative for China, has many shortcomings and need to be improved”. (Read Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A to learn more about the national ETS.)
Reuters reports that China plans to step up its tree-planting campaign to “help reach net-zero”. The newswire says that the country intends to plant 36,000 square kilometres of new forest a year from this year to 2025. It cites “a senior forestry official”.
Meanwhile, a South China Morning Post article asks readers: “Should you have kids if you worry about climate change and the environment?” The author calls the question a “dilemma facing green couples”. Separately, Shandong province in eastern China released its regional 14th five-year plan for the energy sector, reports Economic Herald, a financial publication based in Shandong. According to the plan, Shandong’s overall energy consumption should not exceed 45.4m tonnes of standard coal equivalent (Mtce) by 2025. It also stipulates that the province’s coal consumption should stay under “around 3.5m tonnes” by the same year.
Elsewhere, four Chinese authorities have released a joint instruction, pledging a crackdown on high-polluting, high-water-consumption and high-energy-consumption projects in cities and counties along the Yellow River, according to Shanghai Securities Journal. It says that the directive orders all “relevant areas” to re-assess all approved “three high” projects whose construction has not started by the end of this year. Only projects which are “indeed necessary to build” and meet relevant industry requirements can go ahead, the outlet notes, citing the order.
The Press Association says that “environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion is gearing up for another two full weeks of climate protests, which are due to take place across London”. It continues: “The group says thousands of people are expected to take part in their ‘Impossible Rebellion’, which plans to ‘target the root cause of the climate and ecological crisis’. Demonstrations are scheduled in central locations including St James’ Park, Piccadilly Circus – similar to those carried out in 2019 – but more are due to take place in both north and south London. The Metropolitan Police said a ‘significant’ operation would be put in place to manage the protests over the busy bank holiday weekend, but acknowledged the activists’ ‘important cause’. Participants are being asked to gather in Trafalgar Square at 10am on Monday morning.” The Times says that “Extinction Rebellion protests have cost the taxpayer more than £50m, with the figure expected to rise significantly as further demonstrations take place in the next few weeks”. The Guardian reports the views of John Woodcock, the former Labour MP who is now a government extremism adviser, who has “admitted during a private meeting that it is wrong to label Extinction Rebellion (XR) supporters as ‘extreme’, despite the home secretary, Priti Patel, condemning the group as ‘criminals’ who threaten the nation’s way of life”.
An editorial in the Independent argues that “while we hope the police interpret the rules about protest in a liberal and balanced way, we argue that it is in the interest of the cause XR espouses that protesters avoid confrontation”. And in the Times, columnist Clare Foges writes: “It is not only XR’s tactics that undermine their cause, but a powerful and underrated force we might call tribal distaste. When passing one of XR’s flag-festooned protests, middle England wrinkles its nose. It rages at the inconvenience caused, but also recoils from the tie-dyed trousers and tattoos, the piercings and Citizen Smith ramblings, the lexicon of ‘Empire 2.0’ and ‘climate justice’, the dreadlocks, didgeridoos and drums. Forgive the superficiality, but we are superficial creatures, and these signifiers of a certain tribe have a tendency to repel those outside it. Critically, they are repelled not only by the tribe itself but by the cause it espouses…In short, if you recoil from the messengers, the message is dead on arrival. That is why the presence of Extinction Rebellion on our streets is so unhelpful. For the mainstream majority, such protests reinforce the sense that the issue of climate change is the property of ‘alternative’ people. This is a huge shame, because middle Englanders like me are finally undergoing an awakening to the urgency of this challenge…Just a few years ago we paid lip service to the threat but didn’t have 2am worries about it. Now, climate concerns are moving from head to heart, chest tightening when we read the science and see images of forests ablaze from Siberia to Algeria…In short, Britons are moving towards the point at which bolder action on climate change will be welcomed – but they won’t be hectored there by activists on unicycles chanting about ecocide.”
Rameshwar Prasad Gupta, the most senior civil servant at India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, has told Reuters in an interview that “India is set to exceed its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and boosting the share of non-fossil fuels in electricity generation, but any further commitment to reducing its carbon footprint will depend on climate finance from rich countries”. The newswire explains that India pledged under the Paris Agreement that it will reduce its carbon intensity by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030 and that it also aims to produce 40% of its installed power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. Gupta says: “We will achieve these goals before 2030, or in other words, by 2030, these goals will be overachieved…From 2005 levels, India’s carbon emissions [intensity] fell 24% by 2016 – in the space of 11 years. Between 2016 and 2030 – in a span of 14 years – we’ve to reduce emissions [intensity] by just 9-11%, but it will be definitely much more than that…Our position is tied with something concrete – something very concrete – on climate finance. Climate finance from developed countries to developing countries is an integral part of the whole framework.” India has not yet published its updated Paris pledge ahead of COP26.
The Daily Mail carries an “exclusive” comment piece by the Prince of Wales in which he calls for UK bosses to “go green or we are done for”. He writes: “Owing to family connections, I have always felt a particular fascination and affection for Greece…it has been heartbreaking to see the devastating fires affecting Greece, Turkey, and now Italy which has just recorded Europe’s highest ever temperature…As we approach COP26, the international climate change conference in Glasgow this November, this should surely serve as a wake-up call that climate change is happening now. We have been in the ‘last chance saloon’ for too long already, so if we do not confront the monumental challenge head on – and fast – we and the world as we know it will be done for…We now have no alternative – we have to do all we possibly can in the short time left to us to avoid the enormous climate catastrophe that has already begun to show its face in the most terrifying ways, most recently in the Mediterranean. World leaders, working closely with the private sector, have the power to make the difference. COP26 affords them an opportunity to do so before it is finally too late.”
An editorial in the Daily Mail responds to Prince Charles’s comment piece. It says: “Time was when it was fashionable to mock the Prince of Wales for his impassioned views on the environment. But with climate change all but irrefutable, he proved himself entirely prescient. So when Charles commands business to go green, bosses should take note…The government has outlined plans to change the way we heat our homes and make us drive eco-friendly cars. But rather than the dead hand of the state imposing measures that risk landing households with punishing costs, Charles says the market is part of the solution. We must all do our bit to save the planet. But business needs to be a driving force.”
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Will Tanner, the director of right-leaning thinktank Onward and a former deputy head of policy at No 10, argues that the “politics of net-zero are hard, but far from impossible, and the government must be cautious about overburdening ordinary taxpayers”. He continues: “It is places like Redcar [in North Yorkshire] that some Conservatives think will revolt if ministers introduce green taxes or ask consumers to switch to eco-friendly products as the UK pursues net-zero by 2050. Voters in the Red Wall will ‘roll their eyes’ at the ‘idealism’ of net-zero, one MP said earlier this month. Others, including the thinktank I run, have found evidence that Red Wall towns stand to benefit most from the green jobs and investment that could follow if ministers get policies right, as Redcar’s recent experience attests…Redcar suggests to me that the politics of net-zero are hard, but far from impossible. MPs have a point: the government does need to be cautious not to overburden ordinary taxpayers, or penalise those who faithfully followed previous advice. But that must not come at the cost of action, or the jobs recovery in places like Redcar will be stillborn. It’s a narrow corridor, but it is there.”
In the Evening Standard, Rupert Harrison, a former Treasury adviser who is now a multi-asset portfolio manager at BlackRock, writes about “financing the net-zero transition, a challenge at least as serious as the pandemic”. He says: “[It] will have to make its case alongside other political priorities for scarce resources. But crucially, public spending isn’t the only tool available. For example, the UK has done more than almost all other advanced countries to decarbonise its electricity sector over the last decade, with hardly any direct government spending. Instead the regulatory framework set up a decade ago created incentives for private sector investment in new renewable energy sources, funded ultimately through all of our energy bills. Now pension funds and other investors are looking for opportunities to do the same with other parts of the net-zero transition; it just needs the right regulatory framework. Sometimes lean times call for innovative solutions – after all, necessity is the mother of invention.”
Writing on his UK Climate Memo blog, Joss Garman of the European Climate Foundation (which funds Carbon Brief) argues that “when, this autumn, Johnson asks people to replace their gas boiler with something greener sometime in the next 15 years, and their diesel cars sometime in the next ten years, and with significant financial support from the government to do that, in a context of spectacular cost reductions in green technologies, I believe we can expect most MPs will be content to get behind the plans. The direction of the market is already set, and more than two thirds of the world is now covered by net-zero targets.”
Meanwhile, the frontpage of the Financial Times trails a comment piece by Anjana Ahuja who focus on nuclear fusion. She writes: “This month, researchers in the US shifted the dial significantly by approaching ‘ignition’, where a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma fuel, bombarded by 192 lasers, began to fuse, producing enough energy to continue heating the rest of the fuel in a self-sustaining way. Professor Jeremy Chittenden, from Imperial College in London, hailed the breakthrough at the National Ignition Facility in California as the biggest in nearly half a century…Scaling up will not be easy: a viable plant needs an energy output equivalent to hundreds or thousands of the energy produced by the NIF experiment, every second. Plugging it into national grids and regulating a new form of nuclear power also present bear traps. But the high risks are balanced by potentially astronomical rewards.” In the Sunday Telegraph, Matt Ridley, the climate-sceptic hereditary Conservative peer who chaired the failed Northern Rock bank when it collapsed at huge expense to UK taxpayers, writes on the same theme: “Investing in a technical fix like fusion looks more likely to deliver net-zero – albeit not before 2050 – than frantically trying to soup up a 13th-century technology to extract energy from an ultra-low-density source: the wind.” [Wind generated a quarter of UK electricity last year.]
Finally, the Daily Telegraph carries a comment piece by Kate Andrews who argues that “Greta Thunberg vs Tony Blair is the new green divide”. She explains: “It’s a question of optimism vs pessimism: whether you see human ingenuity as the solution to climate change, or the fundamental problem.” Meanwhile, the climate-sceptic columnist Ross Clark has two new articles – one in the Spectator headlined, “Greta Thunberg is right: The way the UK compiles its emissions data is a sham”, and another in the Daily Telegraph headlined, “The government is selling us a pup on heat pumps”.
New research estimates the economic impacts of a warming climate on railroad, roads, and coastal properties in the US under three levels of adaptation. It says: “Under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario and without adaptation, overall costs are projected to range in the $100s of billions annually by the end of this century. The first (reactive) tier of adaptation action, however, reduces costs by a factor of 10, and the second (proactive) tier reduces total costs across all three sectors to the low $10s of billions annually.” The findings “highlight the importance of considering climate risks in infrastructure planning and management”, the authors conclude.
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