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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK: Labour says it would stop Cumbria coal mine from opening
- UK’s Hunt to meet oil and gas producers on windfall tax
- Germany generates significantly more electricity from coal
- UK: National Grid on standby to pay households to cut energy usage
- COP15: Trudeau pledges £510m for Indigenous-led conservation projects
- China's companies ink Saudi Arabia green energy pacts as Xi visits
- Gove’s Cumbrian coal mine is economic and diplomatic idiocy
- Rapid attribution analysis of the extraordinary heat wave on the Pacific coast of the US and Canada in June 2021
There is continuing coverage of the UK government’s decision to approve the opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria. The Guardian reports that the opposition Labour party has said it would stop the mine from going ahead if elected – and will seek to prevent it progressing before then. Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, said: “A Labour government will leave no stone unturned in seeking to prevent the opening of this climate-destroying coal mine and instead ensure we deliver the green jobs that people in Cumbria deserve.” While a UK general election could be two years away, Labour said it expects the mine to run into serious legal challenges long before then, the paper explains. It adds: “Lawyers for civil society groups including Friends of the Earth and Client Earth are poring over the government’s 419-page decision to grant permission, published on Wednesday. Possible grounds to challenge the decision include the government’s legally binding commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the UK’s international climate commitments, including the Paris climate agreement of 2015.” A separate Guardian article reports on planned protests, noting that “opponents of the mine are expected to gather in Penrith on Friday and at the site of the mine in Whitehaven on Saturday, as local opposition to the scheme gathers steam”.
Meanwhile, approval of the mine has “sparked international outrage”, says Climate Home News, with “climate watchers from around the world accus[ing] the UK of hypocrisy”. The outlet quotes the prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, who tweeted: “Is this the future we fought for under the Glasgow Pact? Fossil fuels should be phased OUT – not up.” And Angelique Pouponneau, an adviser to small islands at climate talks from the Seychelles, who tweeted: “Huh? Confused – just a few weeks ago we heard 1.5[C] was on life support…” In the UK, Labour’s shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy accused the Conservatives of being the party of “environmental vandalism”, reports the Press Association. She told MPs that the decision “flies in the face of Britain’s net-zero objectives”, the newswire adds. Referencing a long-obsolete form of video cassette tapes, Cumbrian MP and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, said the mine approval is “like celebrating the opening of a Betamax factory”, reports the Guardian. Farron told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: “We’re opening a product, if you like, for which there is reducing demand.” He said the Cumbrian coast was a far more sensible place to invest in “green, renewable energy”, adding: “This is not only foolish in fact, it’s also foolish politically, as it makes us a laughing stock when it comes to us trying to talk to other countries like China about how they reduce their carbon emissions.”
The Times reports that “questions are now being raised” after it emerged that the planning inspector who recommended that levelling-up secretary Michael Gove approve the mine “is a former miner who has spoken of his anguish at pit closures”. Stephen Normington worked at British Coal from 1980 to 1989, before studying town and regional planning, the paper explains. He told a separate planning inquiry in County Durham in August: “I’m from a mining background. I’m from a pit village. I still live in a pit village. I worked 10 years down the pit. I’m the only inspector ever to work down the pit…The anguish you felt when the steel works closed, I’ve been part of it so I know what you went through.” The paper says that “it is not known whether Normington disclosed his background in coal mining during his month-long planning inquiry”.
The Guardian reports that the new coal mine “is ultimately owned by an international private equity company, with executives whose mining interests have stretched to Russia, Asia, Africa and across Australia”. It explains: “West Cumbria Mining positioned itself as a local company with an office in Whitehaven, and promised it would provide jobs for people in the area…But the owners of the company are based thousands of miles away. West Cumbria Mining itself is based in Sussex, according to Companies House, and ultimately owned by a private equity investment firm, EMR Capital, with a base in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands.” New Scientist looks at the potential climate impact of the mine. It says: “The government argues the proposed development ‘will have a broadly neutral effect on the global release of greenhouse gas emissions from coal used in steel making’. In fact, the [Climate Change Committee] said the mine would increase UK carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tonnes a year, and once the emissions from burning the extracted coal are taken into account, the equivalent to 220m tonnes of CO2 will be emitted over the course of its 25-year life.” The New York Times also has additional coverage.
UK chancellor of the exchequer Jeremy Hunt will meet with top North Sea oil and gas producers today to discuss an expansion of a windfall tax on the industry, Bloomberg reports. Referencing “people familiar with the matter”, the newswire says the meeting will include representatives from oil majors Shell, BP, TotalEnergies, as well as independent firms. The outlet adds: “Hunt earlier this year increased a windfall tax on profits for the sector to 35%, from 25%, and extended it to 2028 to help subsidise energy bills that have soared on natural gas prices. Some companies are urging the government to include a price floor in the mechanism so that if oil and gas prices fall, the windfall tax wouldn’t apply.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the two largest US oil companies – Exxon Mobil and Chevron – have “disclosed plans to increase outlays on energy projects next year amid high oil demand and prices”. It continues: “Exxon said it would increase project investments next year to between $23bn to $25bn, up from a projected $22bn this year. Chevron said it plans to spend $17bn, up from about $15bn this year. Increases include new monies for emissions reduction projects and the impact of inflation.” The higher spending “will not immediately lead to more production”, the newswire says, adding: “While spending more, it will be less than half the combined $84bn they spent in 2013, when oil prices often traded above $100 per barrel as it has this year. The two are awash in cash from those prices and past cost-cuts, and have sharply raised shareholder payouts.” Exxon also announced that it will boost share buybacks, says another Reuters article, and is “distributing more cash to shareholders than it is investing in new production – $30bn between share buybacks and dividends this year”. The Financial Times Lex column says “Big Oil has good reasons to resist pressure to rush into new drilling projects and focus on shareholder returns”.
In other oil news, Russia’s energy ministry has “rebuffed concerns” that the oil price cap imposed by the Group of Seven (G7) nations will throw the country’s production into turmoil, reports Bloomberg. In a statement, first deputy energy minister Pavel Sorokin said that “most markets are available for our goods at adequate market-based principles” and that any volatility in oil production “won’t be higher than the fluctuations in spring”. Reuters reports that China is buying Russian oil at “multi-month low discounts”. It says that “China, Russia’s top oil buyer, has not agreed to the price cap. Traders said they were doing business as usual”. (See below.) The Financial Times explains more about the price cap.
Finally, in North America, Canada’s TC Energy has shut its Keystone pipeline in the US after more than 14,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into a creek in Kansas, reports Reuters, noting that it is “one of the largest crude spills in the US in nearly a decade”. It says: “The cause of the leak, which occurred in Kansas about 20 miles (32 km) south of a key junction in Steele City, Nebraska, is unknown. It is the third spill of several thousand barrels of crude on the pipeline since it first opened in 2010.” The Associated Press reports that TC Energy “said the pipeline segment where the spill occurred had been ‘isolated’ and that the company was using booms, or barriers, to keep the spilled oil from moving downstream. It did not say how much oil was spilled or what caused the spill”. Al Jazeera also has the story.
Der Spiegel reports that “due to war in Ukraine”, coal is becoming more important for Germany’s electricity supply, increasing by 13% in this year’s third quarter, according to the Federal Statistical Office. In addition, electricity generation from gas also grew year-on-year in the same quarter: it was 4.5% higher, notes the outlet. However, it adds, despite the increases in electricity generation from coal and “natural” gas, “the total amount of electricity generated from conventional fuels fell by 3%”, while generation from renewables rose by 2.9%. Tagesspiegel quotes researchers from the Ifo Institute for Economic Research: “Nuclear power plants should only be shut down when other power plants are available that do not emit CO2 [and] domestic gas production should also be expanded.”
Meanwhile, Der Spiegel carries an article about the German economy minister Robert Habeck’s trip to Africa, where he has been seeking energy partnerships. For example, notes the newspaper, in Namibia, a consortium led by Germans wants to produce green hydrogen and spend €10bn on it, including the construction of 700 wind turbines, a port, electrolysers and desalination plants under the Hyphen project. Die Zeit reports that when quizzed about Germany “returning to coal”, Habeck admitted: “Our energy path is out of order. But it will be put in order again”, adding that “green molecules” are the future for Africa, too. However, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports the term “opportunity continent” has been circulated about Africa among various federal ministries for years as many in Germany still regard Africa as a “welcome supplier” of raw materials and minerals for batteries, oil and gas or, more recently, green hydrogen.
Elsewhere in German news, Ntv reports that climate activists from the “Last Generation” campaign group briefly blocked Munich airport. An airport spokesman said: “Near the north runway, some of the protesters briefly glued themselves to the asphalt. I believe it is over”, reports Deutsche Welle. It adds that Bavarian state premier Markus Söder responded: “Climate-gluers are damaging environmental protection and endangering their fellow people.” The Guardian reports on how the delay in phasing out nuclear power is “dividing [a] German village”.
Finally, Reuters reports that Germany and seven other EU countries have warned they cannot accept other member states’ attempts to lower the level of gas cap prices because it would “disrupt the normal functioning” of Europe’s energy market and make it harder to buy fuel if gas suppliers divert cargoes to regions where prices are not capped.
The UK National Grid is on “standby to alert households to cut their electricity usage in the coming days amid a looming supply squeeze”, reports the Daily Telegraph. The country’s grid operator has warned that electricity supplies will be tight on Friday and Sunday amid low wind levels and a cold snap sweeping the UK, the paper explains: “It indicated it may need to use ‘enhanced actions’ to shore-up supplies. These include a new scheme under which households can sign up to be paid to use less electricity to avert blackouts, for example by switching off the washing machine. Running extra-coal fired plants is another option.” A separate Daily Telegraph article says that “thick, heavy clouds and little to no wind are in the forecast for the UK this weekend”. It adds: “The Germans call this type of weather ‘Dunkelflaute’, which literally means dark wind stillness or lull. Meteorologists prefer the term anticyclonic gloom.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that Shell’s household energy supply business in the UK “has sought cash and loans of nearly £1.2bn from its parent company since the start of the year, highlighting the continued financial pressure on even some of the biggest electricity and gas retailers”. It adds: “Accounts for Shell Energy Retail, which supplies 1.4m households, show the lossmaking subsidiary was forced to seek capital injections from other parts of the highly profitable energy major on several occasions to meet its obligations for this year and next. Although Shell Energy Retail’s accounts have been prepared on a ‘going concern’ basis because of the funding support from other Shell companies, the accounts highlight how Britain’s energy supply market remains in a fragile state.” Bloomberg and Reuters also have the story.
Finally on UK energy, the Daily Telegraph explains why the UK is “using its special relationship with the US to boost gas supplies”. Writing for Times Red Box, Andrea Leadsom – Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire and former energy minister – says that “it is right for those living near onshore wind developments to get help with their energy bills”. And the Financial Times “undercover economist” Tim Harford writes on energy storage, noting that “storage is one of the least sexy words in the English language. This is a problem, because when a crisis hits, it’s too late to start building an extra cupboard, then filling it with supplies”.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau yesterday announced C$800m (£510m) of funding over seven years for Indigenous-led conservation projects in his country across an area the size of Egypt, starting a “story of reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples, reports the Guardian. Making the announcement at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal, Trudeau “urged China, Russia, Brazil and other large countries to massively expand protected areas for nature…while putting Indigenous rights at the heart of conservation”, the paper says. He also urged the countries to get behind a “Canada level of ambition” for the final text. He said: “It’s relatively easier for a small country to sign on to [expanding protected areas to 30% of land and sea]. But getting the big ones on board is really important…One of the focuses that I wanted us to have at this COP was making sure we’re engaging and calling out as much as possible those countries with the big sweep of land and coastal areas to make a difference.”
Meanwhile, Indigenous advocates tells Reuters at the summit that negotiations on the “30-by-30” deal to protect 30% of the Earth by 2030 are behind in addressing the concerns of native people, whose land holds the majority of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Dinamam Tuxa, a lawyer for Brazil’s largest indigenous umbrella group, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, said that “this process around biodiversity needs to put Indigenous people at the centre”. While Aquilas Koko Ngomo, spokesperson for the National Alliance for the Support and Promotion of Indigenous and Community Heritage Areas and Territories in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said: “The states must recognise and protect their rights.” The Guardian‘s COP15 diary has more from the first two days of the talks.
China and Saudi Arabia “signed a number of agreements, including on energy and investments, after their leaders met in Riyadh on Thursday at a summit that showcased deep and growing ties beyond oil”, reports Bloomberg. The agreement, signed by Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and Chinese president Xi Jinping, “aims to wean the economy off a reliance on oil and China’s Belt and Road Initiative”, the outlet writes, adding that “memorandums of understanding were also signed on hydrogen energy, solar power, direct investments and housing”. Al-Monitor covers the same news. Arab News has an article, titled: “Electric vehicles emerge as key driver of Saudi-China climate-change fight.” It, says that this is an area of “shared enthusiasm, and one where Saudi Arabia and China can further work together to lead innovation and implementation”. It adds that Saudi Arabia could find itself in a “position to use its growing EV production hub” being built just north of Jeddah to make “affordable vehicles” for what is “the largest market” in the world – China”.
Meanwhile, Reuters notes that the US special climate envoy John Kerry on Wednesday said he “expected that in coming months, the two [the US and China] would ‘continue this conversation’ that had been hindered for months by a dispute over Taiwan”.
Finally, Climate Home News carries an article, saying that at the recent COP27 climate talks in Egypt, government negotiators “debated late into the night over what signals to give on which countries should receive funds to address the loss and damage caused by climate change”. It highlights that, “ultimately, vulnerability is not static. Who gets money will be determined as much by political relations and resources available as objective indicators of need. For rich countries, that may come down to: not China.”
The decision to open a new coal mine in the UK is “both shameful and profoundly stupid”, writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, world economy editor of the Daily Telegraph. The “futility” of the move “leaves one gasping”, he says, noting that “the world’s top steelmakers are trying to rid themselves of coking coal forever”. As a result, the government “has degraded this country’s diplomatic credibility for no economic purpose. It has once again damaged efforts to turn Britain into a global clean-tech hub, the real growth accelerant this decade if only they would grasp the chance”. Evans-Pritchard warns that “the suggestion that the Whitehaven mine is either needed or wanted by the UK steel industry is a gross deception. UK Steel launched a net-zero plan in July arguing that the industry stood to benefit from being a first-mover in decarbonisation, eyeing 35,000 jobs in green steel”. In addition, “European steel companies are not going to buy Whitehaven coal for long either”, he notes: “They must buy carbon emission permits under the ETS trading system for a portion of their output. These are currently trading at €89 a tonne and will rise over time, rendering coking coal progressively untenable.” The UK government is approving the new mine “for no compelling economic reason even as it cajoles South Africa and Indonesia to make major social sacrifices – at the risk of political unrest – by shrinking a fully-functioning coal industry with large sunk costs”, Evans-Pritchard says: “The Whitehaven mine does nothing to help British industry and nothing to improve energy security either. Its only purpose is to placate a noisy wing of the Tory party that has turned this colliery into a cause celebre for its own mystifying reasons.”
In further reaction, Financial Times UK business writer Cat Rutter Pooley says that the decision to open the mine “sends UK green credentials up in smoke”. She writes that the arguments for the mine “do not add up”, adding: “Without domestic customers, the new mine is in essence a gamble against the speed of the transition away from coking coal to green steel processes at a time when both countries and companies are ploughing funds into decarbonisation technologies”. BusinessGreen editor James Murray describes the decision as the “worst climate policy decision of modern times”. Michele Theil, a reporter covering climate and environment for the Big Issue, lists “all the reasons why the new Cumbria coal mine is a terrible idea”. In the Conversation, Marc Hudson – a research fellow in industrial decarbonisation policy at the University of Sussex – writes that “empty promises of carbon capture tech have excused digging up more fossil fuel for decades”. Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins bemoans the “threat of wind farms, coal mines, solar arrays and housing estates” to the English countryside. In the Times, Peter Brookes has a “back to the future” cartoon of Michael Gove’s decision. More keen on the decision is net-zero-sceptic Conservative peer Lord Frost, who writes in his Daily Telegraph column that “Michael Gove endorsed the independent recommendation to go ahead, on the very sensible grounds that not doing so would not reduce the amount of coal used, just require us to import it instead”.
Human-caused climate change has made events on the scale of the 2021 Pacific north-west heatwave at least 150 times more common, new research finds. Using a statistical analysis, the authors investigate 1-in-1000 year heatwave events over the Pacific north-west. They find that the 2021 heatwave was about 2C hotter than a 1-in-1000-year heatwave would have been in 1850–1900, when global average temperatures were 1.2C cooler. They add that if global temperatures rise another 0.8C – taking total warming to 2C above pre-industrial temperatures – 1-in-1000 year heatwaves will be another degree hotter.