Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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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.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK may delay closure of coal power stations due to energy crisis
- UK: Fracking company boss makes last gasp plea to government to lift moratorium on shale gas
- Shell directors sued for ‘failing to prepare company for net-zero’
- Ukraine invasion may lead to worldwide food crisis, warns UN
- Oil briefly tumbles below $100 a barrel. That's good news for gas prices
- US: House Democrats urge Biden to restart spending bill negotiations and prioritise climate change
- UK petrol prices could hit £2.50 a litre and diesel £3, experts tell MPs
- Faced with turmoil, China turns to its old reliable – coal
- We cannot go on like this. The West must end its dependence on Vladimir Putin
- Trends in global tropical cyclone activity: 1990–2021
- Precipitation trends determine future occurrences of compound hot–dry events
The UK government may delay the closure of its remaining coal power plants, the Independent reports. According to the outlet, the government has contacted EDF Energy about keeping the West Burton A coal-fired plant in Lincolnshire open past its scheduled closure date. It says: “EDF confirmed to The Independent the government had been in touch with the firm in relation to the timing of its closure, but for now it is still on track to close in September 2022.” Meanwhile, the Times, which covered the story yesterday, notes that only three coal power plants are still in operation in the UK. It adds: “The early-stage talks are aimed at preventing Britain becoming even more reliant on burning gas for electricity, as prices hit record highs and the government seeks to end gas imports from Russia.” Bloomberg says talks are “at the very early stage”. However, BBC News says that “the government says it still plans to stop using coal by 2024”, adding that a government spokesperson has said it “made no formal request to EDF”.
Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports that the UK is looking to extend the lifespan of the Sizewell B nuclear power plant by 20 years. According to the paper, the 1.2GW plant is currently due to be decommissioned in 2035 and can meet around 3% of Britain’s electricity demand. However, it says the government is looking to keep the plant running until 2055.
In other UK news, Reuters reports that Johnson and the bosses of oil and has companies have “discussed ramping up investment in the North Sea and boosting supply of domestic gas”. Meanwhile the Financial Times reports that the chief executive of Octopus Energy has said the UK could eliminate its reliance on Russian gas imports within two years by increasing the number of local onshore wind farms. According to the paper, she said that “onshore wind farms take up to seven years to build and connect to the National Grid but if the government accelerated planning procedures as part of the upcoming energy review, capacity could increase by a third”.
The Daily Telegraph carries an opinion piece by UK prime minister Boris Johnson in which he lays out his vision for using “green electricity” to reduce the reliance on Russia’s fossil fuels – see Comment section below.
The boss of drilling company Cuadrilla has made an “ eleventh-hour request” for the UK government to lift the moratorium on shale gas extraction, the Independent reports. According to the paper, Cuadrilla is nearing its deadline to “plug and abandon” its shale gas wells, but the UK government is “having doubts about ruling out UK shale gas” in light of the energy crisis and Ukraine invasion. The Daily Telegraph says that Cuadrilla is currently under orders to seal the wells by the end of June – a process that “takes several weeks and will have to begin shortly to meet the deadline”. The Press Association reports that the boss of Cuadrilla “has accused the government of failing to back up recent ‘rhetoric’ on keeping the door open to fracking”. It continues: “Ministers have raised the prospect of rethinking the UK ban on fracking amid soaring gas prices and efforts to end reliance on Russia imports, weeks after Cuadrilla said it had been ordered to plug and abandon its two shale wells at Preston New Road. Last week, Downing Street said Boris Johnson was ‘looking at all options’ on fracking, and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he agreed with the prime minister that it did not make sense to concrete over the wells as planned.” Meanwhile, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has urged the UK not to lift its ban on fracking, the Independent reports. And the Independent‘s deputy political editor, Rob Merrick, has penned an opinion piece asking: “Is Boris Johnson really going to bring back fracking?”
Environmental law organisation ClientEarth is preparing to sue the directors of oil and gas company Shell for “failing to prepare company for net-zero”, the Guardian reports. The paper says: “In what is thought to be a first-of-its-kind action, the lawsuit brought by activist shareholders claims that Shell’s 13 directors are personally liable for failing to devise a strategy in line with the Paris agreement, which aims to limit global heating to below 2C by slashing fossil fuel emissions. The lawsuit claims the failure puts the directors in breach of their duties under the UK’s Companies Act. If successful, Shell’s board could be forced by the courts to change its strategy, taking specific concrete steps to align its plan with the Paris deal.” The Financial Times says that ClientEarth “has a strong record of winning climate-related cases”. And Reuters says that ClientEarth is “bringing the action as a shareholder in Shell on behalf of all stakeholders to help protect the long-term viability of the company”.
In other news, the Guardian reports that Australia’s federal environment minister Sussan Ley has “successfully appealed against a high-profile court decision that found she had a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis when assessing fossil fuel developments”. The Financial Times says that the original case was brought by an 87-year-old nun on behalf of eight high school students and the original ruling was “hailed as a landmark victory for the climate movement, prompting predictions it would act as a brake on fossil fuel expansion and spur more private litigation against governments and businesses”.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation has warned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens supplies of staple crops, the Guardian reports. The paper continues: “Maximo Torero, the chief economist at the FAO, said food prices were already high before Russia invaded Ukraine, owing to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The additional strain of war could tip the global food system into disaster, he warned…Wheat prices hit record highs in recent days, though they have fallen back slightly…At least 50 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for 30% or more of their wheat supply, and many developing countries in northern Africa, Asia and the near east are among the most reliant.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg writer David Fickling has penned a comment piece entitled: “Ukraine war gives Egypt a wheat crisis only China can solve.” Separately, Russian billionaire Andrei Melnichenko has warned that the world is facing a food crisis, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the Independent notes that “German agricultural company Bayer AG is pulling its business out of Russia, saying crop supplies for next year’s growing season are ‘contingent on peace’”. Elsewhere, the Washington Post reports that the UN “is scaling up its efforts to prevent a global food supply crisis”. And the New Scientist says: “The US and Europe can compensate for the loss of Ukraine’s grain exports by scrapping biofuel mandates, helping to avoid a food price shock.”
US oil prices “briefly tumbled below $100 a barrel on Monday” for the first time since 1 March, CNN reports. However, the Hill reports that International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol has said it would be “too optimistic” to assume that energy prices have hit their peak. Reuters says that Birol has urged oil-producing countries to increase production to stabilise the market. Separately, Reuters says that oil output in the Permian Basin in the US is due to rise to a new record high in April.
More than 80 House Democrats have sent a letter to US president Joe Biden, “urging him to restart negotiations over his stalled social spending bill in the Senate – and to prioritise the provisions aimed at tackling climate change”, the Washington Post reports. The letter also calls for “an investigation into a decision by postmaster general Louis DeJoy to purchase up to 165,000 gasoline-powered mail trucks over the Biden administration’s objections that the multibillion-dollar contract would undermine the nation’s climate goals”, the New York Times adds. Association Press says the decision to buy gasoline-powered vehicles “has drawn sharp criticism from the Biden administration, Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists”.
Separately, the Guardian reports that Senator Joe Manchin, who holds the key swing vote in the US Senate, “has poured scorn on the idea of phasing out gasoline and diesel cars”. And the Hill reports that Manchin “will not vote to confirm President Biden’s pick for a powerful position on the Federal Reserve Board over her criticism of the fossil fuel industry”.
The Guardian carries a warning from experts that already-high petrol prices could increase further if geopolitical tensions with Russia keep oil prices high. According to the paper, leading economics and energy analysts called on the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to “subsidise lower-income households to cope with soaring home energy bills, amid a broader cost of living crisis”. The Financial Times says that Conservative MPs are urging Sunak to cut fuel duty in his spring financial statement, which is due to be delivered next week, to ease the cost of living crisis. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that Johnson plans to visit Saudi Arabia to ask it to increase oil production. However, the Times says the trip has a “slim chance of immediate success” and the Guardian says Johnson is “facing scrutiny” over the trip. The Sun carries the news under the headline: “Boris Johnson will jet to the Gulf to beg oil-rich kingdoms to turn on the taps – as hopes soar Rishi Sunak will slash fuel duty.” In other UK news, the Independent covers analysis which finds that insulation installed in homes in the past decade is saving £1.2bn on bills. And the Guardian reports that: “The UK government must urgently bring forward billions of pounds in pledged spending on insulation and heat pumps, and reinstate the universal credit uplift to help poor households cope with soaring energy and food prices, civil society groups have told ministers.”
In European news, the Guardian reports that Germany’s economic and energy minister has “warned that an immediate boycott of Russian gas and oil supplies could hurt its own population more than Vladimir Putin, bringing mass unemployment and poverty”. The piece notes that “few other western economies are as dependent on Russian energy as Germany”. Elsewhere, Reuters says that German refineries “have started reducing imports of Russian crude and oil products”, but say the adjustments “would not threaten domestic supply”. Meanwhile, an EU source has told Reuters that “European Union states are set to adopt new sanctions against Russia’s oil majors Rosneft, Transneft and Gazprom Neft, but will continue to buy oil from them”. The Financial Times carries a lengthy piece on the 58-year-old Soviet Druzhba pipeline, which brings Russian oil to Europe. Meanwhile, Yale Environment 360 asks: “Will Russia’s war spur Europe to move on green energy?” And the Guardian asks: “Can the west slaughter Putin’s sacred cash cow?”
Elsewhere, Bloomberg says that EU governments are “poised to back a plan that would slap an import levy on iron and steel, cement and aluminium produced in countries with lower environmental standards”. And DeSmog reports that the European Parliament has “become the first ever policymaking body to officially acknowledge the urgency of defining and tackling climate disinformation”.
A Bloomberg report examines what China’s recent coal-production boost means to its climate action. The piece says that faced with growing global energy shortages and concerns of Covid-19’s impact on the domestic economy, China “is returning to its old habit of coal, no matter what damage it does to climate momentum”. Qin Yan, a carbon analyst at Refinitiv, tells the outlet that “one of the biggest challenges” for China to get to net-zero “is a mindset shift”. She says that “giving the power back to coal now only makes the shift…harder to complete”. A separate Bloomberg report says that China is planning “a massive increase” in coal mining. It says that China’s state economic planner told major mining regions that “it wants to boost domestic production capacity by about 300 million tonnes”, citing “people familiar with the matter”.
Meanwhile, Sixth Tone – a Shanghai-based news website – assesses Chinese provinces’ climate ambitions. The article says that regional climate mitigation efforts are “essential” for China’s climate action, but “provinces have been slow to make progress [on phasing out coal] due to systematic barriers in the energy sector”. Chinese financial publication Caixin reports that two coal-fired power plants in Gansu will resume operation after being shut down “for many years”. The outlet says that the move is expected to increase grid stability, ensure energy supply, and help increase the share of renewables. It adds that Gansu is “planning to launch” coal power projects whose combined capacity would be close to 10 gigawatts to “accommodate the rapid development of renewable energy”.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Guangdong province in southern China “will study establishing a carbon trading market in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao region, known as the Greater Bay Area, in 2022”. The newswire also reports that China’s environment ministry “has slammed firms for falsifying carbon data”. It says the move is “part of the country’s efforts to improve data quality as it prepares to expand its national emissions trading scheme into more industrial sectors.” Finally, Chinese financial publication Yicai reports that China’s “solar panel giant”, Longi Green Energy Technology, has announced three “large-scale capacity expansion projects” Ordos, which Yicai describes as “the coal capital of China”.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has penned a comment piece in the Daily Telegraph arguing that the West must end its dependence on Russian oil and gas. Johnson writes that “as the West is economically dependent on Putin, he will do all he can to exploit that dependence”. He continues: “Putin’s strength – his vast resource of hydrocarbons – is also his weakness. He has virtually nothing else. Putin’s Russia makes little that the rest of the world wants to buy. If the world can end its dependence on Russian oil and gas, we can starve him of cash, destroy his strategy and cut him down to size.” However, Johnson says this move “will not truly work unless everyone does it”. He goes on to discuss the UK’s energy security strategy, which will outline how the UK can become more self-sufficient. “At the heart of the strategy is green energy of all kinds”, he says. He continues: “Renewables are the quickest and cheapest route to greater energy independence. They are invulnerable to Putin’s manipulations. He may have his hand on the taps for oil and gas. But there is nothing he can do to stop the North Sea wind…But we also need baseload energy – power that can be relied upon even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. So now is the time to make a series of big new bets on nuclear power.” He adds: “It is crazy that we are importing oil and gas from Putin’s Russia when we have our own resources in the North Sea. It is time to give investors more confidence in British hydrocarbons. That way, we will have more domestic energy resilience as we make the transition to a zero carbon future. And we will need hydrocarbons to make hydrogen – the low carbon fuel that has perhaps the greatest potential of all.”
Elsewhere, the Times has published a comment piece by Alex Dawson from Global Counsel entitled: “Boris Johnson struggles with balancing act as he walks energy tightrope.” Dawson writes that Johnson is “trying to hold his party and leadership together by appearing more coy about the topic than he actually is”. For example, he says that Johnson risks upsetting MPs over his decision on whether to lift the moratorium on shale gas. And Daily Telegraph journalist Matthew Lynn writes that “swapping Russian gas for Saudi oil is not the answer”, saying that “there is no point in simply swapping dependency on one murderous autocracy for another”.
Elsewhere, yet another editorial in the Sun (at least the sixth in recent weeks) promotes fracking for shale gas. And Matt Ridley, the climate-sceptic former Conservative hereditary peer who oversaw the downfall of Northern Rock bank a decade ago and whose inherited estate has been mined for coal, has penned an opinion piece in the Sun entitled: “How lying Putin spent millions spreading fake news about fracking – even branding drillers ‘as bad as paedophiles’.”
The frequency of tropical cyclones has fallen globally over the past 30 years, a new study says, but damage they cause has “significantly increased”. The study investigates 1990–2021 global tropical cyclone activity trends. The findings suggest that “fewer hurricanes are occurring globally and that the tropics are producing less Accumulated Cyclone Energy – a metric accounting for hurricane frequency, intensity, and duration”. However, short-lived named storms – that last up to two days – and the number of times that tropical cyclones “quickly strengthen” have increased significantly since 1990.
Future average rainfall trends will be the key factor in the occurrence of “compound hot–dry events” over land as the climate warms, a new study says. The researchers use a large collection of climate model simulations to assess the frequency of co-occurring hot and dry extremes. The findings show that “local warming will be large enough that future droughts will always coincide with at least moderately hot extremes, even in a 2C warmer world”. In contrast, rainfall trends are “often weak”, the authors say. Therefore, “constraining regional precipitation trends will also constrain future compound hot–dry events”.