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Daily Briefing

24.09.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING UK offers Covid quarantine waivers in push to hold UN climate summit in-person
UK offers Covid quarantine waivers in push to hold UN climate summit in-person

News.

UK offers Covid quarantine waivers in push to hold UN climate summit in-person
Financial Times Read Article

The UK government has issued a last-minute quarantine waiver for ministers from “red list” countries attending the upcoming UN climate summit, reports the Financial Times, “bowing to complaints from scores of countries that they would otherwise be unable to participate”. As delegations from almost 200 countries are “scrambling to finalise travel arrangements and comply with Covid-19 travel curbs”, the FT says that the UK has decided to ease the travel rules for COP26 delegates, including accepting all varieties of Covid-19 vaccine and exempting red-list ministers, plus two staff, from hotel quarantine. The latter policy was “quietly published in a document posted to the COP26 website late on Wednesday”, the paper notes, adding: “Other delegates from red-list countries will still have to quarantine, including technical negotiators and observers from non-governmental organisations.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that European Union countries “are struggling to agree their negotiating position” for COP26, with “rifts emerging over timeframes for emissions-cutting pledges”. According to officials and documents seen by the newswire, EU’s 27 member states are divided over whether climate pledges by individual nations – called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) – should cover five- or 10-year periods. A majority of EU countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Luxembourg and France, support a five-year timeframe, the newswire says, as it “would put more pressure on countries to set ambitious targets”. However, other EU states – including Poland, Bulgaria and Romania – want to give countries a choice of either five or 10 years. An EU document proposing its position for the COP26 negotiations, seen by Reuters, said the bloc should favour a five-year timeframe. Officials from EU countries will discuss the issue today, the newswire notes, with some diplomats “concerned the bloc will fail to present a united front”.

In related news, Bloomberg reports that seven countries have signed a “no new coal” pledge, initiated by the UN – which “aims to gather more signatures” before COP26. Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Montenegro, Sri Lanka and the UK are the countries to have signed. And COP26 president Alok Sharma speaks to the New Scientist, telling the outlet that meeting the $100bn target for annual climate finance to developing countries “has become absolutely a matter of trust in politics, but particularly in climate politics. Trust is pretty fragile. We need to rebuild this trust if we’re going to get everyone on the same page”.

UK: Kwasi Kwarteng vetoes subsidies for gas supply giants to take on rivals’ clients
The Guardian Read Article

The UK government has ruled out paying large suppliers to take on the customers left behind by the collapse of smaller rivals in the European energy crunch, reports the Guardian. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, told MPs in the House of Commons that he could “categorically” rule out any subsidies or grants for larger energy suppliers, the paper continues: “The UK’s biggest energy suppliers have held meetings with Kwarteng since the weekend to discuss the plans to help the supply market weather the record gas surge, and some are understood to have called for cheap government loans to help shoulder the cost of taking on customers from insolvent rivals.” Reuters carries the quotes from Kwarteng, who said: “I can categorically say to this house: we will not be giving any grants or subsidies for larger companies.” Kwarteng warned that more energy suppliers could fail “in the coming weeks”, reports Bloomberg. In response to an urgent question from the Labour party, Kwarteng also denied accusations of complacency following a warning from regulator Ofgem of a “systemic risk to the energy supply as a whole” 18 months ago, the Press Association reports.

At the same time, the Financial Times reports that the head of one failed supplier has criticised Ofgem and the government for creating a “regulatory environment” that caused the failures as wholesale energy prices surged to record levels. Peter McGirr, founder and CEO of Green, said he and 14 other companies had approached the government on Monday for help, the paper explains. “We wrote to Ofgem, the prime minister, the business secretary and the chancellor of the exchequer…asking for the energy price cap methodology to be reviewed and for an immediate support package to be assembled,” McGirr said. Business minister Paul Scully confirmed there is pressure on the energy price cap, which he said is saving dual-fuel energy customers around £100 per year, but that it will be up to the regulator Ofgem to determine if it should rise, reports the Press Association. Scully also tells BBC News that “we have to prepare for the worst” if wholesale gas prices do not drop in the near future. And analysts at HSBC bank have warned that they expect the price of gas to remain “exceptionally high” this winter and may not stabilise until 2023, reports the i newspaper.

In Italy, Reuters reports that government has set aside more than 3bn euros ($3.5bn) to help customers with rising energy bills. The government says it will eliminate a series of system charges in consumer bills, cut taxes, and increase power and gas bonuses to help more than 5.5m low-income consumers and around 6m small enterprises, the newswire explains. Reuters columnist John Kemp warns against government intervention to limit price rises, noting that “unless prices are allowed to rise to encourage customers to reduce their gas use, or governments find other ways to cut consumption, there is a risk gas supplies will become critically low”. Reuters has a “factbox” on the surging energy prices.

Meanwhile, there is a host of articles on the knock-on impacts of rising wholesale gas prices. The Guardian reports that “the prospect of higher energy bills has prompted a deluge of calls to charities with Citizens Advice warning of a ‘very difficult winter’ for households on low incomes”. The paper also reports that the Bank of England has warned that rising energy bills will drive inflation above 4% this winter. The Times also has the story. The Press Association reports that some energy companies are now taking steps to “deter new customers from joining”. Reuters reports that Paul Scully has warned that consumers should not panic buy amidst high gas prices that have “sent shockwaves through energy, chemicals and steel producers, and strained supply chains which were already creaking due to a shortage of labour and the tumult of Brexit”. (And the Times reports that prime minister Boris Johnson has urged people not to panic buy petrol and diesel after BP was forced to ration fuel deliveries because of a shortage of lorry drivers.)

On a more positive note, Bloomberg reports that “the UK will experience a shift in the weather next week, including strong winds that will ease its dependence on expensive natural gas to produce electricity”. (And the Financial Times Lex column looks at the impacts of recent low wind speeds.) Bloomberg also reports that “on 1 October, commercial flows will start on the 450-mile (724-kilometer) North Sea Link, the world’s longest sub-sea power cable, connecting British and Nordic power markets for the first time”. However, Reuters reports that “Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator will not offer additional interruptible transit capacity for Russian gas to Europe for October as supplier Gazprom has not booked any extra guaranteed capacity, the operator said on Thursday”.

Finally, the Financial Times Energy Source column looks at “what the US can learn from Europe’s gas shortage”. Reuters reports that European energy firms Centrica and Galp are among the companies identified by institutional investors as “highly exposed to physical climate risks”. Sky News reports – in an “exclusive” – that “big businesses including BT, Thames Water and the Co-op have called on the government to phase out gas power by 2035”. And the Hill says a preliminary report from two key agencies has concluded that natural gas, wind and coal all contributed to Texas power outages during its deep freeze in February. (For more on the events in Texas, see Carbon Brief‘s reporting at the time.)

'Death sentence': Low-lying nations implore faster action on climate at UN
Reuters Read Article

Leaders from low-lying and island nations have “implored rich countries” at the UN General Assembly to act more forcefully against a warming planet, reports Reuters. In a pre-recorded speech, Marshall Islands president David Kabua told leaders that “we simply have no higher ground to cede…The world simply cannot delay climate ambition any further”. Guyana’s president Irfaan Ali criticised large polluters for not delivering on promises to curb emissions, the newswire reports, accusing them of “deception” and “failure”. Speaking yesterday, Ali said: “We hold out similar hope that the world’s worst emitters of greenhouse gases that are affecting the welfare of all mankind will also come to the realisation that, in the end, it will profit them little to emerge king over a world of dust.” President Chan Santokhi of Suriname called for “ambitious and actionable commitments” to be made at COP26, urging developed countries to recommit to delivering $100bn per year in climate finance, Reuters notes. Santokhi said: “In the case of my country, Suriname, and the countries with low-lying coastal areas, we are committed to fighting climate change because we are particularly vulnerable even though we have contributed the least to this problem.” The Hill also has the story.

In related news around the General Assembly, Climate Home News reports that more than 200 green groups from 40 countries have called on world leaders to end to international public finance for fossil fuels. In a statement, the groups said renewables are cost competitive with fossil fuels and can meet the global south’s electricity and clean cooking needs, the outlet explains. And both the Guardian and BBC News have “factchecked” UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s speech to the assembly earlier this week.

In other UN news, the Associated Press reports that three presidents and seven foreign ministers have warned the UN Security Council that a warmer world is also a more violent one. At a ministerial meeting of the council, officials – including Ireland’s president Micheal Martin and Vietnam’s president Nguyen Xuan Phuc – “urged the UN’s most powerful body to do more to address the security implications of climate change and make global warming a key part of all UN peacekeeping operations”, the newswire explains. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in his speech that climate change was contributing to numerous global challenges, and worsening the security of countries such as Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Ethiopia, reports the Hill.

US: Biden administration makes first major move to regulate greenhouse gases
The New York Times Read Article

The Biden administration yesterday finalised its first major regulation to directly limit greenhouse gases, reports the New York Times, with a measure to curb the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in air-conditioners and refrigerators. The paper explains: “The new Environmental Protection Agency rule, which goes into effect next month, implements legislation that Congress approved under former president Donald J Trump…The regulation would reduce HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years…Under the new rule, the EPA will reduce the production and use of HFCs incrementally, starting with a 10% reduction next year.” The White House said that its measures are in line with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to phase down the use of HFCs, says the Hill. And E&E News notes: “The initiative also provides an early glimpse into the Biden administration’s long-promised ‘whole-of-government approach’ to fighting climate change, assigning departments from Homeland Security to Defense new roles in preventing the illegal import of HFCs or finding new uses for their more climate-friendly alternatives.” National climate advisor Gina McCarthy told reporters that the move “really sends a signal to the rest of the world that we are all in on climate change”, reports Reuters.

In other US news, Bloomberg reports that interior secretary Deb Haaland has suggested a sharply limited role for fossil fuel extraction on US federal lands and waters. In “her most expansive comments yet on the administration’s overhaul of oil and gas leasing”, Haaland said the Biden administration’s review of oil and gas leasing would seek to restore balance on uses of some 245m acres of government land by advancing clean energy projects, giving Americans a fair return from activity on the territory and ensuring all stakeholders have a say, the outlet explains. “We’re not going to stop gas and oil overnight – that’s just an impossibility right now,” Haaland said, but her department’s decisions would reflect “where we are in this climate catastrophe that we’re in right now”. The Hill also has the story.

Multibillion-pound plan to build UK nuclear power plant
The Times Read Article

The UK government is in discussions with the American nuclear reactor manufacturer Westinghouse about a proposal to develop a new plant on Anglesey in Wales, reports the Times. The paper explains that business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is “understood to be backing plans to build the new plant at Wylfa and is lobbying the Treasury for a funding mechanism that would attract private investment”. It continues: “The government has committed to taking a final investment decision on at least one new nuclear power plant by 2024. However, sources said there was growing backing to give the go-ahead to two. An attempt to build a nuclear plant at Wylfa collapsed last September after the Japanese company Hitachi pulled out.” A “senior government source” tells the paper that the recent rise in gas prices that has coincided with unusually low winds speeds in the North Sea had underlined the need to invest more in nuclear. “If our current situation shows anything it is that we need more stable home grown, low carbon generation in the UK,” the source said. “This is an important project that we’re very keen to try and get off the ground.”

In other UK news, BBC News reports that the Royal Academy of Engineering has told the government to stop buildings being demolished and instead urge the construction industry to re-use buildings, employ more recycled material and use machinery powered by clean fuels.

China: Two departments carry out supervision work to ensure supply and stablise price for energy
China Economic Net Read Article

China’s state macroeconomic planner and state energy regulator have sent joint inspection teams to “key” provinces, enterprises and ports to carry out supervision work to ensure sufficient supply and stable prices for energy, China Economic Net reports. The state-run outlet says that the inspection teams will ensure that those places are implementing the country’s recent instruction of increasing coal production and supply, among other missions. Meanwhile, China Dialogue reports on President Xi’s pledge to stop building new coal-fired power projects overseas. The outlet points out: “It is unclear how China will approach the overseas coal power projects that are already planned or under construction.” It quotes Wang Yi, a member of China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institutes of Science and Development. Wang says that the scope and coverage of the pledge remain to be clarified through follow-up policy documents. The New York Times also looks at the implications of Xi’s pledge, while a Reuters analysis piece says the announcement is “the latest blow for Australian and Indonesian coal miners as more energy systems globally make the shift to renewables”.

Caixin, a Chinese financial outlet, reports that Zhejiang province has stepped up its “dual control’ policy to curb its total energy consumption and energy intensity (the energy use per unit of GDP). The report says that the province has ordered “a large number” of “dual high” enterprises – those with “high” energy consumption and “high” emissions – to halt their production “urgently” until the end of the month. China Energy News says that Guangdong province has rationed electricity for some energy-intensive companies for a week. A separate report from Caijing, also a financial outlet, focuses on “the first fraud case” in China’s carbon market. It says that a company in Ordos in northern China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region – whose annual emissions measure around 10m tonnes – was the first enterprise to be “publically exposed” of fabricating its carbon emission data. Multiple “industry insiders” told the outlet that through forging test reports, the company had attempted to reduce the gap between its allocated emission permits and its actual emissions in 2019, a move that could save the firm nearly 100m yuan in expenses.

Elsewhere, Global Times, a state-run newspaper, has a comment piece titled, “Developed countries should quit empty talks and take real actions to tackle climate change”. In a separate report, the publication says that China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment will send equipment to Uruguay “in a bid to help strengthen the country’s capability to address climate change”. A third Global Times article says that China will be “the most efficient country in the world in reduction of carbon emissions” due to its climate goals. Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy on climate, is quoted saying: “The goal of carbon peaking and carbon neutrality means that China will achieve the highest reduction in carbon emissions in the world and achieve carbon neutrality in the shortest time in history.”

Comment.

It is time for Boris Johnson to get a grip on rising energy prices
Editorial, The Independent Read Article

In an editorial, the Independent says it is time for UK prime minister Boris Johnson to “get a grip” of rising energy prices. The online newspaper notes that “having told the UN general assembly how ‘easy’ it is to wean the world off carbon, [Johnson] returns home to demands that he do something about high fuel prices so that the UK can continue to burn more fossil fuels”. It continues: “This week Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, was at weary pains to protest that, no, Britain was not sliding back to the industrial chaos of the three-day week in the 1970s. And yet every headline since then has only added to the impression of the return of the bad old economic days.” The article urges Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak to “take immediate action to reassure people about rising energy bills”, adding: “So far, ministers have insisted that the price cap on energy bills will stay, but that does not protect many customers from being moved off cheaper tariffs to more expensive ones, nor does it reassure the customers of energy companies that have gone bust or that are at risk of doing so.” Also writing on the energy crunch, Sam Hall – director of the Conservative Environment Network – has a piece on ConservativeHome explaining why “we should urgently wean ourselves off gas and not give up on net-zero”.

In other UK comment, “Bagehot” in the Economist warns that an “anti-green backlash” could reshape British politics “as radically as Brexit did”. It continues: “Whatever a British voter’s natural political hue – Tory blue, Labour red or Liberal Democrat orange – these days it ends up green-tinged…Which leaves a gap in the market for something different: anti-green politics.” An editorial in the Economist follows a similar theme: “The energy transition must be better managed or environmentalism will become unpopular.” Financial Times magazine’s life and arts columnist Simon Kuper explains why “real carbon taxes are the next big political battle”. And Financial Times Berlin correspondent Erika Solomon has a piece on “Germany’s climate change gulf gets harder to bridge”, which notes that “anxious young environmentalists, disappointed with politicians, fear a split and more extreme activism”.

Science.

Residual flood damage under intensive adaptation
Nature Climate Change Read Article

A new study estimates that even under “extreme” emission scenarios, China, India and Latin American countries can achieve higher levels of flood protection that will reduce residual flood damage. The authors evaluate residual flood damage under several “adaptation objectives”, using a flood model that incorporates damage estimates and a cost-benefit analysis. “Residual flood damage could be reduced with shorter construction periods or lower adaptation costs, implying the need for immediate and appropriate adaptation actions, including enhanced financial support for high-risk regions”, the paper concludes.

Enhanced hydrological cycle increases ocean heat uptake and moderates transient climate change
Nature Climate Change Read Article

Human-driven changes in salinity are “probably enabling ocean uptake” of heat, according to new research. The authors use a series of “transient CO2 doubling experiments” to demonstrate that amplified drying conditions drive salinification of the surface layer of the ocean, which in turn accelerates ocean heat uptake. The study also finds that “the change in Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation due to salinification has a secondary role in heat uptake”, noting: “Consistent with the heat uptake changes, the transient climate response would increase by approximately 0.4K without this process.”

THE BRIEF

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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.