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Briefing date 21.01.2022
UK rejects Aquind’s proposed electricity link to France

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UK rejects Aquind’s proposed electricity link to France
Bloomberg Read Article

The UK has rejected a “politically controversial” 2,000-megawatt power cable to France proposed by the firm Aquind Ltd, reports Bloomberg. According to a letter published on the National Infrastructure Planning website, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng refused to grant a development consent order – the final stage in the planning process – despite a recommendation from the examining authority that the project be approved, the outlet explains. It adds: “The likelihood of the cable being built already was in doubt after years of delays, most recently after Kwarteng requested more information in support of the application.” A report in the Times from earlier this week notes that the two businessmen behind Aquind – Alexander Temerko and Victor Fedotov – “have links to Russia, both having been senior figures in oil and gas businesses in the country”. The former “has donated £730,000 to the Conservative Party and its MPs since 2012”, the paper says. George Greenwood – investigations reporter at the Times – notes in the same article that “the prime minister and Alexander Temerko…are said to be so close they refer to each other as ‘Sasha’ in private, a Russian diminutive for Alexander and the first name on Boris Johnson’s birth certificate”. BBC Panorama has previously reported that “Mr Fedotov’s businesses have donated another £700,000 to 34 MPs and their local parties since the Aquind project began”.

The Financial Times reports that the cable faced local opposition, including by the minister of trade, Penny Mordaunt – MP for the Portsmouth North constituency where the cable from Normandy was going to come ashore. In a video on Twitter this week, Mordaunt said: “We’re seriously concerned about who is sitting behind the project and what their real intentions are…Those in the defense and security community are against this project.” The decision letter said the project’s “proposed landfall in an urban location” was of particular concern to Kwarteng, says BBC News. It said: “The secretary of state considers that in the circumstances of this particular application it is exceptionally necessary to consider whether sufficient consideration has been given to whether there are more appropriate alternatives to the proposed route.” According to the letter, the decision can now only be challenged through a judicial review, reports Reuters, which explains that this “involves asking a court to rule on the lawfulness of a decision taken by a governing body”. The Daily Express says the “£1.1bn electricity cable would have crossed the Channel and doubled the amount of energy Britain currently gets from France”. However, it adds, “plans for Britain to import more energy from the EU have been slammed”.

UK: Millions could get stimulus-style cash to pay energy bills as experts call for £500 payment
The Sun Read Article

In an “exclusive”, the Sun reports that “millions of poor Brits could get Donald Trump-style cash sums to help pay for their soaring energy bills”. The paper continues: “Rishi Sunak is looking at plans to give a one-off chunk of money to struggling workers who are set to be stung by huge hikes…Boris Johnson has been locked in talks with the chancellor, business secretary and energy firms over the best way to take the edge off and avoid Brits being stung with hundreds of pounds of extra bills. Experts at the Social Market Foundation today backed the idea of a one-off £500 payment – but insiders say it’s technically hard to write virtual cheques for millions of people, and there’s no mechanism to do it.” A Treasury source told the paper: “Ministers are looking at ways we can help to support households in the short term – particularly for those who need it most…There is no easy or perfect way to do this.”

The Financial Times reports that “industry executives have warned” the expected jump in energy bills in April will probably coincide with falls in the global gas price, creating an “enormous” political challenge. Speaking yesterday at an online event organised by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit thinktank, Emma Pinchbeck – chief executive of the trade body Energy UK – said that the projected 50% rise in Britain’s energy price cap to £2,000 a year per household would kick in just as there is the usual seasonal drop-off in wholesale gas prices in the spring, due to reduced demand. “I think it’s untenable that the government doesn’t do something urgently on bills,” she said. With the number of households in fuel poverty expected to rise from four to six million as a result of the April price cap rise, Pinchbeck also warned that median income households would have to spend 7-10% of their income on energy costs, reports the Daily TelegraphBloomberg also has the story.

The Guardian reports Pinchbeck’s urging of the government to “press on with net-zero policies”, despite claims from some on the political right that high energy prices should spark a rethink. Net-zero is “something they still need to do”, said Pinchbeck, adding: “We are missing the carbon budgets.” In contrast, Sky News speaks to “serial rebel, Brexiteer and Tory backbencher” Steve Baker, who has said that carbon emissions targets could be “bigger than Brexit” for the potential of causing unrest and division in the country. Baker – an organising member of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of MPs, and trustee of the climate-sceptic lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) – told the outlet that “I genuinely believe that when the full costs of net-zero start hitting us, if people have never been given a choice at the ballot box, we could end up with something bigger than the poll tax, certainly bigger than Brexit, because the numbers of people hit by it and their inability to cope will be huge”. Fellow Conservative MP Chris Skidmore MP responded that “my greatest fear is that we end up with this race to the bottom, of…parties wanting to politicise energy prices, politicise net-zero, and the only sort of winners in that are going to be the populists”. At the same time, the government has – for the third time – declined to release the expected emissions savings for the measures in its landmark net-zero strategy, published last October. The business department has turned down Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from the Press Association and New Scientist to release a spreadsheet which details how individual policies in the strategy will deliver the carbon cuts needed to meet legal climate targets. (For more on the strategy, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A.)

Meanwhile, the Insulation Assurance Authority has warned that more than 30,000 jobs would be put at risk if the government were to scrap the energy bill levy that pays for home insulation improvements for poor households, reports the Guardian. The paper explains that “ministers are mooting an end to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), a £1bn levy on energy bills that pays for energy efficiency measures for people on low incomes”. Nigel Donohue, the chief executive of the industry body, has written to ministers urging them to keep ECO, arguing that the levy added less than 52p a week to the average energy bill, but had reduced household energy bills by about £300 a year on average for the 3m homes treated so far. Donohue said: “ECO has been the backbone in supporting those hit hardest by fuel poverty…Cutting or just suspending ECO would be utterly self-defeating, lead to mass redundancies in the industry and harm the most vulnerable. ECO must be saved.”

The Guardian also reports that “Britain’s wind and solar farms could help to reduce households’ energy bills by paying back almost £800m to consumers by the end of the winter after gas and electricity market prices rocketed above their set subsidy levels”. It explains: “Renewable energy projects typically receive payments from household energy bills to top up the earnings from the energy market to an agreed level, or ‘strike price’, But in return they are expected to pay cash back to consumers when market prices outstrip the set subsidy level…The body responsible for managing renewable energy payments, the Low Carbon Contracts Company (LCCC), has forecast paybacks from the industry could increase to a total of £770m by the end of winter, shaving an average of £27 from the annual home energy bill.” ScottishPower chief executive Keith Anderson told the Press Association that “we are sending a cheque back to the government”.

Scientists lambast EU over gas and nuclear’s ‘green’ energy label
Financial Times Read Article

An EU proposal to label nuclear power and some natural gas as sources of green energy “has come under fire from experts hired by Brussels to help draw up the sustainable investment rules”, reports the Financial Times. The paper explains that “the group of scientists want Brussels to amend its so-called ‘taxonomy on sustainable finance’ to limit use of gas and nuclear energy or risk undermining EU climate goals”. In a document seen by the FT, the group wants to deny a green label to electricity produced from natural gas that produces more than 100 grammes of CO2 per kilowatt hour. That is compared with more than 550kg/kWh annually over 20 years allowed in the draft, the paper says. In addition, the experts say the inclusion of nuclear energy contravenes the principle of “do no significant harm”, which is vital in ensuring eligibility for the green label, the FT says. The document demands “substantial changes” to the text in order to ensure that new nuclear power stations contribute to the EU’s climate targets. The stance “will heap pressure on Brussels to amend the taxonomy in the face of a scientific and political backlash”, the paper says, adding that “the feedback will be sent to the European Commission on Friday as part of a consultation between Brussels, member states and experts on the rules. The text is due to be finalised this month”. Politico also reports on the “EU’s taxonomy tussle”, noting that “climate campaigners, German and Austrian Greens, scientists and even some investors are aghast at the European Commission’s proposal to add nuclear and gas to its definition of what qualifies as a sustainable investment – but there’s very little they can do about it”. That is because “not nearly enough countries are opposed to the Commission’s draft act”, the outlet explains, and “blocking it needs a supermajority of at least 72% of countries representing 65% of the EU’s population”.

Meanwhile, EurActiv reports that EU environment ministers gathered in France yesterday for two days of talks to mull climate policy and the merits of a carbon border tax. The outlet says: “Discussion on overhauling the EU’s electricity market and carbon-trading system, already fraught, unfolds against a backdrop of sharp increases in energy prices, especially natural gas.” EU energy ministers will “join the fray” today and then continue on with separate talks, it adds. EurActiv also reports that “coalition of 10 EU member states, led by Sweden, have written to the French EU Council Presidency and the European Commission to warn against the planned revision of sustainability criteria for bioenergy, saying it is too early to do so”.

China's 2022 electricity consumption growth to slow as economy cools
S&P Global Platts Read Article

S&P Global Platts – which publishes news, data and analyses about energy and commodities – reports that China’s power demand growth in 2022 is “expected to slow as the country’s economy cools and fuel prices rise”. Andre Lambine – power analyst at S&P Global Platts Analytics – is quoted saying that the nation’s year-on-year power demand growth for 2022 “should be lower than” that of 2021. He explains: “This is mostly due to expectations of lower economic growth.”

Meanwhile, the Global Times – a Chinese state-run newspaper – reports that China’s national electricity consumption and the highest electricity load is expected to “continue to grow rapidly in 2022”. It quotes an official from the state economic planner. Separately, the Washington Post examines the potential environmental impact of using artificial snow for the Winter Olympics 2022 in Beijing – against the host nation’s ambition of having a “green” Olympics. Furthermore, Bloomberg reports that China put “a record number of solar panels on rooftops last year”.

In other news, Dr Zhu Congwen – a researcher from the Institute of Climate and Climate Change at the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences – tells China News Service that, based on “a series of research”, the eruption of an underwater volcano near Tonga would bring about “continuous impact” on the climate of East Asia and the entire world in the next one or two years. He tells the state-run newswire that the eruption is expected to incur a 0.3C temperature drop. He also notes that volcano eruptions would usually “weaken the intensity” of the East Asian summer monsoon in the following year, resulting in a “southward shift” of the summer rain belt in China. (Western media reports have recently quoted scientists saying the eruption is unlikely to cause a fall in global temperatures.)

Elsewhere, China’s state news agency Xinhua reports that the nation’s “major” coal-producing province, Shanxi, saw its GDP recording a 9.1% growth to reach nearly 2.26tn yuan (about £260bn) in 2021. The outlet adds: “As an important energy base in China, Shanxi’s coal output reached 1.19bn tonnes last year.” Finally, the People’s Political Consultative Conference Newspaper – which is run by China’s top political advisory body – reports on the first-ever “carbon peaking and carbon neutrality” indices for Chinese cities.

Britishvolt gets £100m boost to build UK’s first large-scale ‘gigafactory’
The Guardian Read Article

The UK government will invest £100m in Britishvolt as the car battery manufacturing startup seeks to build the UK’s first large-scale “gigafactory” in the north-east of England, reports the Guardian. It continues: “The government’s Automotive Transformation Fund will invest alongside asset management company Abrdn and its majority-owned property investment arm, Tritax, to fund a sale and leaseback deal for the huge building that will house the electric car battery factory, near Blyth in Northumberland…The plant will employ about 3,000 workers when it is at full capacity in around 2028. The first batteries are scheduled to start production in 2024 to take advantage of rising demand ahead of the UK’s 2030 ban on new cars without a battery. The government and Britishvolt declined to detail the size of the government investment, citing commercial confidentiality. However, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said it was worth about £100m.” The Financial Times says that “ministers were in talks to provide around £200m originally…though the sum has since been scaled back, in part to keep more funding available to attract other projects, according to two people close to the matter”.

Speaking to BBC News, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng described the support as “reindustrialisation”, adding: “We’re bringing industry, we’re bringing manufacturing to an area that has been underinvested in frankly and we’re bringing thousands of jobs.” The Daily Telegraph reports the comments of prime minister Boris Johnson, who said the plans are “a strong testament to the skilled workers of the north-east and the UK’s place at the helm of the global green industrial revolution”. At full capacity, the plant “will be one of the biggest ‘gigafactories’ in Europe, and will make enough cells annually for more than 300,000 electric vehicle battery packs”, reports the Daily Mail. The development is the second gigafactory to receive public funding in the north-east in the last year, notes Sky News: “It follows the announcement of a £1bn joint venture between Nissan, Envision and Sunderland City Council to build batteries for the Japanese car manufacturer’s electric vehicles (EVs) on Wearside.” Bloomberg reports that carmaker Lotus has signed a preliminary agreement with Britishvolt “to explore teaming up on battery manufacturing, research and development, according to people familiar with the matter”.

In related comment, John Thornhill – innovation editor at the Financial Times – writes that “the big question is whether charging infrastructure can be built fast enough to stay ahead of the demand for electric vehicles that is being stimulated by government subsidies”.

‘Just a new fossil fuel industry’: Australia to send first shipment of liquefied hydrogen to Japan
The Guardian Read Article

Australia will export its first load of liquefied hydrogen made from coal in an engineering milestone, reports the Guardian, “which researchers say could also lock in a new fossil fuel industry and increase the country’s carbon emissions”. The paper continues: “Under the $500m Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) pilot project, hydrogen will be made in Victoria’s LaTrobe valley from brown coal and transported aboard a purpose-built ship to Japan, where it will be burned in coal-fired power plants. Carbon capture and storage will be used in an attempt to reduce the carbon emissions associated with making the hydrogen and supercooling the gas until it forms a liquid before it is loaded aboard the Suiso Frontier vessel. The first shipment is due to depart from Hastings in the coming days.” In a statement, prime minister Scott Morrison said the “project puts Australia at the forefront of the global energy transition to lower emissions through clean hydrogen, which is a fuel of the future”. However, one researcher tells the paper that “fossil hydrogen is a whole new fossil fuel industry, regardless of whether carbon capture and storage is attached to it. It results in extraordinary greenhouse gas solutions. It’s not a climate solution”. Reuters also has the story.

Shell, UK regulators revive talks on North Sea gas field development
Reuters Read Article

Royal Dutch Shell and British regulators “have revived talks on developing the Jackdaw gas field in the North Sea as the government struggles with soaring gas and power prices”, reports Reuters. The newswire continues: “The UK’s Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) in October rejected on environmental grounds the development plan for the Jackdaw field, which has reserves of between 120-250m barrels of oil equivalent. Shell, which at the time said it was ‘disappointed’ by the decision, has in recent weeks renewed talks with OPRED on a new environmental plan, according to two company sources.” A Shell spokesperson tells the outlet that “we continue to work with the regulator to explore options around developing the Jackdaw field”, while the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, under whose umbrella OPRED operates, declined to comment.


Solving climate change requires a new social contract
Christiana Figueres, Time Read Article

Writing in Time magazine, Christiana Figueres – who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2016 – says that “the most important resource” to tackle climate change “is still scarce”. That resource is “trust”, she says, which is “the glue that will hold our collective efforts together through the extremely difficult challenges we are facing”. She writes: “Trust is the glue that will hold our collective efforts together through the extremely difficult challenges we are facing. It is hard won and easily lost. Unless we intentionally rebuild trust – in ourselves and in each other – our work to secure a liveable future for humanity will falter and ultimately fail.” Figueres unpacks why “we need to rebuild trust in ourselves”, “we need to build trust between developing and developed nations”, and “we must build trust between the various parts of the climate community, all of whom are working towards the same goal but with very different approaches”. On the last of these points, Figueres writes: “This has recently come to the fore in arguments about “net-zero.” There are those in the community who believe it is the way forward and are avidly pursuing it, and those who believe it is a dangerous trap and advocate against it, pushing instead for real zero. The truth is that net-zero and real zero emissions both require massive, immediate emissions reductions, and both are valid. Just like any well-functioning ecosystem, we need a great diversity of approaches. It is going to take all of us working together with honesty, compassion, and respect for each other to deliver the changes we need.”

The Sun says: Cut bills now
Editorial, The Sun Read Article

An editorial in the Sun says that, “whatever the Tories intend to do about the cost of living they must urgently announce it”. It continues: “Working people are being hammered NOW. Food and fuel have gone through the roof. Energy bills will be next, plus the disastrously timed April tax rise. Labour have noisily unveiled their plan: A windfall tax on energy giants and a VAT cut. Yes, easier to say in opposition than to enact in office, but still. Meanwhile ideas are floated by the Treasury, but nothing firm. They must end the paralysis. Cut the VAT, cut the green levies…whatever it is, do it.”

Writing for MailOnline, columnist and GB News presenter Dan Wootton plucks out “10 things Boris can – and must – do if he has any hope of saving his premiership”. Among the sensitive and considered list – which includes “Stop the boats, stop the boats, stop the bloody boats” – are “Axe green levies on energy bills” and “Axe VAT on energy bills”. On green levies, Wootton argues that “it’s a moral outrage they make up over 20% of what we all pay for electricity. You may have got away with it when the costs remained relatively low overall, but the game is up.”

Also on energy bills, Reuters columnist John Kemp writes that the UK is bracing for a “big rise in fuel poverty”. He writes that the impact of rising bills in April “will be worsened by planned increases in national insurance payroll taxes also scheduled to take effect from April, as well as the rapid rise in other living costs, including food and road fuels”. He says: “Elected policymakers will therefore come under intense pressure to defer or reduce some of the planned utility bill and tax increases, or find ways of providing more money to households via increases in benefits and subsidies.”

Finally, Cecilia Keating, senior reporter at BusinessGreen, quotes Carbon Brief analysis – published yesterday – in a piece looking at “the wretched legacy of David Cameron’s decision to ‘cut the green crap’”. She writes that Carbon Brief “calculates David Cameron’s decision to axe a number of clean energy and building energy efficiency policies are now costing the average UK household around £40 a year, a figure that is set to rise to £60 a year if the current energy bill price cap rises as expected in the coming months”. The Independent also reports on the analysis.


Existing land uses constrain climate change mitigation potential of forest restoration in India
Conservation Letters Read Article

A new study finds that the actual land area in India that is available for increasing forest cover as a mitigation tool is “substantially less” than previously estimated in global studies. Researchers model the suitable terrain and climatic conditions for different vegetation types and compare those results to maps of current land use in India to identify locations that would be suitable for carbon sequestration. They find that the total available area is “only” 1.58m hectares, with a total sequestration potential of 61.3m tonnes of carbon (MtC). However, the researchers also identify nearly 15m hectares of agricultural land that would be suitable for agroforestry, which could sequester nearly 100MtC, they say.

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