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 renewables auctions to be held annually in green energy push
- China's Zhejiang approves new $1.1bn coal-fired power plant
- European scientists set nuclear fusion energy record
- UK: Most Conservative MPs support net-zero, says Tory environment group
- UK must move faster to insulate homes – climate chief
- UK’s reliance on gas imports to increase to 70% by 2030
- UK: Fast uptake of electric cars threatens £18bn hole in Treasury finances
- UK windfall tax can be a lever to persuade fossil fuel companies to act on global warming
- The BBC’s bias is making the energy crisis even worse
- EU recovery fund gives Spain ‘once in a lifetime’ chance to fight climate change
- The country that's worried most about climate change
- Coastal hazards of tropical‐like cyclones over the Mediterranean Sea
- Global temperature goals should determine the time horizons for greenhouse gas emission metrics
The UK government has “restated its faith in green technologies” by announcing a move to annual auctions for renewable power projects, BBC News reports. It quotes energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng saying: “The more clean, cheap and secure power we generate at home, the less exposed we will be to the expensive gas prices set by international markets.” The article, by the broadcaster’s environment and energy analyst Roger Harrabin, notes: “The renewables industry is delighted – especially after a week that’s seen the government’s energy policy under fire from some MPs and commentators who believe the cost of the drive to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050 are too high.” [Renewables are currently taking the edge off the impact of high gas prices, saving the equivalent of around £10 on average household bills this winter.] The Press Association says the shift to annual renewable auctions for “contracts for difference” (CfD) will “boost the rollout of clean power sources”. It adds: “Increasing the frequency of auctions aims to drive the development of more renewable power, including onshore wind and solar which were excluded by the government from the scheme for a number of years, as well as offshore wind.” The newswire explains: “The contracts are paid for through bills, but because they stipulate a specific price for electricity from clean schemes, if the wholesale price of power goes above that level the producer pays back money to the consumer. Offshore wind farms paid back nearly £117m for the final three months of last year, while onshore producers returned more than £40m, as electricity prices soared because of high global gas prices.” Reuters notes that the announcement “comes amid spiralling energy costs, with a cap on prices for around 22 million British households due to rise 54% from April because of record wholesale gas prices”. It adds: “[T]he newly announced April price cap level is the first where consumers have not had to pay any costs relating to the renewables CfD scheme, Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of the UK’s energy regulator Ofgem said on Tuesday. Costs relating to environmental and social costs on an average energy bill will fall by 4% from April, Ofgem data showed.” City AM and BusinessGreen also have the story.
Reuters reports that the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang has greenlit the construction of a new coal-fired power plant with two gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. Citing “the state firm in charge of the project”, the newswire says that the project would cost 7bn yuan ($1.1bn). It added that it “would consist of two highly efficient ‘ultra-supercritical’ units and would help balance energy supply and demand in the province”. Reuters says in another Chinese-language report that the same province has approved a separate 5.9bn yuan ($930m) coal-fired power plant. It notes that the project would comprise two 660-megawatt (MW) “ultra-supercritical” units. Sky News also features the $1.1bn project. It reports that the state firm managing the project, Zhejiang Energy Group, “claims the project will aid the province’s low-carbon transition” because it is more efficient than older plants. The outlet adds that an analyst says China’s clean energy growth is “inadequate”.
Meanwhile, S&P Global Platts reports that China’s steel output caps will continue in 2022, despite recent government guidelines easing the timeline for the sector to reach peak emissions. It notes that the move “was partly targeted at giving the steel sector more room for transforming into a low-carbon industry”, citing “sources”. Separately, Politico says that a “global” poll shows a “strong consensus” that China needs to “stop acting like a developing nation” in tackling climate change.
Elsewhere, China’s state news agency Xinhua reports that China “will continue to keep coal prices stable”. It cites “the country’s top economic planner and energy department”.
Scientists at the Joint European Torus (JET) research project have announced what they called a “landmark” 59 megajoules of sustained fusion energy, Reuters reports. It continues: “Scientists have cautioned that years of work are still needed, and the level of energy achieved so far is modest. The energy produced in the latest experiment, for instance, was enough to boil about 60 kettles of water.” BBC News reports: “The experiments produced 59 megajoules of energy over five seconds (11 megawatts of power). This is more than double what was achieved in similar tests back in 1997.” Accompanying analysis by BBC News environment analyst Roger Harrabin says: “There’s huge uncertainty about when fusion power will be ready for commercialisation. One estimate suggests maybe 20 years. Then fusion would need to scale up, which would mean a delay of perhaps another few decades. And here’s the problem: the need for carbon-free energy is urgent – and the government has pledged that all electricity in the UK must be zero emissions by 2035. That means nuclear, renewables and energy storage.” The Times says a “British reactor has smashed the world record for the amount of energy made in a sustained nuclear fusion reaction”. The paper says: “The promise of fusion is carbon-free and near-limitless power. The technical challenges in achieving this have been immense, and many remain.” It adds: “Come 2035, the hope is that we now know enough that Iter [a larger experimental plant being built in France] will generate energy on a scale comparable to a commercial power plant. Come 2050, the hope is that the first such commercial plant will exist…It is just possible that, this time, it really is 30 years away.” Coverage for CNN begins: “There’s no silver bullet to the climate crisis, but nuclear fusion may be the closest thing to it.” The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, BusinessGreen and New Scientist all have the story.
An editorial in the Daily Telegraph says fusion “could transform our world”. It begins: “Piercing the gloom surrounding the shift to non-carbon energy sources and the transitional costs involved is a glimmer of light. We have seen it before, but it has invariably been snuffed out. It is nuclear fusion, the Holy Grail of power generation, the same process that fuels the sun and other stars.” An editorial in the Daily Express says fusion “is our future”. It says the technology “should lead to much cheaper energy bills without having to strip out our boilers or fill beauty spots with turbines”, adding: “That’s something we can all get behind.”
The “vast majority ” of Conservative MPs support the UK’s net-zero climate plans despite “increasingly vocal opposition from a small number of backbenchers”, the Guardian reports, citing the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), which represents 123 MPs and 15 peers. It says the climate-sceptic “net-zero scrutiny group” represents just 19 Conservatives and has been “accused of attempting to derail the government’s green agenda”. The paper quotes a spokesperson for No 10 saying the government remained “fully committed to reaching net-zero by 2050” and adding: “By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, we will eradicate our exposure to the volatile global energy prices, which are currently hiking up household energy bills.”
Meanwhile, an interview with historian Tom Holland in the New Statesman notes: “pro-Brexit forces [are] turn[ing] their attention towards opposing and slowing the transition to net-zero”, including a “faction pushing for a nationwide referendum on the policy”. Holland is quoted saying: “If it’s framed as a referendum on net-zero, I think they’d lose…But, conversely, if you say you don’t want toxic rivers and no hedgehogs, people might vote for it.”
Another Guardian article reports: “Campaigners fear net-zero could be a casualty of Boris Johnson’s weakness.”
Better insulation and more renewable power is the way out of the current energy crisis, according to Chris Stark, the head of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, BBC News reports. Stark says government policy on insulation is “very poor”, the piece adds. It looks at why two-thirds of homes are on “the bottom runs of the Energy Performance rankings with a rating of ‘D’ or below” and says the government needs a new scheme to help homeowners insulate their properties, according to Stark.
The UK will become increasingly reliant on gas imports over the next 30 years even if it cuts demand in line with net-zero, the Financial Times reports, citing its own analysis of production figures from the Oil and Gas Authority and estimated demand in the Climate Change Committee’s main net-zero scenario. The paper says its analysis “underlines Britain’s increasing reliance on overseas supplies of energy as the government comes under growing pressure from environmentalists to halt new domestic drilling”. It adds: “Ministers have so far resisted calls to end new drilling but have said all future oil and gas licenses will be subject to a ‘climate compatibility’ test.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that prime minister Boris Johnson said yesterday that oil and gas firms should be encouraged to “go for more gas”. Bloomberg reports that the UK government “says oil and gas fields align with net-zero plans”.
The UK government could lose £8bn in revenue by 2030 if electric vehicle uptake is faster than expected, according to a Resolution Foundation report covered by the Daily Telegraph. It says the receipts the Treasury currently gets from fuel duty could be eroded far quicker than the government assumes, according to the report. The paper adds: “The report said estimates by the Office of Budgetary Responsibility that the government’s total spending on net-zero would reach £14bn, or 0.5% of GDP, by 2030, would contribute to public investment levels reaching their highest sustained level since the 1970s.” Coverage of the Resolution Foundation report in the Sun says: “The rocketing costs of net-zero, pensions and the NHS could leave Britain on the brink of economic ruin, a thinktank has warned.” (Coverage in the Guardian reports: “Wealth taxes will be needed to fund a £76bn a year increase in government spending by the end of the decade, caused by an ageing population and more expensive healthcare, a thinktank has said.)
The case for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies “almost makes itself”, says an editorial in the Scotsman. It explains: “The cost-of-living crisis is so great that swift action needs to be taken and the moral justification for taking a slice of soaring profits to help people forced to choose between heating and eating is clear.” Reflecting on oil company claims to shifting focus towards renewables, the paper continues: “If they develop more sources of renewable energy in this country, that would insulate British consumers from oil and gas price hikes on the global market, improve the UK’s fuel security and, most importantly of all, cut greenhouse gas emissions.” It concludes: “The stakes in the fight against the potentially existential threat of climate change could not be any higher and humanity needs everyone, including the fossil fuel industry, to pull together. We really are all in it together when the ‘it’ is planet Earth. If the threat of a windfall tax helps some to see that, it should be a policy to return to in the event that the profits keep rolling in and the carbon keeps pumping.”
Separately, the Times reports that Norway’s “Equinor, which supplies about a quarter of the UK’s gas, made $15bn in adjusted earnings before tax in the last three months of 2021”.
In the Guardian, energy correspondent Jillian Ambrose writes under the headline: “BP has ambitious plans to move beyond fossil fuels – but are they enough?”
In a comment for the Daily Telegraph, columnist Matthew Lynn writes: “Right now, the BBC is making the energy crisis far, far worse than it needs to be.” He continues: “If you are getting your news about the gathering energy crisis from the BBC, then you will have been told time and again that there are only three ways to fix the soaring cost of gas and heating. State control. More state control. And, if that doesn’t work, putting an official at a desk in Whitehall in charge.”
Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports on plans to offer households time of use tariffs for their electricity use, with higher or lower prices depending on overall demand. It calls the idea “surge pricing” but adds that it will “ultimately lead to savings for customers as more people take advantage of bargain prices during less busy hours”, according to energy firms and the regulator, Ofgem. Another Daily Telegraph article is headlined: “Why Seventies-style surge pricing will change how we live.” The article notes: “Most industry experts say ‘surge pricing’ is an inaccurate term as far as smart meters are concerned.” In a Daily Telegraph comment headlined “Smart meters are a symbol of the elite drive to nudge Britain into submission”, Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath rails against the “nightmarish rollout of smart meters”, which he calls “a perfect vignette of the madness that has engulfed modern Britain”.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Teresa Ribera, Spain’s deputy prime minister and “environment supremo” sets out the country’s plans for tapping the EU’s €800bn coronavirus recovery fund. The paper says Ribera is “betting [the money] will make a decisive difference to the EU’s battle against climate change” but notes she also “acknowledged challenges such as skill shortages, inflation and the need for private funds and popular backing”. (See Carbon Brief’s 2018 interview with Teresa Ribera at COP24.)
A feature for E&E News covers a new poll and reports: “No place on Earth is more concerned about the dangers of rising temperatures than India – or less concerned about government inaction.” It continues: “Almost 90% of people in India are worried about global warming – more than anywhere else among the 13 countries surveyed. But just 35% say their government is failing to address the crisis – the least of those polled.” The article adds: “In all 13 countries polled, a majority of respondents said they believed wealthy nations should support poorer ones to confront climate challenges.” Politico, which commissioned the poll, reports the findings under the headline: “Climate change will be expensive. Who should pay?” It says: “A Politico Morning Consult Global Sustainability poll asked people in 13 countries who should pay – governments, taxpayers, consumers, other countries, or the private sector. In every country but one – India – respondents singled out companies.”
New research investigates the coastal hazards induced by “medicanes” – tropical-like cyclones generated in the Mediterranean. A medicane is characterised by “a warm core accompanied by thunderstorms [and] heavy rain”, the authors say, but also “strong cyclonic winds (counter-clockwise rotation) that are responsible for costly damages and often result in casualties”. Using a “hydrodynamic and wave coupled model”, the authors simulate storm surges and wind-waves over the Mediterranean Sea to identify the most exposed coastal areas in the region.
A new paper proposes a “novel framework” for emissions metrics based on “the time horizon that aligns with scenarios achieving a specific temperature goal”. The time horizons that align with 1.5C and 2C of warming are 24 years and 58 years, respectively, the study says. Using these values to quantify time-dependent metrics for methane, the authors say that Global Warming Potential (GWP) values that align with the 1.5C and 2C are 75 and 42, respectively. For more emissions metrics, see Carbon Brief’s guest post.