Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK: Sizewell C nuclear plant go-ahead confirmed with £700m public stake
- Qatar to supply Germany with LNG as EU seeks secure energy options
- Giving up on 1.5C climate target would be gift to carbon boosters, says IEA head
- US tries to break EU deadlock over Russian oil price cap
- China's Xi looks to strengthen energy ties with Russia
- UK: Onshore wind rebellion will make general election defeat worse, says Rees-Mogg as Tory splits deepen
- UK: Labour calls on government to close £17bn ‘loopholes’ in energy windfall tax
- Brazil's Lula courts UK, US to join Amazon rainforest protection fund
- Sizewell C ‘confirmed’ again – this time it might be the real deal
- Act together to fight climate change
- Changes in fire activity and biodiversity in a northeast Brazilian Cerrado over the last 800 years
The UK government has confirmed that it is going ahead with the new Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk, by supporting the scheme with a £700m public stake, the Press Association reports. The nuclear plant “has seen costs climb since it was first given the go-ahead”, but is intended to be the second in a new generation of nuclear reactors after the delayed Hinkley Point C scheme in Somerset, which is under construction, the news wire continues. The Times focuses on the confirmation that around £100m will be used to buy a Chinese state company out of the project. The government said this sum, a portion of the £700m, was “commercially confidential”, but three sources tell the newspaper it was in the region of £100m, reflecting China General Nuclear’s investment in the project. This means the government and the French energy company EDF will take joint control of the scheme until external investors can be secured to fund its construction, which is expected to cost £30bn, the piece continues. Business secretary Grant Shapps has acknowledged “national security” fears led to taxpayers’ money being used to end China’s involvement in the plant, according to MailOnline. He also told MPs that the project would help create thousands of jobs and shore up the UK’s energy security, it continues. The Financial Times reports that the news comes amid fraying tensions between the west and China, including concerns about Chinese involvement in British infrastructure. It notes that UK prime minister Rishi Sunak declared this week that the “golden era” of UK-Chinese ties announced by former prime minister David Cameron, who initiated Chinese involvement in Sizewell C, was “over”. The Guardian notes that the government also intends to set up an arm’s-length body, dubbed Great British Nuclear, to develop further nuclear projects across the country. According to the new contract with EDF, the nuclear plant at Hinkley will still be funded even if it does not start operating until 2036 (it was 2033), which the Daily Telegraph notes is more than a decade after its initial deadline in 2025.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that French president Emmanuel Macron is visiting the US on his first state visit of the Biden administration, along with representatives from France’s nuclear energy industry who are hoping to push a nuclear “renaissance”. However, the article notes that with 40% of France’s nuclear plants offline, “there could hardly be a more awkward time to promote the country’s know-how”. The Guardian has a piece about opposition to new nuclear in Japan, as the government pushes for as many as 17 nuclear reactors to be switched back on more than a decade after the meltdown at Fukushima.
Qatar will provide Germany with liquefied natural gas (LNG) under a long-term supply deal “that marks a big step forward in efforts by Europe’s biggest economy to wean itself off Russian gas”, the Financial Times reports. State-owned QatarEnergy and US group ConocoPhillips, are set to provide around 2m tonnes of LNG to Germany annually for at least 15 years, starting from 2026, it adds. German chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomed the new deal as a “building block” towards energy security and a sign that his nation had many different countries to tap for supplies, Reuters reports. The Daily Telegraph notes that Germany bought 50% of its gas from Russia before the invasion of Ukraine and “urgently needs to find new suppliers to maintain its industrial might and keep families warm”. In more Qatar news, MailOnline reports that footballers at the World Cup are facing “unseasonable heat” during the tournament because of global warming.
In contrast with the willingness of fellow oil producer Qatar, the Financial Times reports that Norway is postponing its next round of new oil-and-gas exploration licences, in a move “that cuts across its promises to do all it can to help Europe with its energy crisis”. The three-year delay is part of a deal the centre-left Norwegian government struck with a leftwing party to pass its budget, the newspaper adds. In France, RFI reports that the country has rebooted a coal-fired power station in Saint-Avold, eastern France, that had been due to close in March. The government says that the move is a temporary measure, as the electricity supply is struggling to keep up with demand due to the war in Ukraine and maintenance problems with some nuclear plants.
Reuters reports on comments by the Nigerian oil minister Timipre Sylva, who says he expects his nation to stop importing petroleum products next year. Nigeria, a major oil producer, currently trades crude oil for refined products, but the piece says a refurbished refinery in the city of Port Harcourt in the oil-producing Niger Delta is expected to make the country self-sufficient.
Finally, Reuters reports that Puerto Rican municipalities have filed a lawsuit saying oil majors ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and others colluded to publicly downplay the risks of their fossil-fuel products on climate change and are therefore financially responsible for damages from the devastating 2017 hurricane season.
In an “exclusive” interview with the Guardian, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), has “slammed scientists and activists” who have said that the recent COP27 climate summit destroyed hopes for the crucial 1.5C limit. Birol said: “It is factually incorrect, and politically it is very wrong…The fact is that the chances of 1.5C are narrowing, but it is still achievable”. He added that the claims were coming from an “unusual coalition” of scientists, activists and fossil fuel industry “incumbents”.
US officials are trying to persuade Poland and other EU countries to agree on a plan to cap the price paid for Russian oil in a bid to curb the flow of money into the nation amid its on-going invasion of Ukraine, Politico reports. The deadline for the G7’s price cap plan to be implemented is Monday, but Poland, Estonia and Lithuania have been pushing within the EU for a more severe limit than the one currently being proposed, at a lower price, the news outlet adds. Next week will see the EU’s own full embargo on purchases of Russian seaborne oil, which was agreed at the end of May, kick in, Reuters explains. The G7 proposal is softer and intended to replace the tougher EU plan to protect global supply and prevent a price surge. The Financial Times has a feature about the EU’s struggles in forming a “wartime energy policy” and moving beyond its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.Bloomberg considers what would happen if the EU cannot agree on a Russian oil price cap. “In that eventuality, planned sanctions would enter into force. It would likely be bullish for oil because those measures look much more restrictive for Russia’s exports. The price cap was designed as a kind of off-ramp from strict European sanctions, and one of its core aims is to keep Russian oil flowing,” it says.
In more US-EU news, Politico reports on comments by German economy minister Robert Habeck, who has said the EU is urgently making plans to prop up its core industries amid fears that new US subsidies for low-carbon industries in its Inflation Reduction Act could harm European businesses. Former US vice president Al Gore, by contrast, defended the legislation as a “truly historic accomplishment” and said the EU should match what the US has done, Politico reports. An editorial in the Guardian calls the US’s “buy America” strategy “a wake-up call for Europe”.
China’s president Xi Jinping said yesterday that “China is willing to work with Russia to forge a closer energy partnership, promote clean and green energy development and jointly maintain international energy security and the stability of industry supply chains”, reports Reuters, citing a report by the state broadcaster CCTV. The newswire says the meeting of businesses from the “two trade partners comes amid preparations for a G7 price cap to be imposed from 5 December on Russian oil, in efforts to curb Moscow’s ability to fund its invasion of Ukraine”. According to Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak, Russia’s energy exports to China have “increased in value by 64% this year, and by 10% in volume”, the article notes, adding that Moscow has become the world’s “fourth biggest yuan trade centre as the Kremlin pushes for more ties with Asia amid western sanctions”. Russian deputy transport minister Alexander Poshivai is quoted by the Russian state-owned RIA news agency as saying “Russia came up with the proposal to recognise by the Chinese side the insurance certificates of Russian companies that insure maritime transportation, as well as certificates of reinsurance of maritime transportation risks, documents guaranteeing financial coverage of risks”, the article notes. Additionally, Russian publication Kommersant says that “Chinese authorities are refusing to accept Russian insurance documents for oil shipments”. Chinese state news agency Xinhua also covers Xi’s statement.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg has an article, titled: “China’s Covid zero policy is putting its climate action on ice.” It says that “frustration with China’s Covid zero policy is coming to a head, as lockdowns, testing and other restrictions spur historic protests across the country”, adding that “on the ground, the country’s strict Covid controls are also playing out in another realm: grinding some grassroots climate action to a halt”. It continues, “environmentalists in and outside China say Covid zero has made them extremely wary of travel, cutting off much-needed in-person interaction and, in one case, hamstringing a crucial international negotiation on biodiversity [COP15]”. The New York Times says that “growing protests in the world’s biggest manufacturing nation add a new element of uncertainty atop the Ukraine war, an energy crisis and inflation”.
In other news, Caixin Global says that China’s “latest helping hand to the property market looks most likely to directly benefit state-owned and quality private developers”. Separately, an article on Al Jazeera writes that “wedged between a war-time Russia to the north and a zero-Covid China to the south”, Mongolia’s economy has been “hampered by the unprecedented isolation of its two largest trading partners”. It adds that Mongolia was also “among the emerging economies pushing for a ‘loss and damage’ fund” at COP27. Finally, People’s Daily, a newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party, has a comment piece by He Yin, titled: “China safeguards climate justice, boosts global confidence in climate governance at COP27.”
Finally, Canadian foreign minister Mélanie Joly tells the Guardian that climate change is one of the areas where her country and China have common ground and shared concerns.
The saga within the Conservative party over onshore wind in England continues, as former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs that those trying to lift the effective ban on the technology risk making the Conservatives’ expected defeat in the next election worse. A group of Conservative rebels, including ex-prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, are hoping to gather enough support to join with Labour and vote against prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government on the issue, the article notes. Rees-Mogg has told Conservative Home: “I think if the Conservative party wants to win the next election we have to support our current leader and we, therefore, have to vote for what he puts in front of us unless it is something that singularly disadvantages one’s own constituency.” The Times says that an estimated 37 are now backing an amendment to the levelling-up bill, in a bid to reverse restrictions on new onshore wind farms that have been in place since 2015. The newspaper says Sunak is considering a compromise amendment that would make onshore wind farms easier to build with local consent, but is canvassing MPs to “gauge the depth of feeling”. BBC News reports that business secretary Grant Shapps has been criticised by environmental groups after claiming wind turbines are now “so big” they cannot be built on land. The New Statesman has a piece titled “how Johnson, Truss and the Tory rebels learned to love onshore wind”.
Separately, the Financial Times has a feature exploring how changing the pattern of electricity use in homes can help manage demand and meet climate targets, as part of a “Future of Energy” special report.
The Independent reports that Labour has accused the government of “botching” its windfall tax on North Sea oil-and-gas companies. The opposition party says the government has left “loopholes” in the tax, in the form of “allowances” for fossil fuel companies, which it calculates will cost the public finances £17bn, the news outlet adds. It notes that Labour has tabled an amendment to the bill enacting the chancellor’s autumn statement, “demanding that he spell out the full cost”, as well as backdating the windfall tax to the start of 2022 and matching Norway’s 78% levy on its North Sea firms. In a separate, “exclusive” story, the Independent reports that the government is being urged to “name and shame” companies such as Shell that have so far used the loophole to avoided paying anything out under the windfall tax.
In the EU, the Guardian reports on analysis by WWF that finds big polluting industries, such as steel, cement and aviation, have been given almost €100bn (£86bn) in free carbon allowances by the bloc over the last nine years.
In more UK news, the Financial Times reports on comments by the head of British Gas-owner Centrica, Chris O’Shea, who has warned that more UK retail energy suppliers will probably go bust this winter. Separately, the Financial Times also reports that Centrica has warned the “future stability” of the UK energy market is at risk if the government pushes ahead with a plan to sell semi-nationalised retailer Bulb to rival Octopus Energy.
Meanwhile, the Wildlife Trusts have outlined more than a dozen missing or overdue plans and legislative measures from the UK government, stating that the nation is setting a “dismal example” ahead of the COP15 nature summit in Montreal, Canada, the Independent reports. The Daily Mail reports on new Forestry Commission data that shows more trees were blown down last year by storms such as Storm Arwen than were planted in England.
Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is asking the UK, France, the US and others to donate to an international fund to protect the Amazon rainforest, Reuters reports. The Amazon Fund, which was started under Lula’s first administration from 2003-2010, funded conservation projects and has Norway and Germany as its biggest donors, the newswire continues. It has been frozen under the current administration, but the new government says restarting it would give Lula the power to take action on deforestation straight away, the article notes. Meanwhile, in light of debates at COP27 about which countries should be providing funds for “loss and damage” resulting from climate change, Climate Home News explores the different metrics by which to assess the potential donor base. It concludes that despite rhetoric from come western nations, China is not the most likely candidate.
As part of its “Future of Energy” series, the Financial Times has a piece looking at the push by some developing countries, particularly in Africa, to use fossil-fuel power plants to improve their energy provision and drive economic growth.
The Guardian’s financial editor Nils Pratley writes about the latest news concerning the Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk. He describes it as “surely the ‘most announced’ project in UK infrastructure history”, but notes that the latest update, concerning the buyout of Chinese investors (see above), is significant. However, he says the project still has a long way to go. “The point at which the project will be truly ‘confirmed’ is when other investors have committed the hard equity capital to fund construction. That moment is still a year away and the job probably involves finding £8bn-ish to allow an even greater sum to be borrowed on top. It is not a small task,” Pratley writes. Nevertheless, he concludes, “Sizewell – for better or worse – is starting to look credible”. Chief city commentator in the Daily Telegraph Ben Marlow has a piece titled: “Britain was insane to trust China on nuclear power.” He notes that the government was not even willing to disclose how much it has paid the Chinese state-owned CGN to leave the project, saying the agreement was “commercially confidential” (although the press has reported the figure to be about £100m, see above). “Instead of relying on China, Britain should have been developing its own homegrown nuclear industry,” Marlow writes. Writing in the Times, chief business commentator Alistair Osborne says that investors think the government will have to put in at least £5bn equity to get Sizewell built and insulate investors from a big chunk of cost-overruns. He says business secretary Grant Shapps “shouldn’t pretend that a sub-£700 million investment cuts it as nuclear fuel”.
Elsewhere, climate-sceptic columnist Ross Clark writes in the Daily Mail about the Conservative rebellion that is trying to reverse the de-facto ban on onshore wind in England. Unsurprisingly, he opposes onshore wind and supports fracking instead, “If the PM doesn’t get a grip and pursue sensible solutions for our future energy supply, the lights will go out in Britain — and perhaps on Rishi’s premiership too,” he concludes.
Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari writes in China Daily about his country’s role as chair of the Group of 77 and China at the COP27 climate summit. “As the chair, I proposed the discussion on a loss and damage financing facility last June in the preparations for COP 27. We faced familiar resistance to placing the issue on the Conference agenda. Ultimately, and not easily, we succeeded,” he writes.
A new study shows how different inhabitants of northeastern Brazil impacted the fire activity, deforestation and biodiversity of the region over the past 800 years. Researchers analyse pollen and charcoal in a sediment core from northeastern Brazil to determine changes in deforestation and fire activity. They identify different fire regimes based on the human activity during a given period; for example, they identify “extensive fires and deforestation” following the arrival of European colonists. The authors write that their study “underlines the importance of including historical aspects of the landscape in future conservation scenarios”.