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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK: We’ll force Rishi Sunak to lift windfarm ban, say rebels
- UK: £1bn in insulation funding for least-efficient homes
- Gordon Brown says China must pay into climate fund for poor countries
- Germany: Cabinet decides on gas and electricity price brake
- EU in race to settle differences over level of cap on Russian oil price
- UK: Ineos in talks with Rolls-Royce on mini-nuclear power plant technology
- Rich nations have promised to pay for the climate crisis – but will they?
- The Times view on the need for more windfarms: Growth shock
- Changes in permafrost spatial distribution and active layer thickness from 1980 to 2020 on the Tibet Plateau
At least 30 Conservative MPs, including former UK prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, are mounting a rebellion against Rishi Sunak in order to force the government to end its ban on onshore wind, the Times reports this morning. Support for the rebellion has snowballed over the weekend, with former levelling-up secretary Simon Clarke announcing in the Daily Telegraph on Friday evening he had tabled an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to force an end to the ban . His plans were swiftly backed by Johnson and Truss, Bloomberg reports. On Saturday, COP26 president and UK Tory MP Alok Sharma joined the cause, according to the Guardian. And, on Sunday, former Conservative chairman Jake Berry backed the move, according to the Guardian – along with current levelling-up secretary Michael Gove, according to the Daily Mail. The Times adds that Labour on Sunday said it would support the amendment. “Labour’s backing means that only five more Conservative MPs would be needed to wipe out the government’s majority. MPs involved in the rebellion believe they will hit that threshold within the next two days,” the Times reports. The company Octopus Energy has also called for the government to lift the ban, the Daily Express reports. Bloomberg adds that Octopus has used its platform, Winder, which helps match areas where residents want wind farms and locations that have suitable conditions, to uncover strong community support for new onshore wind. Its analysis finds there is community support for at least 2.3 gigawatts of new onshore wind farms, enough to power 1.8m homes. A second Daily Express story notes that a Downing Street source said it was “very unlikely” that Sunak will accept the rebellion. However, the Guardian is reporting this morning that “Downing Street appears set to allow new onshore wind projects in England following years of an effective ban, Grant Shapps has indicated, with ministers giving way in the face of a growing backbench Conservative rebellion”.
Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph reports that “net-zero tsar” Chris Skidmore has become the latest Conservative MP to announce he will not stand at the next general election, which the party is likely to lose, according to current polling.
The UK government has announced that £1bn will be spent to insulate the country’s least energy-efficient homes, BBC News reports. Business secretary Grant Shapps says the new funding is part of a strategy of working towards “an energy independent future” for the UK and will save those who benefitted around £310 a year, according to BBC News. The Press Association reports that the Eco+ scheme will largely benefit middle-income homes. “Labour criticised it as a ‘reheated announcement with no new resources’ that comes ‘far too little too late’,” it adds. The Guardian reports the scheme “will run from April and target middle-earners to enable them to fund work on their homes, such as installing cavity-wall insulation or smart heating controls”. It adds: “The intention is to target 70,000 homes over three years, covering 75% of the cost of any energy efficiency upgrades to people’s homes.”
The Financial Times reports that Sunak has also signed off on a £18m public information campaign to save energy. It reports: “The government said the public information campaign, called ‘Help for Households’, would offer technical tips and advice for people to cut their energy use while still staying warm. These will include measures such as draught-proofing windows, turning down radiators in empty rooms and reducing boiler temperatures. The government will say that if a typical household cuts its boiler flow temperature from 75C to 60C and turns down radiators in unused parts of the house, it could save £160 a year on its energy bills.” It adds that Sunak’s predecessor Truss resisted such a scheme on “libertarian grounds”, but that the current prime minister “wants to reduce power use at a time when the state is subsidising gas and electric prices at a cost of tens of billions of pounds”. The Daily Mail also has the story. It comes as the Guardian reports that UK households have cut gas and electricity use by 10% since October, according to E.ON, the UK’s second-largest supplier.
Elsewhere, the Sunday Times reports that the UK has almost doubled its coal imports in the face of a winter energy crisis.
China must pay into a new fund for poor countries stricken by climate-driven disaster on the basis of its high greenhouse gas emissions and large economy, the former UK prime minister Gordon Brown has told the Guardian in an interview. “America and Europe will have to provide most, but China will have to contribute more too,” he says. The newspaper adds: “At the COP27 UN climate summit, rich governments finally agreed to a fund for poor countries suffering the impact of extreme weather, known as ‘loss and damage’. But there is no agreement yet on how to fill that fund, and it is likely to be the subject of bitter fighting this year.” Brown tells the Guardian that the distinction agreed in the early 1990s for classifying and dividing developed and developing nations needs updating: “The distinction between developed and emerging market countries is breaking down amidst the need for both to fund action to reduce their still-rising emissions, and help low-income countries who are suffering because of them.” (See Gordon Brown’s comment piece in the Guardian below.)
Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post says that Longi Green Energy Technology, the world’s “largest producer of solar panels…made headlines [earlier this month] by announcing it has broken another world record for a product’s energy conversion efficiency”. Analysts are quoted saying that it will “take years for this achievement to translate to cheaper electricity bills for consumers and bolster global efforts to decarbonise energy production and fight climate change”. Separately, Nikkei Asia has a comment piece by Alicia Garcia-Herrero, titled: “Xi Jinping’s new smiles got China off the hook at climate talks.” She writes that China’s “underwhelming response” at COP27, whether in terms of “contributing to the new loss and damage fund or advancing its target for peaking emissions”, might be “related to the state of its economy and the need to continue to meet its domestic thirst for energy at the least cost possible, which continues to be coal”.
Elsewhere, China Daily has published a comment piece by Han Wenke, former director of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), who writes: “Replacing fossil fuels with clean energy has become an irreversible trend in China, and with the introduction of a series of policies to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, its low-carbon energy transformation is constantly accelerating…That shows that energy transformation, which is part of efforts to actively respond to climate change, is gaining momentum in China.” Finally, Caixin Global has an “in-depth” story on “why saltwater is getting into Shanghai’s drinking supply”. It says that after “months of persistent drought and searing temperature, China’s mighty Yangtze River is not giving Shanghai enough water”, adding that the sea is “rolling in and turning the city’s drinking water brackish”.
The German federal cabinet has agreed to a “price brake” worth “billions” on domestic gas and electricity which is due to run from January 2023 to April 2024, reports Focus. According to the outlet, the German legislative chambers, Bundesrat and Bundestag, are to finalise the draft laws by mid-December. Der Spiegel also covers the news, adding that the price caps only apply to 80% of a household’s consumption from the previous year. This is intended to encourage consumers to save energy. To fund a previously approved consumer aid package, German authorities are set to introduce a windfall tax of 90% for some “clean power generators” (solar, wind and nuclear) that earn above €130 per megawatt-hour, according to a draft law seen by Bloomberg. Moreover, Reuters adds that German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the “price brake” during a visit by French prime minister Elisabeth Borne to Berlin, during which the two countries signed a joint declaration to strengthen their commitment to energy solidarity. Borne described the declaration as an important text “that will have a concrete impact and will protect citizens in both countries”, reports Die Zeit. She also added that “we [France] want to diversify our energy sources, increase the production of decarbonised energy…and invest in future energies, especially hydrogen”, notes the outlet.
Meanwhile, Stern reports that German economy minister Robert Habeck sees Germany and Europe “in fierce economic competition with the US” for the strategic position of a “lead market” for a “climate-neutral green economy”. The news quotes Habeck saying in parliament that anyone who only speaks of “eco stuff” and “climate protection” in this context “misunderstands the economic debate we are in”. Referring to the $370bn programme recently agreed by the US government, Habeck pointed out that Germany and Europe must “more decisively and quickly” use their opportunities to promote green economic transformation. Reuters also has the story.
Elsewhere in German news, Der Spiegel reports that German climate activists from Last Generation have been “sharply” criticised by politicians for their actions, such as the recent blockade of a Berlin airport. Another Der Spiegel article quotes chancellor Scholz commenting on the situation: “They are not only incomprehensible, but also extremely dangerous, as one could see with the activities at Berlin airport, for example”, while CDU leader Friedrich Merz describes the participants as “criminal offenders”. Bloomberg also covers the story.
Finally, Deutsche Welle reports that the upper house of Germany’s parliament, the Bundesrat, has signed off on the extension of three nuclear power plants after the lower house approved the move earlier this month. As a result, Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland will remain operational until April 2023, notes the outlet.
The EU is “racing to finalise the proposed price ceiling on Russian oil shipments in the coming days after EU governments clashed over the level of the cap and whether to link it to a wider round of sanctions”, the FT reports. It continues: “The EU was struggling to settle its differences over the weekend as it attempts to stay ahead of a 5 December deadline, when a previously agreed EU embargo on seaborne Russian oil kicks in. Talks have stalled in recent days as Poland has led a push for a far lower price ceiling than the European Commission advocates.” It comes as Politico reports that higher energy prices, including for gas, are pushing up electricity prices and the cost of living for households across the EU.
Several UK publications report that Ineos, the chemicals company owned by the billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, is in talks with Rolls-Royce on “mini” nuclear technology that could be chosen to provide energy to its Grangemouth refinery in Scotland. The Guardian reports that Ineos, which produces fuel and plastic chemicals, is planning to use hydrogen to power the Grangemouth plant, which would require very large amounts of energy. Rolls-Royce, meanwhile, is “one of a handful of companies around the world hoping to use the expertise gained from building nuclear reactors for the UK’s submarine fleet for use on land”, according to the Guardian. The Times and the Daily Telegraph also have the story. It comes as the Daily Telegraph reports on a £570m pilot plant hoping to “crack the grail of nuclear fusion”.
In the Guardian, former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown writes on the need for rich nations to fulfil climate funding pledges, including the most recent commitment to a climate loss and damage fund agreed at COP27. He says: “There is a way forward if we are to meet our goals. About $2tn (£1.75tn) will be needed each year by 2030 to help developing countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions. This could be paid for, if necessary, by raising global taxes like the airline levies pioneered by France and the UK. As the pathbreaking Bridgetown declaration, inspired by the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, recommends, $100bn of special drawing rights (the international money issued by the IMF) should immediately be redistributed from rich to poor countries, with half going to finance green projects. President Macron’s June summit on climate finance should cancel the unpayable debt of low-income countries in return for those countries taking action on the climate. For those who can pay, debt repayments should be varied in the event of climate disasters.”
Elsewhere, the leader of the Scottish Labour party Anas Sarwar writes in the Financial Times that the nation needs an “offshore energy revolution”. He says: “For more than a decade, when it comes to capitalising on Scotland’s energy resources, we have had ministers in both Edinburgh and London who have not made good on their promises. It’s time to stop squandering our potential for generating green power and the high-skilled jobs that go with it.”
In addition, business columnist Pilita Clark writes in the Financial Times publishes a piece titled: “Get ready for a net-zero business backlash.” Elsewhere, engineer Will Arnold writes in the Times proposing a “grade III” listing scheme for buildings to prevent unnecessary demolition in the age of climate change.
An editorial in the Times back the Tory rebellion to lift the ban on onshore wind (see above). It reads: “The ban on the construction of onshore windfarms is a legacy of David Cameron’s ill-judged decision to ‘cut the green crap’ in 2013. In what was one of the more short-sighted actions of his premiership, he not only blocked new onshore wind projects but cut solar subsidies, slashed energy efficiency schemes and relaxed housing construction standards. An analysis by Carbon Brief this year estimated that these policies were already costing every household in Britain £150 a year in the form of more expensive energy and higher energy consumption. That figure will have soared since March alongside the rise in the price of gas.” An Independent column by chief business commentator James Moore also backs the move.
Elsewhere, an editorial in the Daily Telegraph says Sunak is being “squeezed” by the rebellion. It says: “ Supporters like Simon Clarke, the former minister, say onshore wind is not only necessary for the country’s energy security but would also be a vote winner. The former is debatable but the latter seems fanciful. Polls may show backing for the policy but most of that may come from cities.” (See above for Octopus’s analysis detailing widespread community support for onshore wind.)
In addition, an editorial in the Sun on Sunday says it “welcomes the government’s tough new measures to crack down on eco-idiots”. It says: “Peaceful protest is one thing, and we don’t deny that climate change is a huge concern. But by blocking ambulances and fire engines, these eco-anarchists endanger both lives and livelihoods.” (A Just Stop Oil spokesperson recently told ITV News: “Just Stop Oil policy, is and always has been, to let blue light emergency services through.”)
Also, the Times carries a column by Libby Purves on environment secretary Therese Coffey’s recent appearance at a village hall in Suffolk: “Shortcomings of Britain’s badly planned and poorly managed energy strategy are laid bare at a Suffolk public meeting.”
The area of permafrost in the Tibetan Plateau shrank by 15.5% over 1980-2020, decreasing at an average rate of more than 60,000 square kilometres per decade, according to new research. The authors evaluate changes in permafrost area and “active layer thickness” in the Tibetan Plateau over 1980-2020 using a combination of machine learning and empirical models. They find that the active layer – the top layer of permafrost, which thaws and refreezes each year – was 19cm thicker in the 2010s compared to the 1980s. “Permafrost area decrease is more susceptible to occur at lower latitudes and lower altitudes, while active layer thickness increases more dramatically at lower latitudes and higher altitudes,” the study adds.