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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UN to release new report on action to tackle climate crisis after marathon talks
- Britain could get seven new nuclear power stations by 2050
- UK: Fracking ban set to be reviewed after pressure from Tory MPs
- Energy rationing not part of UK approach, minister says
- China’s funding for overseas coal projects under construction to release 300m tonnes of emissions a year, climate experts say
- The Times view on Britain’s energy strategy: Power play
- US tries to be the world’s swing crude producer
- An emergency program for climate and peace is needed
- Climate change increases risk of extreme rainfall following wildfire in the western US
- Drivers of tropical forest loss between 2008 and 2019
Many publications preview a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on how to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, which is due to be published this afternoon at 4pm BST – a delay from its original publication time of 10am BST after the approval session for the assessment overran. The Press Association reports that the third instalment of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report will focus on “measures to cut emissions from the energy sector, agriculture and land, cities, buildings, industry and transport”, as well as methods for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and how consumer behaviours should change to tackle climate change. The online meeting of scientists and representatives of 195 governments to approve the report “ran late into Sunday, well past the Friday scheduled finish time, as delegates wrangled over the text”, PA reports. The newswire adds: “The inclusion of language on curbing coal power and fossil fuel subsidies in the Glasgow Pact, agreed at UN climate talks in Scotland late last year, provoked heated debate between countries heavily reliant on fossil fuels and those most threatened by the impacts of climate change.” The Guardian reports that governments “were locked in disagreement on questions such as how much funding was likely to be needed for developing countries to tackle the climate crisis, and what emphasis to give policies such as phasing out fossil fuel subsidies”. It adds: “The Guardian understands that India has demanded key changes on issues including finance, along with Saudi Arabia which wants to see affirmation of a continued role for fossil fuels, while other countries including China and Ecuador also held out on some points. Russia has played a more muted role than some feared.”
BBC News carries an explainer on the significance of the report as the world awaits its findings. The Observer also previews the report, noting there are fears its findings will be overshadowed by “war and economic turmoil”. The Observer describes the media reaction to the second instalment of the IPCC report published last month’ as “muted”. Deborah Brosnan, adjunct professor of biology at Virginia Tech University in the US and a scientific consultant, tells the Observer: “That [Working Group 2] report was widely anticipated, but completely ignored. Eclipsed mostly by the war in Ukraine, and domestic issues such as inflation, most major media have barely reported let alone analysed the findings.” The Sunday Times, the Independent and Associated Press also preview the assessment. [Carbon Brief will delve into the details of the latest IPCC report on how to tackle climate change in an in-depth Q&A.]
In a frontpage story, the Sunday Telegraph says that the UK could get up to seven new nuclear plants as part of the prime minister’s awaited energy strategy. The claim is based on an interview with the business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who tells the newspaper: “There is a world where we have six or seven sites in the UK.” The Sunday Telegraph reports ministers have agreed to set up a development vehicle, Great British Nuclear, to speed up the approval of new nuclear sites. The newspaper adds Boris Johnson is preparing to announce plans to “significantly expand the existing commitment to back one new large-scale nuclear power station by 2024” as a “first step”. It says that Johnson and Kwarteng had been “battling” with the chancellor Rishi Sunak, but that “a meeting between Johnson and Sunak on Wednesday is said to have ended in agreement on expanding Britain’s existing set of ageing nuclear plants”. The Guardian also reports on Johnson’s “big bet” on nuclear, reporting the prime minister has plans for as many as eight new stations. “It is understood the energy strategy, expected to be announced next week, is likely to contain targets for nuclear but will not put a figure on the cost,” the Guardian says. PA also has the story.
It comes after a frontpage story in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday reported that Johnson has plans to treble onshore wind power as part of his energy strategy. This story says: “The Telegraph understands officials are drafting plans to reach 30GW of onshore wind capacity by 2030 and 45GW by 2035. At the moment, the UK has just 15GW of onshore wind capacity.” These targets are “part of plans privately commissioned by Johnson and Kwarteng in March to explore onshore wind expansion”, the Daily Telegraph says. The newspaper adds Johnson will make “a final decision about the proposals” this week, “as he signs off the strategy”. The story also notes that the plans for wind power could be “politically complicated” given “fierce opposition” from some Conservative MPs, and adds that Johnson himself was previously against onshore wind, calling onshore turbines “white satanic mills” and “ludicrous”. The Daily Mail and the Times also have the story. Separately, the Sunday Telegraph reports Johnson has plans to build a “colossal” offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea within a year. In addition, the Daily Mail reports that the government is mulling giving rural communities a “veto” on new onshore wind farms.
But on Sunday afternoon, both the Sun and the Independent reported on comments from the transport secretary Grant Shapps calling onshore wind farms an “eye sore”. Both publications report the comments expose a rift in cabinet over Johnson’s onshore wind plans. And the Times today reports that Johnson “is expected to drop plans to treble the number of onshore wind turbines and will instead ‘go for nuclear’ by committing to up to seven new plants”.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that Kwasi Kwarteng is this week expected to write to the British Geological Survey, which provides technical advice to ministers, to request a three-month review of the evidence relating to fracking. A government source tells the Sunday Telegraph the review would examine “safety and whether any new technology exists to help us accurately predict and manage seismic events”. It adds: “The review is likely to be mentioned in this week’s energy security strategy, but the document is not expected to place significant emphasis on fracking as a potential source of energy in the future.” The Daily Mail reports that ministers have “gone cool” on fracking in favour of onshore wind [see above]. In addition, BBC News reports that the chief of fossil fuel company Centrica thinks fracking is “worth exploring”.
BBC News reports that the UK’s transport secretary Grant Shapps has said energy will not be rationed in the UK, despite pressure on supplies globally. When asked if he can completely rule out energy rationing, he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “Yes, I can. It’s not the route that we want to go down.” He was responding to Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds who told the programme: “The government should be preparing, not necessarily in public for that situation.” PA also has the story.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that strategic heavy industries have warned they risk being “left high and dry by a lack of support in the government’s upcoming energy strategy, warning that failure to follow European countries’ measures to reduce gas and electricity costs will put UK businesses at risk”. In addition, PA reports that protests are set to take place across the UK over the cost-of-living crisis. In a separate story, PA reports on comments that high energy crisis could force more Britons into homelessness.
Experts have warned that China-funded coal projects currently under construction overseas could emit 300m tonnes of CO2 per year, reports the South China Morning Post (SCMP). China’s economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), has published a policy document reiterating China’s commitment to shift toward renewable power projects and to stop overseas coal projects financing. However, the document confirms that coal projects under construction would still “advance steadily and cautiously”. The SCMP says it is the first official document to provide clarity on Chinese president Xi Jinping’s pledge last September to stop building new coal power projects abroad. Cecilia Han Springer, assistant director of the Global China Initiative at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center, tells the newspaper that “if all coal plants under construction come online, they could emit up to…roughly equal to Spain’s annual emissions”.
Separately, China’s National Energy Administration and Ministry of Science and Technology has “unveiled a five-year plan, from 2021 to 2025, on developing energy technologies to propel green growth and digital transformation of the energy sector”, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. The plan will “focus on developing new technologies to render a more efficient, cost-effective and reliable supply of renewables, such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy”. It adds that “technological breakthroughs are expected in the generation and usage of hydrogen energy [and] that a new power grid system will be established to accommodate renewable energy sources, and power storage will be enhanced. The plan also calls for innovation to make nuclear and fossil energy more efficient.” A regional pilot will be established that will “apply digital and smart technologies to such traditional energy sectors as coal mining and gasoline production”.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that “China’s top liquefied natural gas importers are cautiously looking to purchase additional Russian shipments that have been shunned by the market in a bid to take advantage of cheap prices”.
A Times editorial warns that the UK government’s forthcoming energy strategy review has a “slim” chance of reducing “Britain’s dependence on expensive hydrocarbons for the bulk of its energy” because of the “rifts within the government and Conservative Party”. The paper continues: “Bizarrely, Tory MPs have fought furiously in favour of restarting fracking, which would do nothing to reduce Britain’s reliance on hydrocarbons, while fiercely resisting any reversal of the de-facto ban on new onshore wind farms, which would be by far the quickest and cheapest way to bring new energy on stream.” This is despite the public being “overwhelmingly opposed to fracking” and strongly supportive of onshore wind, the paper notes, adding: “A large expansion of onshore wind ought to be a key feature of a credible strategy, yet comments yesterday by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, suggest that opposition in cabinet rules this out.” In addition, the editorial notes that a strategy “that rests upon a massively expanded role for nuclear risks failing the credibility test” because of the “vast costs of construction”. The paper also argues that the strategy “must” include battery storage and carbon capture for gas-fired power stations, as well as plans to “turbo-charge the drive to improve home insulation, the switch to heat-pumps and the optimisation of the energy network”.
Writing in the Times Red Box, Mark Jenkinson – the MP for Workington – says that “now is not the time for Tories to abandon net-zero”. Jenkinson says that “uniquely”, he speaks as both “a member of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) and the Net-Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG)” – that latter of which was set up to oppose climate action. Nonetheless, he says that “we Conservatives can’t afford to waver now. If we dither and delay, the consequences for our nation and our party will be profound”. Jenkinson argues that “the answer to the gas crisis isn’t to ditch net-zero but to double down. Reducing our dependence on gas by switching to clean energy will shield the UK from future fossil fuel price spikes”. He adds: “Net zero is a 30-year mission. Criticising the cost of an electric car or a small modular reactor, for example, is a red herring. Just like renewables and other technologies, these will become cheaper over time as the market matures. The transition won’t and can’t happen overnight.”
Several articles in the Daily Telegraph take a different line on the energy crisis and net-zero. An editorial in this morning’s edition warns that “power rationing is a worrying echo of the 1970s”, adding: “The government’s suggested solutions to the energy crisis represent long-term answers to a short-term problem.” An editorial in Saturday’s paper criticises activist groups Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil for blockading UK oil terminals on Friday. The paper argues that this “clique of extreme eco-campaigners” cannot see that “the practical result of acceding to the demand to end oil and gas extraction in the UK would be to increase our reliance on supplies from hostile states, including Russia”. And Camilla Tominey – associate editor of the paper – says that “net-zero is a conspiracy against British voters”. She writes: “With energy prices up more than 50% from yesterday, the net-zero dream is about to become a nightmare for us all. But do the politicians see that? Of course not. As the public is confronted with the cost of decades of political complacency on energy policy, the consensus in Westminster remains overwhelmingly that net-zero must stay.”
Finally, the Daily Mail climate-sceptic columnist Stephen Glover says that the government’s energy strategy “should carry an apology for all the mistakes which it and its predecessors have made over the past two decades”. He writes that the government “must take another look at fracking”, adding: “Any plans to reverse the decline in North Sea production and to undo the moratorium on fracking – if the government has the guts to put it in – will lead to much beating of breasts by the Greens. To which I say: so what? Net-zero can come later.”
Reacting to the “US release of 180m barrels of crude from its strategic petroleum reserve, by far the largest ever,” the Financial Times says that “even a move on this scale may not be enough to reduce spiralling fuel prices by as much as Joe Biden wants” and that “it would be preferable…for the president to seize on the crisis as a moment for bold moves to accelerate the transition to clean energy”.
Derek Brower, the FT’s US energy editor, writes that “US oil and gas companies are accustomed to complaining about how rotten Joe Biden has made life for them”. He points out that “the so-called climate president” has been “urging companies to drill as fast as they can”, announcing “a historic new release of crude from the country’s emergency stockpile [and] even urged Congress to fine shale drillers if they failed to make use of the federal land”. Bowman adds that “ironically, it has been Wall Street, not the White House, that has been telling the US oil and gas companies to stop drilling, keep oil prices at lofty levels and let the cash roll in”.
In a comment in the Daily Telegraph, Rachel Millard argues that “a second boom for US shale could help save Britain, and Europe, from its reliance on Moscow”, pointing to investor arguments that “a boost in Permian oil production could be a relatively climate-friendly substitute for Russian oil”.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s priorities on climate and industry have drawn flak from renewable developers, the FT reports, with the chief executive of the biggest US solar farm builder George Hershman describing them as a “bit dysfunctional, it’s a bit schizophrenic”. Hershman’s comments follow a Department of Commerce decision to launch a probe into “whether solar groups are dodging import tariffs”, the article says, a move that groups say has “chilled” the market and could “derail the president’s climate agenda”. According to Hershman, “the Biden administration, and particularly this commerce [department’s] decision, has done more damage to renewables than the [Trump] administration”.
In a guest article for for Die Zeit, co-founder of the NewClimate Institute Niklas Höhne says that “if Germany had listened to the IPCC 15 years ago, we [Germany] would not be so dependent on Russian gas today”. The author provides statistics that, “worldwide, fossil fuels are subsidised with €400bn per year, in Germany alone there are €65bn in environmentally harmful subsidies.” He says that “many countries are investing in new coal-fired power plants, in gas infrastructure and in inadequately insulated houses. Politicians, also in Germany, have a hard time deciding the obvious things, such as a speed limit or a socially acceptable reduction in the commuter allowance.” Höhne adds that “if we keep going like this, by 2030 humanity will already be emitting twice as much greenhouse gases as would be possible to comply with the 1.5C limit”.
Elsewhere in German media, Bild carries an interview with the german finance minister Christian Lindner, who has spoken out against the embargo on Russian energy as part of European Union sanctions for invading Ukraine. In addition, Südwest Presse carries an op-ed on whether the speed limit on the German autobahn can actually save energy.
Compound extremes, in which extreme fire events are followed by extreme rainfall events within one year, will become more frequent across the US over the coming century, new research finds. The authors explore how the frequency of fire-rainfall compound extremes will change over the coming century under the very high warming RCP8.5 scenario, using the Community Earth System Model. These compound extremes will become 100% more frequent in California and 700% more frequent in the Pacific Northwest, they find. “More than 90% of extreme fire weather events in California, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest will be followed by at least three spatially colocated extreme rainfall events within five years,” the study adds.
A new study presents a database of the drivers of tropical forest loss over 2008-19, at a higher resolution and sample size than in previous studies. For two weeks in December 2020, 58 participants from several countries identified the drivers of forest loss for almost 115,000 locations. The data were collected using the citizen science platform Geo-Wiki, where the participants were asked to “select the predominant and secondary forest loss drivers amongst a list of potential factors indicating evidence of visible human impact such as roads, trails, or buildings”.