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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 23.12.2021
‘Unprecedented’ gas price surge threatens national crisis, suppliers warn

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News.

'Unprecedented' gas price surge threatens national crisis, suppliers warn
The Telegraph Read Article

Energy executives have warned that Britain is facing a deepening “national crisis” over surging gas prices and are calling on ministers to take action, the Daily Telegraph reports. The paper says that wholesale gas prices rose to 470 pence per therm this week and says that, according to analysts, the “unprecedented” prices are “at risk of continuing in 2023”. It continues: “The energy price cap for households is expected to climb above £2,000 in April in the wake of the surge, up 56% on current levels and 75% higher than it was in September in a blow for millions of consumers.” Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of Energy UK, said the “alarming cost of gas” in Europe will be the “biggest issue facing the UK economy in the spring”, the paper says. She added: “We need action from the UK Treasury on this huge inflationary risk to business and economic security, and for all the ordinary people who will be facing a 50% increase in their bill.” The Financial Times says that UK ministers “are understood to be considering a number of potential options targeted at households to mitigate the impact of the huge jump in bills”, but that “no decisions have yet been made”. Bloomberg notes that “higher energy costs could boost tax revenues [in the UK] by £180m”.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Ukraine has agreed a deal to import 8m cubic metres of gas from the European market via Hungary per day, starting in January. A separate Reuters piece says: “At least 10 cargoes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have recently been diverted from Asia to head west drawn by Europe’s record high prices.” And another piece by the newswire says that Bulgaria’s government has approved a four-month scheme to provide more than $867m to help businesses cope with soaring energy prices during the winter.

Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that the Kremlin has denied “restricting gas supplies to Europe for political gain”. This comes after gas in a pipeline from Russia to Germany switched direction to flow eastwards for a second day, according to the paper. It continues: “Some analysts and European politicians have suggested Moscow is deliberately suppressing gas deliveries to shore up its political position amid tensions over Ukraine and delays in European certification of another pipeline, Nord Stream 2.” Separately, the Guardian carries a piece entitled “Nord Stream 2: how Putin’s pipeline paralysed the west”, which calls the pipeline a “vast geostrategic consequence, with every inch of pipe a pitched political and legal battle”. It adds: “By handing Putin such potential leverage over European energy security, it is argued, the 1,200 km pipeline leaves Free Europe at his mercy… Others say this is hyperbole, and Russia would find that if it used gas as a geopolitical weapon that Europe has many alternative sources”. And Reuters reports that Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said yesterday that he hopes the pipeline – which is awaiting regulatory clearance from Germany – will “eventually be certified”.

US: Why the collapse of Biden’s Build Back Better would be a major blow to the climate fight
The Guardian Read Article

There is continuing coverage of the pushback from Democratic senator Joe Manchin against Joe Biden’s proposed $1.75tn Build Back Better (BBB) legislation. The Guardian says that without the bill – which includes the country’s largest ever climate crisis investment – it would be “almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges made under the Paris accord”. However, the paper says that the bill is in “serious trouble”, after it was rejected by Manchin. It continues: “Lawmakers, climate experts and labour groups have voiced intense anger and frustration over Manchin’s refusal to support the bill, which would leave the Democrats without the necessary votes to get it through the Senate.” The New York Times says that BBB “looked like the kind of bill that Manchin would support”, and walks through five possible reasons for Machin’s opposition – including his West Virginia coal business and his allies in the coal industry. Similarly, the Orlando Sentinel says that Manchin has a “long history of fighting for fossil fuels”. Meanwhile, the Associated Press says that “Biden, along with progressive and moderate Democrats, appears determined to return to the negotiating table with Senator Joe Manchin”. Elsewhere, EnergyMonitor calls the US a “climate laggard”, adding: “Polarised party politics, and a wafer-thin majority in the Senate, has left Biden unable to become the climate leader he hoped to be.” And a piece in the Atlantic says: “If Democrats fail to pass a climate policy, they will all but guarantee that the world will warm a dangerous degree and that the US will surrender its technological advantage to China.”

Meanwhile, the Hill covers new research which finds that Biden’s recent bipartisan infrastructure bill “could increase CO2 emissions from the transportation sector” as new roads could induce more people to drive on them, creating more emissions. And E&E News notes that Biden’s executive order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 “exempts anything related to national security, combat, intelligence or military training”. This means that the order only covers a fraction of federal emissions – as 80% of these are produced by the military – the paper adds.

US: Taylor Energy to pay $43m for longest-running oil spill in US history
The New York Times Read Article

The US Department of Justice have ruled that Taylor Energy must pay $43m in civil penalties and damages for causing “the longest-running spill in US history”, according to the New York Times. The paper says the leak in the Gulf of Mexico began in 2004 when an offshore oil platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan, breaking open undersea wells. It adds: “Taylor Energy, which sold its oil assets and ceased production in 2008, has long disputed both the size of the leak and the extent of its responsibility for cleanup efforts. The settlement on Wednesday marked the end of a years-long legal battle over the spill.” The Hill adds that Taylor Energy will also transfer a $432m trust fund to the Department of Interior. Elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Biden administration is turning to oil to combat inflation, adding: “Oil company executives have become openly frustrated with a Biden administration that spent months shunning the industry, only to start urging in recent weeks that it produce more oil to alleviate rising gasoline prices”.

In other US news, the Hill reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has “proposed the withdrawal of a Trump-era rule that gave the state of Oklahoma jurisdiction over certain environmental issues on tribal lands”. The decision comes after consultations with the state’s 38 tribal nations, according to Reuters. Separately, the Hill reports that 16 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have asked the EPA to tighten its rules on methane emissions.

Year in review: China’s climate goals withstand heat
China Dialogue Read Article

China Dialogue runs a year-end review piece to round up the key moments and events that have defined China’s effort to tackle climate change in 2021. The article, written by the outlet’s managing editor in Beijing, Ma Tianjie, describes the past 12 months as “a dizzying period for watchers of China’s climate and environmental scene” before listing the critical pledges, targets and announcements made by Chinese officials in response to climate change. Bloomberg reports that “Chinese solar companies are gradually shifting the country’s solar supply chain away from Xinjiang as the US increases its scrutiny of the region”. It says that one major polysilicon factory, Daqo New Energy, had announced plans to build a “second, larger facility” in Inner Mongolia. The piece continues: “Just 15% of announced or under construction polysilicon projects as of November are in Xinjiang, according to BloombergNEF, compared to 40% of global capacity being there at the end of 2020.” And the South China Morning Post outlines a study which finds that China’s emission trading system “reduces carbon but needs map to cap-and-trade based system”.

Meanwhile, China’s state news agency Xinhua reports that the rotor of the last unit of the Baihetan Hydropower Station has been installed successfully. “So far, all of the rotors of the 16 gigawatt-level hydro-generating units of the Baihetan Hydropower Station have been installed”, Xinhua writes. It adds that the news means that all units will enter operation soon. (Baihetan – which means “white crane beach” – is the second-largest hydropower station in China after the Three Gorges Dam, Xinhua reported previously.) Separately, Xinhua also says that China’s Central Ecological and Environmental Inspection Team (CEEIT) – a powerful inspection team established directly by the central government – has named and shamed a new batch of regions that had not passed their investigation. (Read Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A to understand the role of the team in China’s climate policymaking.) In other Chinese state media, the newspaper Global Times has a report titled, “Eastern end of the Great Wall of China improves clean heating methods for a warm winter”.

Comment.

Germany’s energy surrender
Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal Read Article

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal notes that in the midst of the global energy crunch, Germany is proceeding with the closure of three nuclear plants – accounting for half of its nuclear power generation – by the end of the year. “It’s hard to think of a more self-defeating policy on economic, climate and geopolitical grounds”, the paper says. It continues: “The anti-nuclear move has support from many of Germany’s climate-change obsessives, but abandoning carbon-free nuclear power has had predictable results on emissions. Coal was the country’s top energy source in the first half of 2021, generating more than a quarter of Germany’s electricity. Wind and solar produced 22% and 9%, respectively, as nuclear has fallen to around 12%.” In contrast, it notes that France relies heavily on nuclear power, releases half as much CO2 per capita, and is responding to the high energy prices by building more reactors. The paper concludes that Germany is “deepening its reliance on Russian gas”, adding that this explains the country’s “weak response” to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Elsewhere, Guardian writer Nils Pratley has penned a piece entitled, “Rising UK energy bills are a political headache with no cure”. He says that ministers’ “plan A” for high gas prices was hoping that they would fall on their own, but this now seems unlikely. He concludes: “Doing nothing – in other words, letting the price increases rip under the standard formula – does not look politically feasible. But that’s as far as the thinking seems to have progressed. Ministers have about a month, that’s all, to find a strategy.”

Debunking Manchin’s anti-Build Back Better myths
Editorial Board, The Boston Globe Read Article

A Boston Globe editorial “debunks” Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s “myths” about Biden’s Build Back Better bill – arguing that the bill “would help everyone from families with children to coal miners to car manufacturers and small businesses”. On climate measures, the paper says: “The version of the bill at which Manchin balked, which included $555bn in clean energy and emissions reduction measures, had already been slashed far below what experts said was needed for the US to fully meet its greenhouse gas-cutting obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement. While Manchin’s support for – and from – the coal industry has always been a major basis of his opposition to climate measures, this week the United Mine Workers of America urged him to reverse course and support Build Back Better… Manchin’s rejection of the bill also caused electric vehicle stocks to tumble, impeding carmakers’ ability to spur customer demand in a way that will only make it harder for those companies to hire and retain worker”. Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman says that Manchin has “all the power – and a catastrophic lack of imagination”.

2021: Year in review for climate change wins and losses
Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Read Article

In its review of climate wins and losses this year, DeSmog says that “2021 saw more business as usual, industry obfuscation and delay, but also some reasons for optimism”. The piece opens with a summary of actions from the Biden administration this year, starting with Biden’s pledge to halve emissions by 2030. However, it also notes that the administration “has not implemented the policies needed to get to the 2030 target, and in many cases, Biden has backed down from taking on the fossil fuel industry”. For example, it notes that the administration auctioned land in the Gulf of Mexico to the oil industry and did not limit new drilling on public lands. It adds that “while President Biden scrapped Keystone XL, his administration has declined to intervene when it comes to other pipelines”. The outlet continues: “Any hope of large-scale emissions reductions during the Biden era will come from the Build Back Better Act… At the time of this writing, after a half-year of negotiating, the bill is in limbo at the behest of Senator Joe Manchin, who profits from coal industry interests.” The piece goes on to outline the “high-profile battles” that ExxonMobil and Chevron lost with its shareholders and the “denouncement” of “several major oil and gas pipeline projects”. It continues: “Campaigns of misinformation unsurprisingly remained a prominent feature of climate change discourse in 2021, although efforts to expose industry-backed PR campaigns hit new milestones even as the tactics continue to evolve.” It concludes that 2021 was a “banner year” for climate extremes and that we head into 2022 with “a mix of dismay, fear, anger, and a bit of hope”.

The New York Times starts its review of 2021 with the February winter storms in Texas, before moving on to the “off the charts heatwave” on the Pacific Coast and Pixie fire in summer. It goes on to mention a range of stories on the inequalities in climate impacts and historical emissions, and concludes with coverage of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and COP26. And the Independent features “10 positive environment stories from 2021” – including renewable energy’s “record year”, progress at COP26, China’s pledge to stop building coal plants abroad, the Shell court ruling and the US decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement.

Science.

Climate change and expanding invasive species drive widespread declines of native trout in the northern Rocky Mountains, US
Science Advances Read Article

Climate change and invasive species are driving – and will continue to drive – declines in the distribution of trout species throughout the northern Rocky Mountains of the US, a new study says. Using 21,917 surveys collected over 30 years, the researchers find that the distribution of native bull trout and cutthroat trout declined by 18% and 6%, respectively, during 1993–2018, and is predicted to decrease by an additional 39% and 16% by 2080. The reasons for these declines differs between species, the authors say: “Climate-driven increases in water temperature and decreases in summer flow likely caused declines of bull trout, while climate-induced expansion of invasive species largely drove declines of cutthroat trout.”

A gridded inventory of Canada's anthropogenic methane emissions
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

Using “national and provincial geospatial datasets and…facility-level information”, a new study produces an inventory of Canada’s human-caused methane emissions on a 10-by-10km grid. The highest emissions are “from oil/gas production and livestock in western Canada, and landfills in eastern Canada”, the authors say. The study finds 11 “hotspots” of methane emissions, noting that “oil sands mines in northeast Alberta contribute three of these hotspots even though oil sands contribute only 4% of national oil/gas emissions”.

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