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:
- US EPA finalises tougher new vehicle emissions requirements
- UK households’ typical energy bill could rise to £2,000 a year
- Rolls-Royce wins Qatar backing for mini nuclear reactor project
- Himalayan glaciers melting at an ‘exceptional' rate because of global warming, study finds
- Britain consults on climate checks for new oil and gas licences
- 2022 is a year to call out greenwashing in China
- Australia: Carbon in power grid hits record low
- Climate change history: How journalists in the 1900s covered an emerging science.
- Comment: Winter is coming
- Phenological mismatches between above- and belowground plant responses to climate warming
- The meaning of net-zero and how to get it right
- Accelerated mass loss of Himalayan glaciers since the Little Ice Age
There is widespread coverage of the announcement from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of new vehicle emissions rules that Reuters says “reverse former president Donald Trump’s rollback of car pollution cuts and will speed a US shift to more electric vehicles”. The newswire says: “If expressed in miles per gallon (mpg) requirements, the EPA rules would result in a fleetwide real-world average of about 40mpg in 2026, versus 38mpg under the August proposal and 32mpg under the Trump rules.” [EU car standards for 2020 were already equivalent to more than 60mpg.] It says the rules will avoid emissions of 3.1bn tonnes over the years to 2050 and adds: “[President] Biden wants 50% of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be EV or plug-in hybrid models, but has not endorsed California’s plan to phase out new gas-powered light-duty vehicles by 2035.” The New York Times calls the new rules the “tightest ever” and says: “The Biden administration is expected to lean heavily on executive action and regulations like the new tailpipe rule after the centrepiece of the president’s climate agenda, far-reaching legislation that would have transformed the energy and transportation sectors, was essentially scuttled on Sunday by Senator Joe Manchin.” Associated Press calls the move a “major step to fight climate change” and says it “revers[es] a Trump-era rollback”. The newswire adds that the new standard would be 25% higher than the Trump administration target and 5% higher than a proposal released by the EPA in August. Bloomberg and the Hill also have the story.
Meanwhile, there is continued coverage of Senator Manchin’s opposition to the Biden administration “Build Back Better” bill, as currently drafted, with the New York Times running a piece headline: “Behind Manchin’s opposition, a long history of fighting climate measures.” It says West Virginia coal lobbyists “talked frequently to Manchin”. Reuters reports that the main US coal miners’ union has “urged West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to reconsider his opposition to the Biden administration’s $1.75tn climate and social spending bill to preserve measures that would have benefited its members”. A Reuters “factbox” says US action on climate change is “threatened” by Manchin’s opposition, outlining the top five climate measure in the bill, including clean energy tax credits and tax incentives for carbon capture. Another Reuters article says the US needs to “do a better job vetting which carbon capture projects to support with public funds”, according to the Government Accountability Office, a watchdog.
In other coverage of the aftermath of Manchin’s opposition to the build back better bill, npr asks what the loss of the legislation would mean for climate change, given its $555bn in provisions for renewables and clean transportation incentives over a decade. It notes: “The policies are crucial for President Biden’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50%-52% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.” Yahoo News quotes “experts” saying Manchin’s opposition is “devastating” to climate change action. It says: “[E]xperts predicted he may have single-handedly killed the world’s best hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change.”
In other US news, the Guardian reports on the “Florida power company pushing legislation to slow rooftop solar”. Separately, the Financial Times reports on “a wave of deals with US exporters” of liquified natural gas (LNG) signed by Chinese customers. Meanwhile, a comment in the Financial Times says the US “needs to lead the way in building a new energy supply chain”.
Household energy bills could reach £2,000 per year in the UK from April, the Financial Times reports, a 56% increase, according to investment bank Investec. It says a cap on energy bills has been set at £1,277 since October and could rise to £1,995 in April unless the government brings in “mitigating actions”, according to the bank, which points to drivers including rising wholesale energy costs, value added tax, the cost of bailing out failed energy suppliers and renewable energy subsidies. The paper quotes a government spokesperson saying: “Throughout the unprecedented increase in global gas prices, our primary objective has been to protect consumers.” Another Financial Times article says European natural gas prices “surged again on Monday as temperatures dropped and flows of natural gas through a key Russian pipeline fell to the lowest level in more than a month”. It continues: “Energy costs have soared this year as the rebounding global economy drove up demand and, in Europe, calls for additional gas deliveries from Russia went unanswered. European gas prices have jumped more than 600% since January and are now exceeding record highs set in October.” Reuters says European forward power prices “surged to new contract highs on Monday over concerns about winter nuclear availability and as related carbon emissions and gas prices climbed”. In a comment for Bloomberg, columnist David Fickling says the power crunch “just made renewables stronger”. He writes: “If anything, the power crunch seems to be accelerating the push away from fuel-based energy, whose volatile prices caused this crisis, and into zero-carbon power, whose cost is fixed when the project is first developed.” Fickling concludes: “It’s those fundamental cost benefits, rather than the earnest promises of executives, that are ultimately driving the energy transition.”
The Qatari sovereign wealth fund is to invest £85m for a 10% stake in a consortium hoping to build new, smaller nuclear reactors, led by Rolls-Royce, the Financial Times reports. It calls the move “a significant boost” for the scheme, which aims to build small reactors in factories for assembly on site, noting that it comes after the UK government announced a £210m grant. The paper reports “[S]ceptics argue that Rolls-Royce’s small nuclear reactor is not yet proved and will come too late to make a significant contribution to the UK’s recently announced target to make electricity generation net-zero on carbon emissions by 2035.” Reuters reports the news, saying the small reactors “will not be available until the early 2030s and all new nuclear power projects need approval from Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and its Generic Design Assessment, which can take around four years to complete for large plants”. BusinessGreen says some £490m of public and private investment has now been raised by the consortium, quoting Rolls Royce saying it is now “fully funded”.
In other nuclear news, Reuters reports that China has launched a new “high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear plant”, the first using “pebble bed reactor” technology developed by state-run China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). The newswire says the 200 megawatt unit has been connected to the grid, with a second still under construction.
Several publications report the findings of a new study, published yesterday, which found, says USA Today, that glaciers in the Himalayas are melting at an “exceptional” rate. The publication reports: “The study revealed that Himalayan glaciers are shrinking far more rapidly than glaciers in other parts of the world.” It quotes study lead author Jonathan Carrivick saying: “Our findings clearly show that ice is now being lost from Himalayan glaciers at a rate that is at least 10 times higher than the average rate over past centuries.” It adds that an estimated 40% of glacier area in the Himalayas has been lost over recent centuries. The glacier loss could threaten water supplies for hundreds of millions of people, says the Independent. The Hill says the research reconstructed nearly 15,000 glaciers that had existed during the Little Ice Age, finding their area had fallen since then from 28,000 square kilometres to about 19,600km2. MailOnline also has the story.
The UK government has launched a consultation on potential climate checks for new oil and gas licenses, Reuters reports. Bloomberg says the consultation proposes a series of climate checks for the oil gas projects but “said [the UK’s] net-zero pledge doesn’t require the industry to be shut down”. It says one option would allow new extraction if the project developers “can show that their proposed emissions are less than those that come from importing fossil fuels”. It quotes energy minister Greg Hands saying in an interview: “Clearly we are expecting there to be future licenses…Homegrown oil and gas is generally more climate friendly than imports. That is something which I think the government is keenly aware of.” It adds: “Hands said the government plans agreed with with the IEA’s [International Energy Agency] recommendation to have no new oil and gas, because that was a ‘global’ scenario and the UK is just one country.” The Times says the proposals include one test of “minimising reliance on imports”. BusinessGreen reports: “Proposals would see North Sea developers having to meet six net-zero tests including emissions and green investment targets in order to secure extraction licenses.” In a comment for the Daily Telegraph, the paper’s chief city commentator Ben Marlow writes under the headline: “Gutless North Sea oil rules will destroy Britain’s energy independence.”
China’s president Xi Jinping’s “drive for carbon neutrality is creating unprecedented levels of corporate hype about climate action”, according to Bloomberg. The newswire reports that “in the past few months alone, at least 10 companies have sent out invitations to us to visit their ‘carbon neutral’ industrial parks”. It says that those invitations are always accompanied by “descriptions of the nifty technologies used to reduce emissions, charts showing the amount of energy or water saved”, but “they’re often missing the key bit of information: their emissions”. S&P Global Platts reports that “China’s efforts to decarbonise its power sector have triggered intense debate about the role of its existing fossil fuel-based electricity system and the extent to which the system will have to be recalibrated”. It says that “there is general consensus that an electricity supply chain based predominantly on renewables will have to be fundamentally different from one based on fossil fuels”. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Biden administration “faces a looming decision on solar-energy tariffs that pits its goal of combating climate change against its ambition to wrestle high-tech manufacturing supply chains from China”.
Meanwhile, Dr Liu Renhou from the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development says in a column that China should pay close attention to four areas of work post-COP26 in its pursuit of carbon peaking and carbon neutrality. In the piece for the Science and Technology Daily – the official newspaper of the Ministry of Science and Technology – Dr Liu highlights the importance of controlling methane emissions, accelerating the transition away from coal, promoting climate change adaptation and deepening the development of the country’s emissions trading scheme. Moreover, the South China Morning Post has a column titled “Is China’s coal addiction getting in the way of its climate change goals?” The piece is written by David Chao, a global market strategist specialising in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, Dr Sonia Kumari Selvarajan – senior lecturer at the Development Studies Department of Faculty of Business and Economics at Universiti Malaya – pens a column, “China encourages green financing in Malaysia through BRI”, for Malaysian newspaper the Star.
In China’s state media, CGTN – the English arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV – reports that “the China Meteorological Administration released its first national greenhouse gas observation network directory on 18 December”. People’s Daily – the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China – also covers the story. Citing Yu Rucong, the deputy director of the China Meteorological Administration, the newspaper says that the system “will provide solid support for our country’s realisation of the ‘dual carbon’ goal and the monitoring of carbon emissions”.
Carbon emissions from Australia’s electricity grid have reached a record low, reports the Financial Review “as booming rooftop solar and increasing numbers of large-scale wind and solar farms force the retreat of coal power”. It says the news, from analysts Energy Edge “came as the NSW [New South Wales] government announced it has given clearance to Snowy Hydro’s controversial A$600m gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley despite environmental opposition to a new fossil fuel-powered generator”. The Guardian also covers the gas plant approval, saying the scheme is “backed by” the Australian federal government. It adds: “According to the environmental impact statement lodged with the NSW government, the plant is expected to run at just 2% of its full capacity across the year, filling gaps at times of peak demand.” In other news from Australia, the Guardian reports that the country’s updated plans to protect the Great Barrier Reef “fell short”, according to environment groups.
For Slate, in an adapted excerpt from her book, author Alice Bell describes how early 20th century journalists reported on the “weird” weather of 1911 in the context of global warming, quoting one writing of the “general impression” that “good old-fashioned winters…had gone”. Bell recounts examples from publications including Popular Mechanics and a newspaper in New Zealand that also “picked up…estimates for carbon emissions” and wrote that this was creating a “blanket for the Earth to raise its temperatures”. There are even earlier examples, Bell notes, as she traces the history of understanding of the greenhouse effect in the mid-19th century through to the present day. She concludes: “When climate fear starts to grip, it’s worth remembering that we have all this incredible knowledge that offers us a chance to act. We could, all too easily, be sitting around thinking, The weather’s a bit weird today. Again.”
In an end of year blog, BusinessGreen editor James Murray writes that “the green economy faces a uniquely challenging few months as the opponents of climate action prepare to ramp up their opposition to the net-zero transition”. Murray continues: “The pace at which climate action has slipped down the political and media agenda, even as polling continues to show that it is a top priority for an overwhelming majority of the public, has been genuinely dizzying.” He continues: “Once the current Covid wave is resolved one way or another, attention will turn to how the recovery is being stymied by soaring living costs, driven primarily by eye-watering energy bills…An already embattled government will face deafening calls to do something, while many of its supposed allies will attempt to blame climate policies and green levies for increased bills.” He concludes: “These challenges are daunting, but they can be overcome. All the current economic, consumer, and technological trends point to how a net zero emission economy can be built at pace and scale, while the terrifying escalation of climate impacts leaves denialist voices looking more isolated and absurd than ever.”
There is a “mismatch” between the way plants are responding to global warming above and below the ground, a new study says. Analysing 88 published studies, the researchers find that, for herbaceous plants, “warming advanced both the start and end of aboveground growing season, resulting in an unchanged growing season length”. In contrast, the start, end and length of the belowground growing season “remained unchanged”. For woody plants, warming did not affect the growing season of plants above the ground, but extended the belowground season, the researchers say. An accompanying News & Views article says the study shows that “root growth does not necessarily respond to warming in the same way as the more easily observed leaves”.
In a a new perspective paper, a group of researchers identify “seven attributes of net-zero, which are important to make it a successful framework for climate action”. The seven attributes “highlight the urgency of emission reductions, which need to be front-loaded, and of coverage of all emission sources, including currently difficult ones”, the authors say, adding that the attributes “emphasise the need for social and environmental integrity”. This means that “carbon dioxide removals should be used cautiously and the use of carbon offsets should be regulated effectively”, they write.
Glaciers in the Himalayas have lost “at least 40%” of their area since the Little Ice Age (LIA), a new study suggests. The researchers reconstruct the extent and surfaces of 14,798 Himalayan glaciers during the LIA, 400 to 700 years ago. They show that the glaciers have lost between 390 and 586 cubic kilometres of ice, equivalent to 0.92-1.38mm of sea level rise. The authors note that “the 10-fold acceleration in ice loss we have observed across the Himalaya far exceeds any centennial-scale rates of change that have been recorded elsewhere in the world”.