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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 20.12.2021
US: Manchin rejects landmark legislation, putting Biden’s climate goals at risk

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News.

US: Manchin rejects landmark legislation, putting Biden’s climate goals at risk
The New York Times Read Article

There is widespread coverage in the US media of the declaration yesterday by Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III that he cannot support his party’s $2.2tn Build Back Better policy package, which the New York Times says has “significantly dimmed the prospects” of Joe Biden securing the policies required to meet his climate pledges. The New York Times explains: “Mr Manchin, who first expressed his opposition in an interview on Fox News Sunday, released a follow-up statement that took aim at the climate and clean-energy provisions in the bill, saying they ‘risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains’. As the swing Democratic vote in an evenly split Senate where all Republicans are opposed to the legislation, Mr Manchin is in the unique position of deciding whether the bill can pass…While the administration can use executive action and regulations, without legislation, experts say it will be virtually impossible to achieve President Biden’s goal of aggressively cutting the pollution generated by the US, the country that has historically pumped the most planet-warming gasses into the atmosphere. That would have dire stakes for the planet, environmentalists said. Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, said on Twitter that failing to pass the legislation ‘would be a climate disaster’.” The newspaper continues: “The bill rejected by Mr Manchin would have made the single largest expenditure in the nation’s history to address the warming planet. About $555bn of the $2.2tn bill would be aimed at moving the American economy away from its 150-year-old reliance on fossil fuels and toward clean energy sources…The Build Back Better bill would get the US about halfway to Mr Biden’s goal of cutting its emissions roughly in half from 2005 levels by the end of this decade, according to the Rhodium Group, a nonpartisan analysis firm.”

The Washington Post says Manchin’s stance could be a “potentially insurmountable political blow to the final piece of President Biden’s economic agenda”. It adds: “Democrats across the Capitol quickly blasted Manchin, arguing that he had failed to negotiate in good faith, especially since Biden had painstakingly scaled back his original ambitions to win the senator’s support. Illustrating its fury, the White House publicly attacked Manchin in an unusually personal statement, alleging he had misled the president in their private talks.” A separate Washington Post article says that the move is a “massive setback ” to Biden’s climate agenda: “[Manchin has] put at risk a $555bn package of tax credits, grants and other policies aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions that would rank as the largest clean-energy investment in US history.” The Wall Street Journal says Biden’s “ambitious climate-change plans” have been “thrown into doubt”. But it adds: “A White House official said the president’s senior climate advisers believe there are multiple pathways to reach Mr Biden’s 2030 climate goals. Some Democrats held out hope that Mr Manchin would re-engage in negotiations on a narrower version of the legislation that could include some climate provisions.” Reuters says Manchin has “appeared to deal a fatal blow to Biden’s signature domestic policy bill, known as Build Back Better, which aims to expand the social safety net and tackle climate change”. Bloomberg says that “Biden will need to rely far more on regulation to meet his promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, after his roughly $2tn economic plan and its crucial climate provisions suffered a potentially fatal setback in Congress”. Another Bloomberg article notes that US stock index futures have already started to fall on the news that the “US spending package at the heart of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda” is now in peril, due to Manchin’s opposition.

(See Climate and Energy Comment below for more reaction.)

Peat sales to gardeners in England and Wales to be banned by 2024
The Guardian Read Article

The sale of peat to gardeners in England and Wales is to be banned by 2024 under plans published by the UK government, reports the Guardian. It adds: “Ministers said they also aimed to end peat use in the professional horticulture sector by 2028. The government set a voluntary target in 2011 for compost retailers to end sales of peat by 2020. But peat use fell by only 25% from 2011-2019 and increased by 9% in 2020 as Covid lockdowns boosted gardening as a hobby. Peat is the UK’s largest carbon store, trapping as much as tropical rainforests per hectare, but is routinely dug up for horticulture.” However, the move has been criticised by campaigners. The Guardian quotes Craig Bennett of the Wildlife Trusts: “The government has been dithering over this crucial issue for decades and the consultation on the use of peat by gardeners is long overdue. But it’s a damp squib. It refers to the damaging effects of peat extraction, but this activity is still allowed in England, which is absurd. We need an immediate ban on the use of peat by individuals and the wider horticulture industry and an immediate end to extracting peat.” The Times also notes that “environmentalists have called for an immediate ban to protect peatlands and tackle climate change”. The i newspaper says that “studies suggest UK peatlands are in poor condition and getting worse, a trend that needs to be reversed for the UK to meet its climate goals…But around 40% of compost sold to UK gardeners still contains peat, with sales growing by 9% last year”. (For more on the importance of preserving peat as part of tackling climate change, see Carbon Brief‘s recent guest post.)

Meanwhile, in other UK news, Reuters reports that “Britain will from January significantly increase the number of companies and investment houses required to tell investors how climate-change is hitting their businesses, its financial watchdog said on Friday”. The newswire adds: “The UK government wants to make it easier for investors to pick environmentally friendly companies to help Britain achieve a net-zero economy by 2050. Since December 2020, companies listed on the London Stock Exchange’s premium segment must make climate-related disclosures in line with standards set by the global Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures or TCFD. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on Friday confirmed plans it published in June that companies with a standard listing should also tell investors in annual reports whether disclosures are in line with the TCFD, or explain why they are not. There will also be a similar requirement for asset managers, life insurers and pension providers, the FCA said. The wider scope will cover 98% of assets under management in Britain, worth around 12.1tn pounds ($16.08tn).”

Separately, the Guardian has a news feature about how “after [the] failure of [the] green homes grant scheme, campaigners want future projects to be long-term and accountable”. It sits under the headline: “’Goalposts must stop moving’: plea for stability in UK’s green homes drive.”

Nest dumps ExxonMobil over climate change risks
Financial Times Read Article

The Financial Times reports that “Nest, the £20bn UK government-backed workplace pension scheme, has sold its holdings in ExxonMobil and four other energy companies after criticising their progress on managing climate change risks”. The newspaper adds: “The group, which looks after the retirement savings of 10m UK workers, has dumped investments worth £40m in Exxon, Imperial Oil, Korea Electric Power Corp (Kepco), Marathon Oil and Power Assets, the Hong Kong-based electric utility company. Frustration over the response of some fossil fuel companies to the threat of catastrophic global warming is driving a small but growing number of influential pension funds to divest from businesses that are perceived as blocking progress towards a lower carbon economy.”

Meanwhile, in contrasting news, Reuters reports that France’s TotalEnergies, Royal Dutch Shell, Malaysia’s Petronas and Qatar Energy have “scooped up big offshore fields in Brazil together with state-owned Petrobras, paying nearly $2bn to its cash-strapped government”. The newswire continues: “The selloff was widely seen as a test of Brazil’s investment climate and of large oil producers’ willingness to keep spending big on traditional oil assets, despite increasing pressure over climate change and toward energy transition. TotalEnergies, which snapped up a stake in both blocks, said the investment will bring output with ‘costs well below $20 per barrel of oil equivalent’ and with carbon emissions rates below industry levels.” CEO Patrick Pouyanné said in a statement: “These are unique opportunities to access giant low-cost and low emissions oil reserves.”

Separately, the Financial Times carries an interview with Håkan Agnevall, chief executive of Finnish marine engine maker Wartsila in which he says there is no “silver bullet” for decarbonising the shipping industry and it would be dangerous for governments to bet on simple solutions for one of the world’s most polluting sectors. The article continues: “He underlined the difficulties in replacing the bunker fuel currently used, which is optimal because of its high energy density. LNG would require fuelling tanks about double the size of bunker fuel; ammonia, favoured by the Norwegian shipping industry, would need tanks four times’ larger; hydrogen, eight times; and electric batteries, 40 times. All these would require different designs for vessels to accommodate them.”

Comment.

Joe Manchin may have doomed American climate policy
Rebecca Leber, Vox Read Article

Joe Manchin “may have delivered a final blow to the US’s best chance to take action on the climate crisis this decade”, writes Vox senior reporter Rebecca Leber. She continues: “It’s possible that Manchin’s Sunday comments were just another negotiating tactic, and he could be convinced to support a revised version of the Build Back Better plan that delivers on what he wants. But if the bill truly is a goner, it will be much more than a political setback for the Biden agenda. It will be a colossal tragedy for the planet and future generations, which are depending on the US government to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels this decade with major legislation like this bill, to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The bill also contains funding for adapting to climate change and helping the most vulnerable communities; without it, the US will be far less prepared to face escalating climate disasters here at home. It’s unlikely Democrats will have exactly the same set of political circumstances – in control of both the presidency and Congress – to pass a similarly ambitious climate agenda in the next decade.”

Axios climate and energy reporter Andrew Freedman says: “The death of Build Back Better marks the beginning of a new phase of climate policymaking under the Biden administration, one that may feature a hodge-podge of approaches, but may not ultimately meet the benchmarks laid out.” NBC News correspondent Josh Lederman argues that “the likely demise of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation would have devastating consequences for US efforts to combat climate change, making it nearly impossible for the US to meet its emissions-cutting pledges under the Paris Agreement”. The Washington Post carries a feature headlined: “From charm offensive to scorched Earth: How Biden’s fragile alliance with Manchin unraveled.” Also in the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty, the newspaper’s deputy editorial page editor and columnist, says Manchin’s position on Build Back Better “reflects the reality of West Virginia politics”, where he is the Democrat Senator. She adds: “West Virginia – a state whose residents are older, poorer and sicker than average – would also stand to benefit more than most from the legislation…[but] partisan tribalism, cultural issues and an attachment to the vanishing coal industry drive voter sentiment there, creating what is a paradoxical hostility to government.” An editorial in the Wall Street Journal celebrates Manchin’s move saying it “is a service to the country, sparing it from huge tax increases and new entitlements that would fan inflation and erode the incentive for Americans to work”.

Humanity should not test whether Antarctica’s ice will hold out
Editorial, The Washington Post Read Article

An editorial in the Washington Post is concerned by new alarming data confirming melting trends at both poles: “Even if the net impact of Antarctic melting is muted, and even if Greenland’s ice remains miraculously sturdy, higher global temperatures will cause the water already in the ocean to expand. Coastal communities and island nations must brace for more water-related destruction. And world leaders must continue trying to restrain global emissions. Humanity should not test whether unrestrained warming will catastrophically reshape the world’s coastlines. As is the case with so many other potential climate consequences, allowing this gamble to play out is not worth the risk.”

Lack of wind sparks new fears over green energy revolution
Rachel Millard, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

The Daily Telegraph’s energy correspondent Rachel Millard has a news feature about why the lulls in wind speeds experienced during certain periods this year “trigger questions over the long-term predictability of wind patterns amid escalating climate change”. She begins: “A lull in wind speeds over the summer was felt in boardrooms across Europe. As it blew at its weakest for around 60 years, major energy companies lost millions of pounds in electricity sales. By September, households started to feel the pain. Coal and gas-fired plants were switched on to make up for loss of wind, compounding a global shortage of gas and pushing electricity prices to record levels…Events like the wind lull have triggered questions over whether it was a sign of things to come, and how predictable wind patterns are in the long term amid climate change. It’s an area of growing corporate and scientific research, with huge consequences for energy security and business investment. But much remains unknown.” The article – which says that scientists have identified a pattern of declining average wind speeds globally, averaging about one mile an hour every 30 years, based on wind speeds since the 1970s – quotes Prof Paul Williams, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading: “Given what we saw in 2021, I think we will see and we need studies to understand [wind trends] better, especially given our increased reliance on wind as an energy source.”

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Daily Mail focused on the resignation of Brexit minister Lord Frost, agrees with his passing criticism of the UK government’s net-zero agenda: “Lord Frost…hit the nail on the head over ruinous green policies. The Mail believes passionately in safeguarding the planet for future generations. Yet the reckless dash to achieve ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions will come at eye-watering cost, hit struggling families with soaring bills and leave us dangerously dependent on foreign powers to keep the lights on”.

Science.

Dynamic modelling shows substantial contribution of ecosystem restoration to climate change mitigation
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

A new study finds that forest restoration, reforestation, reduced harvest, agroforestry and silvopasture could potentially sequester an additional 93bn tonnes of carbon by 2100. The authors “provide spatially explicit estimates of ecosystem restoration potential quantified with a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model”. They say that efforts to quantify carbon dioxide removal “have yet to be evaluated in a systematic and scientifically robust way” – and estimate that these measures could reduce global temperature rise by 0.12C “relative to a baseline mitigation pathway”. (For more on ecosystem restoration and other nature-based solutions for climate change, see Carbon Brief‘s recent Q&A.)

Tropical deforestation accelerates local warming and loss of safe outdoor working hours
One Earth Read Article

Tropical deforestation has caused around 4.9 million people to lose more than half an hour per day of “safe” outdoor working time over 2003-18, new research finds. The authors combine worker health guidelines with satellite, reanalysis and population data to investigate how warming associated with recent deforestation affects outdoor working conditions across low-latitude countries. They conclude that “recent large-scale forest loss was associated with particularly large impacts on populations in locations such as the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Pará”.

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