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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 02.08.2022
US Senate Democrats hope for green light on $430bn climate, drug bill

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News.

US Senate Democrats hope for green light on $430bn climate, drug bill
Reuters Read Article

Reuters says that US Senate Democrats are “awaiting a ruling from a chamber referee this week on whether they can override the legislature’s normal rules to pass a $430bn drugs, energy and tax bill despite Republican objections”. The newswire says the “decision by the referee, officially known as the ‘parliamentarian’, will have a profound impact on President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda heading into the 8 November midterm elections, when Republicans are favoured to win back control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate amid voter discontent over inflation”. The fate of the bill, which was only put on the table in recent days following the surprise support of the holdout Democrat senator Joe Manchin, is in the balance, says Reuters: “Under the ‘reconciliation’ procedure Democrats are hoping to use to pass the bill, only a simple majority of votes in the 100-member chamber would be needed to steer the bill towards passage, instead of the 60 needed for most legislation.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reveals that Manchin “has secured a promise from Democratic leaders and the White House to complete a highly contested 304-mile gas pipeline in his state [West Virginia], his office said, a major concession won as part of negotiations over a climate and tax bill”. The Wall Street Journal has published a news feature on “America’s new energy crisis”. It explains: “Fossil fuel plants are closing faster than green alternatives can replace them. Producers of oil and gas can’t keep up with a surge in demand. How did this happen, and what will it take to fix it?”

In other US news, the Guardian says that “heavy rain has pummelled Kentucky once again, raising fears of further devastating flooding that has already killed 35 people, with hundreds more still missing”. Associated Press, via the Guardian, reports that “Oregon authorities are investigating four additional deaths potentially linked to last week’s scorching heatwave, bringing the total number of suspected hyperthermia deaths to 14”. Another Guardian article says that “the climate crisis risks pushing many Americans into entirely new climatic realities, with a new analysis [by Climate Central] finding there are 16 US cities at risk of having summer temperatures on a par with locations in the Middle East by the end of the century”. Finally, the Miami Herald reports that “Miami is getting $50m to protect low-lying communities from sea level rise and storm surge, thanks to $1bn in new federal funding announced on Monday by Vice President Kamala Harris in Miami”.

UK farmers count cost as heatwave kills fruit and vegetable crops
The Guardian Read Article

The UK heatwave has caused fruit and vegetables to die on the vine as growers fear the drought and further hot temperatures could ruin harvests this year, reports the Guardian. It adds: “Fruit and vegetable suppliers have been counting their losses after record temperatures in July caused crops to fail. There are fears that future hot summers could affect Britain’s food security as growers experience the impacts of the climate crisis.” The news comes at the Met Office says that England had its driest July since 1935, with parts having the least rainfall on record. BBC News says: “For some parts of the country – south-east and central southern England – last month was the driest July since records began in 1836. Most of England now has low river levels, with serious impacts on farmland, nature and wildlife.” Another Guardian article highlights how “TV meteorologists have found themselves on the frontline of the climate culture war after extreme temperatures hit England last month”. It quotes Laura Tobin, who is “well known as the chirpy weather forecaster for Good Morning Britain” and who has been trolled and abused on social media for explaining the impact of climate change on the heatwave. Tobin says: “We have a duty to tell the science and show why it matters. What we know, what we’ve seen [in such a short timescale], what we are saying isn’t being alarmist – what we are seeing is alarming. It’s not scaremongering – the truth scares people but the reality is scary.”

In other UK news, the i newspaper reports that “moderate Conservatives will punish the party at the polls if it ignores the issue of climate change under a new leader, according to a former Australian MP who lost her seat in her country’s general election this year”. In contrast, the Daily Telegraph carries the results of polling commissioned by a climate-sceptic lobby group which purports to show that “a big majority of Conservative voters want the next prime minister to pause and review the push for net-zero”.

In energy news, the Times says that “one of Britain’s six remaining nuclear power plants closed down for the final time yesterday”, adding: “EDF Energy has permanently switched off the second reactor at Hinkley Point B near Bridgewater, Somerset, 46 years after it first sent power to the national grid. The French energy group decided to close the plant earlier than planned after cracks were found in the graphite bricks that form the reactor’s core.” The Daily Mail’s coverage runs under the headline: “Is this a good time to shut down our top performing nuclear plant?” The Daily Telegraph says that “energy companies are attempting to overcome planning restrictions on onshore wind farms with an upgrade programme that could make hundreds of existing turbines taller”. It adds: “Octopus Energy has set its sights on up to 1,000 turbines which it hopes to reconfigure or replace, providing electricity for up to half a million more homes than they currently supply. In many cases the refit would involve installing bigger blades or adding as much as 20 metres to existing turbines’ height.” A visual feature in the Guardian explains how much could be saved by insulating Britain’s home.

Finally, in other UK stories, Reuters reports that the UK government said yesterday that proposed global sustainability disclosure rules need simplifying and phasing in to avoid fragmenting how companies report on the impact of climate change on their business. The Independent says that “Boris Johnson is facing fresh claims of nepotism after it was revealed that charity bosses had blocked a government bid to appoint the prime minister’s father as an ‘ambassador’ at last year’s COP26 climate change summit”. And in breaking news this morning, BP has announced it latest quarterly results. BBC News says: “BP has reported massive profits for the three months to June after oil and gas prices soared. The energy giant saw underlying profits hit $8.45bn (£6.9bn) – more than triple the amount it made at the same time last year. The figure is the second highest in the firm’s history and takes its half-year profits to $14.6bn. It comes on the day typical household energy bills have been forecast to hit more than £3,600 a year this winter.”

Climate change: More studies needed on possibility of human extinction
BBC News Read Article

Several outlets cover a new “perspective” paper in the PNAS journal which says that scientists are not taking catastrophic climate change outcomes, including human extinction, seriously enough. BBC News says the authors argue that “the consequences of more extreme warming – still on the cards if no action is taken – are ‘dangerously underexplored’”. It continues: “They argue that the world needs to start preparing for the possibility of what they term the ‘climate endgame’. They want UN scientists to investigate the risk of catastrophic change.” Sky News says that the “team of international experts led by Cambridge University said not enough research had gone into the possible worst-case scenario, despite ‘ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe’”. The Guardian says: “Explorations in the 1980s of the nuclear winter that would follow a nuclear war spurred public concern and disarmament efforts, the researchers said. The analysis proposes a research agenda, including what they call the ‘four horsemen’ of the climate endgame: famine, extreme weather, war and disease…Particularly concerning are tipping points, where a small rise in global temperature results in a big change in the climate, such as huge carbon emissions from an Amazon rainforest suffering major droughts and fires. Tipping points could trigger others in a cascade and some remained little studied, they said, such as the abrupt loss of stratocumulus cloud decks that could cause an additional 8C of global warming.” MailOnline notes that the authors say “the risk of ‘interacting’ threats such as democratic breakdowns and new forms of destructive AI weaponry is also likely to increase alongside rising temperature”. Associated Press seeks the reaction of climate scientist Dr Zeke Hausfather of the tech company Stripe and Berkeley Earth, who is also Carbon Brief’s climate science contributor: “He said it does make sense to look at catastrophic scenarios ‘as long as we are careful not to conflate the worst case with the most likely outcome’”.

African nations expected to make case for big rise in fossil fuel output
The Guardian Read Article

In an exclusive, the Guardian says it has seen documents showing that “leaders of African countries are likely to use the next UN climate summit in November to push for massive new investment in fossil fuels in Africa”. It adds: “The Guardian has seen a technical document prepared by the African Union, comprising most of Africa’s states, for the ‘second extraordinary session of the specialised technical committee on transport, transcontinental and interregional infrastructure and energy committee’, a meeting of energy ministers that took place by video conference from 14 to 16 June. The five-page document, and accompanying 25-page explanation, indicates that many African countries favour a common position that would inform their negotiating stance at the COP27 UN climate summit, scheduled for this November in Egypt, which would entail pushing for an expansion of fossil fuel production across the continent. The document states: ‘In the short to medium term, fossil fuels, especially natural gas will have to play a crucial role in expanding modern energy access in addition to accelerating the uptake of renewables.’” It continues: “Member states of the African Union will meet again, in Addis Ababa, this week to confirm the stance to be taken. They are expected to argue that Africa must be allowed to benefit from its fossil fuel reserves, as rich countries already have done, and that developed countries by contrast must take the lead on sharp cuts to their emissions. However, environmental campaigners from across the continent fear that the exploitation of gas and oil in Africa would bust global climate targets, prevent the development of renewable energy in Africa, and instead of being used for the benefit of ordinary people, would enrich multinational corporations, investors and the elite in some countries.” The Guardian quotes Mohamed Adow, the director of the thinktank Power Shift Africa: “Africa is blessed with abundant renewable energy, in sun and wind. Africa should not be shackled to expensive fossil fuels for decades.”

Meanwhile, the Financial Times has publishes a “big read” on “why famine in Madagascar is an alarm bell for the planet”. It says: “The UN has called it the world’s first climate-change-induced famine. Madagascar’s government agrees it is a result of the west’s carbon-fuelled lifestyle. A number of scientists and experts disagree, saying it is actually a consequence of poverty and poor governance. For the people of southern Madagascar, unaware of the international furore, it is known simply as kere – the hunger.”

China releases plan to guide carbon-intensive industries to reach peak emissions by 2030
South China Morning Post Read Article

The South China Morning Post reports that seven industrial sectors in China have been “assigned targets to reduce energy consumption and boost recycling to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030”. Industrial enterprises with annual revenue of “20m yuan (US$2.9m) or more” have been “ordered” to reduce their energy consumption [per unit of added value] by “13.5% by 2025 compared with 2020 levels”, the outlet says, according to a joint plan published on Monday by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) along with the National Development and Reform Commission – the country’s top energy regulator – and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. By 2030, the aim is to establish a modern industrial system with “high efficiency, green, circular and low-carbon characteristics”, the outlet notes, citing the plan. Companies in “steel, building materials, petrochemicals, non-ferrous metals, consumer goods, equipment manufacturing and electronics sectors” will be “subject to the new rules”, the article adds. China Energy News, a state-run industry newspaper, also covers the new plan.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg writes that Tesla has “signed new long-term deals” with “two of its existing Chinese battery-materials suppliers”, which the outlet says is the “latest move by automakers to secure supplies amid intensifying competition”. It adds that the announcements come as “major automakers look to scoop up battery metals in the face of a looming shortage”. Separately, Reuters writes that Chinese electric car maker Nio plans to “open its first overseas plant” in September to “make power products for the European market as it accelerates expansion abroad”.

Finally, Xinhua has an opinion piece by Xin Ping, a commentator on international affairs, titled “Inflation of so-called “China threat” in US should be held in check”. Xin writes: “[T]he US is on a dead-end path by trumpeting the so-called ‘China threat,’ as any detente or cooperation with China would be labeled as ‘appeasement’ or ‘weakness.’ This makes it difficult for any substantive bilateral cooperation to take place, even in such politically neutral fields as climate change.”

Germany puts coal power plant back on network after gas supply cut
The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian reports that a German mothballed coal power plant in Lower Saxony, owned by the Czech energy company EGH, has received emergency permission to run until April 2023 to help boost energy production. It adds that the move has been described by Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, a leading Green, as “a necessary evil”, as he “acknowledged it was a considerable setback to the country’s attempts to tackle the climate crisis”. The Washington Post says that Germany is allowing 21 coal plants to restart or run past planned closing dates for the next two winters: “The country will have to import more coal from producers such as Australia and South Africa, even as those countries face pressure to cut back on coal-burning at home.“ Agora Energiewende, a thinktank, estimates that these extended plants will add between 20m and 30m tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, equivalent to about 4% of Germany’s total emissions, notes the newspaper. Der Spiegel quotes CDU politician Michael Kretschmer: “To fire up lignite-fired power plants is madness.” In the past, however, Kretschmer has “repeatedly spoken out against an earlier exit from coal-fired power generation, referring to the jobs in his state”, says the newspaper. In addition, Bloomberg reports that Stadtwerke München, the Bavarian city’s local utility, has revived oil burners at two heating plants that had previously been closed down. It has also postponed the planned conversion to gas of a coal-fired plant.

Meanwhile, another Bloomberg article says Germany’s last three remaining nuclear reactors could keep operating through the winter even though they are poised to close permanently by the end of this year, according to industry group Kerntechnik Deutschland. It notes that nuclear power produced about 12% of the nation’s electricity last year, according to researchers at Ember. Germany’s Ntv details that politicians from the CDU-CSU union and the Free democratic party are demanding longer nuclear power plant runtimes. Saxony’s prime minister Michael Kretschmer is quoted as telling Handelsblatt: “As long as the federal government has not developed a new concept for the energy transition, the nuclear power plants must continue to run.”

Finally, Reuters reports that the Nord Stream 1 pipeline – “a symbol of energy cooperation between Germany and Russia” which has seen supplies to Germany cut by 20% – cannot be repaired by Russia due to “difficulties which were caused by sanctions”, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Bloomberg adds that if measures to rebalance gas supply and demand fail, the German government has the power to declare a gas “emergency”, which would involve the state deciding who can and cannot use the fuel.

Comment.

Can inflation reduction save the planet?
Paul Krugman, The New York Times Read Article

Paul Krugman, the Nobel economist who is a columnist for the New York Times, looks at the new “Inflation Reduction Act”, brokered in part by holdout Democrat senator Joe Manchin (see above), which includes significant climate and energy measures. He says that, “if it does become law, it will be a very big deal”. He adds: “The point is that while the climate and energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act – about $370bn over the next decade – would be only about 0.1% of projected gross domestic product over the same period, they could well have a catalytic effect on the energy transition. And they could also transform the political economy of climate policy…So let’s hope there aren’t any last-minute snags. The Inflation Reduction Act won’t deliver everything climate activists want. But, if it happens, it will be a major step toward saving the planet.”

Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, staff writer Chris Mooney says: “The bill won’t lead to a much cooler planet, at least not immediately or on its own. The climate problem is massive, which means that even when the US takes decisive action it can appear relatively small. For instance, new modelling from the Rhodium Group puts the US emissions reductions from the new legislation at about 470 to 580m tons of greenhouse gases in 2030, compared with where policies will take us without the bill. Princeton University’s energy modeller Jesse Jenkins appears more optimistic and initially puts the emissions reductions at between 800m and 1bn tons.”

The Guardian view on the warming of the Alps: a challenge for tourism
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

An editorial in the Guardian looks at the impact of climate change on tourism in the Alps: “In the Alps, the 21st century’s increasingly head-on collision between industrial tourism and the climate crisis is destroying some of the very environments that have attracted so many to the high mountains in the first place, as well as generating ever larger numbers of accidents. To close the playground of Europe would be unenforceable and unfair, as well as economically devastating. But without collective self-denial and behaviour change, an already bad situation will simply get worse.”

In other UK comment, the Financial Times carries a column by Sarah O’Connor who says “a hotter planet will expose divides in the world of work”. She adds: “It is often said that the pandemic split the world of work into those who could work at home and those who couldn’t, but in truth the virus mostly exposed cracks of inequality that were already there. The warming planet is likely to do the same.” Meanwhile, the Times carries an endorsement of Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss by her fellow MP Alex Stafford, who writes: “Liz understands the importance of reaching net-zero and I am delighted that she has pledged to keep the 2050 target, and she knows that it will be business, not the government, that will get us there.”

In the Daily Mail, climate-sceptic columnist Richard Littlejohn rages against “muddleheaded eco-fanatics” and in the Daily Telegraph, another climate-sceptic columnist, Sherelle Jacobs, is given space to vent her anger about net-zero, which she described as “a dystopian agenda that takes the sacrificial politics of austerity and financialisation of the world economy to new heights”. In stark contrast, Richard Black writes in CityAM: “Ditching net-zero is a colossal act of self-harm for our economy and global vision.” He adds: “Even though Conservative leadership candidates might want to focus elsewhere to please specific wings of their party, there is no case in economics, business or politics for the UK squandering its leadership of the race to clean energy. For energy security, low bills, jobs and ‘Global Britain’, net-zero is the only game in town.”

Science.

Machine learning reveals climate forcing from aerosols is dominated by increased cloud cover
Nature Geoscience Read Article

The impact of volcanic eruptions on climate is predominantly through increased cloud cover, rather than cloud brightening, a new study suggests. Using machine learning and satellite data, the researchers show that the volcanic eruption at Holuhraun in Iceland in 2014 “increased cloud cover by approximately 10% and this appears to be the leading cause of climate forcing”. The authors explain that “volcanic aerosols do brighten clouds by reducing droplet size, but this has a notably smaller radiative impact than changes in cloud fraction”.

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