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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- 'Virtually certain' that 2023 will be warmest year after October record
- ‘Insanity’: Petrostates planning huge expansion of fossil fuels, says UN report
- China unveils action plan to reduce methane emissions
- China tightens rare-earth export curbs amid tension with the US
- Canada projected to miss its 2030 emissions reduction targets, says environment commissioner
- UK: King's speech promises new bill to boost fossil fuel drilling
- Rishi Sunak is harming the UK’s climate reputation
- Climate action cannot be left until tomorrow
- Committed global warming risks triggering multiple climate tipping points
- Message framing to promote solar panels
Climate and energy news.
It is “virtually certain” that 2023 will be the warmest on record, according to new data released by the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and covered by BBC News. The article explains that global average air temperatures last month were 0.4C warmer than the previous October high in 2019. It says that this was the fifth month in a row of record-breaking warmth, noting that this was “driven by carbon emissions and an El Niño weather event”. The article emphasises that “the last two months of 2023 are extremely unlikely to reverse the trend and high temperatures around the world have continued into November”. [Carbon Brief’s science contributor Dr Zeke Hausfather estimated around three weeks ago that there was “a greater than 99% chance that 2023 will be the hottest year since records began”.] Reuters says the only other time before October that a month breached the temperature record by such a large margin was the previous month, in September 2023. The Independent cites Dr Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, who says the year is currently averaging 1.43C above pre-industrial levels. “The sense of urgency for ambitious climate action going into COP28 has never been higher,” it quotes her saying. In its coverage, the Financial Times says the “succession of record-breaking heat data shows the world is edging closer to the 2015 Paris agreement goal of limiting the rise in average temperatures to ideally 1.5C, or well below 2C, since the industrial era” [Although it should be noted that reaching 1.5C in an individual year is not equivalent to breaching the 1.5C Paris limit, which refers to long-term human-caused warming.] The MailOnline notes that other records were also broken, including the highest average sea surface temperature for October on record and October marking the sixth consecutive month in which Antarctic sea ice extent was at a record low.
Fossil fuel-producing nations are planning expansions of coal, oil and gas that would “blow the planet’s carbon budget twice over”, according to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report covered by the Guardian. Existing plans would lead to 460% more coal production, 83% more gas and 29% more oil in 2030 than the world could use while still limiting warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5C, the newspaper explains. Even the goal of 2C would be at risk, with 69% more fossil fuels used than is compatible with the target, it adds. The article points to India, Saudi Arabia and Russia as those responsible for the largest emissions from planned projects, with the US, Canada and COP28 host the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also planning to be major fossil-fuel producers. In total, Reuters says the report analysed the 20 top producers, noting that 17 of them have pledged to reach net-zero emissions, but most continue to “promote, subsidise, support and plan the expansion of fossil-fuel production”. As one of the report authors tells the newswire, fossil-fuel phaseout is set to be a “pivotal issue” at the upcoming COP28 climate summit in Dubai, UAE. As Inside Climate News notes in its coverage of the UNEP report, the so-called “production gap” between planned fossil-fuel output and climate goals has “remained largely unchanged since 2019” – the first year the annual report was published. The New York Times adds that, with climate targets looming, some nations are “vying to be the last producers standing” as the overall market slows, “saying they can drill for fossil fuels more cleanly than their competitors”.
Separately, the Financial Times reports that Saudi Aramco, the state-run company that extracts around 10% of world oil supplies, reported a net profit of $32.6bn in its third quarter. The newspaper notes that this “surpassed analyst expectations” after Saudi Arabia and other big oil producers in the Opec group made production cuts to reinforce global oil prices.
China has published a “long-awaited” plan to tackle methane emissions as it reaches the end of a four-day meeting with the US, Reuters reports. However, the article notes that the plan includes no firm targets for cutting those emissions, “only goals for re-using them as fuel”. China, which is by far the world’s largest emitter of planet-warming methane, has not joined a global pact to reduce these emissions by 30% by 2030, but did pledge at COP26 in 2021 to cooperate with the US on reducing the gas, the newswire explains. China plans to use 6bn cubic metres of methane gas released from coal mines as fuel by 2025, and will aim for collecting an “international advanced level” of these emissions from oil fields by 2030, the article explains. Aside from that, the Financial Times says the document includes a focus on improving China’s monitoring and supervision systems for methane by 2030, covering sectors including energy, agriculture and waste. The article cites a “veteran climate policy diplomat” who says the move by China was “an opening play, rather than a final offer” by China, setting the stage for further talks at COP28. Li Shuo, incoming director of the China Climate Hub with the Asia Society Policy Institute, tells Bloomberg that publishing the strategy is “a goodwill gesture” as the Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua wraps up negotiations with US climate envoy John Kerry in California. Li adds that while it is “too early” to say whether this means more cooperation between the US and China on climate, there would not have been further progress without the methane strategy. In his column for the Daily Telegraph, world economy editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard describes Kerry and Xie as “the critical axis in world climate politics. Nothing else matters”. Chinese financial outlet Yicai quotes analysis by Tianfeng securities that the plan creates “broad prospects” for the use of methane in China’s development of “negative carbon” syngas.
China has revealed its plan to increase export controls on rare-earth materials, “requiring exporters to report rare-earth types and their export destinations”, reports Tokyo-based outlet Nikkei Asia. The move comes in response to heightened restrictions on US semiconductor exports to China, it adds. Observers say that the controls could be a “negotiating tactic” ahead of president Xi and US president Biden’s planned meeting in November. (Nikkei Asia says that Biden and Xi will hold their first summit meeting in a year on 15 November. It notes that after meeting Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi last month, Biden said they “must work together to address global challenges”.) The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post covers the same news, adding that “importers of crude oil, iron ore, copper ore concentrates and potash fertiliser” have also been required to report orders and shipments. China Dialogue explores how China became a world leader in the solar, lithium battery and electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing industries, with “consistent government support, an early start [in developing the industries], strong and low-cost domestic supply chains, and a massive home market” raised as key factors. The Wall Street Journal carries a commentary exploring the global expansion of China’s “juggernaut” EV battery industry, against which Western firms may struggle to compete, even with “significant protection”.
Elsewhere, President Xi chaired the third meeting of the central committee for comprehensive deepening of reform in a meeting focused on “building a beautiful China”, reports the state-run newspaper China Daily. During the meeting, he underscored China’s aim to create “a beautiful China in 2035” by “pushing forward” the prevention and control of pollution, “accelerating the green transformation of development” and “pushing for the realisation of a fundamental change in ecological environment”, it adds. Bloomberg says that the meeting “warned state-owned companies in the energy and transport sectors [away from] expanding beyond their core business areas”.
Another China Daily article states that the US state Oregon and its sister states in China have boosted climate actions through sharing best practices in fighting biodiversity loss and climate crisis, adding a comment by Oregon senator Michael Dembrow that “global climate action must entail both friendly competition and also productive partnerships”. Politico covers comments by the US ambassador to China Nicholas Burns that China should “cease building new unabated coal-fired power plants not already under construction”. Another Politico article carries an interview with Lauren Sanchez, California governor Gavin Newsom’s senior climate adviser, who is in charge of “implementing the five climate-focused memorandums of understanding his office signed last month with [various] Chinese agencies”. She says that a key area of cooperation will be in energy storage, and that “if [China is] able to build out battery storage technologies, they won’t need to build additional coal”.
Canada is set to miss its 2030 target to cut emissions by at least 40% below 2005 levels by 2030, according to a new government audit, the Globe and Mail reports. Jerry DeMarco, commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, whose office carried out the review, said they were “extremely concerned about the federal government’s ability to achieve meaningful progress”, the article continues. It adds that, according to the report, Canada has never met an emissions reduction goal despite devising more than 10 separate plans to do so since 1990. CBC News reports that the audit specifically examined the government’s 2030 emissions reduction plan from 2022, which details its measures in line with the country’s Paris Agreement pledge. The article quotes the report as saying that “measures most critical for reducing emissions had not been identified or prioritised” – highlighting an oil-and-gas emissions cap and clean fuel regulations as having been overlooked. The Narwhal notes that large oil sands companies have “lobbied to delay and weaken” elements of “long-promised” emissions cap for oil-and-gas companies. Environment minister Steven Guilbeault said he agreed with the commissioner that “we need to do more”, Reuters reports. It says he also pointed to a framework for the oil-and-gas emissions cap, new measures on zero-emissions vehicles and a mandated 70% cut in methane emissions from the oil-and-gas sector by 2030, all set to emerge in the coming weeks.
Separately, an article in the Guardian considers Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to announce a temporary pause on a carbon levy for home heating oil, despite the national carbon tax being the core of his government’s climate strategy. The article says experts are concerned that the move “could eventually destroy the centrepiece of his government’s efforts to fight the climate crisis”.
As widely trailed ahead of the event, the UK government used its final king’s speech before the next election to set out plans that would mandate the North Sea Transition Authority to undertake new oil-and-licensing rounds every year, BusinessGreen reports. It adds that the speech also included plans to accelerate grid connections for clean energy projects. The article quotes King Chales, conducting his first opening of parliament as monarch, reading out the prepared speech in which he stated: “Legislation will be introduced to strengthen the UK’s energy security and reduce reliance on volatile international energy markets and hostile regimes. This bill will support future licensing of new oil-and-gas fields, helping the country to transition to net-zero by 2050 without adding undue burdens on households.” [As Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans pointed out, holding annual oil-and-gas licensing rounds is not that unusual given the government held them annually right up until the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.] The New York Times has an article about the king delivering a speech “at odds with his beliefs”, referencing Charles’s reputation as a champion of environmental causes. It describes the speech, in which a monarch has to read out the various upcoming government bills, as a “constitutional oddity”.
An analysis piece by the Guardian exploring the new policy notes that it is unlikely to improve UK energy security and will not bring down people’s energy bills. Another Guardian analysis piece, by environment editor Fiona Harvey, explains that one motivation for the Conservative government could be to put the rival Labour party in a difficult position. Labour has pledged to award no new oil-and-gas licences in the North Sea if elected, but to honour those already awarded, amid pushback from some trade unions. A piece in the Times cites Alex Veitch, director of policy and insight at the British Chambers of Commerce, who says “reopening the political dividing lines on net-zero damages business confidence and investment plans”. Meanwhile, DeSmog reports that the influential, Conservative-linked Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) thinktank, which has been advocating for further North Sea oil-and-gas drilling, has five board members with financial interests in the industry. The i newspaper quotes climate scientist Prof Bill McGuire of University College London, who says the king’s speech shows Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has “turned his back on tackling climate breakdown”, which will result in the loss of British lives.
Finally, according to BusinessGreen, new analysis from the Association of British Insurers warns that the UK faces a £615bn funding gap to meet low-carbon requirements for energy, transport and housing infrastructure through to 2030. The Press Association quotes former prime minister Theresa May, who told the House of Commons that Sunak should “press the accelerator” on the transition to net-zero and “not roll backwards”.
Climate and energy comment.
A Financial Times editorial concludes that the agenda laid out by UK prime minister Rishi Sunak in the king’s speech was “thin gruel” with an unfortunate focus on “drawing short-term political divides with the Labour opposition”. It adds: “Nowhere is this more evident than in the plan to mandate annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas drilling.…By playing politics over the energy transition it further dents the UK’s reputation as a leader on climate change.” It says the move is unlikely to “significantly slow the decline in production from a dwindling reserve” and notes that it adds to the “chopping and changing of policymaking that investors cite as a big disincentive to put money into the UK”. An editorial in the Times also describes the annual North Sea licensing round proposal as a “tactical measure”, noting that “this is clearly designed to discomfit Labour which, in its folly, wants to ban new drilling”.
Meanwhile, the UK’s right-leaning newspapers were broadly pleased with the government’s plan. A Sun editorial says “we hugely welcome” the prime minister’s “common sense on net-zero”, adding: “Sane politicians know we will need oil and gas for decades yet. It would be crazy not to extract our own secure supplies from the North Sea.” According to a Daily Mail editorial, the plans for North Sea oil and gas will “resonate with the public, many of whom fear that in the rush to net-zero, energy security may be compromised”. Similarly, a Daily Telegraph editorial says “plans to encourage the revival of the North Sea oil and gas industry and take a more pragmatic approach to the removal of carbon from the energy mix will also resonate with the public”. [This is despite the fact that, only two days ago, energy security and net-zero secretary Claire Coutinho said the move to expand North Sea drilling “wouldn’t necessarily bring energy bills down, that’s not what we’re saying”.] Writing in the Daily Telegraph, climate-sceptic columnist Janet Daley says the new oil-and-gas licences, combined with the broader net-zero policy rollback, “will seem to most ordinary people like rational decisions, whatever they may say to opinion pollsters”. In the Daily Express, climate-sceptic columnist Tim Newark says that while he was unhappy with some elements of the king’s speech, the prime minister “was on firmer ground with the planned rollback of the oncoming net-zero disaster”. The Sun’s political editor Harry Cole has a slightly more nuanced take on the expansion of North Sea drilling, noting that “while it may tie the opposition in knots, in some marginal more liberal seats it will be a policy that is likely to annoy as many voters as it wins over”.
Finally, writing for Climate Home News, Sandrine Dixson-Decleve, co-president of the Club of Rome and co-lead of the Earth4All initiative, says Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations have an opportunity this week – at the OECD’s annual forum in Paris – to end the flow of public money into fossil fuels via “export credit agencies”.
An editorial in the Scotsman reacts to the news that the Scottish government’s draft climate change plan has been delayed, which it says “should concern us all” as it is “a matter of economic and moral leadership”. The piece says that Scotland’s net-zero secretary Mairi McAllan has blamed the UK government for “reneging on its own commitments” for the delay. But the editorial states that “this simply does not wash” – with Chris Stark, chief executive of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, questioning why this would impact the Scottish government. “Scottish ministers should, instead, redouble efforts to produce the draft plan so that people in Scotland can decide for themselves if we are on the right track to achieving net zero and whether they are willing to make the necessary changes and investments,” it concludes.
New climate research.
Reducing carbon emissions so that atmospheric levels of CO2 remain constant – rather than reaching net-zero, where atmospheric CO2 would fall – could see major tipping points crossed in the Earth system, new research warns. Under the scenario that best matches current national commitments (RCP4.5), the committed warming with constant CO2 levels would trigger two tipping points this century, the research finds, adding: “If radiative forcing is then held fixed after the year 2100, a further six tipping point thresholds are crossed.” The authors note that “only a lower emissions scenario, which would require rapidly reaching net-zero emissions, avoids crossing most climate tipping points”.
New research shows how “message framing” can significantly increase the commitment of customers to adopting solar panels. In a large-scale trial with a nationwide online retailer in the Netherlands, the researchers tested four messages aimed at promoting the purchase of solar panels: financial earnings versus savings for the consumer and reducing emissions versus generating green electricity for the environment. While all messages triggered a higher rate of customers committing to solar panels, the framing in terms of financial savings for the consumer “was by far the most effective”, the study says. This message resulted in a 40% higher level of commitment than the baseline and 30% higher than the average of the other three messages, they note.