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:
- We must turn historic COP26 words into action, says Alok Sharma
- UK: Major investor will target bosses at firms failing on climate
- US: Number 2 climate diplomat to leave post
- China’s carbon market may get stricter under a new proposal
- Brussels faces threat of legal challenge over sustainable finance rules
- UN chief: World worse now due to Covid, climate, conflict
- Utilising the UK’s oil and gas reserves is not inconsistent with net zero
- Projections of freshwater use in the US under climate change
- Increasing heat‐stress inequality in a warming climate
UK minister and COP26 president Alok Sharma is set to warn today that the pact made at the climate summit in Glasgow last November is at risk of being “just words on a page”, the Times reports. In a speech at Chatham House in London later today, Sharma will say: “There is no doubt that the commitments we secured at COP26 were historic. Yet at the moment they are just words on a page. And unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine. We will have mitigated no risks.” The Independent adds that Sharma recently visited the COP27 president from Egypt and the COP28 president from UAE to “underline the importance of building strong partnerships ahead of the next summits”. Meanwhile, a UAE minister said last week that COP28 in 2023 should include input from the oil and gas industry “because the world cannot simply unplug from the energy system as it is today”, according to the website Oil Price.
Elsewhere, several UK outlets cover a new report finding a promise from former prime minister David Cameron in 2013 to “cut the green crap” will cost millions of households around £170 each when energy prices spike this spring. Analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) says homes could have saved a combined £1.5 billion in the next financial year if it were not for Cameron’s government’s decision to cut back on support for home insulation, according to the Independent. Successive governments have cut support for home energy-efficiency measures since 2013, slashing uptake from 2.3m insulation installations in 2012 to just 10% of that today, says the i newspaper. Separate analysis published last week by Carbon Brief finds that energy bills in the UK are nearly £2.5bn higher than they would have been if climate policies had not been scrapped over the past decade. Relatedly, BusinessGreen reports British Gas users in Devon and South West England are to be offered heat pumps from next month ahead of a nation-wide rollout.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that a Tory donor involved in a proposed £1.2bn undersea cable project between the UK and France has said he will seek a judicial review against a government decision to block the project last week.
A major UK investment fund has said it will vote to try to remove directors of firms that fail to act on their climate pledges, BBC News reports. Aviva Investors has also called for company officials’ pay to be linked to sustainability goals, according to BBC News. “It is the latest big investment firm to ramp up the pressure on corporations in a bid to make them clean up their acts,” the broadcaster says. The Times adds that the investor “will write to 1,500 companies in 30 countries, including FTSE 100 companies, urging them to set measures to deliver”. Separately, the Times also reports that multinational company Unilever is facing difficulties after it has emerged that US billionaire Nelson Peltz’s activist hedge fund had acquired an interest in the group.
Jonathan Pershing, the Biden administration’s number two global climate envoy after John Kerry, is leaving his post next month, the New York Times reports. Pershing, a top negotiator who advised four US presidents and helped negotiate the Paris Agreement, is returning to his old job managing the Hewlett Foundation’s climate programmes in California, according to the newspaper. Speaking on his reason for departure after one year in post, he told the Times: “It was not ever meant to be a permanent exercise. It was meant to be a chance to help recreate or create something new, recreate capacity, and build that back in a very short window.”
Elsewhere in the US, the Washington Post reports that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has widened its investigation into the role of oil majors in misleading the public on climate change, asking board directors of ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell Oil to testify before Congress. The hearing of officials from oil and gas companies is set for 8 February, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Associated Press reports that Los Angeles could ban urban oil and gas developments after decades of health complaints from residents. E&E News reports that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to “Supreme Court-proof” President Joe Biden’s ambitions for a carbon-free power grid. And Inside Climate News reports on how fossil fuel company ConocoPhillips’ plan for extracting 500m barrels of crude in Alaska presents a “defining moment for Joe Biden”.
Bloomberg reports that Chinese authorities are “mulling” a “deeper cut” in carbon quotas. It says that a “draft plan” suggests “7.9% fewer allowances per megawatt-hour generated” for “large” coal-fired power plants and 12% for those plants smaller than 300 megawatts. The outlet cites “a person familiar with the document”. It adds that China’s carbon price for 2022 is projected to be 65 yuan per tonne from 58 because of the “tighter benchmarks”, according to Qin Yan, a senior analyst from consulting firm Refinitv. Another Bloomberg report says that China will “encourage” its citizens to buy light, small-sized and low-emission gasoline passenger vehicles while “promoting” new-energy-powered automobiles.
Meanwhile, the Global Times – a Chinese state-run newspaper – features a paper on China’s regional carbon market pilots. The publication reports that the study “concludes that China’s regional emission trading system (ETS) pilots are effective in reducing pollution”. (Carbon Brief has covered the paper in last month’s China Briefing and analysed China’s carbon emissions trading scheme in this in-depth Q&A.) Caixin – a Chinese financial publication – reports that “a China carbon tax is needed to offset the increased cost to Chinese exporters from a proposed European Union carbon border tax that is set to be brought forward, experts say”.
Separately, state-run newswire China News Service reports that China will “vigorously promote” the electrification of vehicles used in public sectors. China’s state news agency Xinhua says that the nation will adopt “stronger measures” for its food and agricultural systems to make them “more environmentally efficient”. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that crude steel production of Hebei province – China’s largest steel-producing region in 2020 – plunged 10% in 2021. The newswire notes the drop is caused by “stringent environment controls aimed at curbing pollution and reducing carbon emissions”. A separate Bloomberg story reports that most of the Australian coal used by steelmakers that was being held at Chinese ports in the wake of an import ban has now been cleared.
The Financial Times reports that Brussels is “facing the threat of legal action and the potential sidelining of its landmark sustainable finance rules” by EU countries that do not want nuclear power or fossil gas to be labelled as green investments. Ministers from from Austria and Luxembourg told the newspaper that they would pursue a lawsuit against the European Commission over its “green taxonomy” rules, while a Spanish deputy prime minister said Madrid could decide to pursue its own green rulebook, excluding nuclear and fossil gas. The news comes as Reuters reports that France’s environment minister said that EU countires are still trying to find agreement on green finance rules. A second Reuters story said Germany on Saturday voiced objections to nuclear power being labelled as a green energy source.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the EU’s executive arm is exploring whether its trading partners, including the US, could boost gas supplies to the region amid limited shipments from Russia fuelled by ongoing conflict. While the EU has robust gas supplies, it needs to remain “extremely vigilant”, energy commissioner Kadri Simson said after a meeting with EU ministers on Saturday, according to Bloomberg. A second Bloomberg story says the long decline of French nuclear giant EDF could pose a “growing economic threat for all of Europe”.
Elsewhere in energy news, the Times reports that UK ministers have been warned they could face record-breaking gas and petrol prices if Russia invades Ukraine. In addition, Press Association reports on a letter from UK businesses to the chancellor, urging him to act “decisively” on the energy crisis. However, Bloomberg reports the UK could wait until March to announce measures to help households with rising energy bills. And the Daily Telegraph claims that the ongoing energy crisis has “burst the green shares bubble”.
In an interview with Associated Press as he starts his second term as UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres said the world is somewhat worse than it was five years ago because of “the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and geopolitical tensions that have sparked conflicts everywhere”. He told AP that one of the three most pressing issues facing the world was “the need to reduce emissions by 45% in this decade to try to meet the international goal of trying to limit future global warming to 1.5C”.
Former housing minister Rober Jenrick writes in the Daily Telegraph that the current energy crisis “requires us to confront hard realities” by “utilising the oil and gas that our islands have been blessed with”. He says: “It is absurd that we have foregone cheap, reliable energy in the name of saving the planet, only to import it at higher prices from abroad – in the process, ceding jobs and creating vulnerabilities to unsavoury actors.” He continues: “It is not inconsistent with our net zero commitment to utilise the UK’s oil and gas reserves. Natural gas accounts for 40 per cent of our electricity generation and we cannot put a significant dent in this figure any time soon.” [The UK government aims to completely decarbonise the power sector by 2035 and has pledged to immediately end direct support for fossil fuel projects overseas.] Meanwhile, in The Times, Mark Littlewood, the director of the libertarian Institute of Economic Affairs, argues that “to solve the unfolding energy crisis we need a new supply-side revolution”. He claims: “The shale gas revolution in the US has been a big contributor to Americans’ energy bills being about 40% lower than ours. Here, of course, fracking for shale gas is in effect banned and it seems there is no appetite to reverse this decision.”
Elsewhere in The Times, former Scotsman editor Magnus Linklater writes that the government must learn from past missteps with the oil and gas industry in the North Sea by bettering regulating the development of wind power. The Times’s Red Box section carries an opinion piece by the climate-sceptic Conservative backbench MP Craig Mackinlay under the headline: “Why back ourselves into an expensive energy corner?”
And in the Daily Telegraph, columnist Juliet Samuel warns that a potential ban on conservatories in England “is exactly the sort of idiocy that could finish off Boris and ‘net zero’”. Meanwhile, Telegraph columnist Michael Deacon claims: “America’s climate alarmists have been made to look like fools.”
Consumptive water use in the US could increase by 235% under a “worst-case” future climate scenario, but could decrease by 8% under a “best-case” scenario, a new study finds. The authors run five climate models using a range of future climate and socioeconomic models. They find that using “wetter climate models”, water use could decrease even under the highest emission levels and population growth rates. They add that agriculture is the main use of water in most regions, meaning that the “impacts of climate change on water use are larger than impacts from non-climate factors like population growth”.
The lowest-income quarter of the population will see almost as much exposure to heatwaves as the rest of the population combined over 2090-99, according to new research. The study assesses the heatwave exposure faced by people of different incomes. The authors find that over 2010-19, the lowest-income quarter of the population experienced over 40% more exposure to heatwaves than the highest-income quarter. They add that “lagged adaptation in the lower-income region translates to escalating heatwave exposure and increased heat-stress inequality”.