Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- World must help Pakistan after its ‘climate catastrophe’ – UN secretary general
- UK sees up to £170bn excess profits for energy firms
- Nuclear power stations could be fast-tracked to help solve energy crisis
- Climate envoy John Kerry seeks restart to US emissions talks with China
- EU sets sights on energy market reform as prices soar
- Gazprom will suspend gas deliveries to France's Engie on Thursday
- German Cabinet meets to discuss energy crisis and security
- First Solar says it will spend up to $1.2bn to expand US production
- Summers could last longer with increased drought risk, says Met Office
- Dear Liz Truss, it appears you still don't realise that climate change is not a hoax
- Floods and foes: The Hindu Editorial on Pakistan floods and Indian response
- Land use change and carbon emissions of a transformation to timber cities
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has said that people in Pakistan are facing “a monsoon on steroids – the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding”, in a message launching a major UN appeal to help the victims of on-going floods, the Press Association reports. He referred to the flooding as “a climate catastrophe”, urging nations to “stop sleepwalking” into the destruction of the planet due to rising temperatures and taking aim at countries for inadequate climate action, the piece continues. There is widespread reporting of the comments by Guterres, who the Hindustan Times says intends to visit Pakistan next week. It quotes the secretary general as warning people that “today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country”. Guterres called South Asia a “climate crisis hotspot”, where people are 15 times more likely to die from climate impacts, BBC News reports. The Associated Press via the Guardian notes that, in total, the UN and Pakistan are to appeal for $160m (£135m) in emergency funding for the nearly half a million people displaced by the record-breaking floods. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved the release of $1.17bn for Pakistan, part of a large bailout accord with the country approved in 2019 that has remained on hold until now, the article continues. The Independent reports that the US is sending $30m in aid to Pakistan. According to Reuters, the rains and flooding have so far killed more than 1,100 people in Pakistan, including 380 children. It adds that the country has received nearly 190% more rain than the 30-year average in the quarter through to August this year. On top of the “drastically heavier than usual monsoon rainfall”, the Daily Telegraph reports that the country has also experienced “increased glacial melt”.
Pakistani prime minister Shehbaz Sharif told reporters “we are dealing with a situation I have not seen in my life”, adding that “we are suffering from it but it is not our fault at all”, the Guardian reports. It notes that Sharif’s climate change minister, Sherry Rehman, made this link even clearer, pointing out that Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions and stating: “Our footprint is so small … There are countries that have got to become rich on the back of fossil fuels and let’s be honest about this”. Supporting this point, Climate Home News states that events in Pakistan reflect “how poorer countries often pay the price for climate change largely caused by more industrialised nations”. It notes that, since 1959, Pakistan is responsible for only 0.4% of the world’s historical CO2 emissions, while the US is responsible for 21.5%, China for 16.5% and the EU 15%.
New Scientist reports that government ministers in Pakistan have claimed the disaster will have an economic cost of more than $10bn. It states that Pakistan has “long been considered one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change, due to its geography and levels of poverty”. The New York Times Climate Forward newsletter looks at why Pakistan has been hit so hard by the flooding. It notes that on top of the unusually high rainfall, which is consistent with expectations under climate change, the “challenge of preparing for more intense rains is complicated by persistent political instability in Pakistan” and the “country’s difficult economic situation also means there aren’t sufficient resources for adaptation projects”.
Meanwhile, in the US many are also facing the impacts of flooding. Residents in Jackson, Mississippi, have been told in an emergency briefing by governor Tate Reeves that they must not drink the water after heavy rains and flooding disabled as treatment plant providing water for the city, Grist reports. It adds that “flooding comes amid an increase in devastating climate change-driven floods in Kentucky, Missouri and other communities across the country”.
UK gas producers and electricity generators may make excess profits as high as £170bn over the next two years, according to Treasury estimates “that lay bare the revenue-raising potential of a windfall tax”, Bloomberg reports. It cites a “person familiar with the matter”, who says that Treasury officials will deliver the assessment to the country’s next prime minister when they take office on 6 September. With domestic winter energy bills “set to rocket to triple the level they were last year”, Bloomberg notes that an extension of the existing windfall tax on energy companies could “generate tens of billions of pounds”. Reuters covers the story from Bloomberg, noting that the Treasury itself has said it does not recognise the analysis. The newswire says that the excess profits are defined as the difference between predicted profits and what the firms could have been expected to make based on price projections from before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Independent picks up on earlier reports that the favourite candidate to be the next UK prime minister, Liz Truss, plans a “frenzy” of oil-and-gas drilling in the North Sea. It has comments from experts who say this strategy will have little impact on energy bills, and Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr is quoted saying the plan is “a gift to the fossil fuel giants already making billions from this crisis”. The Times reports that UK chancellor Nadhim Zahawi will ask his US counterpart, Janet Yellen, today to help to step up exports of cheaper US oil and gas to the UK to ease rising energy bills. Another Times story reports that Scottish National Party ministers have voiced their opposition to Truss’s plans to sign off new oil fields in the North Sea, “claiming they offer no solution to the energy price crisis and will instead accelerate global warming”. The Daily Mail reports that Truss also plans to exempt “power-hungry industries” such as steel from all green levies as “part of a package to help businesses cope with soaring energy bills”.
According to an “exclusive” story in the Daily Mirror, head teachers and NHS bosses have warned that they will have to cut staff to pay school and hospital energy bills this year. The Guardian reports that Gypsy and Traveller groups are calling for the government to ensure thousands of households living in park homes are not excluded from the support scheme for energy bills over the winter. According to the Press Association, British pubs are “preparing to swallow energy bill hikes of up to 400% and also have to contend with the cost of energy required to brew beer”. The i newspaper reports that “small business leaders have accused ministers of ignoring the sector over the spiralling cost of energy as Liz Truss has hinted at reforming business rates to help with soaring bills”. The Financial Times covers UK plans for “warmth banks”, where local councils and voluntary groups plan to provide shelter to people unable to pay soaring energy bills this winter. On the remote Shetland Islands, the Times reports that the local council has warned that people will have to earn £100,000 to avoid fuel poverty, meaning as many as 96% of islanders could be pushed into such conditions.
According to the Financial Times, gas prices in the UK have fallen sharply on after hitting new highs at the end of last week, “although prices remain at extremely elevated levels heading into the winter”.
Building on reports in recent days, the Daily Telegraph has a story about new rules announced by the UK government that could speed up approval of major infrastructure projects, including nuclear power, to help bolster sources of supply. It says the rules mean nuclear power plants, which take a notoriously long time to build, “could be fast-tracked”. Meanwhile, the Times reports that prime minister Boris Johnson is poised to give approval this week for the Sizewell C reactor in Suffolk, a nuclear power station costing up to £30bn. Johnson has told a population facing an 80% increase in the energy price cap that they face tough times ahead but should have a sense of “hope and perspective”, according to the Press Association. He added that the government is “putting in more nuclear and you’ll be hearing more about that later this week”. The Daily Express also covers comments from Johnson, who blames the previous Labour government – rather than the Conservatives who have been in power for 12 years – for failing to greenlight any new nuclear reactors.
The Financial Times reports that US climate envoy John Kerry “praised China’s efforts at tackling global warming” and “urged Beijing to resume suspended talks on the issue”, even as “tensions flare with Washington over the status of Taiwan”. Kerry, who was on an official visit in Athens, said that China had, “generally speaking, outperformed its commitments”, the outlet notes. The US climate envoy said that he was “hopeful” that the countries [the US and China] can “get back together” ahead of the UN’s November COP27 climate summit in Egypt, the article highlights, quoting him saying: “The climate crisis is not a bilateral issue, it’s global, and no two countries can make a greater difference by working together than China and the US.” Kerry tells the FT: “[China has] said they will do X, Y and Z and they have done more…China is the largest producer of renewables in the world. They happen to also be the largest deployer of renewables in the world…China has its own concerns about the climate crisis. But they obviously also have concerns about economic sustainability, economic development.” He added that China was “expected to announce its own ambitious methane reduction plan, and Washington and Beijing were working together to accelerate the phasing out of coal usage and to address deforestation”, the outlet notes.
Meanwhile, Xie Zhenhua, China’s special climate envoy, recently said on a high-level forum in Beijing that “regardless whether there is inconsistency of other countries’ climate policies, we will insist on implementing the Paris Agreement, continue to take strong policies and actions, work with all parties to advance the multilateral process of addressing climate change, provide assistance within our capacity to other developing countries through South-South cooperation in addressing climate change, and continue to be an important participant, contributor and leader in global climate governance”, reports China News Service, a state newswire. Additionally, the state-run newspaper Global Times carries a comment piece by one of its reporters, Ai Jun, titled: “West’s geopolitical strategy damages its seemingly good-looking climate targets.”
Finally, Sinopec, a Chinese oil and gas enterprise, on Monday announced the “official” gas injection and operation of its “million-tonne” CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] project, reports Shanghai-based Jiemian, adding that this move marked the “commercial operation of China’s CCUS industry”.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has announced plans for an intervention to separate power prices from the rising cost of gas, as well as longer-term reforms to ensure electricity prices reflected cheaper renewable energy, Reuters reports. The “emergency plans” to intervene in its energy market come as pressure grows from member states to tackle soaring electricity prices across the continent, the piece adds. According to Bloomberg, von der Leyen said that the current system was no longer functioning properly thanks to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is “systematically trying to destroy it and to manipulate it so we really have to react to that and that’s why we’re addressing now the composition of the electricity market”. The article notes that the bloc’s leaders are coming under increasing pressure to act as, since its invasion of Ukraine, Russia keeps limiting gas supplies to the EU before the start of the heating season, boosting the risk of shortages this winter. Another Bloomberg piece adds that the commissions is “still in the process of devising various options for how the bloc could try to bring down the price of electricity, which is about 10 times higher than it was a year ago”. It notes that energy ministers will meet on 9 September to reach a political agreement on the next steps.
French newspaper Le Monde reports that Russian state-backed energy giant Gazprom has announced plans to suspend gas supplies to France’s main provider Engie from Thursday. It has accused Engie of not making payments “within a time period stipulated in the contract”. The newspaper notes that Russia has slashed its gas deliveries to Europe on several occasions since the start of its attack on Ukraine, in response to Western sanctions. Reuters says the move comes amid “deepening concerns about Europe’s winter energy supply”. Another Reuters story notes that France has accused Moscow of using energy supplies as “a weapon of war” after Gazprom cut deliveries to Engie and said it would shut its main gas pipeline to Germany, Nord Stream 1, for three days this week.
Separately, the Financial Times reports that Russian president Vladimir Putin has complicated efforts by ExxonMobil to end its ties with the country using a decree that barred energy and other companies from shifting control of operations or selling stakes in certain projects until the end of 2022. In response, the newspaper says the oil major has issued a “notice of difference” to Moscow as it seeks to exit Sakhalin-1 oil project, “setting the stage for a potential legal showdown”.
Before a two-day summit on the energy crisis and security strategy, German chancellor Olaf Scholz has stated that “coal power plants are being connected to the power grid again, bit by bit, and as you know, we are also looking into whether it makes sense to restart nuclear power plants for the winter through a careful stress test”, reports Deutsche Welle. In addition, he is quoted saying: “We’re in a much better situation now than was foreseeable several months ago, and we are much more able to deal with the threats coming from Russia over the cutting off of gas supplies”. German media outlet Tagesschau adds that during the above-mentioned summit, which was held in Meseberg Castle, the economy minister Robert Habeck said: “We will see how we can find mechanisms at the European level that allow us to better control or influence these [gas] price mechanisms through smart purchasing behaviour”. Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez also visited the Meseberg Castle to meet with Scholz, stating that “Spain is prepared to support the energy needs of Germany in the face of blackmail by Russian president Vladimir Putin”, EurActiv reports.
Meanwhile, Die Zeit reports that Habeck has announced “the first steps towards reforming the controversial gas levy”, which German citizens have to pay to support critical suppliers. “The circle of eligible companies should be limited to those that do not pay bonuses and are systemically important for the security of supply in Germany,” notes the outlet. “Anyone who receives state aid cannot pay the money as bonuses. Anyone who can pay out bonuses doesn’t need any help,” Habeck told Die Zeit. In addition, only those companies must receive financial compensation that is crucial for the security of supply “and that have such high volumes that it is really relevant for the company”, Habeck continued. Deutschlandfunk says the German gas suppliers had so far applied for €34bn.
Elsewhere, Handelsblatt reports that the German Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists criticised the action programme for natural climate protection in Germany produced by federal environment minister Steffi Lemke. “Natural climate protection is an essential building block for achieving our climate goals,” said environmental policy group spokeswoman Anja Weisgerber (CSU) of the German Press Agency in Berlin. However, “Lemke’s draft does not defuse the conflict of objectives between more and more area protection on the one hand and areas for food production on the other”, Weisberg noted, according to the article.
Finally, Xinhua reports that Germany has reactivated another coal-fired power plant “to reduce the amount of natural gas used to generate electricity”, the plant operator Uniper announced Monday. The outlet explains that, since it was commissioned in 1987, the Heyden power plant in Petershagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, has been “one of the most powerful power plants” in the state, according to Uniper, with an output of 875 megawatts (MW). It adds that the coal-fired power plant at Mehrum in Hohenhameln was the first to return from the reserve in early August.
Solar panel manufacturer First Solar has announced plans to invest up to $1.2bn to build its fourth factory in the US, “in large part” due to the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, a major energy and climate bill that expands incentives for renewable energy, the New York Times reports. Bloomberg notes that the new US climate law provides support for both domestic manufacturing and installations to address the nation’s current reliance on solar panels imported from Asian countries. (See Carbon Brief’s coverage of the bill for more details.)
This comes as updated analysis by the research firm Energy Innovation concludes that, in the wake of the climate bill, renewable energy is set for an “unprecedented boom” in the US, according to the Guardian. The newspaper says that the capacity of solar and wind projects is expected to double by the end of the decade and provide the bulk of the nation’s electricity supply. On the other hand, the Financial Times reports that US utilities are “extending the lives of their coal-fired power plants, as delays in obtaining cleaner replacements and strong electricity demand drive fears of shortfalls on the grid”. It notes that three coal generators this month has joined a “growing list of plants whose planned retirement date has been postponed”.
Research from the Met Office has found that “summer-like” weather patterns will lead to warmer and drier autumns in England, as well as hotter and drier summers from the mid-2020s onwards, the Press Association reports. It adds that this weather pattern could increase the risk of drought. The Daily Telegraph notes that English autumns are likely to have a 4-12% reduction in rainfall by the end of the century, although storms are expected to be more extreme when they arrive.
In Spain, the Guardian reports that prehistoric stone circle and an 11th-century church have been uncovered by receding waters as the country’s reservoirs hit 36% of their normal capacity.
Meanwhile, Channel 4 has a report on Somalia, which is currently suffering its worst drought in 40 years, and where more than 20 million people are at risk of starvation, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
The Scotsman issues a strong critique of the likely incoming UK prime minister, Liz Truss, and her plans for the nation’s energy system. “Unlike Donald Trump, Liz Truss has not dismissed climate change as a ‘hoax’. However, it is beginning to look like she and the former US president share similar views on the greatest threat ever faced by humanity,” the editorial says. Specifically, it refers to her idea to issue up to 130 new drilling licences for oil and gas and plans to end the ban on fracking. It continues: “Truss should also explain how increasing production of fossil fuels will affect people’s energy bills. Without draconian market controls, it is hard to see how it will help, given oil and gas are globally traded commodities.”
Elsewhere, Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson takes a different tack, in a piece titled, “Boris can never be forgiven for sacrificing Britain to his net-zero fantasy”. Pearson takes aim at Johnson’s statement that the UK’s investment in renewables will make it more self-sufficient and in the longer term will lower energy prices. She writes: “Saying that Britain needs to rethink its net-zero timetable does not make you a climate change denier. Cleaner, greener energy is a worthwhile aim so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of human health and happiness.” She characterises the move to net-zero and renewable power as “impoverishing the poorest, who spend the largest proportion of their income on energy, to give wealthy zealots a warm glow of self-righteous satisfaction”. (It is worth noting that, as per Carbon Brief analysis, sky-high gas prices are behind 96% of the increase in household energy bills expected to take place between summer 2021 and spring 2023.) An editorial in the same newspaper has a slightly more toned down version of Pearson’s argument, stating: “Saving the planet is a laudable aim, but the costs of doing so have to be set against other priorities – including the basic requirement that the UK has enough heat and light to function. Green activists insist that nothing has changed and that achieving net-zero should remain the overriding aim of energy policy. It is an argument that will struggle to survive the winter.” Carbon Brief’s deputy editor Simon Evans has factchecked the editorial on Twitter this morning, noting that the paper “names this a ‘gas crisis’, yet fails to recognise the benefits of using less gas with renewables…implying that net-zero is the problem rather than the solution”.
Finally, a Daily Mirror editorial criticises Truss’s “piecemeal proposals” put forward to address rising energy bills. It says: “Instead of direct support for those most in need she is promising tax cuts that will overwhelmingly favour the rich. Typical Tory.” A Sun editorial criticises the concept of nationalising energy companies, but does lend its support to a windfall tax. “Instead, help those who can least afford to pay, funded by a huge tax on the oil giants’ vast and indefensible war profits,” it says.
An editorial in the Hindu reflects on the devastating floods that have struck in neighbouring Pakistan, following calls from the UN for millions in aid. “Despite the poor state of India-Pakistan ties, both New Delhi and Islamabad must put aside their domestic considerations, and seize the moment to help those stranded in the flooding as best they can,” it states. The piece adds that “the worry that the devastating floods have been caused due to climate change is a worry for all of South Asia, one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to global warming”. An editorial in the Daily Mirror also discusses the flooding, under the headline “climate chaos”. It says: “Pakistan is paying the price for being on the front line of the climate crisis”, noting that “those who want to halt the march to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions are risking lives and the future of the planet itself.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg opinion columnist David Fickling says much of the flooding damage could have been averted. He notes that the Indus valley and its tributaries “have been starved of the investment they need to effectively manage the risks of natural disaster”. He concludes that “cash can’t prevent a flood, but it can prevent natural disasters capsizing an economy. Pakistan badly needs that support”.
New research finds that 106bn tonnes of CO2 could be saved by the end of the century if 90% of the new urban population are housed in “newly built urban mid-rise buildings with wooden constructions”. The authors use an “open-source land system model” to estimate the impact of using engineered wood for climate construction – considering both land use and associated CO2 emissions. The paper finds that to meet this demand, forest plantations would need to expand by up to 149m hectares by 2100 and harvests from unprotected natural forests would need to increase. The authors say: “Our results indicate that expansion of timber plantations for wooden buildings is possible without major repercussions on agricultural production.”