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:
- World’s largest coal producer warns of bankruptcy risk
- British watchdog calls for global climate disclosures rules
- Renewable energy defies Covid-19 to hit record growth in 2020
- What will Trump’s most profound legacy be? Possibly climate damage
- UK’s fruit and vegetable supply is increasingly dependent on imports from climate-vulnerable producing countries
- The impact of policies and business models on income equity in rooftop solar adoption
- Climate change risk to global port operations
Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal producer, has said there is a risk it could go bankrupt for the second time in five years, reports the Financial Times. It adds: “[Peabody has] raced to renegotiate debts in the wake of tumbling demand for the fossil fuel. The New York-listed miner is at the centre of upheaval in energy markets as natural gas and renewables replace coal on the North American power grid. The economic fallout of coronavirus has also sapped demand for coal used in steelmaking, an important market for Peabody’s Australian operations.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports: “South African investors have pulled out of a local multi-billion dollar coal-fired power plant project, putting its construction at risk as opposition to the use of fossil-fuels in the country grows despite crippling power shortages. Across the world, investors are coming under increasing pressure to ditch coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels, and switch to greener energy.” It adds: “The latest exits from the 630 megawatt (MW) Thabametsi coal-based power plant project in the water-scarce northern Limpopo province follow the withdrawal last month of South Korea’s state-run Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), and South Africa’s big four banks last year after they were targeted by environmental activists.” In Japan, Reuters reports that “Marubeni Corp…said on Monday it is increasingly difficult to sell stakes in coal-fired power plants due to growing criticism of the power stations which emit high levels of CO2”. In Indonesia, the Jakarta Post says that “state-owned coal miner PT Bukit Asam booked a decline in net profits for the third consecutive quarter as weak coal demand, impacted by the Covid-19 health crisis, continued to take its toll on the company’s finances”. In India, Reuters reports that “real estate, infrastructure and pharmaceutical companies were among the winners of India’s first coal mine auctions open to the private sector without restrictions on end-use”. It adds: “Coal production in India has largely been restricted to state-run Coal India Ltd and another smaller government-controlled company, but prime minister Narendra Modi opened up the industry to the private sector this year.” Another Reuters article says that “India’s fuel demand has almost recovered to pre-Covid-19 levels and the nation will experience the fastest growth in energy consumption among all large economies in the coming decades”.
Finally, Reuters says that “oil [prices] surged about 8% on Monday, its biggest daily gain in more five months, after Pfizer announced promising results for its Covid-19 vaccine”. It adds: “Brent crude settled at $42.40 a barrel, up $2.95, or 7.48%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude settled at $40.29 a barrel, rising $3.15, or 8.48%.” The Times says that oil prices surged yesterday “as traders bet that a vaccine could revive global travel and lead to a recovery in fuel demand”. The Guardian carries the results of a global poll showing that “people are planning to drive and fly more in future than they did before the coronavirus pandemic…even though the overwhelming majority accept human responsibility for the climate crisis”. The newspaper adds: “The apparent disconnect between beliefs and actions raises fears that without strong political intervention, these actions could undermine efforts to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement and hopes of a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.”
The UK’s accounting and corporate governance regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has called for global rules to improve how companies inform investors about how their activities relate to climate change and cutting carbon emissions, reports Reuters, adding: “The Financial Reporting Council published a review of how companies and their auditors consider climate-change in their activities. While minimum legal reporting requirements are often met, investors are calling for additional disclosure to inform their decision making, it found.” BusinessGreen says that “the government plans to cement the UK’s position as a global centre for green finance received a significant boost today, with the chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiling proposals to issue the country’s first sovereign green bond next year and make climate risk disclosure mandatory for major companies from 2025”. It adds: “Moreover, the chancellor confirmed plans set out earlier today by the FCA to introduce stricter rules on climate risk disclosure for large companies and investors, in line with the guidelines developed by the global Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFDs).” The Guardian says that “in an attempt to demonstrate the government’s commitment to tackling global heating, Sunak said the UK would go further than an international taskforce had recommended and make disclosure by large businesses mandatory”. The Financial Times explains: “The British government, which will host the delayed COP 26 international climate talks in Glasgow next year, is keen to position itself as a world-leading green finance hub. Green gilts – or “green sovereign bonds” – are a form of borrowing by governments to fund low-carbon infrastructure projects and are already used in 16 countries including Germany and Sweden.” Another Financial Times story says: “Rishi Sunak has set out his post-Brexit vision for the City of London, hailing a ‘new chapter for financial services’ with a heavy emphasis on green initiatives…Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said the plans to issue green gilts sent ‘a tremendous signal’.” Bloomberg also covers the story. Separately, the Times reports the comments of former Bank of England governor Mark Carney: “[He] yesterday suggested that allowing shareholders a say on businesses’ climate plans might be better than drawing up rules to force companies to address the issue.” Carney suggested allowing shareholders an annual vote on corporate climate plans would establish a “critical link” on the issue, the paper reports.
Meanwhile, in other UK news, the Financial Times reports that “a US consortium is in talks with the British government about reviving a recently-abandoned project to build a nuclear power plant at Wylfa in north Wales”. It adds: “Led by the US engineering group Bechtel, the consortium includes Southern Company, an electricity utility, and Westinghouse, a nuclear engineering company whose AP1000 reactors would be installed at the site on Anglesey. A deal would see a rapid resumption of activity at Wylfa, which has lain dormant since its owner, Japan’s Hitachi, froze its proposal to build a nuclear power plant there in 2019 and then pulled the plug on the project in September.” The i newspaper reports that Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband has said that “Labour is open to the construction of new nuclear power plants, such as Sizewell C in Suffolk, in a bid to hit the country’s net-zero targets if it is economically sound”.
Separately, the Guardian covers a new study showing that “the UK is increasingly reliant on fruit and vegetables imported from countries most vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, which could lead to supply problems”. It adds: “A study published in Nature Food on Monday found that the proportion of fruit and vegetables supplies in the UK that was grown domestically dropped from 42% in 1987 to 22% in 2013. At the same time, the proportion imported from ‘climate-vulnerable’ countries – those worst hit by climate breakdown – increased from 20% to 32%.” The Independent also covers the new study. And the Independent also has a comment piece by Dr Richard Smith, chair of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, under the headline: “The food industry isn’t sustainable for our health or the climate. That’s why we need a carbon tax.”
Several publications cover the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The Guardian says that the IEA’s annual renewables report shows that global renewable electricity installation will hit a record level in 2020, “in sharp contrast with the declines caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the fossil fuel sectors”. The newspaper adds: “[The IEA] says almost 90% of new electricity generation in 2020 will be renewable, with just 10% powered by gas and coal. The trend puts green electricity on track to become the largest power source in 2025, displacing coal, which has dominated for the past 50 years.” Reuters notes that “the IEA [says] new additions of renewables capacity worldwide [will] increase by 4% from last year to a record 198 gigawatts (GW) this year”. Carbon Brief has covered the report in detail, highlighting that the IEA’s “main case” scenario now shows that “wind and solar capacity will double over the next five years globally and exceed that of both gas and coal”.
There is continuing reaction to Joe Biden’s US election victory with many outlets speculating what his win could mean for action on climate change. The New York Times has a feature looking back at the Trump years and assessing whether Biden can reverse the damage done: “The Biden administration can legally reinstate environmental protections on some public lands that Mr. Trump opened to oil and gas drilling, but using executive authority to write wide-reaching regulations on smokestack and tailpipe emissions may be more problematic with a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court.” Bloomberg says: “Climate activists counting on president-elect Joe Biden to rapidly fulfill ambitious clean-energy promises may be in for disappointment. Other priorities, including stimulating the coronavirus-ravaged US economy, expanding healthcare and adjusting tax rates are likely to take precedence over sweeping legislative action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. Biden also would face long odds in advancing any big climate bills through the senate if Republicans maintain control.” Adam Vaughan in New Scientist looks at what Biden could mean for climate change: “Although the Democratic party’s lack of control of the US senate may limit how bold the new administration can be on carbon emissions, there is plenty that it could deliver. In debates, Biden said that he would ‘transition from the oil industry’ and promised to end new drill leases for public land and water, which would have a big impact offshore.” Writing for Forbes, Michael Lynch says: “On the big questions that affect the petroleum industry – fracking, pipeline construction, carbon taxes – the Administration seems unlikely to act to their detriment, at least initially. There will no doubt be pressure on Biden from the progressive/left wing of the Democratic Party, but all indications are that he won’t attempt radical programs, such as banning fracking or gas in buildings.” In Yale Climate Connections, Bud Ward writes: “There is little doubt that the incoming Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration will usher back in a standing respect for quality scientists and high-quality climate science. That’s a given, as is the point that such allegiance to science will clearly distinguish the new administration from its immediate predecessor. That itself is critically important.” InsideClimate News argues that “[Biden] and the divided congress may find common ground on one action to fight global warming for which proponents say the right government incentives could change the game: carbon capture and storage”. On the BBC News website, Matt McGrath says: “More radical Democrats such as congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have put forward a proposal called the green new deal, which would eliminate carbon emissions from most sources over a decade. The Biden climate plan is more moderate. However, if enacted, it would still be the most progressive climate strategy the US has ever attempted.” He adds: “US leadership is absolutely critical for [the UN] process. With China, Japan and South Korea having set long-term goals to cut carbon, expectations are rising that the UN’s COP26 climate summit, which convenes in Glasgow in November 2021, may turn out to be a success.” Axios’s Amy Harder looks at how the Democrats performed in the election when running on a pro-climate ticket: “Environmentalists point to Biden’s triumph over Trump as their biggest victory. The League of Conservation Voters’ political affiliates put more than $40m of its unprecedented $115m electoral investment toward the White House race. But otherwise, their return on investment is not looking good. Out of 21 races across the Senate and House LCV invested in, it looks likely they will have won six and lost 15 (five races were still not officially called, but clear winners were emerging).” In the Guardian, Emily Holden explains “why Republican control of US senate would kneecap climate action”. Lisa Holland, Sky News’s climate correspondent, argues that “voters can now expect Mr Biden to sign a series of executive orders putting the US on the path to net-zero – getting there, he says, ‘no later’ than 2050…But the new president faces a fresh rivalry from China which has also signalled its ambition to become the global leader on the climate.” Climate Home News notes that Biden promised to expose the “climate outlaws” and the publication then lists “a number of nations could soon be feeling the heat”, including Australia, Brazil, China and Indonesia.
Meanwhile, some UK publications focus on what a Biden presidency might mean for Boris Johnson’s own efforts to ramp up action on climate change. Daisy Dunne, the Independent’s climate correspondent, quotes Nick Mabey, the founder of climate thinktank E3G. He says: “Obviously the UK has the problem of the legacy with the relationship with Trump. [No 10] know they aren’t going to get any change on trade and they’re not really a global superpower around issues like Russia and China, so the main area where the US needs the UK and the UK has got agency is on climate change and COP26.” Emma Gatten, the Daily Telegraph’s environment editor, also writes on the same theme: “Climate change could prove the government’s best in-road to the new Biden administration and help dispel the incoming president’s impression that Boris Johnson is a Trump ‘clone’…The UK will be hoping to pull off a diplomatic victory by securing new commitments at the summit on meeting the Paris climate aims…Mr Johnson’s challenge will be persuading the US that the UK is still a leader in this arena. But when it comes to building trust with a wary Biden administration, climate change offers the best opportunity.”
Finally, Carbon Brief has gathered together a wide range of climate experts reacting to Biden’s victory.
The supply of fruit and vegetables to the UK is increasingly coming from “climate vulnerable” countries, a new study suggests. Analysing 27 years of trade data, the authors find that UK tastes have become more varied, with a larger demand for tropical fruits and less for traditional vegetables, such as cabbages and carrots. The proportion of imports from climate-vulnerable countries increased from 20% in 1987 to 32% in 2013, the study says. This increased reliance could negatively affect the availability, price and consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK, the authors conclude, potentially “affecting dietary intake and health, particularly of older people and low-income households”.
A new study looks into the effectiveness of policies that address why low- and middle-income (LMI) households in the US are less likely to adopt rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV). They find that “LMI-specific financial incentives, PV leasing and property-assessed financing have increased the diffusion of PV adoption among LMI households in existing markets and have driven more installations into previously underserved low-income communities”. The authors conclude that these policies “could catalyse peer effects to increase PV adoption in low-income communities even among households that do not directly benefit from the interventions”.
New research identifies the ports around the world that are most at risk from the impacts of severe climate change. Assessing 2,013 ports under the “high-end” RCP8.5 emissions scenario, the study finds that ports in the Pacific Islands, Caribbean Sea and Indian Ocean could be at “extremely high risk” by 2100, while those in the African Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula could be at “very high risk” by 2100. The researchers note that the main contributors to amplified risk are “increased coastal flooding and overtopping due to sea level rise, as well as the heat stress impacts of higher temperatures”.