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Daily Briefing

15.10.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Xi Jinping expected to snub UK summit on climate crisis
Xi Jinping expected to snub UK summit on climate crisis

News.

Xi Jinping expected to snub UK summit on climate crisis
The Times Read Article

The Times reports on its frontpage that Chinese president Xi Jinping is “expected to snub” COP26 by not travelling to Glasgow in person. Similarly, the Daily Telegraph reports that Xi is not expected to attend COP26. [Xi has not left China since before the Covid pandemic and did not personally attend the opening of the biodiversity COP taking place in Kunming, China, this week.] Meanwhile, ITV news reports that US climate envoy John Kerry and activist Greta Thunberg have “poured cold water on hopes for success at this year’s climate change summit in Glasgow”. The Independent adds that Kerry “has conceded that the COP26 summit will likely end without nations agreeing to the carbon emissions cuts needed to stave off devastating levels of climate change”. Elsewhere, the i newspaper reports that “China and Saudi Arabia have failed to make written UN climate commitments ahead of COP26”. In the “exclusive” piece, it describes the news as “punching a major hole in the UK’s ambitions to reduce global carbon emissions”. And the Guardian reports that Australian prime minister Scott Morrison will attend COP26, but notes that “there is no agreement yet with the [coalition partner] Nationals”.

Outlets including ITV NewsReutersGuardianIndependentPress Association and Sky News report that the Queen is “irritated” by the the lack of action by world leaders ahead of COP26. The Daily Mirror’s frontpage is dominated with the text “Green Queen”, while the Daily Mail leads its frontpage with the headline “Queen’s green anger”. The Daily Express also carries the news on its frontpage, while the Daily Mirror has published an editorial, which says the “Queen’s COP26 scepticism is understandable as world leaders talk with little action”.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that climate protest group Insulate Britain has written an open letter to Boris Johnson, saying it will pause its roadblock campaign until 25 October. According to the paper, the letter says the pause should allow Johnson to “get on with the job”. The IndependentBBC NewsReutersDaily Telegraph and the Times also cover the story. Meanwhile, an editorial in the Sun says: “How noble of Insulate Britain to take a fortnight off from delaying ambulances”. Elsewhere, Police Scotland has said it will deal “more quickly” with protesters who disrupt major roads during COP26, according to the Press Association. And BBC News adds that protestors blocking major roads “will be moved and may face arrest”. Elsewhere, the Scottish Sun reports that Police Scotland has “warned the public in Glasgow not to take their ‘frustrations’ out on climate protesters and let officers do their job”. Separately, the same paper reports that train services during COP26 will be “crippled”, as rail workers have confirmed strike action in Glasgow during the summit. The HeraldTimesIndependent and the Financial Times also report on scheduled strikes by train staff during COP26, due to low pay. The Scotsman carries the news on its frontpage. Meanwhile, the Scotsman reports on fears from experts that COP26 could lead to a Covid surge. Elsewhere, Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoorhas has penned a piece entitled: “An upcoming climate summit is supposed to save the planet. But pessimism is building.”

Elsewhere, the New York Times discusses the biodiversity COP currently underway in Kunming, in a piece entitled: “The most important global meeting you’ve probably never heard of is now.” Reuters reports that China has used the conference “to burnish its green credentials and launch new measures to protect domestic habitats”, but adds that “the world’s second-biggest economy is under pressure to tackle the impact of its footprint overseas.” And the Guardian reports that UN chief Antonio Guterres has urged airline and shipping firms to do more to cut emissions, noting that their current efforts are on track for warming of “way above 3C”. Bloomberg and Climate Home News also cover Guterres’ comments.

US: Biden to meet Pope Francis to discuss climate change and support for poor
The Independent Read Article

US president Joe Biden will meet with Pope Francis on 29 October to discuss “how the US and the Vatican can work together on issues ranging from climate change to bettering treatment of the poor”, the Independent reports. According to the online newspaper, the US administration is “hoping to showcase the Biden administration’s efforts to fight climate change at the Glasgow summit, and [is] ramping up pressure on Congress to pass his two infrastructure bills which include provisions aimed at addressing carbon emissions before the president heads abroad at the end of the month”. The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg also cover the news, and the Washington Post adds that the White House has officially confirmed Biden’s attendance at COP26 after his stop in Italy. The Press Association notes that Biden will come to the UK for two days, and the Hill adds that that he will be joined by “12 top US officials” – including climate envoy John Kerry and national climate advisor Gina McCarthy. Meanwhile, CNN says that Biden is “sending 13 cabinet members, high-level officials to UN climate summit in show of force”.

Associated Press carries an interview with John Kerry. It says: “Kerry credited the US, EU, Japan and others that over the past year have pledged bigger, faster cuts in climate-wrecking fossil fuel emissions ahead of the talks in Glasgow, Scotland, under nudging from Kerry and the Biden administration. He expressed hope enough nations would join in over the next couple of years…Kerry also spoke of the impact if the US Congress – under a slim Democratic majority – fails to pass legislation for significant action on climate by the US itself, as the Biden administration aims to regain leadership on climate action.” The Hill also covers the interview.

In other US news, DeSmog reports that 130 people have been arrested in front of the White House, after taking part in the “ people vs fossil fuels” demonstration. Meanwhile, Politico reports that the White House “may soften a major clean energy component of Democrats’ climate change and social spending legislation in a bid to overcome objections from Senator Joe Manchin”. However, it adds that the move could “bring objections from progressive Democrats”. The Economist adds: “As Democrats trim the legislation, they should focus on keeping it.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the Biden administration “wants federal contracts to reflect climate risk” and has begun the process of amending rules to make this happen. And in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, the climate-sceptic commentator Bjorn Lomborg repeats his view that Biden’s climate plans are “too costly for voters” and would “have little impact on rising temperatures”.

Energy crisis reignites demand for oil, threatening climate targets, says IEA
The Guardian Read Article

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that the global energy crisis – caused by a shortage of coal and gas – could trigger a rebound in the oil market, the Guardian reports. According to the IEA, energy shortages have “caused energy markets to rocket” and could “drive [oil] demand to above pre-pandemic levels as soon as next year,” the paper says. It continues to quote the IEA: “Record coal and gas prices as well as rolling blackouts are prompting the power sector and energy-intensive industries to turn to oil to keep the lights on and operations humming.” Reuters adds that, according to the IEA, this could increase oil demand by half a million barrels per day. Bloomberg notes that the price of crude oil has “surged” to a three-year high. And a further Reuters piece reports: “The world’s spare oil production capacity which helps smooth the market will fall by the end of 2022 as OPEC+ producers lift output, highlighting the need for more investment to meet rising crude demand, the IEA said on Thursday.” And, separately, the newswire says that OPEC leader Saudi Arabia “dismissed calls for speedier oil output increases on Thursday, saying its efforts with allies were enough and protecting the oil market from the wild price swings seen in natural gas and coal markets”. Meanwhile, Energy Monitor reports that, according to the IEA, more than 70% of methane emissions from oil and gas could be avoided by using existing technologies – such as leak detection and repair and a ban on non-emergency flaring. The Wall Street Journal also covers the IEA’s monthly market report. Separately, Reuters reports that crude oil stocks in the US “rose more than anticipated as refineries pulled back on activity in the most recent week”. Elsewhere, the New York Times reports that as western energy companies, such as BP and Exxon Mobil, slow their pol and gas production, state-owned companies in the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America are ramping up their production. Meanwhile, Reuters and Bloomberg that Coal India has curbed supplies to industrial users.

There is extensive continuing coverage of the global energy crunch. Reuters calls the situation a “perfect storm” for the global economy, highlighting a combination of the energy crisis, high coal prices in China and the end to the “cheap food binge”. The Guardian reports that heating bills in the US “will jump as much as 54% this winter”, adding: “Nearly half the homes in the US use natural gas for heat, and they could pay an average $746 this winter, 30% more than a year ago.” The Hill specifies that the “54%” figure only applies to the 5% of US homes that primarily heat with propane. And Reuters adds that the White House is “looking at options to improve energy supply around the US”. Meanwhile, the New York Times carries a lengthy piece exploring the drivers of the energy shortage – noting that “the sudden need for natural gas took the energy industry by surprise, and prices shot up”.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that UK and Dutch wholesale gas prices rose on Thursday, noting the ongoing uncertainty about the level of Russian supply in coming months. Separately, the newswire reports that Russia will prioritise gas supplies for its home market, adding in another piece that the US is urging Russia to “do more for European energy security”. Reuters also reports that a third UK energy supplier has collapsed this week. “Energy suppliers that failed this year lost almost £400 million of their customers’ money and left behind billions of pounds of costs for all households to pay,” the Times adds. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that as more UK electricity suppliers fail, Shell and BP are “feeling the ripple effect”. Separately, Bloomberg and the Times notes that a UK gas shipper will no longer provide supplies to utility clients, raising new fears that more suppliers may fail. And the Times reports that British manufacturers have halved their natural gas purchases in the past six months. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that according to UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Britain could be heading for a “mild winter”, which could ease the expected surge in energy demand, according to the newspaper. Elsewhere, Michael Bradshaw, co-director at the UK Energy Research Cente, has penned an opinion piece in the Guardian entitled: “The UK’s reliance on gas imports leaves us open to unpredictable prices.” Associate editor for the Telegraph, Ben Wright, has penned an opinion piece entitled “People will lose faith in green energy if we don’t fix this crisis”. The Press Association carries a piece entitled: “My energy firm has gone bust. What happens now?” And the Times has an opinion piece by Chris O’Shea, chief executive at Centrica, which is headlined: “Energy companies need to be regulated like banks to prevent another crash.”

In other news, Bloomberg reports that bosses at some of Europe’s top electricity companies are urging leaders to be “renewable friendly” in their efforts to protect customers from high bills and Reuters covers a message from the head of the International Monetary Fund’s steering committee that high energy prices are “no excuse to slow green transition”. Meanwhile, Reuters has published an “exclusive”, showing that Germany is cutting the surcharge that helps to fund renewable energy investment by 43% to help east the pressure of rising energy bills on consumers. Separately, the newswire reports that “Spain plans to introduce ‘additional measures’ to a controversial bill that claws back profits from power companies in a bid to protect consumers from sky-high energy prices”. It adds that Poland will provide consumers with $380m in subsidies to help hope with the high energy prices and notes that “Norway’s trade surplus rose last month to a record level thanks to soaring revenues from selling gas from its offshore fields”. Bloomberg reports that EU leaders “may give green light to energy-crisis relief plans”. And Reuters notes that analysts have raised their European carbon market average price forecasts.

Meanwhile, Nasdaq reports that, according to Dutch bank ABN Amro, European wholesale gas prices are not expected to return to “normal” levels until 2023. Europe’s largest steelmater has paused outputs at some European plants in response to the energy crunch, the Financial Times reports. Separately, the newspaper has published an “Energy Source” piece on the energy crisis. And Reuters reports that two energy providers in Singapore have quit the market following the global power crunch.

UK trade deals should prioritise economic growth over environmental protections – leaked govt document
Sky News Read Article

Sky News has seen a leaked document which says that the UK should prioritise economic growth over environmental protections in trade deals. The outlet notes that the document – which was written by officials in the Department for International Trade and has not been seen or approved by cabinet – says “environmental safeguards should also not be treated as a red line when other countries demand they are broken in trade agreements”. It continues: “The text reflects the approach already adopted in some trade deals, but the timing of this appearing in black and white so close to the COP26 climate change summit is likely to embarrass civil servants.” The Independent also reports on the leaked document, noting that the UK is currently negotiating a trade deal with Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, whose policies on deforestation have “caused an international outcry”.

In other UK news, BBC News has outlined the five sites across England and Scotland that have been shortlisted to house the UK’s prototype fusion plant. It notes that the plant would be operational by the early 2040s, would create thousands of jobs and generate a “near-limitless” source of low-carbon energy, according to the UK Atomic Energy Authority. The i newspaper adds that the facility would be the first of its kind in the world, but notes that the huge temperatures and pressures required have not yet been achieved on a commercial scale. The Times also covers the story. Separately, the Times covers comments from a UK environment minister that “government plans to phase out new cars with internal combustion engines by 2035 ‘will look a bit silly’ because manufacturers will make the transition faster than that”. And BusinessGreen says that, according to trade figures released today, the UK has invested £2.6bn in net zero projects in the past 10 months.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph outlines a new gas boiler strategy, due to be unveiled next week, on its frontpage. According to the paper, new gas boilers will be banned from 2035 and families will be offered £5,000 to buy hear pumps for their homes. It continues: “The prime minister will announce the ‘boiler upgrade scheme’ as the centrepiece of his long-awaited heat and buildings strategy. It will set a deadline to prohibit the installation of new gas boilers and instead encourage homeowners to switch to low-carbon alternatives before then.” Bloomberg adds that the grant is set to start in April 2022, noting that heat pumps typically cost three times as much as a gas boiler. And Fraser Nelson – editor of the Spectator and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph – has written an opinion piece saying that the energy crisis is “not a good look” for the UK ahead of COP26, but noting that we “have a decent defence” given the global rise in energy prices. Meanwhile, EurActiv reports that the European Commission “rules out banning gas boilers, aims for ‘gradual phase-out’ instead”.

Elsewhere, Politico covers a ruling from the French administrative court that France overshot its first national carbon budget, causing “ecological damage”. The court has ordered the government to cut emissions by an additional 15m tons of CO2 equivalent by 31 December 2022, but has left the government to decide how to hit the target, the outlet adds. Reuters notes that the court did not impose any fines or penalties to enforce its ruling. In other French news, Reuters reports that “French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Thursday she would end all subsidies for renewable energy and take down France’s wind turbines if she is elected next year”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that French public bank Banque Postale have committed to stop providing services to oil and gas sectors by 2030, while, separately, it reports that French insurer Axa invest 1.5bn euros ($1.74bn) to support sustainable forest management.

How China’s power crunch creates chaos, uncertainty in hardest-hit northeast rust belt
South China Morning Post Read Article

China’s power shortages continue to create headlines. The South China Morning Post zooms in on how the power crunch has affected the three provinces in north-eastern China, the traditional backbone of the nation’s heavy industry. Citing “industry insiders”, the publication says that “a severe shortage of coal is the main reason for the energy crisis in the rust belt region”. It adds that, according to the sources, “poor planning by local governments and grid operators is also to blame”. Bloomberg focuses on Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s new instructions on Thursday to tackle the situation. The outlet says that Li “vowed to ensure power supplies for factories” during a visit to a Foshan factory. In a separate piece, Bloomberg reports on instructions from China’s two highest leaders, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li, which “put national security – including from energy shortages – and development first, even as it pursues a green transition”. The New York Times has a report titled, “China’s power problems expose a strategic weakness”. The Straits Times, a publication based in Singapore, has a “debrief” on how China’s electricity shortfalls “could add to rising global inflation”. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the “crunch” on coal production in China and India is easing, but adds that this “won’t be enough to halt Asia’s energy crisis”, while the Financial Times says that Chinese coal futures are on track for their biggest weekly rise on record. And Nicki Tilney – head of construction power and infrastructure for Aon in Asia – writes in the South China Morning Post that “hastening Asia’s shift to green energy will not be easy”.

On the topic of coal again, Reuters reports that China’s coal prices “held near record highs on Thursday as cold weather swept into the country’s north”. The newswire says that “power plants stocked up on the fuel to ease an energy crunch that is fuelling unprecedented factory gate inflation”. S&P Global Platts reports that China’s power rationing for industrial use in late September – which impacted the steel sector – was “easing in some places in October”. It notes that the move enabled steel mills to “gradually resume output” since the start of this month. The outlet cites “mill sources and traders”. People’s Daily – the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party – carries a report titled “My country has the capabilities of ensuring energy supply well”. The party-run publication cites Zhao Chenxin, deputy secretary-general of the state macroeconomic planner, who also said that “energy supply can be guaranteed this winter and next spring”.

Deutsche Welle reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed climate change and other global issues with Chinese president Xi Jinping in a “farewell video call” on Wednesday. China Securities Journal reports that Zhang Jianhua, head of China’s National Energy Administration, co-hosted the seventh China-UK Energy Dialogue virtually with Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK business secretary. Among other issues, the two sides discussed possible cooperation in the energy market, the outlet reports. Finally, CNBC reports that Elon Musk’s Tesla sold more than 200,000 electric cars in China during the first three quarters of the year, according to data from China Passenger Car Association. The outlet also gives a list of “best-selling” electric cars in China in the article.

Climate change: 'Walrus from Space' project urges public to help search for animals in satellite images
Sky News Read Article

Researchers studying how walruses will be affected by climate change are looking for half a million people from around the world to help spot the animals in satellite images, reports Sky News. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and WWF-UK have launched the “Walrus from Space” project – a census of Atlantic walruses and walruses from the Laptev Sea, the outlet explains. The groups are asking the public to help spot walruses in thousands of satellite images in order to help track the effects of global warming on the animals and provide scientists with a better picture of how many are left in the wild. The Washington Post quotes BAS research associate Hannah Cubaynes, who notes: “Assessing walrus populations by traditional methods is very difficult, as they live in extremely remote areas…Satellite images can solve this problem as they can survey huge tracts of coastline.” However, assessing all the images is “too much for a single scientist or small team”, she adds. A rapidly warming Arctic means that “we’re seeing about a 13% loss in summer sea ice per decade”, Rod Downie, chief polar adviser at WWF-UK tells BBC News. He adds: “One of the implications of not having the sea ice to haul out on is that we’re increasingly seeing walruses spend longer on land. And that comes with a number of impacts, which include overcrowding with the potential for calves to be crushed in stampedes. This happens. But also for local food sources to be depleted.” The Independent and i newspaper also cover the story.

Why Prince William was right to give Bezos a rocket
Daily Mail Read Article

Writing in the Daily Mail, veteran environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean says that Prince William was right to question the current trend of billionaires, such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson, pursuing space travel. (Prince William had said: “We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live.”) Lean says that the prince was “underlining the Royal Family’s position as perhaps Britain’s most effective environmental pressure group”. He adds: “It is Prince William’s main point that is the most important of all. The urgent need is to save the planet we have got. With global warming accelerating, and only some 20 years remaining to keep beneath the danger level of a 1.5c temperature rise, we should be prioritising the battle against climate change. Investment in that area would do more than space tourism to protect economies and create jobs.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post carries an opinion piece written by Prince Harry and Namibian environmental activist Reinhold Mangundu. They argue that the Okavango River Basin in southern Africa must be protected from “corporate drilling”. They say: “The Okavango is a force of life, providing the main source of water for nearly 1 million Indigenous and local people and some of the planet’s most majestic wildlife, including critically endangered species. Though drought-ridden for much of the year, the region averages 2.5 trillion gallons of water flow during flooding season. But there is an imminent threat on the horizon: corporate oil drilling…the world must take swift action to transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean, green and renewable energies…How will we define, or redefine, progress?…Is it by investing in fossil fuels that inhibit clean-energy innovation – all for oil that has yet to be found? We think not.”

Comment.

The first big energy shock of the green era
Editorial, The Economist Read Article

The cover story and lead editorial of the new edition of the Economist focuses on the energy crisis affecting many nations around the world. It begins: “Next month world leaders will gather at the cop26 summit, saying they mean to set a course for net global carbon emissions to reach zero by 2050. As they prepare to pledge their part in this 30-year endeavour, the first big energy scare of the green era is unfolding before their eyes.” It continues: “The panic is a reminder that modern life needs abundant energy: without it, bills become unaffordable, homes freeze and businesses stall. The panic has also exposed deeper problems as the world shifts to a cleaner energy system, including inadequate investment in renewables and some transition fossil fuels, rising geopolitical risks and flimsy safety buffers in power markets. Without rapid reforms there will be more energy crises and, perhaps, a popular revolt against climate policies…Governments need to respond by redesigning energy markets. Bigger safety buffers ought to absorb shortages and deal with the intermittency of renewable power. Energy suppliers should hold more reserves, just as banks carry capital. Governments can invite firms to bid for backup-energy-supply contracts. Most reserves will be in gas but eventually battery and hydrogen technologies could take over. More nuclear plants, the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, or both, are vital to supply a baseload of clean, reliable power…The ideal answer is a global carbon price that relentlessly lowers emissions, helps firms judge which projects would make money, and raises tax revenues to support the energy transition’s losers. Yet pricing schemes cover only a fifth of all emissions. The message from the shock is that leaders at COP26 must move beyond pledges and tackle the fine print of how the transition will work. All the more so if they meet under light bulbs powered by coal.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director-general of the World Trade Organization, covers similar territory in the Financial Times, saying that “every sphere of our economy, production and consumption are guided by price signals” and that a global carbon price is “essential”. She continues: “Unfortunately, carbon has too often been an exception, though this is starting to change. Indeed, more than 60 different carbon pricing schemes already exist globally, though they cover only 22% of total emissions. The challenge comes from the inconsistency of carbon pricing systems…The WTO, IMF, World Bank and OECD share a duty to work together to find solutions. We need to offer governments our insights on a common methodological approach to carbon pricing.”

Separately, veteran US climate campaigner and author Bill McKibben writes for YaleEnvironment360 under the headline: “Why the world’s rich nations must pay for climate damage.” He says that the issue of “loss and damage” deserves to be front and centre at COP26: “No one expects this quandary to be solved in Glasgow – in fact, it will be a victory just to get the issue of loss and damage on the official agenda going forward. But it’s not like there are going to be fewer floods or typhoons or fires in the years ahead. As droughts deepen, so will the thirst for justice.”

Science.

The drivers of individual climate actions in Europe
Global Environmental Change Read Article

A new study finds that only individuals who are “certain” about both the reality and the human causes of climate change are willing to take mitigation actions. By surveying nearly 16,000 people across 27 European countries who had made one-time donations to a carbon-offset programme, researchers identify beliefs, behaviours and traits that correlate with willingness to act on climate change. They find that certainty in the scientific consensus on climate change is the strongest predictor of making a donation. The authors write that their results “point to the importance of tackling climate denial, better communicating climate science, and instilling in the public an urgency to counteract in order to increase citizen-driven climate action”.

Probabilistic assessment of extreme heat stress on Indian wheat yields under climate change
Geophysical Research Letters Read Article

The likelihood of agricultural heat stress events causing below-average yields in key wheat-producing regions of India could rise by 8-27% by the end of the century under a very high emissions scenario, a new study suggests. Researchers use temperature and wheat production data from three Indian states, as well as climate models, to predict a number of heat-stress-related variables under different climate scenarios. They find that of the three indicators studied – frequency, magnitude and spatial extent of abnormal heat during wheat’s winter growing season – both frequency and magnitude are likely to drive below-average yields in the future. This study, they write, “highlight[s] increased agricultural vulnerability in India under climate change”.

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