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Briefing date 27.02.2024
Nord Stream: Denmark closes investigation into pipeline blast

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Climate and energy news.

Nord Stream: Denmark closes investigation into pipeline blast
BBC News Read Article

Danish authorities are closing their inquiry into the blasts that “tore apart” the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in September 2022, BBC News reports. According to the outlet, authorities concluded that the pipelines had been “sabotaged”, but said there was “no basis for pursuing a criminal case”. It adds that Sweden closed its investigation into the incident earlier this month, but Germany is still investigating. The Guardian explains that “the multibillion-dollar Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines transporting gas under the Baltic Sea were ruptured by a series of blasts in the Swedish and Danish economic zones in September 2022, releasing vast amounts of methane into the air”. Al Jazeera says the explosions took place around 80 metres underwater on the ocean floor in the Baltic Sea. It adds: “Beyond their geopolitical impact, the Nord Stream pipeline leaks were a huge environmental disaster with local wildlife affected and huge volumes of methane discharged into the Baltic Sea in what observers believe could be the single largest release of methane due to human activity.” Politico says: “Several countries have been publicly blamed for the explosions, with varying degrees of evidence. Ukraine has said Russia was behind the bombing, and Poland has also hinted that Moscow was responsible, which the Kremlin has denied.” The Associated Press and Bloomberg also cover the story.

UK’s net-zero economy grew 9% in 2023, report finds
The Guardian Read Article

The UK’s net-zero economy grew by 9% in 2023, according to a new report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Guardian reports. The newspaper continues: “Thousands of new green companies were founded in 2023 and overall the sector was responsible for the production of £74bn in goods and services and 765,000 jobs…Hotspots of net-zero businesses and the well-paid jobs they provide occur across the country, rather than being concentrated in London and the south-east, the report found. It also highlighted strong net-zero activity in some of the most deprived areas and in marginal constituencies that will be focal battlegrounds in the coming general election.” Also covering the report, BusinessGreen says: “In total, sectors that are enabling the net-zero transition accounted for around 3.8% of the national economy. The strong performance of green industries is in stark contrast with the UK’s overall GDP growth, which stood at 0.1% average growth in 2023 and slipped into a technical recession following two quarters of contraction in the second half of the year.” The outlet adds that “net-zero economy jobs are also better paid by almost £10,000 a year on average”, according to the report. The Press Association reports that “net-zero activity is especially important to the Scottish economy, adding 5.7% to the economy and supporting 85,500 jobs, largely due to Scotland’s natural advantages for renewable energy such as wind power”. Meanwhile, Edie reports: “Energy efficiency minister Lord Callanan and energy security and net-zero minister Graham Stuart have reportedly threatened to quit their ministerial roles if the government rolls back on its heat pump manufacturing and installation policies.”

In other UK news, the Daily Telegraph reports that “more than a third of UK chief executives said regulatory complexity and lower returns from climate-friendly investments are holding back efforts to decarbonise their businesses”. Elsewhere, the Times previews chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget, due on 6 March. It says: “The two main tax cuts expected in the budget are a one percentage-point reduction in employee national insurance, at a cost of about £4.5bn a year, and an extension of the fuel duty freeze at a cost of £1bn a year.” [Last year, Carbon Brief analysis found that cuts and freezes to fuel duty since 2010 had added as much as 7% to the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions.] The Press Association reports that at a conference in London, co-leaders of the Green party said they “would look to quadruple the party’s total number of MPs from one to four”. It adds: “The UK’s only Green MP, Caroline Lucas, has said she will stand down at the next election after 14 years in parliament. The party is hoping it can retain her seat in Brighton, as well as winning seats in areas such as Bristol, East Anglia and Herefordshire.” The Times reports that Scotland has seen a record number of flood alerts since autumn, in a “sign of things to come”. And the Daily Express has published a double page-spread on the UK’s early spring, trailed on its frontpage under the headline “Why the first ‘joys of spring’ are here worryingly here too early.” It says: “The breakdown of climate is a catastrophe in itself, but this is not the moment to discuss flooding, extreme weather or rising sea levels. Let’s stick to the subject of the advancing spring.” It adds that UK plant and wildlife is experiencing “phenological mismatch”, where interacting species see uneven shifts in the timing of their lifecycles.

Farmers protest across Europe, press ministers to act
Reuters Read Article

“Farmers on Monday blocked a border crossing between Poland and Germany, threw bottles at police in Brussels and gathered in Madrid to demand action on cheap supermarket prices and what they say is unfair competition from abroad,” Reuters reports. The newswire says: “The 27-nation EU has already weakened some parts of its flagship Green Deal environmental policies, removing a goal to cut farming emissions from its 2040 climate roadmap.” [A draft recommendation, later deleted, had said it “should be possible” to cut farming emissions 30% by 2040, but had not set an explicit goal, as Carbon Brief reported at the time.] However, Reuters says, “farmers are demanding more”. Politico reports that protesting farmers “set fire to tires, dumped manure on the street, shot flares at police and rammed their trucks into roadblocks” in Brussels’s “European Quarter” on Monday. It adds: “Belgian and Italian unions brought with them a laundry list of complaints, from falling revenues and excessive environmental burdens, to being underpaid by food companies and undercut by foreign goods. These were the same issues that brought farmers into Brussels three weeks ago, when they toppled a statue and hurled eggs at the European Parliament.” This comes as the Financial Times reports that ministers have urged the EU to increase funding for its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy scheme. The newspaper says the €60bn-a-year scheme takes up about one-third of the EU’s budget and is “designed to provide a steady stream of income to farmers in order to ensure food production”. However, it continues: “As farmers staged their latest protests on Monday over rising costs and environmental regulations, ministers gathering in Brussels to discuss emergency measures to placate farmers said more money was crucial.” The Times of India says” “An estimated 900 tractors were parked around the European Union institutions’ headquarters as agricultural ministers met to discuss the sector”. [See the earlier Carbon Brief analysis of how the farmer protests do – and do not – relate to climate change.] 

Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that “public transport workers across Germany are joining forces with climate activists for a week of strike action culminating in a collective nationwide walkout and climate protest on Friday”. The newspaper adds: “One of Europe’s largest trade unions, Verdi, which represents the majority of public transport workers in Germany, is collaborating with the youth-led Fridays for Future in what the organisations themselves admit is an unusual partnership, but one born out of recognition of their overlapping goals. More action on the climate crisis requires greater investment in public transport, they argue.” It says the two groups will march under the joint slogan “#WirFahrenZusammen (We’re driving together)”. Separately, Reuters reports that Germany’s energy minister, Robert Habeck, has announced that “Germany will change its carbon dioxide storage law to allow carbon capture and offshore storage for certain industrial sectors”. The country needs to capture 34m-73m tonnes of CO2 per year by 2045, the newswire says.

In other European news, Politico reports that “after two failed attempts last spring and summer, right-wing groups in the European Parliament are once again trying to kill the EU’s nature restoration law – a bill meant to rehab degraded landscapes that has been dragged into the swelling tide of anger targeting EU climate policies”. The outlet continues: “The legislation is set for a final vote in parliament on Tuesday, usually a rubber-stamping exercise as negotiators from the three major EU institutions – including the parliament – have already hammered out a compromise. But this time, several parliament groups on the right are plotting to abolish the measure in its final stages, knowing a rejection now would effectively bury the bill ahead of the EU elections in June – where right-wing groups are set to make major gains.” Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports that “the European Investment Bank’s new president has signalled openness to fund new nuclear projects”. Reuters reports that the European Commission has awarded Italian energy groups €370m to set up a “green hydrogen valley” in Italy’s Puglia region. And separately, Reuters reports that “Spain has opened a public consultation on a new set of rules for offshore wind energy production, laying the groundwork for auctions of sea-based concessions, the energy ministry said on Monday”. 

China objects to EU’s border carbon tax, backs global market
Bloomberg Read Article

China opposes the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) because it unilaterally imposes extra costs on poorer countries, according to vice environment minister Zhao Yingmin at a press conference, reports Bloomberg. It quotes Zhao saying that “collaborating on a global carbon market would be a better option than the EU tax”, adding that “China is also considering an expansion of its domestic carbon trading system”. The state-run China Electric Power News carries the full text of the press conference, at which Zhao said that areas of China’s carbon market mechanism that need further construction include combining the “free and paid carbon quota allocations”, establishing a “market stabilisation mechanism” and updating the “types of greenhouse gases and the scope of industries covered”. The outlet reports the vice minister saying that recently-released regulations have strengthened China’s ability to combat carbon emission data falsification through “strict control, strict investigation and strict punishment”. BJX News reports that Zhao says that China is building a “unified national carbon market” and will “stop building local pilot projects” for carbon markets. Industry outlet China Energy Net quotes Xu Huaqing, director of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy Research and International Cooperation, as saying that the interim regulations for the management of carbon emission trading marks a “milestone” for constructing a carbon market, laying an “important foundation for the operation and development of the carbon emission rights market”.

Meanwhile, the state-run industry newspaper China Energy News reports that China Energy and four other Chinese power generation groups pledged at direction-setting meetings in 2024 to focus on “energy security”, “green and low-carbon initiatives” and “technological innovation”. The Communist party-affiliated People’s Daily reports that according to the national energy administration (NEA), in 2023, China’s energy investment continued to “grow rapidly, with the investment in new energy increasing by over 34% compared to the previous year”, with aggregate solar investment in Hebei, Yunnan and Xinjiang provinces all seeing a “year-on-year growth rate of over 100%”. 

China Electric Power News reports that, during the spring festival, the State Grid’s smart vehicle networking platform recorded a total charging amount of “143.6 terawatt-hours (TWh), a year-on-year increase of 35.7%”. Tokyo-based Nikkei Asia says “a Chinese consortium led by…CATL will give Bolivia technical assistance…[to produce] up to 50,000 tons of lithium per year”. quotes Mao Wei, former minister of industry and information technology, as saying that “by 2025 or 2026, the proportion of new energy vehicles in new car sales will exceed 50%”. Finally, China Energy News quotes an industry expert as saying “Chinese shipyards have already covered all complex high-end and environmentally friendly ship types [and]…will continue to build more green ships in 2024”. 

US: Oil and gas profits triple under Joe Biden even as industry decries him
The Financial Times Read Article

Profits for the biggest US oil and gas producers have almost tripled under president Joe Biden, the Financial Times reports. The newspaper says: “The country’s top-10 listed operators by value, which will finish reporting their 2023 earnings this week, are on track to have amassed combined net income of $313bn in the first three years of the Biden administration, up from $112bn during the same period under Donald Trump.” The paper says that US oil and gas production has “smashed records” in recent years, noting that the US overtook Qatar to become the largest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG) in the world last year.

This comes as Bloomberg reports that the American Petroleum Institute and six other groups filed a petition with the energy department on Monday, challenging the Biden administration’s pause in approving new liquefied natural gas exports. The outlet adds: “The petition calls the move ‘arbitrary and capricious’ and says it violates administrative requirements in federal law – a prelude to potential litigation that could raise the same claims.” Elsewhere, Politico reports that Biden’s decision to pause new LNG exports “is rattling his allies in the essential swing state of Pennsylvania”. The outlet says: “Democrats and labour unions in the state fear that the energy’s industry’s huge footprint there could make it a ripe target for GOP front-runner former president Donald Trump – even as environmentalists praised the move as a brave political action to protect the climate.” Separately, Politico reports that a Biden regulation “cracking down on oil and gas pollution” will be published on 8 March, after a three month delay. This comes as Bloomberg reports that Biden’s “window to finalise vehicle and power plant regulations so they’re less vulnerable to Republican repeal will close before the summer”. In other US news, the Washington Post reports on record high temperatures in Dallas.

Climate and energy comment.

Europe’s solar crisis will cast a long shadow
Lex, Financial Times Read Article

The Financial Times Lex column discusses the reasons for Europe’s “solar crisis”, under the subheading “Brussels is under pressure to intervene with strict tariffs or measures to support the domestic industry”. It notes that since August, “eight European solar supply chain companies have either filed for bankruptcy, paused production, warned of factory closures or restructured debts”. The piece says that Chinese solar power manufacturing has “outpaced local demand”, leading to “record overseas exports in 2023 that far exceeded installations in markets such as Europe”. It says that Europe’s smaller solar power manufacturers can’t compete with China on price, noting that “Chinese-made panels can be produced for as little as half the cost of European-manufactured equipment”. It adds that “European installations, while up significantly, have undershot some of the more bullish forecasts”. Separately, the FT’s Lex column calls Warren Buffett’s latest shareholder letter “a mass of contradictions on climate risk”. It says: “Buffett ominously hinted at some sort of regulatory bailout or relief, noting the conundrum of America increasingly needing more power when the liability from climate change could discourage necessary investment…Buffett in the same letter took a bow for his stake in Occidental Petroleum, one he expects to maintain ‘indefinitely’. The oil and gas driller, he wrote, was essential for America’s energy independence. The role of oil and gas drilling and consumption at the centre of the climate crisis went unacknowledged, as did the risks that creates.” Elsewhere, David Blackmon – who “had a 40 year career in the US [oil and gas] energy industry” – writes in the Daily Telegraph that “Biden’s green energy plans will funnel taxpayer billions to Chinese firms”.

In other comment, Dr Oscar Rueda and Prof Laura Scherer from Leiden University’s Institute of Environmental Sciences have written a piece in the Conversation about their research, in which they ask “what might happen if demand for animal products really did decrease and the newly released agricultural land was instead used to grow crops for renewable energy and carbon removal”. They conclude that “the potential benefits are huge”. Prof Chelsea Fisher from the University of South Carolina has written a separate piece in the Conversation. She says: “As countries face unprecedented heatwaves, storms and melting glaciers, some farmers and international development organisations are reaching deep into the agricultural archives to revive these ancient solutions.” 

Which countries should end the pumping of oil and gas?
Polly Bindman, Climate Home News Read Article

Climate Home News has carried out an analysis of “whose oil and gas is the cleanest, whose is the cheapest, and whose economy could most handle losing out on oil and gas revenue”, to determine which countries should be allowed to drill oil and gas for the longest. It finds that oil and gas from Norway, the UAE and other Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the lowest-carbon in the world to produce when measured by emissions intensity. Meanwhile, Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia also “score well” on price, because their oil and gas is near the surface, making it cheaper to pump. However, it adds: “But when global economic justice is considered, the fairest is in smaller nations in the developing world – the likes of Libya, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turkmenistan.”

New climate research.

Reassessment of the risks of climate change for terrestrial ecosystems
Nature Ecology & Evolution Read Article

At least one-third of the global land surface will experience a significant change in “phytoclimate” – a term used for the climate conditions that underpin plant growth – by 2070 under global warming, a new study says. The research takes a new approach to looking at how climate change could affect land ecosystems by mapping not only expected changes to climate, but also how these changes could affect plants, which underpin animal communities. It forecasts that 33% to 68% of the global land surface will experience a significant change in phytoclimate by 2070 under a low and high emissions scenario, respectively. “Phytoclimates without present-day analogue are forecast to emerge on 0.3-2.2% of the land surface and 0.1-1.3% of currently realised phytoclimates are forecast to disappear,” the researchers add.

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