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There is continuing coverage of the surprise deal struck last week between the “holdout” Democrat senator Joe Manchin and his party leaders which could see a $369bn energy, climate and social spending bill being passed by Congress. The Financial Times says that over the weekend Manchin “defended Democrats’ plans to impose a 15% minimum corporate tax rate and limit ‘carried interest’”, in the face of Republican accusations that the bill would “hamper US investments” and “probably exacerbate a recession that we’re probably already in”. The newspaper adds: “Democrats have stressed the legislation will not increase taxes for Americans making less than $400,000 a year.” The New York Times looks at what Manchin has likely got out of the deal: “The legislation, if it passes, is expected to bring big benefits to [Manchin’s] West Virginia. It would make permanent a federal trust fund to support coal miners with black lung disease. It would offer new incentives for companies to build wind and solar farms in areas where coal mines or coal plants have recently closed. And it would provide generous tax credits for nascent technologies like carbon capture and storage and low-emissions hydrogen fuels, which Manchin has supported. ‘Those are his pet projects,’ James Van Nostrand, a law professor at West Virginia University, said. ‘I think he’s going to say, ‘I used my strategic position to bring back benefits for West Virginia.’ And he’ll probably do pretty well in the next election.’” Politico looks at the “Manchin pressure campaign”. It says: “Clean energy manufacturing companies with plans to set up shop in Manchin’s state helped orchestrate the 13-day effort to change his mind, more than 20 people involved in the effort told Politico…That push – which two of the people said included a call from Bill Gates, whose venture capital firm has backed a West Virginia-based battery start-up – was taking place alongside a campaign by other senators along with economist and inflation hawk Larry Summers to convince Manchin of the merits of the bill.” The Washington Post also has an “insiders” account of how the deal was struck, under the headline: “The two-week scramble that saved Democrats’ climate agenda.” Another Financial Times article says that “fears over US energy security help unlock historic $369bn climate bill”. The Daily Telegraph strikes a different note with a piece claiming that “Joe Biden’s green agenda hits Americans with an oil price shock”. (See Comment below.)
Meanwhile, in other US news, Reuters reports in an “exclusive” that the “US Environmental Protection Agency plans to use new limits on traditional pollutants like ozone and coal ash to help encourage the retirement of the nation’s remaining coal-fired power plants, after the Supreme Court limited the agency’s ability to impose sweeping climate regulations, according to EPA chief Michael Regan”.
Separately, extreme weather events continue to make the news. The Independent says that California’s governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency “as the McKinney wildfire has now scorched more than 62 square miles in the state”. Reuters reports that “the fast-moving McKinney Fire in northern California near the Oregon border has forced 2,000 residents to evacuate and has destroyed homes and critical infrastructure since it broke out on Friday”. And another Reuters story says that “at least 25 people, including four children, have died in floods unleashed by torrential rains in eastern Kentucky, and more fatalities are expected”.
Bloomberg reports that “the UK government won’t be able to insulate as many homes as planned before winter after it scaled back a £1bn boost to its flagship scheme to help some of the country’s poorest households curb their energy use”. The outlet adds: “A plan was dropped to double the £1bn of funding in the so-called Energy Company Obligation after Boris Johnson’s resignation as prime minister, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the matter is private. There is a further £30m from existing funds that hasn’t been spent and will be lost, according to another person.”
In other UK news, Reuters reports that “the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said on Friday it has been directed by the government to temporarily relax permitting conditions for coal-fired power stations in England during the winter period”. The department said in a statement: “”The direction is to…address energy security issues if they arise, whilst aiming to limit unnecessary pollution.” The newswire adds: “The measure, which will be effective from 1 October to 31 March, comes as countries across Europe make winter contingency plans after Russia reduced natural gas flows and said supplies could be cut further or even stop.” The Times says “energy-intensive businesses soon may have to reduce the hours they operate or ration usage if wholesale prices remain so high, experts have warned”.
Meanwhile, the Observer carries the views of Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Committee, who says that a national hosepipe ban should be implemented as a national priority along with compulsory water metering across the UK by the end of the decade. The newspaper says: “That is the key message that infrastructure advisers have given the government as the nation braces itself for a drought that is threatening major disruption to the nation. Failure to act now would leave Britain facing a future of queueing for emergency bottled water ‘from the back of lorries’.”
Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports that “Toyota has warned the government that it may end manufacturing in the UK if it brings in a ban on hybrid models from 2030 as part of net-zero plans”. The Times notes that BP is to invest up to £50m in a new global battery research and development centre in the UK: “Planned to open by the end of 2024, the facilities will be located at the headquarters for its Castrol business in Pangbourne, Berkshire.”
Finally, several outlets cover new polling. The i newspaper says a new survey by BMG Research shows that “more Britons would be willing to cut back on meat than pay extra in taxes to tackle climate change”. The Independent carries the results of a Savanta ComRes survey showing that “nearly seven in 10 people say the UK’s record-breaking heatwave has convinced them more needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis but many remain unpersuaded to take personal action”. BusinessGreen notes that “polling data from Onward and Public First highlights high levels of support among Conservative voters for UK’s climate agenda”. And the Guardian, citing the same Onward/Public First polling, says that “polls suggest [the Conservative] leadership race may be going further than even Conservatives might want on immigration, economy and climate”.
Climate Home News reports that, according to the latest data by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “rich countries have fallen almost $17bn short of their pledge to collectively deliver $100bn of climate finance a year by 2020”. It adds: “The data shows that in 2020, rich nations mobilised $83.3bn of climate finance, a 4% increase on the previous year but short of the $100bn target that they set themselves in 2009…Developed countries are now only expected to meet it in 2023. Previous research suggests that the US is responsible for the vast majority of the shortfall. The bulk of the funding was in the form of loans rather than grants and went to Asian and middle income countries. Asia received 42% of the finance, roughly equal to its share of the global population, while Africa got 26% and the Americas received 17%.”
Meanwhile, Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign affairs minister who is also the COP27 president, has told Bloomberg that “the conference is going to be held in a difficult geo-political situation, with the world facing energy and food challenges…[and], of course, all of this could impact the level of ambition and might lead to distractions of the climate change priority”. He added that the main focus of COP27 is to “raise ambition” and confirm “no backsliding or backtracking on commitments and pledges” made in past summits.
Separately, the Guardian says that “a hundred days before the COP27 summit is due to start in Sharm el-Sheikh, a group of environmentalists and activists have expressed alarm over Egypt’s ability to host the event successfully because of its poor record on human rights, as thousands of prisoners of conscience remain behind bars”.
Associated Press reports on Germany’s “dilemma” about whether to shut down its final three nuclear power plants as scheduled at the end of this year amid reducing gas supplies from Russia. The newswire says that in the first quarter of 2022, nuclear plants accounted for 6% of Germany’s electricity generation with gas supplying 13%. “There’s a lot to be said for not switching off the safe and climate-friendly nuclear power plants and, if necessary, using them until 2024,” finance minister Christian Lindner, the Free Democrats’ leader, told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper. He called for economy minister Robert Habeck, who is responsible for energy, to stop using gas to generate electricity, reports Tagesschau. The Greens co-chair, Ricarda Lang, is quoted by Der Spiegel telling ZDF: “What Christian Lindner wants is nothing more than the return to nuclear power. And that will definitely not happen with us.“ However, Bloomberg notes that Germany’s environment minister Steffi Lemke says “she’s willing to consider extending the operating life of an E.ON nuclear plant in Bavaria into next year, if an ongoing government assessment concludes this is necessary”. It adds that Lemke says, if the “stress test” of Germany’s power infrastructure shows that Bavaria has “a serious electricity or grid problem”, the government would “evaluate this situation”. This could include reversing a decision to shut the Isar 2 facility northwest of Munich, the nation’s largest nuclear plant, which provides about 12% of Bavaria’s annual electricity needs, Lemke said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
Meanwhile, Die Welt reports that some German politicians are “dissatisfied with the energy policy of the federal government”. Markus Söder, head of the opposition CSU fears “a kind of gas triage”, reports the newspaper. It also quotes Wolfgang Kubicki, vice-leader of coalition partner FDP saying: “Habeck is fuelling fears of a gas bottleneck and not providing enough electricity”. It adds that Kubicki has called Habeck’s tips for saving energy by showering for less time “political folklore”. Instead, the outlet says he wants more gas and oil production in the North Sea, fracking and longer nuclear power plant lifetimes.
In more energy news, Bild reports that the German federal association of energy and water industries (BDEW), plus the Federal Network Agency, have warned consumers not to rely on electric heaters for fear of gas shortages in winter. BDEW spokeswoman is quoted as saying: “Electronic heating devices, such as fan heaters, radiators and convectors, are not made to replace a heater and should therefore only be used with caution.”
Finally, the MailOnline reports that “Germany could be forced to scrap Oktoberfest celebrations and its famous Christmas markets as officials desperately search for ways to save energy after Russia began throttling gas supplies to Europe”. Rosi Steinberger, a Bavaria regional parliament member, tells the New York Times that Oktoberfest celebrations could “face the chop”.
Reuters reports that Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez says he “will send a proposal to the EU on limiting carbon emission permit prices in a bid to curb energy price increases and their effects on inflation”. Spain will propose “a new intervention on the energy market with a price cap to the CO2 emission price,” Sanchez said last Friday, adding his government will also send the EU a proposal to “reform the electricity market”. Sanchez also said his government will present a new energy saving plan later today, but declined to give further details.
In other European news, Politico says: “As Europe faces its worst energy crunch in decades amid the war in Ukraine, national capitals have been scrambling to shore up their gas reserves ahead of the winter. But another fuel could also soon be in short supply: coal.” It quotes Alex Thackrah, a senior coal analyst at the market intelligence firm Argus Media, who says: “It’s certainly going to be a challenge to get enough coal this winter.” Due to the looming EU-wide ban on Russian imports, the 2m tonnes of coal it is set to receive from Russia this month will be the last such shipment. Indonesia, South Africa and Colombia are all potential suppliers, says Thackrah, but EU countries will face “extremely high prices” due to the particularly high energy-content coal normally used across the bloc.
Separately, the Independent says that “melting ice and glaciers caused by Europe’s heatwaves have forced popular Alpine hiking routes to close”. Reuters reports: “High temperatures across Europe this month have unleashed a prolonged marine heatwave in the Mediterranean Sea that could ravage ecosystems and kill off several species in the coming weeks, scientists have warned.” Meanwhile, the Observer says that wildfires during the heatwave have been a “wake-up call” for climate-sceptic Czechs as “blaze devastates national park”.
The “rising” temperatures and “frequency” of floods and droughts is “threatening agriculture and fishery around the world”, with climate experts warning of “heatflation” (higher food prices driven by rising temperatures and smaller harvests), the South China Morning Post writes. Rising temperatures are already “forcing rice farmers in southern China, one of the country’s main rice-growing regions, to shift to higher latitudes”, the outlet says, adding that “the fast-warming oceans are affecting fish species diversity in the East and South China Sea”. It says that agriculture is the “most water-intensive industrial sector” in China, consuming around “60% of national water withdrawal”, adding that the situation will be “worsened by decreasing rainfall”.
Meanwhile, China Energy News writes that, according to a forum on China’s hydropower development, China’s installed hydropower capacity has been the “world’s largest for 17 consecutive years”. As of the end of June 2022, China’s total installed renewable energy power generation exceeded 1,100GW (gigawatts), compared to wind power and solar power capacity which were about 340GW, the state-run newspaper adds. Separately, another article in the South China Morning Post says that Chinese solar companies are “increasingly” establishing manufacturing bases in Southeast Asia and beyond “in the face of rising geopolitical tension and in the pursuit of more competitive locations”.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports on a phone call between the US president Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping, saying that the two leaders “discussed a range of issues important to the bilateral relationship and other regional and global issues, and tasked their teams to continue following up on today’s [last Thursday] conversation, in particular to address climate change and health security”, according to the White House readout of the discussions.
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times looks at the new Manchin deal and says: “Though it’s a diminished version of the original $555bn in climate spending proposed under Biden’s expansive but now-deceased Build Back Better bill, the legislation would still be the US government’s single biggest action on climate change in history.” It concludes: “Finally, a ray of hope after years of dangerous inaction by US lawmakers. Congress should get this bill to Biden’s desk without delay. But this legislation should be only the beginning. It’s a step forward, for sure, but lawmakers and Biden delude themselves if they think it is ambitious enough to confront the grave and growing crisis we face from an overheating planet…It’s disappointing, though not surprising, that the agreement that ultimately satisfied Manchin’s ever-shifting goal posts includes actions that will enable more burning of fossil fuels that are causing the climate crisis. Our nation cannot continue to prop up these dangerous and politically destabilising industries and still meet our commitments under the Paris agreement to keep global warming from reaching disastrous levels. This legislation, while welcome and encouraging, must not be the finish line but a starting point.” In the New York Times, David Wallace-Wells says that “the deal, if it holds, is very big, several times as large as anything on climate the US passed into law before”. He adds: “This bill is a compromise, obviously and outwardly. It is also a historic achievement for the climate left and a tribute to both its moral fervour and its political realism. Climate is a top-shelf political concern because it has been pushed there by those who care most; it is now on the verge of being addressed, at scale, because that push appears to have worked.” In contrast, the climate-sceptic opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal carries a piece by Holman W Jenkins Jr who says “the biggest wonder is the sheer size of the taxpayer sum we are getting ready to spend on climate change when nobody can honestly pretend it will have an impact on climate change”.
An editorial in the Times says that “as household budgets are increasingly squeezed, western governments need a long-term strategy to develop new sources of energy supply and ease price shocks”. It continues: “Windfall taxes raise companies’ cost of capital, which means consumers will pay more, and deter investment. It is crucial for achieving the net zero emissions target that energy giants do invest in renewable sources…A dismal aspect of the Tory hustings this week was that both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss urged that the current moratorium on gas extraction by fracking be lifted, providing it has local support. It is not going to get local support: everyone wants it to happen somewhere else. Fracking needs to be part of a national energy strategy to increase the security of supply. This is admittedly a long-term goal, as nuclear plants take many years to develop and there are environmental costs to coal-powered stations. There needs to be a shift towards renewables such as wind, solar and tidal energy, but this is no short-term fix, as the raw materials for building these plants are also rising.” An editorial in the Sun says: “We need more nuclear power plants this decade. We must frack, regardless of local resistance.” An editorial in the Independent argues that “the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis are intimately connected”. And an editorial in the Daily Mirror looks at the threat of hosepipe bans amid the drought affecting large areas of southern England: “Protecting our country and the planet is a national and international priority and if it is not addressed it will harm the way we live. But that does not get the water companies off the hook when they are accused of putting shareholders before customers.”
Elsewhere on the UK comment pages, the Daily Mail gives its lead slot in today’s edition to the climate-sceptic commentator Dominic Lawson who asks: “Even Britain’s most respected eco-scientist said we should frack. So why won’t Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak commit to it?” he refers to James Lovelock, who died last week aged 103. The Observer devotes an editorial to the pioneering scientist and environmental thinker. The Guardian carries a personal piece by the journalist Jonathan Watts who is writing a biography about Lovelock: “Curiosity drove him. Accuracy delighted him. But it was never just about science and data, but intuition and feeling.”
Separately, the climate-sceptic contrarian columnist Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times says: “Stage left, the eco-warriors demand that we don’t use any fossil fuels at all and react with fury if anyone suggests fracking might be a temporary answer to the present crisis. They too want to be kept warm, but they are seemingly opposed to the use of any existing form of energy to provide that warmth. They have long lived in a fantasy land, but the danger now is that the rest of us have decided to move in with them, given succour by politicians who tell us only what we want to hear.” In the Daily Telegraph, Juliet Samuel writes: “There are few quick fixes. Fracking and increased North Sea production on a scale needed to affect prices are years away, as is new nuclear generation. We can make the most of what we already have, however. The first priority ought to be an emergency home insulation scheme.” In the New Statesman, Philippa Nuttall argues that “the UK government must introduce a proper windfall tax and help the poorest with the soaring cost of energy”.
Finally, the Observer carries a news feature and interview about a new book by climate scientist Bill McQuire which sits under the headline: “‘Soon it will be unrecognisable’: total climate meltdown cannot be stopped, says expert.” The article – particularly the headline – has been criticised by other climate scientists on Twitter for promoting “doomism”. McQuire has also distanced himself from the headline.
Germany’s Der Spiegel interviews “BBC legend” Roger Harrabin as he retires from the BBC after more that three decades reporting on the environment, climate change and energy. He speaks about his “fight against climate change deniers”. He is quoted as saying: “I fear that with these heatwaves, we won’t be able to feed humanity. Even the environmentally conscious should, therefore, support the cultivation of genetically modified crops that are resistant to heat and drought. The social consequences of droughts could become quite dire as millions of migrants try to flee to cooler areas. Environmentalists have long been ridiculed for such warnings; unfortunately, it looks more and more like they will be proven right. I’m glad I’ll be buried under a tree by mid-century and won’t find out.” He adds: “The influential British ‘Telegraph’ has spent decades downplaying climate change – now I suddenly read there that the problem is so serious that we can no longer fight it and that we have to adapt instead. I’m sure that will go down well in Africa, where large areas are expected to become uninhabitable. Actually, there is only a very small group of climate change deniers in the UK, on the right-wing fringe…However, their voices are massively amplified by right-wing newspapers. This campaign then puts even organisations like the BBC under pressure.”
Harrabin, who has now moved into freelancing, was also interviewed over the weekend by the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent, where he said that the environment, as a story, had changed massively over the 35 years he’s been reporting – but “he hoped action to tackle it had not been left too late”. His final documentary for the BBC – The Art of Cutting Carbon, which examines clean-tech solutions to industrial emissions – is currently on iPlayer.
The seasons play a key role in how peatlands take up CO2, a new study suggests, and could affect how warming affects this carbon sink. Using observed data from 20 northern peatlands, the researchers show “warmer early summers are linked to increased net CO2 uptake, while warmer late summers lead to decreased net CO2 uptake”. The implication of this finding is that “net CO2 sinks of peatlands in regions experiencing early summer warming, such as central Siberia, are more likely to persist under warmer climate conditions than are those in other regions”, the study says. An accompanying News & Views article notes that the analysis “suggests that plant phenology and water level control the seasonal temperature responses of CO2 exchange between peatlands and the atmosphere”.
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