1) Global coal surge defies push for Net Zero
The Australian, 17 December 2021
Global demand for coal is forecast to reach record levels next year, driven by huge growth in China and India, defying global efforts to tackle climate change.
The International Energy Agency is predicting at least three years of surging demand for coal, just weeks after world leaders failed to agree on a phase-out of the fossil fuel source at climate change talks in Glasgow.
“All evidence indicates a widening gap between political ambitions and targets on one side and the realities of the current energy system on the other,” the IEA said on Friday.
“This disconnect has two clear implications: climate targets are getting further out of reach, and energy security is at risk.”
Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the IAE projections showed strong messages and targets alone would not address climate change. “Report after report points out the yawning gap between ambition and achievement,” he said. “That’s why a real plan to deliver on commitments is so important.”
Mr Taylor said technology was central to making net-zero emissions practically achievable for all countries.
China and India led the push against phasing out coal in Glasgow, opting to phase down coal use instead. Both countries are leading the surge in global coal consumption and continue to build new coal power stations.
“Global coal trends will be shaped largely by China and India, who account for two-thirds of global coal consumption, despite their efforts to increase renewables and other low-carbon energy sources,” the agency said.
While Asia is leading the way with higher coal consumption, the IEA says coal use has also jumped sharply in the US, UK and Europe as power generators switch out of high-priced gas.
The IEA report shows that a fall in demand for coal because of the pandemic was a temporary blip rather than a structural retreat. It underscores the gulf that exists between the targets being set to tackle climate change and the actions being taken.
Keisuke Sadamori, director of energy markets and security at the IEA, said: “The pledges to reach net-zero emissions made by many countries, including China and India, should have very strong implications for coal – but these are not yet visible in our near-term forecast, reflecting the major gap between ambitions and action.”
After falling in 2019 and 2020, global power generation from coal is expected to jump by 9 per cent in 2021 to a record high of 10,350 terawatt-hours.
Coal demand worldwide – including uses beyond power generation, such as cement and steel production – is forecast to grow by 6 per cent in 2021. That increase will not take it above the record levels it reached in 2013 and 2014.
But, depending on weather patterns and economic growth, the IEA said overall coal demand could reach a record high of 8.025 billion tonnes as soon as 2022 and then 8.031 billion tonnes by 2024.
Australia will retain its crown as the biggest global producer of metallurgical coal, used for steelmaking, with exports to lift 11 million tonnes by 2024 as producers continue to sidestep China’s import ban by selling supplies to rival buyers such as India and South Korea.
Consumption of thermal coal, used for power generation, will rise 7 per cent in 2021 although growth will remain constrained over the next three years amid environmental pressures and difficulty attracting financing to the sector.
The IEA says Australia’s thermal-coal industry is expected to shrink slowly as mine closures outpace capacity additions.
The agency expects Australia to produce 287Mt of thermal coal in 2024, about 31Mt less than in 2019, with lower demand for coal for domestic power generation contributing to the decline.
However, metallurgical coal production in Australia is expected to increase 11Mt by 2024.
The government’s commodity forecaster predicts thermal and metallurgical coal exports will contribute $57bn to export earnings in the 2022 financial year, up 46 per cent.
The IEA has previously said global coal use would have to plummet by 55 per cent by 2030 under a net-zero pathway to 2050 and declared no new coalmines or oil or gas fields should be opened.
Instead, demand for the polluting fossil fuel has lifted across the board in a blow for global ambitions to cut emissions.
IEA executive director Fatih Birol said: “Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions, and this year’s historically high level of coal-power generation is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero. Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions – in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected – we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.”
China, where half of all global coal-fired electricity generation occurs, will see generation for power use lift by more than 9 per cent in 2021 while India is expected to end this year with growth of 12 per cent.
Even the EU and the US, both aggressively making plans to push coal out of their system, are set to record a 20 per cent gain in coal power generation this year although those levels will remain below 2019 numbers.
2) Coal use gives reality check on climate campaigningEditorial, The Australian, 17 December 2021
Confirmation that the world’s use of coal is surging back to record levels underscores the sharp disconnect between what is said about climate change action and what is taking place.
The chasm that exists between rhetoric and reality holds grave lessons for politicians who have misread the trends on fossil fuels. The latest figures released by the International Energy Agency confirm that coal use is back near record levels with strong future rises guaranteed because of actions already taken in China and India, in particular. The trend in coal consumption explains why it was simply not possible for world leaders to reach agreement on exiting fossil fuels at the Glasgow climate summit.
With Joe Biden’s climate agenda in the US unravelling as support for his presidency plumbs new depths, leaders elsewhere must be realistic about where the climate change agenda is going. As expected, Anthony Albanese is facing tough pressure from all directions on how the ALP should deal with the issue of climate change going into next year’s federal election.
Forces within the ALP are urging greater action, giving credence to claims by Scott Morrison that Labor’s declared policy position is just an opening bid. The uncomfortable fact is that criticism of Australia, whatever targets are announced, looks ridiculous in the face of rising coal consumption not only in Asia but in the US and Europe as well.
According to the IEA, after falling in 2019 and last year, global power generation from coal is expected to jump by 9 per cent this year to an all-time high of 10,350 terawatt hours. The rebound is being driven by rapid economic recovery from the pandemic, which has pushed up electricity demand much faster than low-carbon supplies can keep up. The steep rise in the price of natural gas also has increased demand for coal power by making it more cost-competitive.
In China, where more than half of global coal-fired electricity generation takes place, coal power is expected to grow by 9 per cent this year. In India, it is forecast to grow by 12 per cent. This would set new highs in both countries. According to the IEA, coal power generation is set to increase by almost 20 per cent this year in the US and the EU. What the data shows is that energy is a complex business. The billions of dollars being spent on renewable energy is not translating into a fall in demand for fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, high prices for gas are pushing developed countries back to coal. With Mr Biden’s headline Build Back Better plan stalled in congress, the US administration is facing the reality that restricting oil and gas production leads to higher prices at the bowser and unhappy voters.
Consumer hostility is forcing the White House to reconsider, with Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk saying the Biden administration “is not standing in the way of increasing domestic oil production to meet today’s energy needs”.
But, as The Wall Street Journal explains, the President’s climate envoy, John Kerry, is busy pressuring banks and financial institutions to reduce their commitments to US oil and gas companies. It is a similar story in Britain, where Boris Johnson is coming under increasing fire for moves to lift the price of heating through new technologies and taxes.
Back home, having settled on a net-zero emissions by 2050 target, the Morrison government is prepared to campaign on its record of overachieving the targets that have already been set for 2030 to cut CO2 emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels. The Opposition Leader had hoped a small increase in ambition to a cut of 43 per cent would be enough to allow Labor to keep campaigning under the radar on the issue.
But, as Geoff Chambers reports on Saturday, this strategy is starting to unravel. Labor elder statesman Barry Jones has called the party out for not speaking plainly about where it stands on climate. Mr Jones says Labor’s Powering Australia policy “is indeed an energy policy but not a climate change policy”.
He criticises the policy’s missing words: science, climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane, atmosphere, temperature, coal and Great Barrier Reef. The danger for Mr Albanese is in being dragged further towards the Greens, confirming the Prime Minister’s main charge against the ALP on climate that it is beholden to extremists.
The latest IEA figures provide a welcome reality check on where the world is going, where Australia fits in and where action is needed. In the words of IEA director of energy markets, Keisuke Sadamori, “the pledges to reach net-zero emissions made by many countries, including China and India, should have very strong implications for coal – but these are not yet visible in our near-term forecast, reflecting the major gap between ambitions and action”.
3) Tories warn Boris Johnson ‘one more strike and you’re out’ after ‘political earthquake’The Daily Telegraph, 17 December 2021
Tory MPs have told Boris Johnson he has “one more strike and he’s out”, after the Conservatives lost North Shropshire in an extraordinary swing to the Liberal Democrats.
Helen Morgan claimed victory in a seat that has been Tory for nearly 200 years, saying it was down to “thousands of lifelong Conservative voters, dismayed by Boris Johnson’s lack of decency and fed up with being taken for granted”.
Ms Morgan secured 17,957 votes, leaving the Conservative Neil Shastri-Hurst with 12,032, and giving the Lib Dems a majority of 5,925. The turnout was 46.3 per cent, or 38,110 voters.
Sir Roger Gale, the North Thanet MP, told BBC Radio 4: “This has to be seen as a referendum on the Prime Minister’s performance and I think that the Prime Minister is now in ‘last orders’ time.
“Two strikes already, one earlier this week in the vote in the Commons and now this. One more strike and he’s out.”
One former minister told The Telegraph the result was “what happens when you have a Prime Minister who plays fast and loose with the truth”.
Prof John Curtice described the result as “eight-point-five out of a scale of 10”, adding: “It is not quite unprecedented, but the precedence is not very comfortable for the Conservatives”.
Asked if he thought it was a political earthquake, the elections guru told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes, not least because two weeks ago nobody… would have seen this coming.”
Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party co-chairman, told Sky News voters in North Shropshire were “fed up and gave us a kicking”, but insisted Mr Johnson “has the leadership to see us through this period”.
4) EU leaders battle over carbon price as energy costs soarFinancial Times, 17 December 2021
A group of EU leaders have demanded that Brussels intervene to help curb the record price of CO2, arguing that potential market manipulation is raising energy costs and exacerbating Europe’s winter gas crisis.
European member states led by France and including Spain, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, and the Czech Republic objected to the European Commission’s assertion that there were no irregularities in the EU carbon market as they come under pressure to cushion consumers from the rising cost of energy.
The complaints were raised at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, where leaders ultimately failed to bridge divisions and abandoned attempts to agree common language on the energy crisis.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council who chaired the meeting, described the issue as “difficult” after Poland and the Czech Republic demanded references to the emissions trading scheme (ETS) and forthcoming EU rules on its green “taxonomy” in the summit conclusions. The requests were resisted by Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Scholz, along with Austria and Luxembourg.
European gas prices hit their highest level since October earlier this week on the back of concerns about Russia’s new Nord Stream 2 pipeline to deliver natural gas to Europe.
The gas supply crunch has provided an incentive to energy producers to switch to cheaper but more polluting coal — raising demand for carbon allowances under the EU’s cap-and-trade system. The carbon price as reflected in the ETS surged to more than €90 per tonne of CO2 last week.
Heavy polluters are obliged to buy ETS allowances to cover their carbon emissions, in an effort to place a cost on the dirty fuel and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
EU diplomats told the FT that a number of leaders demanded the commission carry out more rigorous scrutiny of the price dynamics in the ETS. Some suggested direct political intervention in the market for allowances which is effectively controlled by the commission.
Leaders also clashed over Brussels’ much-anticipated rules on green finance, known as the taxonomy. The commission is due to publish a legal bill next week that will decide whether nuclear power and natural gas can be awarded a “green” label in the classification system, designed to help investors stamp out so-called “greenwashing”.
A large majority of EU member states, including France, the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary, support the inclusion of nuclear power in the rules — arguing that it is a low-emission technology that is crucial to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This has been resisted by environmental groups who says nuclear power produces toxic waste.
“It is no secret that there are different positions [on the taxonomy] . . . and it was not possible to have an agreement” said Michel.
The spats over energy and green policy will cast a shadow over the EU’s attempts to agree more than a dozen pieces of legislation designed to drastically cut CO2 emissions over the next three decades.
At the heart of the EU’s net zero plan is a an extension of the ETS to cover sectors such as cars and housing. The proposal is opposed by France, Spain, Portugal and eastern European countries who say it will impose a direct tax on consumers who cannot afford to switch vehicles or domestic goods to those with lower emissions.
5) WSJ: Taking Joe Manchin Seriously
The Wall Street Journal, 17 December 2021
Democratic leaders have never believed he meant what he said.
Democrats are getting anxious as 2021 nears its end and President Biden’s $5 trillion spending bill lacks the votes to pass. The target of grumbling from anonymous sources, which may soon become rage, is West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who remains a holdout. But the fault here lies with Democratic leaders who misjudged Mr. Manchin as well as the political and policy moment.
Politico reports that some Democrats are pushing Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring the climate and social-spending behemoth to the Senate floor, daring Mr. Manchin to kill it. “People have to face the reality of yes or no,” Majority Whip Dick Durbin told Politico, adding Mr. Manchin’s had “more than enough time.” Go ahead, make our day.
Mr. Manchin hasn’t committed himself either way on the bill, but he has been consistent in what he wants. He made that clear in a memo he wrote in July in private talks with Mr. Schumer that later leaked to the media. His top-line spending amount for 10 years was $1.5 trillion, which he later increased to $1.75 trillion.
He has also been consistent in his calls to “pause” to evaluate the growing threat of inflation and has been equally consistent in seeking a bill free of budget gimmicks, fossil-fuel penalties and new entitlements that aren’t means-tested or don’t require work.
His colleagues’ response has been to bull ahead as if Mr. Manchin doesn’t mean it. They assume that the West Virginian, as a deal-making politician, will eventually come around. But they seem not to notice that Mr. Manchin’s concerns are as much economic as political.
He warned in the summer about inflation, and he’s been vindicated. Inflation is a growing threat to working households and real wages, no matter how much money the government spends in new welfare payments. The White House response is the absurd argument that trillions more in government spending will somehow reduce inflation. The left is welcome to live in a fantasy world, but Mr. Manchin isn’t obliged to join them.
Democrats have also failed to take seriously the Senator’s $1.75 trillion spending limit, which is on top of the $7 trillion the feds have already spent in the last year. The White House could have focused on one or two programs to pass with $1.75 trillion. But instead they kept every progressive policy desire and are using gimmicks to make them appear to fit. They must think he’s a fool.
Everyone knows Democrats plan to make all of their new entitlement programs permanent. The Penn Wharton Budget Model has scored the 10-year cost at $4.6 trillion, and the Congressional Budget Office recently scored it as close to $5 trillion if the programs are permanent. These aren’t conservative outfits.
Mr. Manchin has also sensibly insisted on means-testing for programs such as child-care subsidies and the child tax credit, though progressives insist these handouts must flow to even the upper-middle class. And he rejected the left’s paid family-leave program, only to watch the House stuff it back in before passing the bill on a party-line vote in November.
The Senator has ample support for his positions in West Virginia, where a recent poll showed three-quarters of residents oppose the Biden plan. The wonder is that more Democrats don’t appreciate his points. Voters in November rebuked the progressive agenda nationwide. Trying to ram through $5 trillion in spending when the public is most worried about inflation and Covid is an act of willful political malpractice.
More than a few Republicans wouldn’t mind if Democrats marched into these fixed bayonets because it would likely mean a bigger GOP electoral victory next year. But we’re more worried about the harm to the country from a bill that raises destructive taxes and creates new entitlements that will erode the work ethic and burden the fisc for decades to come. We assume Mr. Manchin is too.
For inexplicable reasons, Joe Biden misread his narrow electoral victory, and the narrow Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill, as a mandate for “transformational” change. Mr. Manchin is offering the President and his party an escape route, and they should thank him for it.
6) Florida Gov. DeSantis proposes plan to fight rising seas without any ‘left-wing stuff’South Florida Sun Sentinel, 7 December 2021
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a series of steps to defend Florida against rising sea levels Tuesday, even as he denounced the use of the term “global warming” as a “pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things.”
The governor submitted 76 projects to the state Legislature to improve drainage, raise sea walls and take other steps to fight flooding across the state. The state would spend about $270 million, with local matches typically required.
“We’re a low-lying state, we’re a storm-prone state, and we’re a flood-prone state,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Oldsmar, just outside Tampa. “And so we worked with the Legislature to say, OK how are we going to address this in a way that’s going to protect Florida’s communities, protect our economic livelihood and make sure we’re doing what we need to do.”
The projects include new pump stations, stormwater sewers, sea walls, canal bank improvements, the elevation of fire stations and other steps to cope with the increased risk of flooding.
They include 10 projects in Broward County, 26 in Miami-Dade County, two in Monroe County and 11 in Palm Beach County. They include flood-control improvements in coastal cities such as Delray Beach and Boca Raton, as well as inland regions like Sunrise, Lauderdale Lakes and Oakland Park.
As his news conference, the governor avoided terms like sea-level rise or climate change. Despite a strong scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that it’s due largely to emissions from industry, power plants, agriculture and vehicles, many Republicans consider it to be either a hoax or a minor problem that’s been exaggerated for political purposes.
Asked by a reporter about global warming, the governor said, “What I’ve found is when people start talking about things like global warming they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. And so we’re not doing any left-wing stuff.”
Such “left-stuff” includes restrictions on energy production that raise gas prices, he said. DeSantis said the state’s growing population made it more vulnerable to flooding from hurricanes and other causes, and that it was simply common sense to take steps to make Florida more resilient.
“I just think that’s the right thing to do regardless. But be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology; they say support our coastline or they say they support our water or our environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things.”
Florida is particularly vulnerable to sea levels currently rising about an inch every eight years. Long-time residents of coastal neighborhoods such as Las Olas Isles in Fort Lauderdale and the Lakes in Hollywood have said flooding during high tides has worsened during their lifetimes.
The funding plan is the result of bills signed by the governor in May to take a series of steps to fight sea-level rise, including directing tens of millions of dollars a year to local flood-control projects, establishing a research center at the University of South Florida, conducting a statewide flood risk assessment and preparing a three-year sea-level rise plan.
Shawn Hamilton, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection called the plan “a monumental step to prepare our state for the effects of sea-level rise.”
“This plan will enhance our efforts to protect our inland waterways, coastlines, shores and coral reefs which will serve as invaluable natural defenses to sea level rise,” he said.
7) End ‘scandal’ of burning wood for energy, MPs demand after Telegraph investigation
The Daily Telegraph, 16 December 2021
More than 50 Members of Parliament call for meeting with Energy Minister over payments of green subsidies to biomass power plants
The “scandal” of burning wood for energy must end, MPs have warned the Energy Minister in the wake of a Telegraph investigation.
More than 50 MPs from across the political divide are writing to Kwasi Kwarteng on Thursday to demand a meeting over the payments of green subsidies to biomass power plants.
The letter, organised by Sir Peter Bottomley, the Father of the House of Commons, comes in the wake of an investigation by this newspaper which found that Drax, the UK’s biggest biomass plant, is burning the equivalent of 25 million trees a year to supply electricity.
The letter warns that the move to burning wood for energy has been a “grave error of judgment”.
Burning trees ‘makes global warming worse in short term’“Two years ago Parliament declared a climate emergency. The sacrifices constituents are being asked to make to reach net zero are huge,” they write.
“Neither they nor we can understand why it was decided to give Drax £4 billion of subsidies from electricity bills to create even more carbon dioxide. This scandal demands an immediate response.”
The 52 MPs, including Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party, and SNP leader in Westminster Ian Blackford, point out that the scientific community has warned that burning wood for energy will make global warming worse in the short term.
Warnings about Drax’s green credentials have come from “top think tanks” of Chatham House, EASAC and Ember as well as the WWF, RSPB and Greenpeace, the MPs note.
“It is obvious that chopping down trees in the USA, transporting them across the Atlantic and then burning them is going to increase carbon dioxide levels,” the letter states.
The MPs warn that alongside increased emissions from shipping, felling trees and replacing them with saplings has been estimated by academics to have a “carbon payback” time of 190 years.
Finally, they point out that the burning of wood produces 18 per cent more carbon dioxide than coal, according to the IPCC.
“Together these factors mean that the switch to burning wood has led to huge extra emissions – equivalent to three million more Ford Fiestas on our roads,” the letter says.International climate accounting rules mean that the biomass is carbon neutral in the UK and helps toward net zero goals.
But the MPs are demanding to meet with Mr Kwarteng claiming that the reality of the environmental impact has been hidden behind “jargon”.
Drax’s biomass ‘heavily regulated’
They state the day that the “last tree will be burnt in our power stations… cannot be soon enough”.
A Drax spokesman said that they play a “critical role generating 12 percent of the UK’s renewable electricity” to keep the lights on and work toward net zero.
“Claims to the contrary deliberately misrepresent the facts and science, as set out by world-leading climate scientists at the UN’s IPCC,” they added.
They insist that their biomass is “heavily regulated” and comes from the waste products from “sustainable forests” which “would otherwise be burned or left to rot”.