Fuel firms should pay for climate harm, UN leaders told - Carbon Brief

2022-09-24 04:49:21 By : Ms. Dana Lee

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UN secretary general António Guterres has called on richer nations to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies, the Associated Press reports. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, he said that those funds should be redirected to “countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis” and those struggling with the rising cost of living, the newswire adds. The Independent quotes Guterres saying: “The fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns…Polluters must pay.” Sky News notes that while the EU has plans to raise about €140bn (£121bn) by imposing windfall taxes on energy companies’ “abnormally high profits”, UK prime minister Liz Truss has decided against extending the UK’s windfall tax for North Sea oil-and-gas companies. The article notes that the UN chief told world leaders that countries are currently “gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction” and are not ready or willing to address major challenges. Reuters notes that Guterres also said in his speech that multilateral development banks “must step up and deliver” and that helping poor countries adapt to climate change “must make up half of all climate finance”. Climate Home News highlights the link made between the windfall tax and loss-and-damage finance, noting that “wealthy nations have remained conspicuously silent on how to channel additional finance to vulnerable nations facing the consequences of climate impacts”. According to BBC News, this issue has long been a feature of international climate negotiations and “arguments over this question are likely to dominate discussions at the forthcoming COP27 summit in Egypt”.

Amin Nasser, the chief executive of the world’s largest oil company, Saudi Aramco, does not agree that there should be additional taxes on fossil fuel companies, according to the Guardian. The newspaper reports that Nasser criticised European governments’ efforts to tackle the energy crisis and told a forum in Switzerland that “taxing companies when you want them to increase production is clearly not helpful”.

In Australia, the Guardian also reports that the state of New South Wales could erase its budget deficit twice over by taxing resources companies based on windfall profits from coal exports, which have doubled in price over the past year. However, the article states that “neither major party says it has any plans to capitalise on [the] record prices”.

Meanwhile, New Scientist reports that in a new renewable energy report card by UK nonprofit the Climate Group, 11 of the 20 largest economies in the world (the G20) were awarded “a C or worse” for their plans to reach net-zero and targets for producing and using renewable energy. Reuters reports on the PwC Net Zero Economy Index, which comes to a similar conclusion that “no country in the G20 is decarbonising quickly enough to maintain a safe climate”.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and climate change dominated speeches at the UN General Assembly, according to Deutsche Welle. It explains that the first day of the week-long assembly saw world leaders express concerns about the “quaking international order and global challenges such as hunger and climate change, which have been exacerbated by the war’s effect on inflation, and food and energy prices”. The New York Times highlights how president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was the first leader of the Philippines to address the meeting in person in nearly a decade, noting that he used his speech to discuss climate change. Bloomberg says the president called for climate finance in his address, stating: “The effects of climate change are uneven and reflect a historical injustice…This injustice must be corrected, and those who need to do more must act now.” Marshall Islands president David Kabua also highlighted climate change in his speech, calling for it to be addressed with “the urgency and commitment it deserves” alongside the legacy of US nuclear testing in his nation, Reuters reports.

Denmark has become the first “fully-fledged” country to pledge funds to developing countries specifically for “loss and damage”, Climate Home News reports. It notes that the move “breaks a taboo among rich countries over giving money to address the unavoidable losses and damages already caused by climate change”, on top of funding to help developing countries cut emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The article notes that Denmark committed 100m DKK ($13m) to “build resilience and help climate victims recover” during a ministerial meeting on the sideline of the UN General Assembly, with chunks of money going to support insurance schemes in poorer countries and “strategic partnerships with civil society” focused in the Sahel region of North Africa. The piece also states that despite small commitments to loss-and-damage finance from Scotland and the Belgian region of Wallonia, broadly speaking “rich countries have fiercely resisted providing specific finance for this, as they do not want to accept liability and risk being sued by climate vulnerable nations”. The Washington Post describes the move as “the first time in UN history a wealthy member state has pledged compensation for the consequences of emissions in the developing world”. Also covering the story, Reuters notes that this is set to be a key issue at UN climate negotiations in November. However, the US, EU and other rich nations “that represent the bulk of historical greenhouse gas emissions” have so far opposed the creation of a separate fund to address loss and damage, it says.

Meanwhile, the president of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, tells the Financial Times that they will not fund any gas projects despite intense pressure from African and other developing countries to do so. Instead of backing gas as a transition fuel from coal, which the newspaper says is the position of most African nations, Hoyer says the bank should take “the energy transition seriously and move to renewables”.

At an event in New York coinciding with the UN General Assembly, former US vice president Al Gore has called David Malpass, the head of the World Bank, a “climate denier” and said Joe Biden “should work for [his] removal”, reports the New York Times. Gore said that Malpass – nominated by Donald Trump to lead the development bank in 2019 – had “been unable to improve access to financing for developing countries to take on climate projects”. According to the newspaper, Malpass has “defended his record on climate, but refused to say directly whether he accepted the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is dangerously warming the planet”. The bank’s presidency, the article explains, has been held by a citizen of the US, “its largest shareholder, since the bank was founded after the second world war”.

Bloomberg reports that this gives the US “considerable influence over its operations” and that, earlier this year, “the International Monetary Fund – with the support of the US – replaced a Trump appointee who was serving as its No 2 official”. When “pressed several times” about whether he accepted the science that burning fossil fuels warms the planet, Bloomberg quotes Malpass as saying: “I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.” He additionally emphasised “the institution’s pivot away from supporting coal”, while in an emailed statement, the World Bank said it “is the largest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries”.

“There is no such thing as a clean fossil fuel, just as there is no such thing as a healthy cigarette,” Gore is quoted as saying by Reuters. Gore tells the newswire that the world is at a “positive tipping point” in the climate fight “as surging oil and gas costs spur governments to decarbonise faster”, citing new US climate law and Australia’s climate pledge, while voicing expectations that Brazil would “change its policy on climate after an impending election” and China would “re-establish a dialogue” with the US at November’s G20 summit in Indonesia.

“We need to move quickly in spite of the geopolitical situation we’re facing – indeed, because of it,” Gore tells the Financial Times, saying that “nations must be on guard in all negotiations whether with private companies or sovereigns”. He adds that “European governments must push back against fossil-fuel companies’ efforts to capitalise on the energy crisis” and “resist the efforts of gas and oil and coal sellers to lock in long-term increased dependencies on fossil fuels”. He accuses fossil-fuel companies of using “legacy networks of influence”, similar to tobacco companies, and that asset managers have a “fiduciary duty to their clients” to factor in “non-financial considerations such as climate risk”.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Biden is “set to miss” a UN closed-door meeting on climate action in New York today, “stoking concern” that other G7 leaders will miss the session “meant to help pave the way” for COP27 later this year. The story says that Biden’s – and French president Macron’s – absence “underscores a warning” inherent in UN chief António Guterres’ speech on Tuesday that “climate action is being put on the back burner”. The meeting, being hosted by Guterres and the president of Egypt, will be attended by US climate envoy John Kerry. However, Biden is expected to be at another meeting “across Manhattan, already snarled by traffic from visiting diplomats’ motorcades”.

Separately, the head of EU climate change policy Frans Timmermans has said the US “may be able to avoid” the EU’s carbon border tax, Reuters reports. “If the US has the same trajectory as we have in terms of emission reduction, then…the ‘carbon club’ is on the table. Because that means that the carbon footprint of a ton of steel in the US is comparable to the carbon footprint of a ton of steel in Europe – then you don’t need a carbon border adjustment mechanism,” Timmermans is quoted as saying. “This is probably not going to apply with other major trading partners. But between the EU and US, I don’t fear that…I think we’re still in parallel.”

UK taxpayers will cover half of businesses’ electricity costs this winter in a bid to prevent a wave of winter bankruptcies following surging wholesale energy prices, the Daily Telegraph reports. The cap on the amount firms can be charged for energy is part of a wider government strategy to limit the impact of the energy crisis, it continues. This cut is set to last for six months from October, and will be applied directly to thousands of companies, resulting in their electricity bills being cut by 50% and their gas costs by a quarter, the newspaper adds. Bloomberg also reports on details of the plan, which is set to be announced by business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg on Wednesday morning, noting that prime minister Liz Truss has been finalising the “bailout package”, which previously has been predicted to cost about £40bn. The newswire says the cap will limit the maximum costs to about 21.1p per kilowatt-hour for electricity and 7.5p for gas. The government has already announced measures to help households deal with spiralling bills, and the Press Association says the new scheme will be targeted not only at businesses but also at schools, hospitals, charities and other non-domestic consumers.

Meanwhile, BBC News reports that further details of how the government’s energy support scheme for householders will apply in Northern Ireland are “expected to be revealed later”. Northern Ireland “has a separate energy system”, which means that policies in Great Britain “do not automatically apply”, the outlet explains. However, the scheme “is likely to include a ‘price guarantee’ similar to that already announced for the rest of the UK”, it says. And the Press Association reports that leaders from the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all written to chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng urging him not to pass the cost of an energy cap on to struggling families, and rather to opt for more targeted policies such as a windfall tax to ensure the energy sector pays the price.

The Evening Standard reports on comments made by UK prime minister Liz Truss to reporters as she travelled to the UN General Assembly in New York, in which she stated that soaring energy bills are a “price worth paying” to secure the UK’s “long-term security” amid the on-going Russian invasion of Ukraine. It adds that while the EU tells member states to lower consumption this winter, Truss insisted that “we are not talking about rationing of energy”. On this topic, Politics Home reports that senior Conservative politicians are “engaged in an ideological battle over whether to launch a public information campaign telling people how to reduce their energy consumption this winter”.

Another Politics Home piece is based around commentators criticising Truss’s focus on fossil fuel projects, including North Sea oil and gas and fracking, rather than prioritising shorter-term gains from renewable energy sources. In an “exclusive” story, BusinessGreen reports that politicians on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Green New Deal have written to the chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng ahead of his expected “mini-Budget” announcement on Friday urging him to invest £11.7bn in urgent rollout of green home retrofit measures. Meanwhile, the Evening Standard reports on a warning by Citizens Advice that some families are seeing up to 30% of their energy bill “go straight out of the window” due to lack of home insulation. More than 100 businesses, including Amazon, Coca-Cola and IKEA, have written to the UK government asking for a “robust plan from government” on how they should be achieving net-zero, BusinessGreen reports. They argue for energy efficiency measures, an industrial decarbonisation strategy and policies and market frameworks to boost low-cost renewable energy projects.

Meanwhile, in what it describes as an “explosive new Brexit row”, Politico reports that the UK has accused the EU of driving up its energy bills by hundreds of millions of pounds per year “by blocking cross-Channel energy cooperation following Brexit”.

Finally, the Times reports that a by-election in West Lancashire triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Rosie Cooper, who has faced a neo-Nazi murder plot, will test Truss’s recent relaxation of fracking rules. Cooper has been an opponent of fracking, which was previously placed under a moratorium after drilling in Lancashire set off small earthquakes that exceeded legal thresholds, the newspaper notes.

China’s coal imports from Russia rose in August, “hitting the highest [level] in at least five years”, reports Reuters, adding that this move comes as power utilities “sought overseas supplies to meet soaring demand in extreme hot weather”. (China’s coal imports have been falling overall.) Arrivals of Russian coal last month were 57% higher than in the same period last year, the newswire notes, citing data from the General Administration of Customs. Al Jazeera covers the same story, quoting Carsten Holz, an expert “on the Chinese economy” at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who said: “These are driven by short-term demand side factors, namely the summer heatwave and therefore increased demand for energy in China.” He added: “[This] is unlikely to be a centrally coordinated support measure for Russia…this would neither be in the interest of the Chinese economy…nor match national climate policy, which favours alternative new energy sources.”

In other news, Bloomberg reports US climate envoy John Kerry hoping China will resume climate talks with his country and noting the discussions were suspended, not ended. An article by the state-run newspaper China Daily says that a Biden administration order on Thursday “would further restrict Chinese investment in US tech”, adding that the order points out “several” areas including “advanced clean energy” and “climate adaptation technologies”.

Meanwhile, China Dialogue has a comment piece by Alistair Ritchie and  Chen Yi, titled: “Better data is key to success of China’s carbon market.” They write: “China is tackling data integrity issues within its carbon market, but more efforts are urgently needed to establish effective controls and minimise complications brought on by other policy drivers.”

Reuters has an article titled “Europe upstages China as main driver for copper [demand] outlook”. Finally, Bloomberg has a comment piece by Clara Ferreira Marques, who writes that lithium carbonate, a “key” battery ingredient, has just “hit a fresh record of 501,500 yuan ($71,500) a tonne” in China, according to data from Asian Metal. She adds: “It’s a surge driven in part by pandemic delays and supply disruption after summer power cuts in China, and in part by demand, as supportive policies globally drive up electric vehicle sales.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister, has penned a piece for the Guardian making a case for wealth historical emitters and fossil fuel companies to shoulder the costs of climate impacts such as the devastating flooding that recently hit her nation. She says that responsibilities for “loss and damage” must be part of the climate finance agenda at next month’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Rehman also points out that big oil and gas firms are “making huge profits while they enhance emissions, with no one holding their feet to the fire”. She points out an Oxfam report that found less than 18 days of oil-and-gas majors’ profits could cover the entire $49bn of the UN’s global humanitarian appeal for 2022. “Our asks are not adversarial, nor are we alone in this. Our goals are realistic, and premised on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by big polluters, coupled with resource transfers to the low emitters in need of crucial funding,” she writes, adding: “It is not unreasonable to ask why countries with a negligible carbon footprint, like Pakistan, must pay for global warming catastrophes we had no part in creating.”

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Guardian also reflects on the floods in Pakistan, noting that when UN secretary general António Guterres visited earlier this month he said he had never seen such “climate carnage”. The article continues: “This year alone, the country had already experienced a gruelling heatwave, wildfires and drought. Climate catastrophes will be disproportionately experienced by developing countries, which have made a minimal contribution to global heating. As Mr Guterres pointed out, that makes massive financial support for Pakistan a matter of justice, not generosity.” A piece in the Conversation also considers the disaster in Pakistan, headlined, “Pakistan’s floods are a disaster – but they didn’t have to be”.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, business reporter Matt Oliver writes that business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg’s “pragmatic” views on energy have horrified supporters of green power, who fear that he will hold back progress towards net-zero emissions. However, Oliver writes that “for all the hand-wringing, an insider dismisses claims that he will seek to sabotage net-zero as ‘silly’”. Instead, they say Rees-Mogg is committed to net-zero but believes it must be “compatible with growth, new technology and living standards”. The piece also notes his support for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

And an editorial in the Independent describes this week as “the making or breaking of Liz Truss”, as Rees-Mogg announces his plans to help companies, public organisations and charities with their energy bills.

Dust and black carbon deposits on the surface of snowpacks in the French Alps and Pyrenees brought the annual snowmelt forward by 17 days over 1979-2018, new research finds. The authors use numerical simulations to model the impact of mineral dust and black carbon deposition on the surface of snowpacks. They also find that dust and black carbon advanced the “peak” melt water runoff by 10-15 days, with “a substantial effect on the timing of water resources availability” over the study period. “The decrease in black carbon deposition since the 1980s moderates the impact of current warming on snow cover decline,” the paper adds.

Warming of 1C reduces the organic carbon content of soil by 6% in the top 0.3 metres of soil, according to new research. The authors analyse more than 110,000 soil profiles across the globe to estimate the effect of future climate warming on soil organic carbon (SOC). They find that warming “induces more proportional SOC losses in topsoil than in subsoil, particularly from high-latitudinal SOC-rich systems”. The paper adds that boreal forests see the largest proportion of SOC losses.

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