DeBriefed 27 October 2023: Antarctic ice melt ‘unavoidable’; EV factcheck; China-Russia fossil fuel trade


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West Antarctic melt ‘unavoidable’

LOCKED IN: New research by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), covered by Reuters, found that melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet will continue, irrespective of any reductions in emissions. The decline of the ice sheet is “one of nine global climate ‘tipping points’…identified in 2009”, Reuters said. The study added that governments must “prepare for several metres of sea level rise over the coming centuries”, New Scientist said.

‘RECORD EXTREMES’: A separate study found that “20 of the 35 planetary vital signs [the authors] use to track the climate crisis are at record extremes”, the Guardian reported. Previous records for global air temperature, ocean temperature and Antarctic sea ice extent were all “broken by enormous margins in 2023”, the researchers said, adding that “by 2100…3-6 billion people may find themselves outside Earth’s livable regions”.
CAUSE FOR HOPE: The BAS report authors wrote in the Conversation that “we are now committed to rapid ocean warming in the Amundsen Sea until at least 2100”. Nevertheless, they said: “The future will not end in 2100…Our simulations of the 1.5C scenario show ice-shelf melting starting to plateau by the end of the century, suggesting that further changes in the 22nd century and beyond may still be preventable.”

Global CO2 could peak in 2023

CO2 PIVOT: Global CO2 emissions from energy use and industry could peak as soon as this year, according to Carbon Brief analysis of figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA’s latest World Energy Outlook 2023 shows coal, oil and gas each peaking before 2030, the first time this has been expected under current policies – with fossil fuel use peaking in China next year and globally in 2025. The report once again boosted the outlook for solar (by 69% in 2050) and electric vehicles (by 20% in 2030) compared with last year’s edition, Carbon Brief’s in-depth coverage found.

RISING RENEWABLES: In its coverage of the World Energy Outlook, BBC News reported that the findings show that the global uptake of renewable energy is now “unstoppable”. The IEA expects that more than half of the world’s electricity in 2030 will come from renewable sources, it added. This may be “the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era”, the Times quoted the report saying, with demand peaking before 2030.

  • FUNDING FRACAS: Talks in Egypt on how to develop a loss and damage fund for climate-vulnerable nations collapsed due to “discord over who should fund it, where it should be based and who would be eligible for support”, the Financial Times reported.
  • HURRICANE OTIS: The “rapid” transformation of Hurricane Otis into a Category 5 storm before making landfall in Mexico “highlighted what climate change, combined with weather and climate variability, can do to a storm”, Axios reported.
  • POLISH POLITICS: A coalition of “climate friendly” political parties won the general election in Poland beating the right-wing ruling party, but may “struggle to agree on policies”, the Guardian said.
  • HUMAN IMPACT: TheCable in Nigeria reported on a Carbon Brief investigation that found up to 15,700 people in Africa have died in extreme weather events so far this year.
  • FOREST LOSS: The 2023 Forest Declaration Assessment report found that the world is “moving too slowly” to meet deforestation targets, according to Reuters. Some 66,000 square kilometres (km2) of forest were destroyed in 2022. 
  • EV LAG: Bloomberg reported that there is only one electric vehicle charging connector per every 4,000 users in Japan, compared to one for every 500 people in Europe, 600 in the US and 1,800 in China.

The number of myths debunked in Dr Simon Evans’s epic factcheck for Carbon Brief of common misperceptions about electric vehicles.

  • New research in Science Advances identified how the impact of an ocean phenomenon known as the “Atlantic Niño” on the tropics remains high, despite having decreased in strength since the 1970s.
  • A decline in groundwater recharge of around 3.8mm per year in Iran is primarily driven by “unsustainable water and environmental resources management” and is “exacerbated by decadal changes in climatic conditions”, according to a new analysis in Nature Communications
  • A new study in Nature Water found that the temperatures of surface waters in lakes across the world are generally increasing more slowly than global air temperatures, mainly due to an acceleration in evaporation rates.

(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)


China’s exports of solar panel cells grew five-fold between 2017 and 2022, and stood at 147 gigawatts between January and August 2023, according to data compiled by climate thinktank Ember. Earlier analysis noted that, between January and June 2023, China’s solar exports were “going through the roof” and had already exceeded the equivalent of total US installed solar panel capacity. Meanwhile, Cao Yue, a researcher at the thinktank Overseas Development Institute, told Caixin that the low cost of Chinese solar panels made it “no surprise that…exports have shot up”, adding that he expected growth to continue.

What does China’s uptick in Russian fossil-fuel use mean for its climate goals?

This week, Carbon Brief explores the implications of a recent uptick in China-Russia energy cooperation for China’s transition to carbon neutrality by 2060.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2023 has lowered projections for gas consumption, particularly of Russian gas, and forecast declines in oil and gas consumption in China after 2030 and 2040, respectively. 

This stands at odds with the fact that China imported record amounts of Russian oil in the first half of 2023 and that China’s president Xi Jinping recently called for “substantial progress” on the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline linking the two countries. 

By increasing its imports of cheap Russian fossil fuels, the FT stated, China receives “a double benefit of cheap [fuel] for itself and the opportunity to boost exports”.

Concerns in Beijing around energy security make Russian fossil fuels attractive, as diversifying its energy suppliers mitigates “other vulnerabilities to its imports”, according to the Interpreter, a media outlet managed by the Lowy Institute. Trade with Russia also shores up the “stability” of a key political ally, wrote Sergey Vakulenko, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.

However, China has concerns about the pipeline. This has slowed progress, Dr Michal Meidan, head of China energy research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES) told Carbon Brief. It could “bind the two countries” and create an outsized dependency on Russia, she explained.

Nevertheless, increased imports of Russian gas may support China’s decarbonisation efforts, Meidan wrote. This is because gas is “very much part of the country’s energy transition away from coal”. 

Vakulenko added that “the high capacity of gas import pipelines would allow China to increase the share of wind and solar in its power system without investing too much in costly energy storage, using gas generation for balancing”.

Gas currently makes a “relatively small” direct contribution to China’s emissions, the IEA said, and using gas over coal has drastically improved air quality, which is a key metric for evaluation of local official’s efforts around environmental protection. 

However, the IEA added, these benefits could be offset by methane released from burning gas. Russian production of gas is “highly methane-intensive”, which could exacerbate negative environmental impacts.

And how China then weans itself off gas to meet its 2060 target for carbon neutrality remains an open question, Meidan told Carbon Brief.

While oil is likely to peak soon, Meidan said, “we do not have solutions yet” for operating several key Chinese industries without fossil fuels. Developments of carbon capture, utilisation and storage technologies could open pathways for continued use of fossil fuels after 2060, she said. “Certainly for the next 20-30 years China will need oil and gas”, she added.

Forecasts are also dependent on China’s economic performance, according to Vakulenko:

“If [it] beats expectations, that will accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources and gas consumption will decrease. If it performs worse than expected, cheaper coal will continue to account for a significant proportion of the energy balance.” 

Nevertheless, in his view, “the gas trade between Russia and China is likely to end by about 2060 or even earlier as a result of the global energy transition…Within a few decades, Power of Siberia 2 will become obsolete.”

BROKEN PROMISES: Project Syndicate featured a commentary from the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon calling for better regulation of carbon offsets to avoid “exaggerated emissions-reduction claims” and exploitation of Indigenous communities.

‘DINNER DIPLOMACY’: Politico recounted how US climate envoy John Kerry held an “exclusive dinner” in March for COP28 president-designate and oil boss Sultan Al Jaber.

NOT TOO LATE: Dr Jane Goodall spoke on CBC about habitat destruction, saying that she believes we “still have a window of time” to slow down climate change and loss of biodiversity.

DeBriefed is edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to [email protected]

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