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Enel CEO skeptical of carbon capture and storage technology – Prime News Now
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Enel CEO skeptical of carbon capture and storage technology

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The CEO of multinational Italian energy firm Enel has expressed doubt on the usefulness of carbon capture and storage, suggesting the technology is not a climate solution.

“We have tried and tried — and when I say ‘we’, I mean the electricity industry,” Francesco Starace told CNBC’s Karen Tso on Wednesday.

“You can imagine, we tried hard in the past 10 years — maybe more, 15 years — because if we had a reliable and economically interesting solution, why would we go and shut down all these coal plants [when] we could decarbonize the system?”

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has described carbon capture and storage as a suite of technologies focused on “capturing, transporting, and storing CO2 emitted from power plants and industrial facilities.”

The idea is to stop CO2 “reaching the atmosphere, by storing it in suitable underground geological formations.”

The Commission has said the utilization of carbon capture and storage is “important” when it comes to helping lower greenhouse gas emissions. This view is based on the contention that a substantial proportion of both industry and power generation will still be reliant on fossil fuels in the years ahead.

Read more about clean energy from CNBC Pro

Enel’s Starace, however, seemed skeptical about carbon capture’s potential.

“The fact is, it doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked for us so far,” he said. “And there is a rule of thumb here: If a technology doesn’t really pick up in five years — and here we’re talking about more than five, we’re talking about 15, at least — you better drop it.”

There are other climate solutions, Starace said. “Basically, stop emitting carbon,” he said.

“I’m not saying it’s not worth trying again but we’re not going to do it. Maybe other industries can try harder and succeed. For us, it is not a solution.”

Carbon capture technology is often held up as a source of hope in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, featuring prominently in countries’ climate plans as well as the net-zero strategies of some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies.

Proponents of these technologies believe they can play an important and diverse role in meeting global energy and climate goals.

Climate researchers, campaigners and environmental advocacy groups, however, have long argued that carbon capture and storage technologies prolong the world’s fossil fuel dependency and distract from a much-needed pivot to renewable alternatives.

Plans to increase shareholder dividends

Starace was speaking after Enel published a strategic plan for 2022-24 and laid out its aims for the years ahead. Among other things, Enel will make direct investments of 170 billion euros ($190.7 billion) by 2030.

Direct investments in renewable energy assets that Enel will own are set to hit 70 billion euros. Consolidated installed renewable capacity, or capacity that is directly owned by Enel, is expected to reach 129 gigawatts by 2030.

In addition, Enel, which is headquartered in Rome, said it had brought forward its net-zero commitment — a goal which relates to both direct and indirect emissions — to 2040, having previously been 2050.

On the fossil fuel front, the group wants to exit coal generation by the year 2027, with its exit from gas generation taking place by 2040.

Enel also said that, between 2021 and 2024, shareholders were “expected to receive a fixed Dividend Per Share … that is planned to increase by 13%, up to 0.43 euros/share.”

During his interview with CNBC, Starace was asked about Enel’s higher dividend forecast and the wider debate about how one could be invested in so-called “sin stocks” — in this instance, big polluters within the energy space — and still get good returns, particularly on the dividend side of things.

“It’s all about risk rewards,” he said. “And at the end of the day, I don’t see anything wrong with an increasingly risky business [being] … forced to increase dividends if you want to attract investors.”

“What we’re trying to say is there is a breaking point, there is a point in which the risk becomes unbearable no matter what dividends you want to distribute, and that is approaching,” he said.

“So in our case, what you need to do is get out of this risk, get out of the carbon footprint and also make sure that when you put the word ‘net’ in front of zero, this ‘net’ doesn’t become some kind of a trick around which you don’t decarbonize, really, your operations.”

“We’re saying we’re going to be zero carbon, which means we’re not going to emit carbon and we will, therefore [not] … need to plant trees to offset that carbon.”

Starace acknowledged, however, that trees would be required over the next centuries to remove carbon left in the atmosphere due to historic emissions.

—CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this article.

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European Central Bank heads into pivotal meeting with omicron infections rising

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Christine Lagarde, president of the ECB, speaks at the Bank’s press conference in Frankfurt, Germany.

Boris Roessler | picture alliance | Getty Images

With inflation surging and the omicron Covid variant expected to spread through the region, the European Central Bank has the unenviable task of presenting its policy outlook for 2022 on Thursday.

The rise in the cost of living for the euro area (the 19 nations that share the euro) reached a record high of 4.9% in November, while omicron looks likely to become the dominant coronavirus strain with some European economies already locked down due to the delta variant.

“The sharp rise in infections and inflation and the emergence of the new Omicron variant has complicated the picture to an extent that the Governing Council may need more time to decide on all the details of adjusting its non-conventional policy tool,” said Dirk Schumacher, an ECB watcher with Natixis, in a recent research note. 

The institution led by Christine Lagarde developed a new bond-buying program in the wake of the coronavirus in March 2020 to support the euro zone. The PEPP is due to end in March 2022 with a potential total envelope of 1.85 trillion euros ($2.19 trillion).

The ECB has also kept its asset purchase program, known as APP, amid the pandemic which has a current monthly pace of 20 billion euros. The central bank has been using this program in combination with PEPP to sustain the 19-member economy.

Schumacher added that Natixis still expects an announcement that the PEPP program will end by March and “we expect a clear signal that the APP will be used in a more flexible way.”

A big focus of this week’s meeting will be the new staff projections for inflation and growth. They show whether the inflation target of 2% will be met over the medium term, which is ultimately ECB’s primary mandate. 

“I see an inflation profile which looks like a hump. So it has clearly increased over the last three quarters and we know how painful it is,” Lagarde said at a Reuters conference on Dec. 3, 

“And a hump eventually declines and this is what we project for 2022,” she added.

Flexible APP

Another key question is how the ECB will bridge the end of the PEPP program at the end of March into a more flexible and potentially larger APP without provoking major market volatility and keeping financial conditions on “favourable” terms. The ECB is expected to stress the need for flexibility.

“Flexibility, in our view, means varying purchases depending on the inflation outlook and financing conditions, i.e. preserving the principle of ‘favourable financing conditions’ that characterises the PEPP,” Spyros Andreopoulos, a senior European economist at BNP Paribas, said in a note.  

“This view has been supported by recent ECB rhetoric that has emphasised the need to maintain flexibility, as opposed to pre-committing to a fixed volume of purchases.”

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UK inflation hits 10-year high ahead of key Bank of England meeting

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Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk through the rain on Oxford Street in London on June 18, 2020, as some non-essential retailers reopen from their coronavirus shutdown.

Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

LONDON — U.K. inflation climbed to a 10-year high in November as consumer prices continued to soar ahead of the Bank of England‘s crunch monetary policy meeting on Thursday.

The Consumer Price Index rose by 5.1% in the 12 months to November, up from 4.2% in October, which was itself the steepest incline for a decade and more than double the central bank’s target.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 4.7% for November, and the Bank of England had projected that inflation would hit 5% in the spring of 2022 before moderating towards its 2% target in late 2023.

On a monthly basis, U.K. inflation rose 0.7% in November from October, above a Reuters poll for a 0.4% increase.

Core CPI, which excludes volatile energy, food, alcohol and tobacco prices, rose by 4% year-on-year against a Reuters forecast of 3.7%, and 0.5% month-on-month versus a 0.3% projection.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee meets Thursday to decide whether to tighten monetary policy, with inflation surging and the labor market remaining robust, but the rapid spread of the omicron Covid-19 variant has cast fresh uncertainty over the economic recovery in the short term.

The MPC defied market expectations in November by voting 7-2 to hold interest rates at their historic low of 0.1%, but analysts are split on whether it will pull the trigger on rate hikes on Thursday in light of the emergence of omicron.

“Unfortunately for consumers, peak inflation may still be a few months off. Today’s CPI data only serves to increase the pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates at its MPC meeting tomorrow,” said Richard Carter, head of fixed interest research at Quilter Cheviot.

“However, the Bank of England may well decide that discretion is the better part of valour and instead opt to wait until next year given the current uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Omicron variant on the economy, coupled with the risk that further restrictions may need to be introduced before long.”

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Most Chinese companies could delist from US, says TCW Group

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Budrul Chukrut | LightRocket | Getty Images

Chinese companies listed on Wall Street will likely to be cut off from U.S. capital markets in the next three years as tensions between Beijing and Washington persist, says one global asset management firm.

“I think for a lot of Chinese companies listed in U.S. markets, it’s essentially game over,” David Loevinger, managing director for emerging markets sovereign research at TCW Group, told CNBC Wednesday. “This is an issue that’s been hanging out there for 20 years — we haven’t been able to solve it.”

TCW Group had $265.8 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2021, according to the company’s website.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this month finalized rules to implement a law that would allow the market regulator to ban foreign companies listed in the U.S. from trading if their auditors do not comply with requests for information from American regulators. 

The law was passed in 2020 after Chinese regulators repeatedly denied requests from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to inspect the audits of Chinese firms that list and trade in the United States.

Given the current level of distrust between the U.S. and Chinese governments, and with the bilateral relationship unlikely to improve anytime soon, there is “no way we are going to solve this in the next few years,” Loevinger said.

“So the reality is, I think, by 2024, most Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges are no longer going to be listed in the United States. Most are going to gravitate back to Hong Kong or Shanghai,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”

Less than six months after going public, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi said it will start delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, and make plans to list in Hong Kong instead.

When a company delists from an exchange like the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange, it loses access to a broad pool of buyers, sellers and intermediaries.

I just don’t think China’s government is going to allow U.S. regulators to have unfettered access to internal auditing documents of Chinese companies.

Chinese regulators were reportedly unhappy with Didi’s decision to list in the U.S. without first resolving outstanding cybersecurity concerns. Regulators told the firm’s executives to come up with a plan to delist from the U.S. due to concerns around data leakage, according to reports.

Beyond Didi, many of China’s top internet companies listed in the U.S. have already undertaken dual listings in Hong Kong. Some high-profile names include e-commerce giant Alibaba, its rival JD.com, search engine giant Baidu, gaming firm NetEase and social media giant Weibo.

“We have already hit the turning point,” Loevinger said, pointing to Didi’s delisting announcement. “I just don’t think China’s government is going to allow U.S. regulators to have unfettered access to internal auditing documents of Chinese companies.”

“And if U.S. regulators can’t get access to those documents, then they can’t protect U.S. markets from fraud,” he added.

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