Weekly News Review - 11th November 2022

COP27: World leaders address climate summit in Egypt

A number of world leaders have been giving speeches this week at the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres are some of those who addressed the summit with the aim of reducing emissions and helping countries prepare for the effects of climate change.

Joe Biden will be giving a speech on Friday afternoon following the better than expected performance of the Democrats in the midterm elections. One of Biden’s first actions when he assumed the role of US President in 2020 was to re-join the Paris agreement and he has since passed a package of climate investments worth $370bn with the aim of cutting US emissions by 40%.

Biden is expected to talk about how the US will reduce methane emissions by introducing stronger regulations. Methane is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and has been increasing rapidly across world. He is also expected to announce an increase to the amount spent on global adaptation to climate change.

Rishi Sunak addressed the conference on Monday after initially saying he would not attend the summit. In his opening address he urged global leaders to move “further and faster” in transitioning to renewable energy to avoid the worst impact of climate change.

In his first international appearance since taking office, Sunak added: “Putin’s abhorrent war in Ukraine and rising energy prices across the world are not a reason to go slow on climate change. They are a reason to act faster.” Sunak also announced more than £200m funding to protect forests and for green technologies in developing nations.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the summit: “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” He also commented on a report released by the UN’s weather and climate body which shows that the rate at which sea levels are rising has doubled since 1993. Guterres described the report as a “chronicle of climate chaos” and urged governments at COP27 to answer the planet’s “distress signal” with “ambitious, credible climate action”.

Energy suppliers criticized for remotely switching homes to prepay meters

Energy regulator Ofgem have reported a rising number of households that are having their energy smart meters remotely switched to prepayment meters. Energy suppliers typically switch customers to prepayment meters as a result of existing debt. However, this has led to criticism that the most vulnerable households will be left without power if they can’t afford to top up.

Previously, when a customer on a traditional meter was in debt a supplier would have to apply for a warrant to install a physical box in the customer’s property. But with the rollout of smart meters it is now possible for suppliers to switch a customer to prepay mode at the push of a button.

According to a report by comparison website Uswitch, the number of customers using prepaid meters increased from 7.35m at the end of last year to 7.38m in the first quarter of this year. They expect an additional 10,000 meters each month to be switched over to prepayment.

Ofgem have expressed concerns that some vulnerable customers were being switched to prepayment meters without full regard to their situation. A spokesperson said: “In extreme cases reports we received suggested this had led to some vulnerable customers being left without power for days or even weeks. This is completely unacceptable, especially as we head into a very challenging winter.”

Citizens Advice told the BBC that so far in 2022 almost 500 people have been in contact in distress after being forcibly moved onto prepayment – a 158% increase in cases on 2021. They predict that 450,000 people could be forced onto a prepayment plan this winter and of those, it expects 180,000 to be made as automatic remote switches via a smart meter.

Gillian Cooper, the head of energy policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Forcibly moving people in debt on to prepayment meters is disconnection by the back door. If people can’t afford to top up, they’re at real risk of the heating going off and the lights going out.”

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