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FirstFT: Germany reopens coal plants to avert gas shortage as Russia cuts supply


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Good morning.

The German government said yesterday it would pass emergency laws to reopen mothballed coal plants for electricity generation and auction gas supplies to industry to incentivise businesses to curb consumption.

The move illustrated the depth of concern in Berlin over possible gas shortages in the winter months as Russian cuts to gas exports threaten shortfalls in Europe’s largest economy.

“This is bitter but in this situation essential to lower the use of gas,” said German economic minister Robert Habeck, a member of the Green party. The plan is at odds with Germany’s climate policy, which aims to phase out coal by 2030 as it is much more carbon-intensive than gas.

Russia cut capacity on the main gas export pipeline to Germany last week by 60 per cent, sending ripples across the continent as western officials became convinced that Moscow is weaponising its gas exports in response to EU sanctions following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Italy, which has also seen gas supplies from Russia fall, is expected to announce emergency measures in the coming days if supplies are not restored.

Habeck said Berlin was working on a new law to temporarily bring back up to 10 gigawatts of idle coal-fired power plants for up to two years; that would increase Germany’s dependence on coal for electricity generation by up to a third.

“The situation is serious,” said Habeck. “It is obviously Putin’s strategy to upset us, to drive prices upwards, and to divide us . . . We won’t allow this to happen.”

Thanks for reading FirstFT Asia, and we hope you have a great week. Here’s the rest of the day’s news. — Sophia

1. US lawmakers push for more money to counter China in Indo-Pacific The US House of Representatives will introduce the “Indo-Pacific Engagement Act” to spur the White House to funnel more money to the Indo-Pacific region. Lawmakers are aiming to narrow the gap between the rhetoric about Asia being the priority region and funding levels.

2. Crypto industry braced for fallout after weekend meltdown Bitcoin fell as low as $17,628 on Saturday before rebounding. This has contributed to an escalating credit crunch in the digital asset industry that threatens to engulf many of its major actors.

3. EU and India to restart trade talks after decade-long gap In an effort to woo New Delhi away from its historic ties with Russia, the EU will begin talks with India at the end of June for agreements on trade, investment protection and other specific regional products. The targeted timeline is for the deal to be signed by the end of 2023.

4. Japan’s largest discount store Daiso besieged by sinking yen Seiji Yano, the president of Daiso Industries, has vowed to defend the chain’s price tag of ¥100 ($0.75) per item despite an existential threat to the business from global inflation and the plunging yen. In his first-ever interview with the media, he said that the store was reviewing its product mix to ensure its survival.

  • Go deeper: The Bank of Japan kept its main policy rate at minus 0.1 per cent last week, putting it at odds with other central banks that have raised interest rates to tame inflation.

5. China launches new aircraft carrier China has launched its most advanced aircraft carrier to date as Beijing races to catch up with US military capabilities and make good on its threats to retake Taiwan by force if necessary. The vessel, named Fujian after the coastal province opposite Taiwan, had been under construction at Shanghai’s Jiangnan shipyard since 2018.

The day ahead

World Air Transport Summit The International Air Transport Association continues their summit in Doha, Qatar today, and will release the IATA Annual Report.

Juneteenth The United States observes a federal holiday today to commemorate the end of the legal enslavement of Black Americans.

Economic data Germany releases its May producer price index (PPI) figures today, and the UK will release trade figures, Rightmove monthly house price index plus Office for National Statistics data on house affordability.

India Australian defence minister Richard Marles visits India, continuing newly elected prime minister Anthony Albanese’s focus on tightening relations with the subcontinent as a counter to China.

What else we’re reading

Chinese tourists struggle to clear Covid travel hurdles As the rest of the country remains wary, Beijing and Shanghai residents have emerged from stringent lockdowns. Tourists tentatively beginning to move about the country are encountering a patchwork of local quarantine regulations that, in some cases, require seven-day quarantines before travellers can begin their holidays.

  • Related: Chinese consumers are forecast to spend $5.2bn on camping equipment this year, as urbanites trek into the wild for escapist adventures.

Why pay rises for your company’s ‘flight risks’ can backfire Bosses are doing their best to throw money and promotions at would-be resigners to convince them to stay, but the Great Resignation has complicated this practice of counter-offering.

Ransomware gangs target Japan as a feeding ground The US and Europe have long been the principal targets of ransomware attackers. But now one of Japan’s strongest natural defences — its language — is quickly evaporating with the help of AI translation software that aids criminals in crafting traps that appear more plausible and legitimate.

illustration of a masked criminal straddling a web browser window, holding a net full of letters
© Maria Hergueta

How to escape innovation’s Great Stagnation With inflation soaring and research productivity dropping, ideas have been getting more expensive to find. Spending more on R&D won’t solve the productivity problem — the urgent issue is to improve the scientific process. The answer may lie in accelerating remote collaboration.

Men must step up at home to boost birth rates When we talk about how to address falling birth rates, the conversation usually centres on young women. But a more fruitful policy target may in fact be men. With career versus family no longer such a trade-off for women, “having it all” is only possible with increased paternal childcare, writes John Burn-Murdoch.

Travel

The pandemic accelerated the trend toward mini campervans. While smaller RVs lose out on kitchens and toilets, they’re easier to drive, park, and manuever — opening up a whole new world of adventure.

The Mercedes-Benz Metris, parked in front of a backdrop of trees, with its doors open and extendable roof top popped up
© Lyndon French | Patti Waldmeir with the Mercedes-Benz Metris

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