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The Cow That Could Feed the Planet

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The cows in Farmer John’s pasture lead an idyllic life. They roam through tree-shaded meadows, tearing up mouthfuls of clover while nursing their calves in tranquility. Tawny brown, compact and muscular, they are Limousins, a breed known for the quality of its meat and much sought-after by the high-end restaurants and butchers in the nearby food mecca of Maastricht, in the southernmost province of the Netherlands. In a year or two, meat from these dozen cows could end up on the plates of Maastricht’s better-known restaurants, but the cows themselves are not headed for the slaughterhouse. Instead, every few months, a veterinarian equipped with little more than a topical anesthetic and a scalpel will remove a peppercorn-size sample of muscle from their flanks, stitch up the tiny incision and send the cows back to their pasture.

Limousin cows in Farmer John’s pasture. Mosa Meat will cultivate their cells in a lab to grow into hamburger that is genetically identical, no slaughter required

Ricardo Cases for TIME

The biopsies, meanwhile, will be dropped off at a lab in a nondescript warehouse in Maastricht’s industrial quarter, five miles away, where, when I visit in July, cellular biologist Johanna Melke is already working on samples sent in a few days prior. She swirls a flask full of a clear liquid flecked with white filaments–stem cells isolated from the biopsy and fed on a nutrient-dense growth medium. In a few days, the filaments will thicken into tubes that look something like short strands of spaghetti. “This is fat,” says Melke proudly. “Fat is really important. Without fat, meat doesn’t taste as good.”

Mosa Meat has recruited a global team of lab technicians and biologists to develop, build and run its scaled-up operations. Rui Hueber, checks the health of recent cell samples.

Ricardo Cases for TIME

On the opposite side of the building, other scientists are replicating the process with muscle cells. Like the fat filaments, the lean muscle cells will be transferred to large bioreactors–temperature- and pressure-controlled steel vessels–where, bathed in a nutrient broth optimized for cell multiplication, they will continue to grow. Once they finish the proliferation stage, the fat and the muscle tissue will be sieved out of their separate vats and reunited into a product resembling ground hamburger meat, with the exact same genetic code as the cows in Farmer John’s pasture. (The farmer has asked to go by his first name only, in order to protect his cows, and his farm, from too much media attention.)

That final product, identical to the ground beef you are used to buying in the grocery store in every way but for the fact that it was grown in a reactor instead of coming from a butchered cow, is the result of years of research, and could help solve one of the biggest conundrums of our era: how to feed a growing global population without increasing the greenhouse-gas emissions that are heating our planet past the point of sustainability. “What we do to cows, it’s terrible,” says Melke, shaking her head. “What cows do to the planet when we farm them for meat? It’s even worse. But people want to eat meat. This is how we solve the problem.”

Once stem cells are isolated from the biopsy and fed a nutrient-dense growth medium, they thicken into filaments of fat. Once mature, they can be blended with cultivated muscle cells to create a product similar to ground beef.

Ricardo Cases for TIME

When it comes to the importance of fat in the final product, Melke admits to a slight bias. She is a senior scientist on the Fat Team, a small group of specialists within the larger scientific ecosystem of Mosa Meat, the Maastricht-based startup whose founders introduced the first hamburger grown from stem cells to the world eight years ago. That burger cost $330,000 to produce, and now Melke’s Fat Team is working with the Muscle Team, the (stem cell) Isolation Team and the Scale Team, among others, to bring what they call cell-cultivated meat to market at an affordable price.

They are not the only ones. More than 70 other startups around the world are courting investors in a race to deliver lab-grown versions of beef, chicken, pork, duck, tuna, foie gras, shrimp, kangaroo and even mouse (for cat treats) to market. Competition is fierce, and few companies have allowed journalists in for fear of risks to intellectual property. Mosa Meat granted TIME exclusive access to its labs and scientists so the process can be better understood by the general public.

Livestock raised for food directly contributes 5.8% of the world’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions, and up to 14.5% if feed production, processing and transportation are included, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Industrial animal agriculture, particularly for beef, drives deforestation, and cows emit methane during digestion and nitrous oxide with their manure, greenhouse gases 25 and 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide, respectively, over a 100-year period.

Read More: Dinner As We Know it Is Hurting the Planet. But What If We Radically Rethink How We Make Food?

In 2019, the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change issued a special report calling for a reduction in global meat consumption. The report found that reducing the use of fossil fuels alone would not be enough to keep planetary temperature averages from going beyond 1.5?C above preindustrial levels, at which point the floods, droughts and forest fires we are already starting to see will negatively impact agriculture, reducing arable land while driving up costs. Yet global demand for meat is set to nearly double by 2050, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI), as growing economies in developing nations usher the poor into the meat-eating middle class.

The Mosa team. From left: Peter Verstrate, co-founder and chief operating officer; Maarten Bosch, CEO; Mark Post, chief scientific officer, at their headquarters in Maastricht, Netherlands, in July

Ricardo Cases for TIME

Growing meat in a bioreactor may seem like an expensive overcorrection when just reducing beef intake in high-consuming nations by 1.5 hamburgers per week, per person, could achieve significant climate gains, according to the WRI. But denying pleasure, even in the pursuit of a global good, is rarely an effective way to drive change. Earlier this year the U.N. published the largest ever opinion poll on climate change, canvassing 1.2 million residents of 50 countries. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents view the issue as a “global emergency.” Nonetheless, few favored plant-based diets as a solution. “For 50 years, climate activists, global health experts and animal-welfare groups have been begging people to eat less meat, but per capita consumption is higher than ever,” says Bruce Friedrich, head of the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting meat alternatives. The reason? It tastes too good, he says. “Our bodies are programmed to crave the dense calories. Unfortunately, current production methods are devastating for our climate and biodiversity, so it’s a steep price we’re paying for these cravings.” The best solution, says Friedrich, is meat alternatives that cost the same or less, and taste the same or better. Melke and her fellow scientists at Mosa say they are getting very close.

According to Mark Post, the Dutch scientist who midwifed the first lab-grown hamburger into existence, and who co-founded Mosa Meat in 2015, one half-gram biopsy of cow muscle could in theory create up to 4.4 billion lb. of beef–more than what Mexico consumes in a year. For the moment, however, Mosa Meat is aiming for 15,000 lb., or 80,000 hamburgers, per biopsy. Even by those modest metrics, Farmer John’s little herd could supply about 10% of the Netherlands’ annual beef consumption. Eventually, says Post, we would need only some 30,000 to 40,000 cows worldwide, instead of the 300 million we slaughter every year, without the environmental and moral consequences of large-scale intensive cattle farming. “I admire vegetarians and vegans who are disciplined enough to take action on their principles,” says Post. “But I can’t give up meat, and most people are like me. So I wanted to make the choice for those people easier, to be able to keep on eating meat without all the negative externalities.”

Even as it sets out to change everything about meat production, cellular agriculture, as the nascent industry is called, will in theory change nothing about meat consumption. This presents a tantalizing opportunity for investors, who have thrown nearly $1 billion at cultivated-meat companies over the past six years. Participating in the high-profile stampede to invest in the industry: Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett and Leonardo DiCaprio. Plant-based burger companies such as Impossible and Beyond already paved the way by proving that the market wants meat alternatives. Cellular agriculture promises to up that game, providing the exact same experience as meat, not a pea-protein facsimile.

While private investment has been vital for getting the industry off the ground, it is not enough given the immense benefits that the technology could provide the world were it developed at large scale, says Friedrich of the Good Food Institute. Cultivated-meat production could have as much impact on the climate crisis as solar power and wind energy, he argues. “Just like renewable energy and electric vehicles have been successful because of government policies, we need the same government support for cultivated meat.”

Read More: How China Could Change the World by Taking Meat Off the Menu

In the meantime, regulatory approval helps. In December 2020, GOOD Meat, the cultivated-meat division of California-based food-technology company Eat Just Inc., was granted regulatory approval to sell its chicken product to the public in Singapore, a global first. Later that month, a tasting restaurant for cell-based chicken produced by Israeli startup SuperMeat opened in Israel. Cultivated meat could be a $25 billion global industry by 2030, accounting for as much as 0.5% of the global meat supply, according to a new report from consulting firm McKinsey & Co. But to get there, many technological, economic and social hurdles must be tackled before cultivated cutlets fully replace their predecessors on supermarket shelves.

When Austrian food-trends analyst Hanni Rutzler appeared onstage to taste Mark Post’s burger at its public debut in London, on Aug. 5, 2013, her biggest fear was that it might taste so bad she would spit it out on the live video broadcast. But once the burger started sizzling in the pan and the familiar scent of browning meat hit her nose, she relaxed. “It was closer to the original than I even expected,” she says. At the tasting, she pronounced it “close to meat, but not that juicy.” That was to be expected, says Mosa co-founder, COO and food technologist Peter Verstrate–the burger was 100% lean meat. And without fat, burgers don’t work. In fact, without fat, he says, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a piece of beef and a cut of lamb. Fat isn’t necessarily harder to create than muscle. It’s just that as with protein cells, getting the process right is time-consuming, and Verstrate and Post prioritized protein. The technology itself is relatively straightforward and has been used for years in the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture insulin from pig pancreases: identify and isolate the stem cells–the chameleon-like building blocks of animal biology–prod them to create the desired tissue, and then encourage them to proliferate by feeding them a cell-culture medium made up of amino acids, sugars, salts, lipids and growth factors. Scientists have been trying for years to use the same process to grow artificial organs, arteries and blood vessels, with mixed results.

Post, a vascular cardiologist, used to be one of those scientists. He jokes that stem-cell meat, unlike organs, doesn’t have to function. On the other hand, it has to be produced in massive amounts at a reasonable cost, and pharmaceutical companies have spent decades and billions of dollars attempting–and largely failing–to scale up stem-cell production to a fraction of what it would take to make cultivated meat affordable. If cellular-agriculture companies succeed where so many others have failed, it could unlock a completely new way of feeding human beings, as radical a transformation as the shift from hunting to domesticating animals was thousands of years ago. Despite investor enthusiasm, that’s still a big if; Eat Just, the company closest to market, is producing only a couple hundred pounds of cultivated chicken a year.

Read More: I Tried Lab-Grown Fish Maw. Here’s Why It Could Help Save Our Oceans

Many of the scientists at Mosa reflexively attribute sentience to the cells they are working with, discussing their likes and dislikes as they would those of a family pet. Fat tissue can handle temperature swings and rough handling; muscle is more sensitive and needs exercise. “It’s like producing cows on a really microscopic scale,” says Laura Jackisch, the head of the Fat Team. “We basically want to make the cells as comfortable as possible.” That means fine-tuning their cell-culture medium in the same way you would regulate a cow’s feed to maximize growth and health. For one biopsy to reach the 4.4 billion lb. of meat in Post’s theoretical scenario, it would have to double 50 times. So far, Jackisch’s team has made it to the mid-20s.

Laura Jackisch in front of the analytics lab, where Mosa measures the safety of products.

Ricardo Cases for TIME

A lot of that has to do with the quality of the growth medium. Until recently, most cultivated-meat companies used a cell culture derived from fetal bovine serum (FBS), a pharmaceutical-industry staple that comes from the blood of calf fetuses, hardly a viable ingredient for a product that is supposed to end animal slaughter. The serum is as expensive as it is controversial, and Jackisch and her fellow scientists spent most of the past year developing a plant-based alternative. They have identified what, exactly, the cells need to thrive, and how to reproduce it in large amounts using plant products and proteins derived from yeast and bacteria. “What we have done is pretty breathtaking,” she says. “Figuring out how to make a replacement [for FBS] that’s also affordable means that we can actually sell this product to the masses.” In May, the Fat Team fried up a couple of teaspoons. Though they could tell from the cell structure and lipid profile that they had created a near identical product, they were still astonished by the taste. “It was so intense, a rich, beefy, meaty flavor,” says Jackisch, a vegan of six years. “It was an instant flashback to the days when I used to eat meat. I started craving steak again.” She nearly picked up a couple on her way home from the lab that night.

For all the successes that cultivated-meat companies have broadcast over the past few years, biotechnologist Ricardo San Martin, research director for the UC Berkeley Alternative Meats Lab, is skeptical that lab-bench triumphs will translate into mass-market sales anytime soon, if at all. Not one of the companies currently courting investment has proved it can manufacture products at scale, he says. “They bring in all the investors and say, ‘Here is our chicken.’ And yes, it is really chicken, because there are chicken cells. But not very many. And not enough for a market.”

The skepticism is justified–very few people outside of Israel and Singapore have actually been able to try cultivated meat. (Citing a pending E.U. regulatory filing, Mosa declined to let TIME try its burger. Eat Just offered a tasting but would not allow access to its labs.) And the rollout of Eat Just’s chicken nuggets in Singapore raises as many questions as it answers. At the moment, the cost to produce cultivated meat hovers around $50 a pound, according to Michael Dent, a senior technology analyst at market-research company IDTechEx. Eat Just’s three-nugget portion costs about $17, or 10 times as much as the local McDonald’s equivalent. CEO Josh Tetrick admits that the company is losing “a lot” on every sale, but argues that the current production cost per pound “is just not relevant.” At this point, says Dent, making a profit isn’t the point. “It is not in itself a viable product. But it’s been very, very successful at getting people talking about cultured meat. And it’s been very successful in getting [Eat] Just another round of investments.”

Read More: Why We Must Revolutionize Food Systems to Save Our Planet

On Sept. 20, Eat Just announced that its GOOD Meat division had secured $97 million in new funding, adding to an initial $170 million publicized in May. The company also recently announced that it was partnering with the government of Qatar to build the first ever cultivated-meat facility in the Middle East outside of Israel. In June, Tetrick confirmed that the company, which also produces plant-based egg and mayonnaise products, was mulling a public listing in late 2021 or early 2022, with a possible $3 billion valuation. But all that investment still isn’t enough to scale the production process to profitability, let alone to make a dent in the conventional meat industry, says Tetrick. “You can make the prettiest steak in the world in the lab, but if you can’t make this stuff at large scale, it doesn’t matter.”

The biggest obstacle to getting the cost per pound of cell-cultivated meat below that of chicken, beef or pork, says Tetrick, is the physical equipment. GOOD Meat is currently using 1,200- and 5,000-liter bio-reactors, enough to produce a few hundred pounds of meat at a time. To go large scale, which Tetrick identifies as “somewhere north of 10 million lb. per facility per year, where my mom could buy it at Walmart and my dad could pick it up at a fast-food chain,” would require 100,000-liter bioreactors, which currently do not exist. Vessels that big, he says, are an engineering challenge that may take as long as five years to solve. GOOD Meat has never been able to test the capacity of cell proliferation to that extent, but Tetrick is convinced that once he has the necessary bioreactors, it will be a slam dunk.

San Martin, at UC Berkeley, says Tetrick’s confidence clashes with the basics of cellular biology. Perpetual cell division may work with yeasts and bacteria, but mammalian cells are entirely different. “At a certain point, you enter the realm of physical limitations. As they grow they excrete waste. The viscosity increases to a point where you cannot get enough oxygen in and they end up suffocating in their own poo.” The only way San Martin could see cellular agriculture working on the kind of scale Tetrick is talking about is if there were a breakthrough with genetic engineering. “But I don’t know anyone who’s gonna eat a burger made out of genetically modified lab-grown cells,” he says. Mosa Meat, based in the GMO-phobic E.U., has absolutely ruled out genetic modification, and Tetrick says his current products don’t use GMOs either.

That said, his rush to market has led him to rely on technologies that go against the company’s slaughter-free (or cruelty-free) ethos. Not long after the company’s cultivated chicken nugget was released for sale in Singapore, Tetrick revealed that FBS had been used in the production process, even though he concedes that it is “self-evidently antithetical to the idea of making meat without needing to harm a life.” The company has since developed an FBS-free version, but it is not yet in use, pending regulatory review.

Eat Just’s initial bait and switch left a bad taste, says Dent. Cell-cultured meat technology may be sound, but if consumers start having doubts about the product and what’s in it, there could be a backlash against the industry as a whole, particularly if FBS continues to be used. “The first products are what everybody will judge the whole industry on,” says Dent. He points to the botched rollout of genetically modified seeds in the 1990s as a precedent. “Despite the science pointing to GMOs being a safer, more reliable option for agriculture, they’re still [a] pariah. It could go the same way with cultured meat. If they get it wrong now, in 20 years, people will still be saying, ‘Cultured meats, uh-uh, freak meats, we aren’t touching it.'”

For the moment, Mosa is focused on re-creating ground beef instead of whole cuts. A ground product is easier, and cheaper, to make–the fat and muscle come out of the bioreactor as an unstructured mass, already fit for blending. Other companies, like Israel’s Aleph Farms, have opted to go straight for the holy grail of the cellular-agriculture world–a well-marbled steak–by 3-D printing the stem cells onto a collagen scaffold, the same process medical scientists are now using to grow artificial organs. So far, Aleph has only managed to produce thin strips of lean meat, and while the technology is promising, a market-ready rib eye is still years away.

Small thin slabs are exactly what Michael Selden, co-founder and CEO of the Berkeley-based startup Finless Foods, which is producing cell-cultivated tuna, wants. Few people would pay $50 for a pound of cultivated beef–15 times the cost of the conventional version–but consumers are already paying more for high-grade sushi. “Bluefin tuna sells in restaurants for $10 to $20 for two pieces of sashimi. That’s $200 a pound,” he says. Sashimi, with its thin, repeatable strips and regular fat striations, is much easier to create than a thick marbled steak, and Selden says Finless Foods has already produced something “close to perfect.” His cell-cultivated bluefin tuna is nearly identical to the original in terms of nutrition and taste profile, he says, but the texture still needs work. “It’s just a little bit crunchier than we want it to be.” But he’s confident that by the time the product makes it through the regulatory process–he’s hoping by the end of the year or early 2022–his team will have perfected the texture. If they do, it could be the first cultivated meat product on the U.S. market.

Cell-cultivated luxury products could be the ideal thin end of the wedge for the market, attracting conscientious–and well-heeled–consumers who want an environmentally friendly product, and thus creating space for the technological advances that will bring down the cost of commodity meat alternatives like cultivated beef and chicken. “People who are buying ethical food right now are doing the right thing, but the vast majority of people are never going to convert” when it’s only about doing the right thing, says Selden. “So we want to make stuff that competes not on morals or ethics–although it holds those values–but competes on taste, price, nutrition and availability.” Assuming they can, it will revolutionize the meat business.

“If I was in the beef industry, I would be shaking in my boots, because there’s no way that conventionally grown beef is going to be able to compete with what’s coming,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. There are many reasons people eat meat, ranging from the taste to religious and cultural traditions. But the bulk of meat consumption is not cultural, says Verstrate of Mosa Meat. “It’s just your average McDonald’s every day. And if for that type of consumption, if you can present an alternative that is not just similar but the same, without all those downsides that traditional meat has, then it simply makes no sense to kill animals anymore.”

Read More: How Eating Less Meat Could Help Protect the Planet From Climate Change

Four of the world’s five largest meat companies (JBS, Cargill, Tyson and BRF) are already embracing the technology. From a market point of view, it makes sense, says Friedrich of the Good Food Institute. “These companies want to feed high-quality protein to as many people as possible, as profitably as possible. That is their entire business model. If they can make meat from plants that satisfies consumers, if they can cultivate meat from cells that tastes the same and costs less, they will shift.”

A transition to a lab-grown meat source doesn’t necessarily mean the end of all cows, just the end of factory farming. Ground beef makes up half the retail beef market in the U.S., and most of it comes from the industrial feedlots that pose the greatest environmental threats. Eliminating commodity meat, along with its ugly labor issues, elevated risks of zoonotic disease spread and animal-welfare concerns, would go a long way toward reining in the outsize impact of animal-meat production on the planet, says Friedrich. “The meat that people eat because it is cheap and convenient is what needs to be replaced. But there will always be the Alice Waterses of the world–and there are lots of them–who will happily pay more for ethically ranched meat from live animals.”

Small herds like Farmer John’s could provide both. John feeds his cows on pasture for most of the year–rather than on cattle feed, which is typically more environmentally intensive–and rotates them through his orchards in order to supplement the soil with their manure, a natural fertilizer. When he needs to feed them in the winter, he uses leftover hay from his wheat and barley crops. It’s a form of regenerative agriculture that is impossible to replicate on the large scale that industrial meat production requires to overcome its smaller margins. “We want good food for everybody. But if we do this [the old] way, we only have good food for some people,” John says. That’s why he’s willing to embrace the new technology, even if it is a threat to his way of life. “This is the future, and I’m proud that my cows are part of it.”

It’s likely to be more than a year before John can finally taste the lab-grown version of meat from his cows. Mosa is in the process of applying for regulatory approval from the E.U. In the meantime, the company is already expanding into a new space with roughly 100,000 liters of bioreactor capacity, enough to produce several tons of meat every six to eight weeks. Richard McGeown, the chef who cooked Post’s first burger on the live broadcast, is already dreaming about how he will cook and serve the next one at his restaurant in southern England. He’d like to pair it with an aged cheddar, smoky ketchup and house-made pickles. “It would do great,” he says. “Everyone loves a good burger.” More important, he’d love to serve something that is as good for the environment as it is good to eat.

Josias Mouafo stands in front of a CNC (computer numerical control) machine which makes custom made parts for Mosa’s processes.

Ricardo Cases for TIME

But for those in the $386 billion-a-year cow business, a battle is brewing. As production moves from feedlot to factory, cattle ranchers stand to lose both jobs and investments. Like coal country in the era of clean energy, entire communities are at risk of being left behind, and they will fight. “The cattle industry will do everything they can to call lab-grown meat into question,” says Leiserowitz. “Because once it breaks through to grocery stores, they’re competing on basic stuff, like taste and price. And they know they won’t be able to win.”

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has already petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to limit the use of the terms beef and meat exclusively to “products derived from the flesh of a [bovine] animal, harvested in the traditional manner.” A decision is pending, but if it comes down in the favor of the cattle industry, it could create a significant barrier to market adoption of cell-cultured meat, says Dent. “For a new product that consumers don’t know and don’t trust, the terms you can use make a critical difference. Who’s going to buy something called ‘lab-grown cell-protein isolates’?”

“It’s meat,” says Tetrick. “Even down to the genetic level, it is meat. It’s just made in a different way.” Tetrick, who won a similar naming battle in 2015 when his company, then known as Hampton Creek, successfully maintained the right to call its eggless mayonnaise substitute Just Mayo, says the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association’s complaint is as senseless as if the U.S. automotive industry had argued that Tesla couldn’t use the word car to describe its electric vehicles, on the basis that they lacked an internal combustion engine. Still, he says, naming is critically important. As the technology has gathered speed over the past several years, terms including cell-cultured, cultivated, slaughter-free, cell-based, clean, lab-grown and synthetic have been variously used, but consensus is gathering around cultivated meat, which is Tetrick’s term of choice.

Verstrate, at Mosa, is ambivalent. “Ultimately we’re going to produce a hamburger that is delicious. We can call it meat or we can call it Joe, but if a meat lover consumes it and has the same experience as when consuming a great Wagyu burger, then we’re good to go.”

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Moderna Says New Vaccine for Omicron Variant May Be Ready in Early 2022

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Bloomberg — Moderna Inc. Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said he suspects the new omicron coronavirus variant may elude current vaccines, and if so, a reformulated shot could be available early in the new year.”We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks,” Burton said Sunday on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”

“If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities,” he said. “The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, the Moderna platform, is that we can move very fast,” he said.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company mobilized “hundreds” of staff early on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., after news of the omicron variant spread.

Protection should still exist, depending on how long ago a person was vaccinated, and for now the best advice is to take one of the current Covid-19 vaccines, Burton said.

“If people are on the fence, and you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he said. “This is a dangerous looking virus, but I think we have many tools in our armamentarium now to fight it.”

The emergence of the omicron strain has seen countries rush to clamp down on travel from southern Africa. Fears that it could exacerbate a winter Covid surge in the northern hemisphere and undermine a global economic recovery sent a wave of risk aversion across global markets Friday that continued Sunday when the Middle East opened for the week.

Moderna said in a release on Friday that it was working rapidly to test the current vaccine against the omicron variant, and studying two booster candidates.

“Since early 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy to anticipate new variants of concern,” the company said. “The company has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to advance new candidates to clinical testing in 60 to 90 days.”

(C) 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Europe’s Energy Crisis Is About to Get Worse As Winter Arrives

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Bloomberg — Energy prices in Europe are repeatedly breaking records even before winter really kicks in, and one of the most damaging cost crunches in history is about to get worse as the temperature starts to drop.A super price spike in the U.K. last month forced some industrial companies to cut production and seek state aid, a harbinger for what could play out widely in Europe just as it contends with a resurgence of the coronavirus. For governments, it could mean tension with neighboring countries by moving to protect supplies. For households, it could mean being asked to use less energy or even plan for rolling blackouts.

The trouble is that any fix is unlikely to come from the supply side any time soon, with exporters Russia piping only what it has to and Qatar saying it’s producing what it can. The energy industry is instead faced with relying on “demand destruction,” said Fabian Roenningen, an analyst at Rysted Energy.

“We have seen it over the last couple of months already, and in many industries, it will most likely continue and even increase,” he said from Oslo. “It’s just not profitable to operate for a lot of the players in the current market conditions.”

The outlook adds to the sense of foreboding in Europe. The region is back at the epicenter of the pandemic again with Covid-19 cases surging and fears about a new variant identified in South Africa swirling the globe. Restrictions are being tightened in some countries, while household budgets are being squeezed by rampant inflation. On top of that, freezing weather could mean the lights going out. A return to lockdown like in Austria would help curb power demand, though few governments want to do that.

France, Europe’s second biggest economy, is particularly at risk. The possibility of a chill in January and February is causing concern for the nation’s grid operator. Availability at nuclear stations, the workhorse of the French power system, is low after the pandemic delayed the maintenance of some reactors, according to a report on Nov. 22.

Power prices there are the highest since 2012 as a cold blast creeps into France and is expected to take hold by Monday when workday demand starts to rise.

Last winter, the grid operator appealed to households to use less energy at peak times and activated some demand reduction contracts with manufacturers when things got really tight. The next step would be to reduce voltage across the network and then rolling blackouts of two hours per region as a last resort. All that would come ahead of a presidential election.

“If there’s a deep cold snap and there’s no wind, things could become tight given the lesser availability of nuclear plants and the recent closure of dispatchable generation assets using coal,” said Nicolas Goldberg, a senior manager in charge of energy at Colombus Consulting in Paris. “If it’s getting really cold and there’s no wind, it may become a problem.”

France is also a key exporter of electricity to neighboring countries, meaning that the effects of a crisis would reverberate in Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain. Maximum demand is expected to be 80.7 gigawatts on Monday, still some way off the record 102 gigawatts from February 2012.

The situation is already so dire this early in the winter season because of a blistering rally in natural gas prices. Stores of the fuel, used to heat homes and to generate electricity, are lower than usual and are being depleted quickly. Analysts have warned that gas stores could drop to zero this winter if cold weather boosts demand.

Rolling blackouts are a possibility, warned Jeremy Weir, chief executive officer of Trafigura Group, a Swiss commodity trading house on Nov. 16.

“If the weather gets cold in Europe there’s not going to be an easy supply solution, it’s going to need a demand solution,” said Adam Lewis, partner at trading house Hartree Partners LP.

On the supply side, what Russia does next will be key. President Vladimir Putin signaled he would help Europe with more supplies to stabilize the market, but while shipments have recovered after a slump at the start of November, they are low compared with last year. How much gas Russia sends to Europe in December remains an even bigger mystery.

QuicktakeHow Europe Has Become So Dependent on Putin for Gas

The long-awaited start of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany from Russia would ease the continent’s energy crunch. The project is finished, but has run into regulatory hurdles and it’s unclear when flows will start.

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, says it’s already producing gas at full capacity. The Gulf nation, which has low production costs thanks to an abundance of easy-to-extract fuel, has ordered six more LNG ships from South Korea on top of four tankers purchased from China in October.

If things get really bad, countries could resort to curbing sales of natural gas to other regions. An even more extreme scenario could see them halt flows of gas and power to one another, sparking political acrimony and hitting economies.

The European Union has what it calls solidarity principles that are supposed to prevent any state blocking exports of power or gas and leaving another member short, especially when it comes to supplies for households.

The solidarity, though, has never been tested in a wide-scale crisis and grid operators say that they’re allowed to stop or alter power flows through inter-country cables if they have security of supply issues. When the nicknamed “Beast from the East” hit at the end of February 2018, it was quite late into the heating season. This year, it’s likely that a less severe weather event could have a similar impact.

“It shows how exposed Europe’s power system is to the volatility in commodity prices,” said Roenningen in Oslo. “In the short term, there’s not a lot that can be done.”

(Updates with demand forecast in 10th paragraph.)

-With assistance from Francois De Beaupuy and Will Mathis.

To contact the author of this story:
Rachel Morison in London at rmorison@bloomberg.net

(C) 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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How Germany’s New Government Plans to Be the Greenest One Yet

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Among environmentalists, hopes have been running high for Germany’s new government. At elections this September, growing concern about climate change, boosted by the worst floods to hit the country in 500 years, helped the German Greens double their parliamentary seats.

Though the Greens’ performance wasn’t enough to win them the chancellorship, it gave them significant clout in coalition negotiations, which they promised to use to push through parts of their radical climate action program.

They have delivered–partly. On Wednesday the party unveiled a three-way coalition agreement with economic liberals the Free Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats, whose leader, Olaf Scholz, will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor. The deal contains a raft of measures to slash Germany’s greenhouse emissions, which remain high compared to many European neighbours because of its heavily industrial economy and greater reliance on coal.

The measures include a commitment to massively expand renewable energies, turning over 2% of national territory to the cause; a target to phase out coal by 2030, eight years earlier than previously planned; and a plan to weaponize foreign policy to drive shifts on climate abroad.

The Greens won the right to appoint the foreign minister, which will be party co-leader and former chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, and the head of a “super ministry” for the economy and climate protection, which will be her co-leader Robert Habeck. They will also get to pick the ministers for agriculture and environmental conservation. “We are in charge of all key energy and climate ministries,” says Sven Giegold, a Green member of the European parliament, who was on the party’s core coalition negotiating team, “and we have a whole roadmap for a post-fossil future based on renewable energy.”

But some climate campaigners said they were frustrated by a lack of clarity on the timeline for Germany’s promised phase-out of fossil fuels. For example, many had hoped the agreement would set an end date for the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel that Germany and other European countries are increasingly using as a “bridge fuel” to reduce reliance on more-polluting coal and oil in the short-term. The European Environmental Bureau, a network of activist groups and NGOs, called the gas commitments “highly disappointing” and “a missed chance for Germany to give clear indications” to energy markets.

Gielgold says the new government is focused on ramping up renewables and their supporting technologies as fast as possible so that they can replace fossil fuels, rather than on the exact dates those fuels will leave the mix in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. “Honestly, it’s not the phasing out, but the phasing in, which will inspire others to act,” he said.

Here are the four key points in the German coalition’s plan on climate, and how they could affect the rest of the world:

Expanding renewable power

The coalition pledged to make the expansion of renewable energies “a central project” of its government. By 2030, the agreement says, 80% of Germany’s power generation will come from renewables–up from around 40% today. Experts say the target is comparable to the U.K.’s goal of reaching net zero on electricity generation by 2035, and the U.S.’ of hitting “100% carbon pollution-free electricity” by 2035.

To achieve it, the government plans to increase Germany’s solar capacity five-fold to 200GW, and off-shore wind more than four-fold to 40GW by 2030, with a mandate to accelerate designation of land for onshore wind power. The agreement also calls for a costly overhaul of Germany’s electricity grid geared towards solar, wind, and hydrogen.

Germany’s renewables push could be decisive for the rest of the E.U., restoring faltering cooperation on offshore wind and pressuring others to ramp up national spending in line with the bloc’s climate goals, according to Lisa Fischer, an energy transition expert at European climate think tank E3. “[The Greens] have sort of gone on the offensive: focusing on getting real ambition on renewables deployment, and perhaps they haven’t used their energy on putting in negative criteria on gas and coal as much,” Fischer says. “And the ambition level there is great. I do think it’s a game changer for Europe.”

Phasing out coal

Germany is the world’s fourth largest consumer of coal and has lagged far behind its western European neighbours on phasing it out, due to its large reserves of lignite coal, which it has historically relied upon to ensure its energy independence. Coal made up more than a quarter of German power production in the first half of 2021

The agreement says Germany will bring forward its coal exit from the 2038 date the previous government had set. “Ideally, this will be achieved by 2030,” it reads. Though some campaigners were frustrated by the lack of a firm commitment, energy experts say the worsening economic case for coal in Europe–due to E.U. regulations and market shifts– makes it likely the 2030 date will be met.

The accelerated timeline on coal will help pile pressure on Eastern and Central European countries who are aiming for later dates. Germany has historically wielded economic and political influence over those countries, but its message on coal has been muddled by its domestic reliance. “A 2030 German coal exit leaves nowhere to hide for Poland, Czechia and Bulgaria,” climate non-profit Ember said in a statement. “Those left behind will face high electricity prices, an uncompetitive economy, and increasing pressure to act.”

Cutting reliance on natural gas

Germany, like much of the rest of Europe, is highly reliant on natural gas for heating, a sector which makes up 12% of the E.U.’s carbon dioxide emissions. Countries face a costly drive to retrofit buildings to use renewable-powered electricity, or other renewable technologies, for heat.

The coalition agreement says that “all newly installed heating systems must be operated with 65% renewable energy by 2025”, but it is unclear how fast buildings will be expected to replace their systems. Meanwhile, an existing plan to build hydrogen-ready gas power plants, combined with the lack of an end date for natural gas use, leaves the door open to gas remaining part of electricity production for years to come.

Campaigners hope the German government will strengthen its gas targets next year, as part of a promised raft of new climate legislation, and as it participates in a long-awaited E.U. review of subsidies and taxes for the fuel.

Putting climate at the center of government

Some of the brightest lights in the coalition agreement come not from policies, but from the way that climate is positioned in the structure of the German government, with Green-leadership of “the traditionally important parts of German decision-making, like agriculture, foreign policy and the economy,” Fischer says.

In an interview with TIME before the September election, Baerbock said that her priority in coalition negotiations would be overhauling the current “totally stupid” situation where “every ministry does what they want and the environment ministry does the environment.” As foreign minister, Baerbock has pledged to align trade and aid with climate goals, and to use Germany’s leadership of the G7 in 2022 to encourage other wealthy countries to accelerate their investment in clean energy infrastructure.

But perhaps the most important ministry remains out of Green control. The Greens lost the battle to appoint the finance minister–one of the fiercest of the coalition negotiations–to the Free Democrats, whose leader Christian Linder will now take the post.

An influential industry lobby group said on Tuesday that the next government would need to spend some 860 billion euros by 2030 to trigger the emissions reductions it is calling for across the economy. It may be hard to extract that much from fiscal hawks the Free Democrats. Giegold, though, says that the consensus-based nature of German politics gives him confidence that the other two parties will stump up the money to meet their commitments. “Normally in Germany, we are dull, gray, and boring,” he says. “And that means we stick to what we have agreed.”

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