Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Britain goes coal free as renewables edge out fossil fuels
- BP to slash 10,000 jobs as pandemic bites
- US states weigh exit from power market in clean-energy dispute
- Doctors say green recovery will protect health
- The climate crisis will affect the poor and minority groups worst – that's why no rich nations are prioritising it
- Coronavirus shows why we need an economy designed for wellbeing
- Improving normalised hurricane damages
- Solar reflective pavements – A policy panacea to heat mitigation?
- Human influence on frequency of temperature extremes
Marking a day of coverage focused on coal, BBC News reports that at midnight on Wednesday Britain will have, for the first time, gone two months without burning coal to generate electricity. A decade ago, around 40% of the country’s power came from coal, BBC News says: “Coronavirus is part of the story, but far from all. When Britain went into lockdown, electricity demand plummeted; the National Grid responded by taking power plants off the network. The four remaining coal-fired plants were among the first to be shut down. The last coal generator came off the system at midnight on 9 April. No coal has been burnt for electricity since.” The figures apply to Britain only because Northern Ireland is not on the National Grid, BBC News reports. The story quotes Carbon Brief’s policy editor Dr Simon Evans, who says: “So far this year renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels and that’s never happened before.” In a separate story, BBC News’s Justin Rowlatt asks if Covid-19 could “finish off” coal for good across the world. He says: “In the US, more energy was consumed from renewables than from coal for the first time ever this year, despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to support the industry…Even in India, one of the fastest growing users of coal, demand for the fuel has fallen dramatically, helping deliver the first reduction in the country’s CO2 emissions for 37 years.” A third story from BBC News by Matt McGrath addresses “five key questions” about energy after Covid-19. A fourth coal-related BBC News story by Roger Harrabin looks at how a disused coal mine will be used to heat homes in a UK village. In addition, BBC Reality Check explores “why CO2 matters for climate change”. Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports that Poland is to shut down 12 coal mines in attempt to control Covid-19.
Many publications report that the oil major BP will cut 10,000 jobs in response to the pandemic’s effect on oil demand and the company’s earnings. The FT reports BP aims to cut almost 15% of its roughly 70,000-strong workforce by the end of this year. “The majority of people affected will be in office-based jobs. We are protecting the front line of the company and, as always, prioritising safe and reliable operations,” Bernard Looney, chief executive of BP since February, said in a letter to staff, according to the FT. Looney also said that BP plans to reinvent itself as a “leaner, faster-moving and lower carbon company”, according to the Guardian. Around 2,000 out of the 10,000 job losses will be in the UK, the Guardian says. BP has not cut its dividend payout to shareholders in the wake of the pandemic, the Guardian adds, “even though some analysts have said its current payouts are unsustainable”. In the Evening Standard, Jim Armitage, deputy business editor, argues that BP “should bite the bullet and cut the dividend as well as workers’ jobs”. Speaking to BBC News, Deirdre Michie, the chief executive of industry group Oil and Gas UK (OGUK), claims the impact of Covid-19 on the oil industry could “risk” the UK’s climate goals. She says: “There is a serious risk the UK loses the skills it needs not only to meet existing energy demands from domestic resources, but also to meet the UK’s climate ambitions.” Meanwhile, Press Association reports comments from a Scottish Labour MP arguing that Scotland needs an energy jobs task force to be set off to help workers cope with the job losses. Bloomberg, MailOnline and the Daily Telegraph also cover the news.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports Germany is to double its “climate protection surcharge” on highly polluting vehicles, such as large SUVs, according to a draft law. “The new regulation means that the surcharge would double for buyers of new cars with CO2 emissions of more than 195 grams per kilometre,” Reuters says. In addition, several publications carry the news that the UK government is considering a scheme where Britons could be given up to £6,000 to trade in their petrol vehicles for electric cars, which was first reported yesterday. The news is carried today by the Times and the Daily Express. The Daily Telegraph reports such a scheme “would do little to bolster British carmakers”, according to some industry voices.
Three US states are considering leaving a portion of the largest US power market, “concerned that a new federal policy will counteract efforts to use cleaner energy”, the FT reports. “New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois are examining an exit after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission handed down an order that critics say favours fossil fuels over renewables,” the FT says. “The moves are part of a widening schism between the US government and states over climate change.”
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that the US federal government is backing changes to weaken a landmark aviation emissions scheme now under review by a UN agency, according to inside sources. Through the deal – called Corsia [see Carbon Brief’s explainer] – airlines have pledged to cap their emissions at 2020 levels through the purchase of carbon offsets, Reuters explains. But since emissions from international flights this year are set to drop significantly due to the pandemic, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has asked for a change to Corsia’s baseline, to 2019 rather than 2020, Reuters says. Reuters reports: “The US told a virtual International Civil Aviation Organization meeting on Friday it supports changing Corsia’s baseline, three sources said.”
The Daily Telegraph reports on a letter to the UK government from more than 20 health groups, including the British Medical Organisation, calling for a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. In an open letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, the organisations say “we must not lurch from this health crisis to another, caused by the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation”. It outlines six principles it says should guide the government in any recovery policies, including decarbonisation and the reduction of health inequalities, the Daily Telegraph says.
For the i newspaper, James Dyke, a senior lecturer in global systems at the University of Exeter, writes that climate change will disproportionately affect poor and vulnerable nations. He says: “That means those least responsible for the problem, those who live in nations that have only emitted a small amount of CO2, are those that will be most harmed. But this also means that I, as a white, middle aged, middle class man living in a prosperous nation, have relatively little to fear from global warming. This largely explains why no developed nation is taking the action required to limit warming to no more than 1.5C. It’s just not our problem.”
In Climate Home News, Lina Brand-Correa, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Leeds’ Sustainability Research Institute, argues that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed citizens’ desire for wellbeing over profit. She says: “My own participatory research from last year with a community in Kirkstall, Leeds, showed that people identify as important the same basic needs that have become clear during the pandemic. Many of their suggested changes for their community coincide with what local councils and national governments are starting to implement now. For instance, participants felt too much space was sacrificed for private cars, too much of their time is spent stressed from being overworked, and there are too few local institutions, with inadequate funding and support networks.” Elsewhere, in BusinessGreen, Hakan Bulgurlu, CEO of Arçelik, a Turkish household appliances company, argues that Covid-19 is a “wake up call” for a “renewed push for climate action”.
In a “matters arising” paper, a researcher has responded to a 2018 Nature Sustainability paper that updated a leading dataset on normalised US hurricane losses and found “no trend” between 1900 and 2017. The researcher argues that the study should have used a “building cost deflator” – which “capture[s] the price of replacing the homes, commercial buildings and infrastructure that make up a large share of hurricane losses” – rather than an “economy-wide deflator”, which “is a broad measure of the price level of goods and services for the entire economy” and “is therefore an imperfect measure of the prices most relevant for hurricane damages”. Using the building cost deflator, the researcher finds “that normalised damage estimates that account for changes in building costs are consistent with historical trends in hurricane landfalls and indicate that there is an even higher probability of extremely damaging hurricane seasons in the future”. In a reply, the authors of the original paper agree that “our results may indeed underestimate normalised losses”, but also argue that the proposed methodology “overestimates these same losses” and thus “it is reasonable to conclude that a more accurate normalisation would fall between these estimates”.
While the use of solar reflective coatings on pavements to mitigate the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect can reduce surface temperature, a new study says the effects on radiant heat are “less well understood”. In a pilot study, researchers took hourly readings of air, surface, and mean radiant temperature in two Los Angeles neighbourhoods on a typical sunny day with a maximum air temperature of 31C. The findings show that “mean radiant temperature over reflective pavement was 4C higher during midday” and “although air temperature was reduced by 0.5C in the afternoon, after-sunset cooling was negligible”. The findings “illustrate the benefits and disadvantages of reflective pavement with respect to various thermal performance metrics”, the researchers say.
A new study investigates the drivers behind changes in the frequency of temperature extremes over land at the global and continental scales. Using observations and simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Programme Phase 6 (CMIP6) project, the researchers consider four metrics including warm days and nights (TX90p and TN90p) and cold days and nights (TX10p and TN10p). The findings indicate that the signal of greenhouse gases (GHGs) “is detected in all indices over the globe and most continents”, while the signal from anthropogenic aerosols (AA) “can be detected mainly in the warm extremes but not the cold extremes over the globe and most continents”. The researchers also note that the signal of “natural external” forcing is “negligible in most land areas”. Overall, “GHG’s warming effect is offset partially by AA’s cooling effect”, the study finds, and “the combined effects from both explain most of the observed changes over the globe and continents”.
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