Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Brussels and Britain clash over climate conditions in trade deal
- Coronavirus: Boom time for bikes as virus changes lifestyles
- Renewables sector shrugs off devastating effects of coronavirus
- South Korean government backs $2bn bailout to coal company, despite green finance pledge
- Scientific approach for Covid-19 must be applied to climate change
- Can we tackle both climate change and Covid-19 recovery?
- Will three billion people really live in temperatures as hot as the Sahara by 2070?
- Permafrost thawing puts the frozen carbon at risk over the Tibetan Plateau
- Future changes in precipitation over Central Asia based on CMIP6 projections
In a story trailed on the newspaper’s frontpage, the Financial Times reports: “The UK is resisting EU moves to incorporate guarantees on respecting international climate change commitments in a future trade deal…EU officials said the most recent negotiating round with the UK had revealed a clear rift over co-operation in the fight against climate change.” The article, quoting “EU officials”, says the European Commission wants the Paris Agreement listed alongside other core principles, such as human rights and the rule of law, adding: “The move would create a legal justification for the EU to suspend preferential trading arrangements if Britain walked away from its Paris obligations.” The paper quotes a “UK government spokesperson” saying that the country is “absolutely committed to tackling climate change”. It adds that the spokesperson “confirmed Britain’s opposition to embedding legally binding pledges into any deal with the EU”.
A fear of catching coronavirus on public transport has seen a “boom” in bicycle sales, BBC News reports: “Demand for more mobility and exercise amid lifestyle changes imposed by the lockdown has also boosted bike sales across the UK.” The piece adds: “Cities round the world have been freeing space for people on foot and bikes, in response to the coronavirus lockdown.” Bloomberg reports that London mayor Sadiq Khan “wants to drastically increase space for bicycles and pedestrians, measures that could permanently transform the capital”. It adds: “The measures join efforts in other major European cities to get populations moving while maintaining social distancing that would be impossible on packed public transport.” The Times also has the story, reporting: “The London mayor signalled a long-term shift away from the car in the capital yesterday as he announced plans for a tenfold increase in cycling…It is likely that similar action will be taken across the country, where councils are increasingly looking to capitalise on a drop in vehicle use.” An editorial in the Times, under the headline “Two wheels better”, says the London scheme to support cycling is “particularly welcome”. It adds: “London and other British cities have long looked enviously at some of their European counterparts, which can often be far friendlier to cyclists. Now is their chance to catch up.” Press Association via ITV News reports the results of a survey, which it says shows: “Almost two thirds of people think looking after and improving local parks and green space should be more of a priority after lockdown, a poll suggests…The call comes after the government’s climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, urged ministers to invest in improving parks and planting trees as part of a green recovery to the pandemic.” For UnHerd, Michael Liebreich writes of the post-coronavirus impact on travel: “Lower overall transport demand will be exacerbated by a dramatic shift away from trains and buses…If capacity is allowed to shrink by more than demand, cities can expect dystopian years of congestion, gridlock, air pollution, emissions and parking shortages.” He advocates efforts to “rebuild trust in mass transit” as well as to “promote active travel and micro-mobility”, such as cycling and walking. Axios reports: “There’s at least a small movement brewing to ensure telework remains widely permitted and encouraged in the post-pandemic era as a way to help the climate.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports the comments of Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye, who says it will take “10 to 15 years” before the airport would need a third runway. The newspaper explains: “A third runway at Heathrow may not be needed for more than a decade due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation industry, the airport’s chief executive has claimed.” The Times reports that London Gatwick airport has “passed a significant legal hurdle” in its plans for a second runway. The paper adds: “Gatwick lost out on the chance to build a new runway four years ago when the government opted to approve the expansion of Heathrow. However, in February the Court of Appeal overruled the government’s decision following claims that it failed to take account of Britain’s climate change commitments. Gatwick insisted that the ruling had no bearing on its own plans to bring the emergency runway into operational use.” A piece for the Conversation discusses how airline bailouts could be turned green: “The solution is simple: any airline bailout should include conditions that the airline reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with interim targets and a plan to deliver.”
The Financial Times reports that developers of clean energy projects are “defy[ing] wider turmoil in the global energy markets”. It explains: “Renewable energy is one of the few sectors that has managed to weather the devastating effects of coronavirus, with new deals and new records being struck, even while the rest of the world has been grappling with the pandemic.” However, the piece says Oxford University’s Prof Dieter Helm is “pessimistic about the impact the pandemic will have on renewable energy, pointing out that governments might be unwilling to support clean energy projects after they have already spent so much on their response to the virus”. It quotes him saying: “The truth is, there is no money. Consumers will not be able to absorb the extra cost in their electricity bill.” [Contrary to Prof Helm’s comment, the most recent contracts for renewable electricity in the UK were signed at levels that the government expects would reduce consumer bills, as Carbon Brief reported at the time.] Meanwhile, Reuters reports that global gas demand has been “pummel[ed]” by the coronavirus crisis. Another Reuters article reports that oil giant Saudi Aramco “is about to finalise a $10bn loan with a group of roughly 10 banks, three sources familiar with the matter said, as the oil giant seeks cash amid record low oil prices”. Axios reports that oil prices have “bounce[d] back from [their] deepest lows, but peril remains for the industry”.
An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald begins: “The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn attention away from climate change but the threat global warming poses to our planet has certainly not gone away.” It continues by noting: “With the pandemic in Australia at least for now under control, [climate change] dangers must come back into focus and our response to the coronavirus provides important lessons for how we should respond. Above all, Australia should take the same evidence-based scientifically led approach to climate change as we took to Covid-19.” In a comment for the Guardian, Cassandra Goldie, Innes Willox and Emma Herd write under the headline: “Australia has found common ground to respond to Covid-19. We can do the same for climate change.” They add: “After all we have already endured in 2020 we should know that stopping an emergency is far better than responding to one.”
In separate comment for the Guardian, Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, writes: “The newspaper frenzy over [epidemiologist] Prof Neil Ferguson’s love life is just the latest example of a scientist who has been targeted for confronting parts of Britain’s political-media complex with evidence that it finds too difficult to accept…The promoters of climate change denial, which include some newspapers, are well used to attacking scientists whose work they do not like.” Ward concludes: “It is time to put a stop to these media lynch mobs that risk driving Britain back into the Dark Ages. We must continue to base our decisions on the advice of experts such as Ferguson, and reject the irrational arguments of those who want political dogma to trump evidence.”
Meanwhile, in Politico, Richard Black, the former BBC science and environment correspondent who now heads the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, writes about what the coronavirus scientists can learn from the way climate scientists have been targeted and attacked: “A couple of things stand out. One is that it took climate scientists years to realise that if they always highlighted areas in public where they disagreed or where the science was as yet uncertain, they would be eviscerated…The second conclusion is that eventually, evidence wins out. The detractors of climate science no longer have currency anywhere it matters (outside the White House) because their claims, whether “climate change is all natural” or “reducing emissions is economic suicide,” have been clearly shown to be wrong.”
The Financial Times carries a “head to head” in which Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief, and long-time climate policy sceptic Benjamin Zycher, of the American Enterprise Institute, “debate whether [the] shift to low carbon can push forward amid economic stress”. Figueres argues that it can, writing: “The most consequential question looming over us right now is not whether we can address the Covid-19 crisis and climate change at the same time, but rather whether we can afford not to do so.” She continues: “We have learnt many lessons from the pandemic, but the top one is that high probability/high impact risks must be acted upon in a timely fashion – and delay is costly…The crux of the matter is that the pandemic-induced financial decisions made over the next 12 months will shape the global economy for the next decade, just when we must halve our emissions.” Arguing the contrary, Zycher writes: “Carbon taxes and green policies harm economic growth and jobs.” He goes on make a series of misleading claims including that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “advocates carbon taxes for 2030 with a midrange of $30 per gallon of petrol in 2019 dollars”. [The IPCC offers policy-neutral scientific advice; Zycher conflates model carbon prices, which are a proxy for climate policy in general, with carbon taxes.] Zycher also claims that “unconventional energy is not cost-competitive” [BloombergNEF recently reported that wind and solar were the cheapest new electricity source for two-thirds of the globe]; and, discussing an expected 8% cut in emissions this year, writes: “If this decline were maintained for the rest of the century, a climate model…predicts that the temperature reduction in 2100 would be a bit more than 0.1C.” [The UN Environment Programme reported last year that annual emissions cuts of 7.6% could limit warming to 1.5C.]
For the Times Red Box, Liam Byrne, Labour candidate for West Midlands mayor and chairman of the Global Parliamentary Network of the IMF and World Bank, writes under the headline: “We want to reform our economy with a plan that is big, bold and green.” He continues: “[I]t’s time to stop shambling around and summon our best and boldest to plan for a very different kind of economy for the years ahead…[W]ho wants to go back to what we had before? A carbon-pumping, planet-warming economy of yawning inequalities. No thanks. We don’t want a restoration. We want a reformation with a plan that is big, bold and green. That means using the kick-start to put the heart of Britain, the birthplace of the carbon revolution, on a fast track to zero-carbon. It means a huge expansion of cheap solar energy, a huge expansion in green homebuilding, converting offices which may not be needed to beautiful affordable homes.” At the World Bank blog, Stephen Hammer, Stéphanie Hallegatte and Ferzina Banaji argue that “countries’ climate ambitions can support a sustainable recovery from Covid-19”. They describe the just-published World Bank “proposed sustainability checklist for assessing economic recovery interventions”, which includes: “Does the intervention create or amplify a lock-in of carbon- or energy-intensive development patterns, or represent a future stranded asset risk.” In BusinessGreen its editor James Murray outlines the “seven steps to a green a resilient recovery”.
In a piece for the Conversation, UCL’s Prof Mark Maslin discusses the results of a widely reported new study, which found that under high-end warming by 2070 “one in three of us would experience annual average temperatures of more than 29C – a climate currently experienced by humans in only a handful of the hottest desert settlements”. Maslin discusses the idea of the human “climate niche”, which is “at the centre” of the new research. He adds: “What is disappointing about this study is that the focus is mainly on the worst case scenario [see Carbon Brief’s explainer about this scenario], which due to changes in energy generation and efficiency is thankfully no longer realistic…The study also does not take account of the dynamic and adaptable nature of human technology and society. As the climate zones shift it will be possible to transfer the knowledge of societies currently living under a warmer climate to the new region.” Maslin concludes: “Reservations aside, this is a brilliant thought experiment. Using the historic and current human climate niches shows us just how many people in the world, between 1.5 and 3.5 billion, will be shifted out of their current climate range due to global warming. It also highlights that the people most affected by shifting climate zones are the poorest and those that most rely on food that is produced by smallholders working outside.”
Losses of carbon from permafrost over this century could turn the Tibetan Plateau region from a net carbon sink to a net source, a new study says. Permafrost covers around 42% of the entire Tibetan Plateau and contains around 37bn tonnes of carbon, the researchers say. The study projects that, with continuous warming, the region would see 1.86bn tonnes or 3.80bn tonnes of permafrost thaw by 2100, under the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 emissions scenarios. The findings “highlight the importance of deep permafrost thawing that is generally ignored in current Earth system models”, the researchers conclude.
A new study projects changes in average rainfall over Central Asia using 15 models from the Sixth Phase of Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6). At the end of the twenty-first century, the researchers estimate a “robust increase of annual mean precipitation under all the scenarios” – amounting to 4%, 11%, 15% and 14%, relative to the present day, for emissions scenarios SSP1-2.6, SSP2-4.5, SSP3-7.0 and SSP5-8.5, respectively. (For more on the SSPs, see Carbon Brief’s explainer.) The response of rainfall to increasing global mean temperature shows “similar spatial patterns for the four scenarios with stronger changes over Tianshan mountain and the northern part of Central Asia”, the study notes.
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