Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Celsa Steel gets UK's first Covid-19 corporate bailout
- Dominic Cummings wins £100m to save planet by sucking CO2 from air
- Fish more vulnerable to warming water than first thought
- UK gives go-ahead to giant windfarm project off Norfolk coast
- Jamaica becomes first Caribbean nation to submit tougher climate plan to UN
- Pandemic hastens threat of closure for struggling oil refineries
- Invest in the green economy and we'll recover from the Covid-19 crisis
- The world if
- Development of an updated global land in‐situ‐based dataset of temperature and precipitation extremes: HadEX3
The UK government has provided an emergency loan to Celsa Steel in Cardiff, reports the Guardian, in the first taxpayer-funded bailout under its “Project Birch” scheme for firms struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. The move will “secure more than 1,000 jobs at the company, including more than 800 positions at its main sites in South Wales”, the paper says. Celsa’s British operation produces around 1.2m tonnes of steel annually from recycled scrap metal, reports Reuters, making it the largest producer of steel reinforcement in the UK. City AM adds: “As part of the loan, which is expected to be repaid in full, the company must meet a series of legally-binding conditions set out by the government, including protecting jobs, slashing bonuses and promising to commit to net-zero [climate change] targets.” BBC News reports that the value of the loan is £30m. However, the Financial Times notes that “the government refused to disclose the size of the deal – or its financial details – in a move that is likely to raise concerns around the transparency of Project Birch”. The Guardian’s financial editor Nils Pratley asks “why the secrecy?”, adding: “Soft conditions – restraints on executive pay, a demand to protect jobs and pursue net-zero carbon targets – were mentioned. But we also need to know that the Treasury has inserted itself at the top of the tree of creditors, which is what a ‘last resort’ rescuer of a strategic industry should do.”
Direct air capture (DAC) will received £100m in research funding from the UK Treasury, reports the Times, in an “experimental plan” to tackle global warming championed by the prime minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings. The piece, trailed on the frontpage, continues: “The prime minister’s chief adviser backs the development of a little-known technology that can capture carbon in the atmosphere and store it underground, but the move has attracted scepticism in Whitehall. Civil servants have also been told to develop plans to support the industry by buying the CO2 that is extracted as part of the UK’s programme to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.” The Times adds: “At least two companies have now created working DAC plants, but at the moment it costs nearly £500 to remove a single tonne of CO2. Those behind the projects believe that with government and private-sector investment these costs could be reduced to less than £100 per tonne and energy use could also be reduced.” (Carbon Brief has previously visited an operational DAC plant in Switzerland.) In an editorial, the Times describes DAC as a “green gamble”, adding: “It has to be said that carbon-capture technologies have not lived up to their promise. As prime minister, David Cameron pledged £1bn to help companies to capture emissions at coal and gas plants. It came to very little. Direct air capture has similarly yet to be shown to work at scale. It requires vast amounts of electricity, for one thing. To remove the carbon emitted by the UK aviation sector alone would require the equivalent of five new nuclear power stations. This is more likely to result in the plan being written off than stimulate investment in renewable energy.” MailOnline also has the story.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that the UK “wants to be the first to develop a commercial jet plane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean without any carbon emissions”. Speaking after prime minister Boris Johnson first announced the “jet zero” plans in his speech on Tuesday, transport secretary Grant Shapps yesterday told parliament that “we’ve set up the JetZero council specifically to take forward the objective of being the first country to develop a jet commercial airliner to fly zero carbon across the Atlantic”. He added: “That will involve not just investment in sustainable aviation fuels, of which money has already been invested…but also work on electric planes, hybrid planes and hydrogen planes as well…You can expect to be hearing a lot more.” The Times also reports that the thinktank the Social Market Foundation has warned that consumers, particularly those facing economic hardship, will turn against the green agenda unless Whitehall develops a consistent argument that “greener is cheaper”. The Independent reports that the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s inquiry into the government’s progress on reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 has been told the UK is “clearly not” making sufficient progress to hit the legally binding target. And the Guardian reports that the Labour Party says the UK government must lay out plans to realign government spending with the net-zero target or risk fuelling high carbon emissions for years to come.
Global warming could be a bigger problem for the world’s fish species than first thought, reports the Associated Press, with spawning fish and embryos particularly vulnerable to hotter water. It continues: “With medium-level human-caused climate change expected by the end of the century, the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes will be too hot for about 40% of the world’s fish species in the spawning or embryonic life stages…That means they could go extinct or be forced to change how and where they live and reproduce.” The Guardian explains: “In a study of nearly 700 fresh and saltwater fish species, researchers examined how warming water temperatures lower water oxygen levels, putting embryos and pregnant fish at risk.” In the best-case scenario the study considered – warming of 1.5C – only 10% of the surveyed species would be at risk in the next 80 years. However, co-author Hans-Otto Pörtner tells the paper that “a 1.5C increase is already a challenge to some, and if we let global warming persist, it can get much worse”. Earlier studies that suggested fish were more resilient to warming were based on adult fish, says New Scientist. It adds: “Previous analysis has focused very little on life stages, but the team took into account differences between spawning and non-spawning adults, larvae and embryos. Spawners and embryos were found to cope with a much smaller gap between minimum and maximum temperatures, on average 7.2C and 8.4C respectively, than the 27.5C range for adults.” Among the species particularly at risk are some of the most commercially important species on Earth, says CNN, including “Atlantic cod, Alaska pollock and sockeye salmon, and sport fishing favourites like swordfish, barracuda and brown trout”. The Hill also covers the study.
Elsewhere, the Independent reports on a new study that warns that global warming could leave tropical plants unable to germinate.
The construction of two giant offshore windfarms is poised to go ahead off the Norfolk coast in what the renewable energy industry claims could provide a “huge boost” to the UK economy, reports the Guardian. It continues: “The business secretary, Alok Sharma, gave the green light on Wednesday evening to the Norfolk Vanguard project and said he was ‘minded to approve’ the Hornsea 3 proposal later this year.” The 1.8 gigawatt (GW) Norfolk Vanguard wind farm will be more than 40 miles off the Bacton coast, the paper adds, while the 2.4GW Hornsea 3 wind farm would extend the Hornsea 1 and 2 projects further into the North Sea. According to Renewable UK, the two projects would generate enough clean electricity to power almost 4m UK homes. Their chief executive tells BusinessGreen that “large scale offshore wind power is good for our environment and our economy, by tackling climate change will boosting productivity and creating thousands of jobs in the process”.
Jamaica has become the first Caribbean nation to submit a tougher climate action plan under the Paris Agreement, reports Climate Home News, making it the 11th nation worldwide to do so. In its submission to the United Nations, the Jamaican government said its updated nationally determined contribution (NDC) pledge “is more ambitious than its previous one”, the outlet explains. The outlet adds: “The new goal marked an upgrade by addressing land use change and forestry emissions, and committing to deeper emission reductions in the energy sector, it said. By 2030, it promised to reduce emissions in the two sectors by 25.4% below ‘business as usual’ (BAU) levels, and by a deeper 28.5% if the country gets international support.” Alok Sharma, the president of the COP26 talks and UK secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy tweeted his approval, saying: “Fantastic to see Jamaica’s NDC showing greater climate ambition and scope during these difficult times.”
The collapse in oil demand from the Covid-19 pandemic is “hastening the reckoning for those refiners already struggling as new capacity overtakes demand”, reports Reuters, posing an existential threat to many, particularly Europe’s ageing plants. Even before the pandemic, 9% of refining capacity was already “under threat of rationalisation in Europe in 2022-2023”, Reuters notes, including the Grangemouth refinery in Scotland. Now, “Goldman Sachs expects global refinery utilisation rates in 2021-24 to be 3% lower relative to 2019, heightening competition and eventually leading to permanent plant closures in developed markets”. The collapse in oil demand has seen the number of US oil and natural gas rigs operating to a record low for a ninth week in a row, says Reuters, which also reports that crude oil stockpiles at the US Gulf Coast are at “near-record” levels. However, another Reuters piece notes that “demand for lighter, sweeter oil more suitable for refining into gasoline is ticking up” with more cars taking to the road as coronavirus lockdowns ease. Exxon Mobil’s oil and gas producing and refining businesses is expected to post another loss this quarter, says Reuters, “setting the stage for the company to post another quarterly loss this year”. In Africa, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that many nations dependent on exporting fossil fuels are facing the decision of whether to “pump or dump” their oil reserves. And Reuters reports that Angola is is resisting pressure from Saudi Arabia for a steeper oil output cut to comply fully with record supply curbs. Finally, in other oil news, Reuters reports that Russia’s Norilsk Nickel – a major global nickel and palladium producer – has prepared a long-term programme to monitor permafrost and remedy environmental damage after an Arctic fuel spill in its home city.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that the UK government’s development bank has bowed to calls to end fossil-fuel financing abroad by promising to invest only in companies that align with the Paris climate agreement. The paper adds: “The CDC Group revealed its new climate strategy, which will end support for the most polluting fossil fuel projects, including the production of oil and coal, and channel almost a third of its spending towards climate finance.” In a similar move, BusinessGreen reports that the French bank BNP Paribas “has vowed to stop financing companies this year that would contribute to new coal-fired electricity plants – whether through purchasing, the expansion of existing plants, or the construction of new ones”. In other coal news, the Guardian reports that a mine operator in north-west New South Wales in Australia could be facing a multi-million dollar fine after allegedly taking water without a licence over three years. The maximum penalty for each of the two alleged breaches is $2,002,000, says the Sydney Morning Herald. And EurActiv reports that, while German energy companies are set to receive over €4bn for closing their lignite-fired power plants, “nobody knows how the compensation was calculated and the German economy ministry refuses to provide details, citing procedural matters”.
Writing in the Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz – Nobel laureate in economics, university professor at Columbia University and chief economist at the Roosevelt Institute – says that, as “Covid-19 looks likely to remain with us for the long term, we have time to ensure that our spending reflects our priorities”. When the pandemic arrived, “American society was riven by racial and economic inequities, declining health standards, and a destructive dependence on fossil fuels”, he says: “Now that government spending is being unleashed on a massive scale, the public has a right to demand that companies receiving help contribute to social and racial justice, improved health and the shift to a greener, more knowledge-based economy”. His own research shows that “well-directed public spending, particularly investments in the green transition, can be timely, labour-intensive (helping to resolve the problem of soaring unemployment) and highly stimulative – delivering far more bang for the buck than, say, tax cuts”. Stiglitz concludes: “There is no economic reason why countries, including the US, cannot adopt large, sustained recovery programmes that will affirm – or move them closer to – the societies they claim to be.”
Elsewhere, in an interview in New Scientist, Prof Corinne Le Quéré – a leading carbon cycle scientist from the Global Carbon Project and University of East Anglia – explains why the post-Covid recovery offers the chance to make the structural changes needed to hit net-zero targets. A group of academics write in a comment paper for the journal Current Biology on the parallels between tackling Covid-19 and the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. They explain that “there is no substitute for early action”, decision makers and citizens need “to act in the interests of society as a whole, and of future generations” and that “paying short-term costs may be vital to securing longer-term prosperity”. And in the South China Morning Post, Deborah Lehr – vice chairman of the Paulson Institute, a US thinktank – writes that “as China continues to build and implement its recovery programme, it should go to great lengths to make sure it is green”.
The Economist has a new series of “The world if” articles, focusing on climate change. Each of the eight pieces is fiction, the editor notes, but “grounded in historical fact and real science”. It adds: “The year, concentration of CO2 and average temperature rise (above pre-industrial average) are shown for each one. The scenarios do not present a unified narrative, but are set in different worlds, with a range of climate sensitivities, on different emissions pathways.” The articles cover: What if carbon removal becomes the new Big Oil?; What if technology tracked all carbon emissions?; What if the Republicans pivoted on climate?; What if nuclear power had taken off in the 1970s?; What if climate activists turn to terrorism?; What if aviation doesn’t recover from Covid-19?; What if mammoths are brought back from extinction?; and What if water shortages destabilise China?.
A new paper presents “HadEX3”, the second update to a global dataset of gridded land‐based temperature and precipitation extremes. The dataset, led by the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, “consists of 17 temperature and 12 precipitation indices derived from daily, in‐situ observations”. The data shows that “changes in the temperature indices are widespread and consistent with global‐scale warming. The extremes related to daily minimum temperatures are changing faster than the maximum”. The paper also notes that “spatial changes in the linear trends of precipitation indices over 1951‐2018 are less spatially coherent than those for temperature indices”. Maps and the raw data are available from the Met Office and Climdex websites.
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