Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate Assembly UK concludes in world transformed by coronavirus
- Coal industry will never recover after coronavirus pandemic, say experts
- BP chief says Covid has deepened commitment to net-zero emissions
- Labour to plan green economic rescue from coronavirus crisis
- Carmakers press for EU and UK subsidies after slump in demand
- The virus fight opens up a climate opportunity
- The health burden fall, winter and spring extreme heat events in the in Southern California and contribution of Santa Ana Winds
- Will dairy cattle production in West Africa be challenged by heat stress in the future?
Several UK publications report that the UK’s first “Climate Assembly” concluded over the weekend. The Guardian says the assembly’s final meeting was postponed and moved online due to the lockdown. It had original started in January with 110 people gathering at a hotel in Birmingham. “Fundamentally, however, the format [was] the same, with assembly members hearing from expert speakers, asking questions and discussing issues in small groups, and using a secure online system to cast their votes,” says the Guardian. “Over the past few weeks, experts have talked to them about a wide range of topics, including energy production, transport, agriculture and consumerism, with participants voting on a series of propositions related to each with a view to determining how the UK could best achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050…Assembly members said they were aware the coronavirus pandemic had completely transformed society, and perhaps shifted public focus away from the climate crisis. But Covid-19 had also created a unique opportunity for a national and global reset.” BBC News broadcast an item about the assembly on its evening news bulletins on Friday with science correspondent Rebecca Morelle interviewing four assembly members.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times interviews Chris Stark of the Committee on Climate Change, who has played an active role in the climate assembly: “As Winston Churchill said, ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ — and Stark says ‘the question of the age’ is how to use the circumstances in which we find ourselves to set out on a new, more sustainable path.” And the Spectator has a negative view by Melanie McDonagh about France’s climate assembly.
The Observer reports that the global coal industry will “never recover” from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to industry observers, because the crisis has proved renewable energy is cheaper for consumers and a safer bet for investors. The article adds: “A long-term shift away from dirty fossil fuels has accelerated during the lockdown, bringing forward power plant closures in several countries and providing new evidence that humanity’s coal use may finally have peaked after more than 200 years. That makes the worst-case climate scenarios less likely, because they are based on a continued expansion of coal for the rest of the century.” It goes on to say that “records are falling thick and fast” and cites Carbon Brief’s new analysis showing that India’s emissions have fallen for the first time in four decades.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times has a feature about how “UK renewables [have] prove[d] a shining success during [the] pandemic”, adding: “During the past month, records for clean energy have been broken repeatedly, as the combination of ample sun and wind, and low electricity demand has led to an unprecedented level of use of renewable power in the UK…These conditions have created an unexpected glimpse of what the UK grid will look like in future as more clean energy comes online, according to National Grid.” It quotes Steve Riley, chief executive of clean energy company Cubico: “If you look at the impact on the oil companies and the energy sector, I think renewables are seen as something of a safe haven.” The Times reports on how “surplus power from wind farms will be used to run a network of giant electrolysers to make hydrogen for vehicles, under plans drawn up by a green energy company”. It adds: “The electrolysers will be linked to nearby offshore wind farms and split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen will initially be used in buses powered by fuel cells that emit only water, helping the UK achieve its climate change targets.” BusinessGreen says that “energy sector stakeholders [in the UK] are being given an additional week to have their say on sweeping proposed changes to the UK’s flagship clean power contracts scheme, with the government having pushed back the consultation deadline to take account of disruption wrought by the coronavirus”.
Speaking to the Guardian, BP’s new chief executive Bernard Looney says that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has deepened his commitment to shrinking the oil giant’s carbon footprint to zero: “I am more convinced than ever that this is the right thing to do, and we need to crack on with it…The pandemic only adds to the challenge that already exists for oil in the medium to long term.” He adds: “We’re all living and working differently right now. Not all of that will stick, but some of it will stick for sure. The question I have is whether consumers will consume less, and I think there is a possibility that they will.” The i newspaper also covers his comment.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “Europe’s top oil and gas companies have diverted a larger share of their cash to green energy projects since the coronavirus outbreak in a bet the global health crisis will leave a long-term dent in fossil fuel demand”. However, its report concludes: “The biggest US oil and gas companies are taking a different path, encouraged by a government that is a vocal supporter of expanding fossil fuel production: investment in business ventures outside petroleum hardly register, and that is not going to change without a shift in government policy…The yawning transatlantic divide offers investors a troubling choice, according to analysts.” Politico has a feature looking at how Gazprom’s “horrible year just got worse”. And the Independent reports that “fossil fuel lobbyists representing UK oil interests are pressuring Norway to ignore proposals that would restrict offshore drilling in Arctic seas teeming with vulnerable and diverse sea life”.
In an “exclusive”, the Guardian reports that the opposition Labour party in the UK is “drawing up ambitious proposals to rescue the post-coronavirus economy with a radical green recovery plan focused on helping young people who lose their jobs by retraining them in green industries”. It adds: “Seeking to seize the initiative on the country’s future direction once the pandemic abates, Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, has called for the plans to include creating a “zero-carbon army of young people” doing work such as planting trees, insulating buildings and working on green technologies. Miliband told the Guardian that the combination of the economic damage caused by the virus and the imperative to tackle issues such as the climate emergency and pollution required ambition on the scale of Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government…Under a timetable coordinated by Miliband and the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, Labour will this week start a rapid consultation with businesses, workers, unions and others on how a green recovery could happen. Proposals will then be put to the government.”
Meanwhile, EurActiv reports the comments of Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, who has said that governments in Europe and beyond should pay “utmost attention” to avoid a “jobs versus climate” confrontation in the recovery phase from the Covid-19 crisis.
The Observer reports that “carmakers are negotiating with the EU and UK for subsidies to help boost demand for new vehicles, but campaigners are concerned that the stimulus could end up paying for pollution unless emissions restrictions are imposed”. It adds: “The carmakers argue that subsidies would help kickstart demand as lockdown measures ease and factories reopen, preventing tens of thousands of job losses amid a global slump in car orders. Bosses such as BMW’s chief executive, Oliver Zipse, have publicly called for grant support to apply across traditional internal combustion engines as well as battery-powered cars and hybrids. The heads of European carmakers including BMW, Daimler, Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover discussed the plans last week with Frans Timmermans, the European commission’s executive vice-president for the green deal.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Sunday Times to mark him coming top of this year’s “rich list”, Sir James Dyson (a Brexit campaigner now worth £16.2bn) explains how he “blew £500m on an electric car to rival Tesla”. BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar Land Rover “are making huge losses on every electric car they sell”, he explains. “They’re doing it because it lowers their average CO2 and NO2 emissions overall, helping them to comply with EU legislation.”
The i newspaper reports that the UK government is “aiming to turbo-charge the national switch to electric vehicles, this week unveiling a new vision for every motorway service station to offer fast charging facilities within three years”. Reuters covers London mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement on Friday that “cars will be banished from miles of streets in central London to encourage more walking and cycling and help public transport cope with social distancing restrictions”. The Times carries a comment piece by transport secretary Grant Shapps in which he says that “we must…seize the enormous heath, social and environmental opportunities that come from the huge increase in cycling and walking in recent weeks”. And the Sunday Telegraph has a comment piece by “free radical” Tom Welsh who argues that “economic and social reality appear to be entirely irrelevant to green ideologues, on Left and Right, who are embracing the opportunity of a temporary lockdown to permanently lock down mobility”.
An editorial in the FT says: “Given the scale of the economic damage wrought and the prospect of mass unemployment, policymakers face a difficult balancing act: do they preserve the status quo and rely on fossil fuels to revive their stricken economies or launch new policies to promote a green economic recovery. They should choose the latter, and emulate the example of President Franklin D Roosevelt. His New Deal used state-funded infrastructure and employment initiatives to push the US economy out of the Great Depression.” It continues: “Fossil-fuel subsidies should be scrapped. Carbon border taxes should be encouraged. Carbon pricing — in the form of taxation or emissions trading — remains a laudable policy tool, even if carbon taxes have proven an easy target for opponents, sometimes blunting their effectiveness. Additional regulations such as requirements to boost green electricity generation are just as key.”
In a feature for the Observer, which quotes Carbon Brief’s Dr Simon Evans, freelance science reporter Gaia Vince examines whether we will get a “greener world” after Covid-19. She says: “the cleaner air, burgeoning urban wildlife, and our sudden, dramatic shift to a less carbon-intensive lifestyle reveal the scope of what we can achieve in just days. This is something to cling to as we navigate the twin storms of Covid-19 and climate. We know that the climate crisis will not wait for a more convenient time; we must deal with it and the pandemic crisis concurrently.” Evans says: “What we’re seeing at the moment is, for the most part, very temporary. When we drive again, the car still burns petrol…It would involve reimagining the way our cities are built and organised, so that going without a car becomes easier, through how roads are laid out, and how provision for walking and cycling and public transport is changed…Our choices are bounded by society, so a shift towards a low-carbon society can’t happen via individual action alone.”
The Guardian, as part of its “green recovery” series, lists eight steps to make a cleaner aviation sector. The paper’s global environment editor Jonathan Watts writes: “Tax aviation fuel. Initially just for domestic flights so they do not have an unfair advantage against low-emission rail services. Air France has been told it cannot have a bailout unless it phases out flights that compete with train journeys of 2hr 30mins or less. This should later be widened to international flights, which are responsible for 90% of airline emissions in Europe.” In another of the Guardian’s “green recovery” articles, Pradeep Philip from Deloitte Access Economics and decarbonisation specialist Will Rayward-Smith argue that “with a recovery design that considers decarbonisation, there are a multitude of job-rich, shovel-ready, stimulus opportunities that also unlock long-term value”. In a comment for the Guardian, columnist John Harris says “the coronavirus crisis gives us the chance to rethink a new economy”, adding that Labour’s “Green New Deal UK is now pouring its energy into a campaign titled Build Back Better, aimed at a new political settlement that ‘prioritises people, invests in our NHS and creates a robust, shockproof economy that is capable of tackling the climate crisis’”. In the Hill, a range of experts including veteran climate scientist Ben Santer write that “the pandemic will not miraculously invigorate climate action”. Finally, in the Daily Telegraph, the climate sceptic Charles Moore argues that the “lockdown is showing us the misery that Net Zero 2050 will demand”.
Extreme heat outside of summer in Southern California is associated with increased hospitalisation for strokes, renal failure and dehydration, new research finds. In Southern California, Santa Ana winds (SAWs) are associated with high temperatures of 22-35C during the autumn, winter and spring, especially in the coastal region, the authors say. “The results indicate that SAWs correspond to extreme heat events, particularly in the winter,” the authors add.
Dairy cattle production is likely to be significantly affected by climate change, with the region seeing up to 70 additional days heat stress by the end of the century under moderately high global warming, new research finds. The authors looked at how the number of days of severe heat stress in West Africa could change under a moderately high emissions scenario known as “RCP4.5”. The authors say: “The result is alarming, as it shows that dairy production systems in West Africa are jeopardised at large scale by climate change and that depending on the [model] used, milk production might decrease by 200–400 kg/year by 2071–2100.”
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