Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate change: Lockdown has 'negligible' effect on temperatures
- Record-breaking summers due to climate change ‘a danger to human health’
- Canada's last intact ice shelf collapses due to warming
- Saudi Aramco's profit plunges, sees signs of oil market recovery
- Global deforestation accelerates during pandemic
- Bernard Looney, BP’s ‘woke’ boss, takes a leap into the unknown
- Is this the end for ‘king coal’ in Britain?
- Here's what extreme heat looks like: profoundly unequal
- Marine heatwaves in the Arctic region: Variation in different ice covers
- Why do some consumers not charge their plug-in hybrid vehicles? Evidence from Californian plug-in hybrid owners
Several outlets cover the new paper assessing recent and future impacts of the pandemic on emissions and global warming, with most focusing on the “negligible” impact that lockdown measures alone will have on rising temperatures. The analysis suggests that by 2030, global temperatures will only be 0.01C lower than expected under existing policies, BBC News reports. It notes that the study, which uses global mobility data from Google and Apple to estimate how 10 different greenhouse gases and air pollutants changed in the first half of 2020 across 123 countries, also concluded that “strong green stimulus could keep the world from exceeding 1.5C of warming by the middle of this century”. (For reference, Carbon Brief has been tracking green funding announcements made by governments around the world.) The Guardian quotes lead author Prof Piers Forster of the University of Leeds, who says that the recovery pledges being made today are backing both green technologies and fossil fuels. It also quotes another scientist who says that without a “green recovery” it will be challenging to meet the UK government’s net-zero target by 2050, “let alone the ambitious Paris agreement”. The Times takes a different angle with its coverage, focusing on Forster’s 18-year-old daughter, a co-author of the study, whose cancelled A-level exams led to her spending “several months analysing data on reductions in emissions during the global lockdown”. Forbes and New Scientist both cover the research, while Forster has a written a piece for the Conversation. Carbon Brief also has all the details.
Regular record-breaking summers will become a certainty due to climate change, bringing “highly dangerous” heatwaves to the UK, according to scientists quoted in a story by the Press Association. The piece comes as the nation records temperatures as high as 36.4C, the hottest August day for 17 years, according to the Guardian. Both articles quote Prof Ilan Kelman of University College London, who says that “without stopping human-caused climate change”, such regular bouts of extreme summer heat and humidity will make it dangerous to be “outdoors and even indoors” without continual cooling, also noting that air pollution can worsen under heat. A piece in the Conversation looks at how heatwaves can “also harm our mental health in hidden but surprisingly severe ways”. Another Guardian piece says a month’s worth of rain could fall within two hours on parts of the UK this week, causing flash flooding, and quotes a Met Office spokeswoman on the current heatwave saying “the Top 10 highest temperatures for the UK have all occurred since 2002…It does feel like temperatures are becoming more extreme in the UK – that is likely a result of climate change”. Across the English Channel, French news site the Connexion reports that “as France swelters in temperatures of 35-40C”, weather experts have confirmed that heatwaves are becoming more frequent due to global warming.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that firefighters in Surrey brought a large blaze under control over the weekend, “marking the latest wildfire in the UK in a year that was already on course to become the worst on record”. The piece discusses the role climate change is having on making conditions in the UK more conducive to fire. Carbon Brief’s science writer Daisy Dunne recently wrote a detailed Q&A exploring the links between climate change and global wildfires, and also hosted a webinar discussing the issue with experts from around the world.
In more coverage of the impact climate change is having on the nation, the Financial Times has a piece on Britain’s “disappearing coastline”, including comments from experts who are critical of the government’s lacks of a “coherent action plan”. The piece states: “There is no national data on how many homes have already been lost, and many of the local authorities that manage coastal regions and monitor erosion do not know how many will be vulnerable in the coming years.”
Finally, in an “exclusive” interview following his election win in June, Kiribati president Taneti Maamau tells the Guardian about his plans to prepare his country for the threat of climate change. He says the Pacific nation will raise its islands above the ocean, partly through dredging, and will seek help from larger nations such as China to help it do so.
Much of Canada’s only remaining intact ice shelf has broken “into hulking iceberg islands thanks to a hot summer and global warming”, according to the Associated Press, which adds to initial reports late last week. Dr Adrienne White of the Canadian Ice Service told the news wire service that the 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island had seen around 43% breaking off at the end of July. Noting that temperatures from May to early August in the region have 5C warmer than the 1980 to 2010 average, University of Ottawa glaciology professor Luke Copland is also quoted in the piece saying: “Without a doubt, it’s climate change”. CNN notes in its coverage of the “larger than Manhattan” ice sheet that according to Copernicus satellite data the Arctic has seen its third warmest July in the data record, behind 2016 and 2019.
MailOnline reports on a study of the Southern Alps in New Zealand, “the set of many scenes from the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies”, have lost up to 62% of their glaciers since the end of the Little Ice Age around 400 years ago. Last week, Carbon Brief reported on the first ever study to quantify the influence of human-driven climate change on episodes of extreme ice loss from glaciers, focusing specifically on the Southern Alps.
Saudi Aramco’s profits plunged 73% in the second quarter of the year, “as a slump in energy demand and prices due to the coronavirus crisis hit sales at the world’s biggest oil exporter”, Reuters reports. Nevertheless, the piece notes the fossil fuel company has stuck with plans to pay $75bn in dividends this year as CEO Amin Nasser told reporters global oil demand was recovering. The Financial Times notes that like its rival companies, the state-owned firm has had “a brutal year as government-imposed lockdowns to curb the spread of coronavirus sent oil demand and prices tumbling”. The news comes in a week that saw BP become the latest oil company to slash its dividend while also seeing share prices increase following a pledge to increase its low-carbon investment tenfold over the next decade. Analysis by Reuters concludes meeting BP’s green energy targets will be tough, with the fossil fuel giant likely having to accept “lower returns than it can get from oil” if it is to become one of the world’s largest renewable power generators. A piece in the Guardian examines how donations to support the re-election of US president Donald Trump have flooded in from the fossil fuel industry, which has “enjoyed three years of energy deregulation and tax cuts”. The Financial Times also has an article on how “corporate eco-warriors” are “driving change from Shell to Qantas”.
Elsewhere, there is international coverage of an oil spill in Mauritius from a Japanese-owned ship, which Al Jazeera says has seen an estimated 1,000 tonnes of oil entering the “crystal-clear waters” of the Indian Ocean nation. There is coverage from BBC News, Forbes, CNN, the Washington Post, Deutsche Welle, Sky News and the Sun.
In Australia, a front-page story in the Sydney Morning Herald describes how former chief scientist Penny Sackett has told a planning commission the proposed Narrabri gas project is at odds with the nation’s Paris climate commitments and the New South Wales government’s goal of cutting emissions to net-zero by 2050. Argus Media reports that mining firm Glencore will close most of its Australian coal mines for two or three weeks in September-October due to “weaker demand in the Covid-19 economic environment”.
According to data compiled by WWF Germany from the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) initiative, and reported by the Financial Times, deforestation has accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic as forests are “razed at an alarming rate” across Asia, Africa and Latin America. The piece states that this year environmental law enforcement “has been sidelined and villagers have turned to logging for income in parts of the tropical world”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on plans by the Indian government to fell ancient trees in some of the country’s “most ecologically sensitive” forests to make way for 40 new coalfields. The piece notes that the move “marks a significant shift” as the Indian coal industry is state-owned, but this auction “will see the creation of a privatised, commercial coal sector in India”. Separately, Reuters reports on comments from a government official in Bangladesh stating the nation intends to review the number of future coal-based power plants, “with an eye to reducing its dependence on coal as costs for the fuel rise and power demand grows more slowly than expected”.
BBC News has a piece by environment analyst Roger Harrabin looking at a claim by countryside charity CPRE that emissions from UK peatland could cancel out “all carbon reduction achieved through new and existing forests”.
An interview with BP’s CEO Bernard Looney appears on the front page of the Sunday Times, the weekend after he set out details of the company’s plans to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050. Despite this shift being widely welcomes by green campaigners, Looney reiterated in the interview the importance of fossil fuels to BP’s business. “We are a company that’s 97% hydrocarbons today…That’s where the cash comes from. Without the cash, there isn’t the investment. Do you believe that we have a role? That we should transition? The only possible way to do that is to maintain that existing business. We’re not turning our back on it.” However, he notes that oil is “increasingly becoming socially challenged” amid campaigning by the likes of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg. This is the feature of the interview that is picked up on in an accompanying news piece in the same paper, which notes that according to Looney, BP had been in danger of losing huge numbers of staff before it set out its green ambitions because employees were “disillusioned with the company’s role in fuelling pollution”.
A double-page feature in the Observer by science and environment editor Robin McKie looks at the demise of coal in the UK, based on recent analysis by Carbon Brief’s policy editor Dr Simon Evans showing demand for the fuel is at its lowest for 250 years. Evans is quoted in the piece, stating that “the rate at which we have abandoned the use of coal over the past five years has been extraordinary” and noting the drop from 84m tonnes of coal being burned in 2014 to just 8m tonnes in 2019.
Meanwhile, an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post by Neil Newman, a thematic portfolio strategist focused on Asian equity markets, warns against returning to the “old normal” post-pandemic, particularly when it comes to coal investment in China. It ends by posing the question: “Does the economic reset caused by the virus offer a chance to slow things down permanently and protect the lives of urban residents, not to mention the climate, and let customers wait a little longer for the goods on order?”
An interactive feature for the New York Times looks at how extreme temperatures do not affect everyone in the world equally. “If you’re poor and marginalised, you’re likely to be much more vulnerable to extreme heat. You might be unable to afford an air-conditioner, and you might not even have electricity when you need it. You may have no choice but to work outdoors under a sun so blistering that first your knees feel weak and then delirium sets in. Or the heat might bring a drought so punishing that, no matter how hard you work under the sun, your corn withers and your children turn to you in hunger,” climate reporter Somini Sengupta writes.
Marine heatwaves (MHWs) – extreme sea surface temperature events – have become “longer, more frequent and intense in the Arctic” since 2005, a new study says. Looking different levels of sea ice cover, the research finds that increases in heatwaves have been most prominent in first‐year‐ice (FYI). It says: “Since 2005, MHW in FYI increases remarkably in summer and the extent of the affected area continues to grow northward.” The implication of the findings is that “MHW will keep growing as the extent of FYI in the Arctic increases”.
A new study investigates why some drivers of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) rarely charge their cars. Analysing 30-day charging behaviour of 5,418 PHEV owners in California, the researchers find that several factors play a role in the decision. These include “vehicle characteristics and the availability and cost of charging at various locations”, the authors say, along with “higher home electricity prices, lower electric driving range, lower electric motor power to vehicle weight ratios, lower potential cost savings from charging, and living in an apartment or condo”.
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