Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Coronavirus forces postponement of COP26 meeting in Glasgow
- Oil jumps as Trump talks up truce hopes for Saudi-Russia price war
- Challengers rev their engines to fight Trump's auto emissions weakening
- Substantial recovery of oceans possible by mid century – scientists
- EU carbon market emissions excluding aviation fell 8.7% in 2019
- Cost-benefit analysis in the time of coronavirus and climate change
- Temperate rainforests near the South Pole during peak Cretaceous warmth
- Feedback between drought and deforestation in the Amazon
- Demonstrating GWP*: a means of reporting warming-equivalent emissions...
There is widespread global coverage of the news that the COP26 UN climate summit is being postponed until 2021 on a date yet to be confirmed, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. BBC News says the announcement was made jointly by the UK – which was set to host the summit in Glasgow in November – and the UN climate body UNFCCC, following a virtual meeting of officials. It adds: “It is expected that the conference will now take place by the middle of next year.” The broadcaster reports: “Environmental groups said the decision was understandable.” It also notes that the conference centre due to have hosted the talks is being turned into a temporary hospital, to cope with the virus outbreak. Reuters says the news “throw[s] new uncertainty into talks to tackle warming”. It adds that a separate UN summit on preserving biodiversity, due to have been held in Kunming, China, in October, has also been postponed until next year. The newswire quotes EU climate chief Frans Timmermans saying in a statement: “As for the European Commission, we will not slow down our work domestically or internationally to prepare for an ambitious COP26, when it takes place.” Reuters reports that “some investors, diplomats and campaigners welcomed the postponement, saying it could buy governments time to prepare a more successful outcome than might be possible in the face of a pandemic”. It notes the 3 November US presidential election means the “chessboard of climate diplomacy could also shift significantly before a 2021 summit”, while InsideClimate News says the postponement “gives world leaders time to respond” to the outcome of the election. Climate Home News says a preparatory session of talks due to have been held in Bonn in June will also be delayed until preliminary dates of 4-13 October, with a review in August, news subsequently confirmed in an official UNFCCC release. The website notes that a delayed COP26 could come after publication of the first part of the next climate science assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due in April 2021. The New York Times says the COP26 summit is “widely regarded as the most important climate meeting of the past four years”. The Financial Times says: “The postponement of this year’s talks will mean that countries have more time to come up with new climate targets, but will also mean a delay in the implementation of those targets.” Press Association quotes UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa saying in a statement: “Covid-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term. Soon, economies will restart. This is a chance for nations to recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient.” Sky News quotes a “minister involved in the preparations” saying: “Even if the covid-19 restrictions were lifted by November, [COP26 is] an international negotiation, and if none of the preparatory meetings can go ahead you are negotiating blind.” The news has of the COP26 postponement been reported around the world including by El Mundo, Deutsche Welle, France 24, El País, Nikkei, Agence-France Presse, Washington Post, Les Echos, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Time, Bloomberg, HuffPost, BusinessGreen, i newspaper, Independent, Axios, Politico, Hill, ZDF and the Hindustan Times. Several Scottish publications also have the news, including the Scotsman, Daily Record, Herald and the National. BusinessGreen also has a collection of reaction quotes from key politicians, officials, NGOs, academics, environmental groups and others.
Finally, Climate Home News reports on how “the climate diplomacy that was so critical to leverage governments into strengthening their climate plans this year is moving online”. It notes that virtual meetings “bring their own challenges”, adding: “For many developing countries, where fibre-optic cables are not available and bandwidth is low, connectivity, and therefore participation, has proved difficult at times.” The website quotes climate diplomats, including those representing the Least Developed Countries group and the Alliance of Small Island States, saying that virtual meeting carry risks. One is quoted saying that online meetings tend to focus on “the most important issues for the most important players” and another says “I don’t think having a meeting using technology can help build trust between each other.” The website adds: “Virtual meetings also remove the human contact, personal ties and spontaneity in discussions that have long been the hallmark of diplomatic deal-making. Popular online meeting platforms also don’t support instant translations and negotiators can no longer rely on body language.”
Oil prices rose by 5-6% early today “after US president Donald Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to reach a deal soon to end their oil price war”, Reuters reports. It adds that oil demand has seen a “sharp hit” due to the coronavirus crisis, which has “hammered industrial activity and kept cars off the road”. The newswire quotes analysts at Rystad Energy and S&P Global Platts respectively saying they expect oil demand to drop by 23% year-on-year in April and around 4.5% in 2020 overall. BBC News also has the story. CNN reports that the world could soon run out of space to store oil: “That may plunge prices below zero.” Another Reuters article says that the coronavirus crisis means the oil refining industry is “facing a reckoning from falling fuel demand that is the deepest and fastest ever”. It adds: “The coronavirus outbreak has cut global gasoline demand by 50% and jet fuel demand by 70%, according to consultancy Facts Global Energy.” Reuters also reports that a US shale oil firm, Whiting Energy, has become “the first publicly traded casualty of crashing crude oil prices”, while Axios reports on the “coming shale patch pain for US oil companies”. The Financial Times reports that oil giant BP has “slashe[d] spending to counter [the] oil price collapse”.
Meanwhile, a commentary from the International Energy Agency says the oil industry is facing “a shock like no other in its history” as a result of demand falling “precipitous[ly]” at the same time as a price war sees supply increasing. It continues: “The scale of the collapse in oil demand, in particular, is well in excess of the oil industry’s capacity to adjust. With 3 billion people around the world under some form of lockdown because of the coronavirus, one of the traditional stabilisers for the oil market is missing. Low prices usually stimulate a reaction from consumers, but such a boost to demand is highly unlikely this time around, at least for the duration of the global health emergency.” The piece adds: “Gas demand is less exposed to the immediate effects of the current crisis than oil demand because of its relatively limited use for transport. But industrial and power demand for gas will still be affected by the lockdowns and the ensuing economic slowdown.” Reflecting on the longer-term implications, the IEA commentary concludes: “Today’s crisis comes at a moment when the oil and gas companies were starting to grapple with the implications of energy transitions for their operations and business models. But some of the industry’s angst about the future has now been abruptly fast-forwarded to the present. Although demand for oil will rebound when the crisis eases, the dislocation could accelerate some structural changes in the way the world consumes oil.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times quotes Kari Due-Andresen, chief economist for Norway at lender Handelsbanken, saying: “The oil age, or the good days for the oil sector, is over…What sets us aside is that we have money saved up. We will have to reinvent the economy.”
In other coronavirus-related news, the i newspaper reports that UK wholesale electricity prices have reached a record low “as power demand slumped under tougher social distancing measures”. It says that after the UK lockdown, demand “dropped by 10% almost overnight, according to management consultants BCG and market analytics firm Aurora Energy Research”. Reuters reports that Indian electricity demand fell by 9.2% in March “as lockdown bites”, citing provisional government data. It adds that the country first entered partial lockdown on 22 March. It explains: “Power supplied was over 2% lower in the first three weeks of the month ending March 21. In the 10 days that followed, electricity use fell by about a fifth, an analysis of POSOCO data showed.” Reuters also reports that South African utility firm Eskom “has told independent wind farms that it could buy less of their power in the coming days, as electricity demand has plummeted during a lockdown”. The article continues: “Eskom, which is mired in a financial crisis and has struggled to keep the lights on in the past year, said on Tuesday that power demand had dropped by more than 7,500 megawatts since the lockdown started on Friday and that it had taken offline some of its own generators.” In Vietnam, Reuters reports that power prices are to be cut by 10% for three months “to support people hit by the coronavirus epidemic”. Reuters also reports that a planned power price rise in Nigeria is to be delayed for similar reasons. The Financial Times reports that almost 15m tonnes of steelmaking capacity has been idled in Europe, along with 5m tonnes in the US and 3.3m tonnes in Japan, according to Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore producer.
The Guardian covers the comments of former EU climate chief Miguel Arias Cañete, saying that any financial help for airlines struggling in the wake of the crisis “should come with strict climate conditions”. Reuters reports that Democrats in the US are calling for the release of $25bn in already-approved grants for airlines, designed to cover payroll costs. BusinessGreen reports: “The global wind power industry looks set for yet another record year of growth in 2020, even taking into account dampened activity and supply chain disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF).” Reuters reports that the crisis could “stall a third of new US utility solar this year” and, in another article, says that wind turbine manufacturers have closed their Spanish factories as restrictions in the country tighten. Axios says that in the US the renewables industry is “pressing for the ‘phase 4’ coronavirus response bill to provide the aid that was omitted from the recent $2tn rescue package”. The Hill says that Democratic politicians are pushing for “green infrastructure provisions” in the next coronavirus stimulus package, including for high-speed rail and transport electrification.
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that shares of companies focused on climate change have outperformed during the recent stock market turmoil, according to HSBC. Writing for Climate Home News, Donovan Escalante writes that “investors and policymakers must shift to increase resilience” in the face of shocks such as the current pandemic. Another BusinessGreen article reports that the Scottish government has delayed publication of an updated climate change plan, in response to the coronavirus crisis. Separately, Climate Home News reports that the crisis is reducing the collection of data for weather forecasts and climate monitoring, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. It says that commercial flights collect in-flight measurements of temperatures and wind patterns that are “an important source of information for weather prediction and climate monitoring”.
There is continuing coverage of the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken vehicle efficiency standards. Reuters reports on the expected court challenge to this week’s announcement, saying it “could delay implementation until after the 3 November election”. It explains: “The challengers getting ready to sue – a coalition of more than 20 Democratic-led states as well as environmental groups – are planning to target much of the analysis and underlying assumptions used by the administration in crafting the plan, which ditches the Obama-era requirement of 5% annual increases in efficiency for cars and trucks through 2026 in favour of 1.5% annual increases.” Axios also reports on the “battle lines” being drawn over the move, while E&E News says the stage is set for “a prolonged legal feud”. InsideClimate News says the change would the “largest anti-climate rollback ever”, adding that the Obama-era rules would have saved 6bn tonnes of CO2. DeSmog reports that an appeals court ruling yesterday found that the US Environmental Protection Agency could not “withhold one key part of a computer model used by the agency to develop its less stringent greenhouse gas emission standards”. The Hill also reports on the ruling, saying: “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was wrong to withhold information about how it devised its new fuel efficiency standards, a panel of judges ruled just a day after the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era mileage standards.” In the New York Times, a comment piece from Daniel Becker and James Gerstenzang says: “President Trump’s rollback on Tuesday of stringent automobile mileage and emissions standards torpedoes the biggest single step any nation has taken to fight the climate crisis. In dispensing with Obama-era rules in the name of imaginary regulatory reform, he will damage the health of the planet, our pocketbooks and even the very auto industry he thinks will benefit.”
Greenhouse gas emissions covered by the EU Emissions Trading System fell by 8.7% in 2019, Reuters reports, citing “preliminary like-for-like European Commission data examined by carbon analysts at Refinitiv”. It says emissions fell even faster, by 14% last year, in the power sector, where “coal-fired output was replaced by gas-fired generation and renewable power such as wind and solar”. In contrast, Reuters says, industrial emissions fell by just 2.7%. Bloomberg also reports the news, citing a slightly lower estimate for the overall reduction in 2019 of 8.3%, from BloombergNEF. It explains that the data for 2019 is so far only 90% complete.
“Like climate economics, the economics of Covid-19 mean we need to take aggressive action, not incremental steps,” writes climate economist Gernot Wagner in a comment for Bloomberg. As with climate change, Wagner writes: “With Covid-19, too, talk has shifted quickly to how ‘economists’ or ‘economics’ supposedly butt heads with public health. The truth is anything but.” He points to examples of this argument including editorials in the Wall Street Journal before adding: “Covid-19 has prompted a slew of benefit-cost analyses – from quick Twitter takes, to blogs, to rapid turn-around epidemiological-economic models. The verdict in virtually all of them is clear: shutting down the economy to contain the spread of the virus is worth the costs.” Wagner continues: “How then did there ever appear an apparent rift between economic and public health? In short, thanks to ideologues and wishful thinking…One truly has to start at the ideological deep end to conclude that physical distancing cannot be the answer to Covid-19. The fulcrum of this fringe appears to be New York University School of Law professor and Hoover Institution fellow Richard A. Epstein” He adds: “It should come as little surprise that Epstein also plays down the evidence of climate change. In both cases, the basis of his arguments appears to be that if any kind of governmental policy is the most sensible answer, the problem must not exist.”
In a comment for Newsweek, Lawrence Torcello and Michael Mann write: “Watching the Covid-19 outbreak unfold is like watching a time lapse of the climate change crisis. As with climate change, our response to Covid-19 requires intellectual humility. We must take the warnings and recommendations of science seriously; in both cases lives depend upon informed responses…As with climate change, theoretical models have proven essential for anticipating what is likely to happen in the future.”
New research presents evidence that the parts of West Antarctica was covered with temperate rainforests during the mid-Cretaceous period – one of the warmest intervals of the past 140m years. The researchers discovered “an intact three-metre-long network of in situ fossil roots embedded in a mudstone matrix containing diverse pollen and spores”. The team reconstructed the climate that would allow temperate plants to live at such a high latitude. They find that it “requires a combination of both atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 1,120–1,680 parts per million by volume and a vegetated land surface without major Antarctic glaciation”.
Global climate change, not deforestation, is “the main driver of recent drying in the Amazon”, a new study suggests. The researchers “quantify the interactions between drought and deforestation spatially across the Amazon during the early 21st century”. The results suggest that “with every mm of water deficit, deforestation tends to increase by 0.13% per year”, the study says, while “deforestation, in turn, has caused an estimated 4% of the recent observed drying”. This means that climate change is the primary driver of “drought-facilitated forest loss”, the authors conclude, however, they also note that “a feedback between drought and deforestation implies that increases in either of them will impede efforts to curb both”. Carbon Brief recently published a guest post about how climate change and deforestation threaten Amazon dieback.
A new paper continues to explore the idea for a new way to estimate the CO2-equivalence of different greenhouse gases (GHGs). While the 100-year Global Warming Potential, or “GWP100”, is typically used, the researchers have previously put forward “GWP*” as an alternative. In this approach, the CO2-equivalence of short-lived climate pollutant emissions “is predominantly determined by changes in their emission rate” and “provides a straightforward means of generating warming-equivalent emissions”, the authors argue. They look at the contrasting climate impacts of methane, a short-lived GHG, and CO2 for a number of simple emissions scenarios. The findings illustrate that “GWP* allows warming-equivalent emissions to be calculated directly from CO2-equivalent emissions reported using GWP100, consistent with the Paris Rulebook agreed by the UNFCCC, on condition that short-lived and cumulative climate pollutants are aggregated separately, which is essential for transparency”. Carbon Brief has previously published a guest post on GWP*.
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