Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Coronavirus: 'Nature is sending us a message’, says UN environment chief
- EU carbon market ‘the first victim’ as electricity demand collapses
- Oil price may fall to $10 a barrel as world runs out of storage space
- Oil industry faces biggest crisis in 100 years
- How eco-activists can use this terrible moment to help save the planet
- Doubling of US population exposure to climate extremes by 2050
The UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, says nature is sending humanity “a message” with the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, according to the Guardian. In an “exclusive” interview with the newspaper, the Danish environmentalist warns that while the immediate goal should be to prevent the spread of the virus, the long-term response must tackle habitat and biodiversity loss. “We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves. And as we hurtle towards a population of 10bn people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally.”
Reuters reports on comments by Chris Stark, chief executive of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, who tells the newswire that the large stimulus packages being rolled out to address the coronavirus crisis should also help tackle climate change. He says there should be no “false security” from a dip in CO2 emissions resulting from the pandemic: “The question is what happens after. We locked in higher global CO2 emissions after the last global financial crisis.“ Another Reuters article examines the idea of “green stimulus” and considers what other European nations are currently doing. A Guardian piece covers the “growing chorus” of environmentalists telling governments that coronavirus economic rescue plans “must be green”, including calls for a just transition away from heavy polluting industries. It quotes Shaun Spiers, executive director of the Green Alliance thinktank, who says: “Diluting or doing away with environmental regulations to get a quick economic hit, as China and Poland are suggesting, would be misplaced”. BusinessGreen says “battle lines” over green recovery are being drawn in the US as well, while the Independent reports that the Trump administration is “barrelling ahead” with environmental rollbacks. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that European airlines “crippled by the coronavirus” have demanded relief from environmental taxes in a move “that pits their immediate survival against longer term emissions goals”.
In more coronavirus news, climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg tells New Scientist she and her father both experienced symptoms of Covid-19 after a train tour of Europe and had self isolated.
Every European nation has seen electricity demand decrease by 2-7% week-on-week due to strengthening measures to contain coronavirus, according to new research by climate thinktank Ember, reported by EurActiv. In Italy, where the outbreak has been particularly severe, the fall in electricity demand reached 20% over the past fortnight. The news website says some analysts are calling for “urgent measures” to prevent the EU carbon market from collapsing, warning it could become “the first victim” of the slump due to an oversupply of CO2 allowances. Bloomberg reports that “with many flights grounded and carbon prices on the slide, auctions scheduled for new permits in the EU Emissions Trading System are about double the normal size”, noting this raises the risk that one of the auctions will fail. BusinessGreen has a piece looking at how falling power demand across Europe is impacting green energy.
The world may soon run out of space to store its extra oil amidst the on-going pandemic, according to analysis covered by the Guardian. The newspaper reports that, according to work by Rystad Energy, oil storage levels are about three-quarters full on average following the January shutdown of major refineries in China in a bid to curb the virus’s spread. Nevertheless, it notes that Saudi Arabia is continuing to increase its fossil-fuel production, with one analyst noting that: “At the current storage filling rate, prices are destined to follow the same fate as they did in 1998, when Brent [oil] fell to an all-time low of less than $10 per barrel”. Reuters reports that China’s oil imports in the first two months of 2020 from Saudi Arabia are 26% higher than a year earlier, while purchases from Russia are 11% higher. According to the Hill, the US is “pushing ahead” with oil drilling rights sales even as prices plummet and a bipartisan group of lawmakers has written to Congress asking for assistance for fossil-fuel workers during the pandemic.
An opinion piece by Financial Times energy editor David Sheppard warns that it is “no exaggeration” to say the oil industry “faces its gravest crisis of the past 100 years”. He says that as western economies “hunker down” and enter “hibernation” in a bid to put an end to the disease’s spread, oil prices have roughly halved since the start of the month. According to Sheppard, the latest estimates suggest 10-25% of global consumption “could vanish” in the coming months: “Such is the scale of the demand collapse that it risks overshadowing the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, who are flooding the market with unnecessary barrels after falling out over how to respond to the crisis. But there is little doubt their actions have exacerbated the crash and lengthened the timeline of recovery.” He says as storage facilities fill up, respite will only come when the most expensive oil production shuts down or weaker producers go bust. Describing the short-term prospects as “a hellscape”, he says “the long-term outlook is arguably not that much better” for an industry already raising concerns about peak demand and environmental impacts. “For some the oil industry might seem a deserving victim. Its arrogance over climate change – only partially reversed in recent years – has cost it many sympathisers. But you do not have to think charitably towards the sector to realise there is a tragedy in waiting…If the price slump means these poorest producers struggle to fund their own national responses to the pandemic, the crisis for them will be felt most keenly of all.”
As the pandemic continues to spread, there are more comment pieces considering the interplay between coronavirus and climate change. A piece in Salon concludes that “one major lesson from the pandemic is that “we can save the planet from climate change”, noting the widespread reductions in emissions and air pollution levels: “Environmental activists should use this moment in history to help people understand that we can, we should and we must make changes to our behaviour, our lifestyles and our consumption habits.” A piece in Climate Home News looks at the importance of grassroots climate movements in building resilience, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
An article by George Monbiot in the Guardian echoes comments made by the UN’s environment chief in the same paper (above), calling the outbreak “nature’s wake-up call to complacent civilisation”. He also notes that “some of those who have dismissed other threats, such as climate breakdown, also seek to downplay the threat of Covid-19”. Another Guardian piece by global environment editor Jonathan Watts continues this theme: “This pandemic has amplified the importance of assessing and controlling risk before it gets out of hand. But the political champions of the neoliberal right, such as Trump and Bolsonaro, are more inclined to deny and delay, as climate politics have shown us in recent years”. He concludes that going forward “instead of deferring risks to future generations, weaker populations and natural systems, governments need to transform risks into responsibilities we all bear”. In Time magazine, Justin Worland examines “what coronavirus means for the possibility of a carbon-free economy”.
Uncontrolled climate change could lead to a doubling of the number of people in the US exposed to extreme hot days, warm nights, and drought conditions by 2050, a study finds. “Based on the current population distribution, this unprecedented change implies a yearly exposure to extreme conditions for one in every three people,” the authors say. The researchers add that the US has already experienced a rise in the occurrence of aggregated extremes in recent decades.
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