Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Coronavirus: UK warned to avoid climate change crisis
- French energy major Total targets net-zero emissions by 2050
- Big is not so beautiful in Grid talks to power down
- One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study
- Climate change: Could the coronavirus crisis spur a green recovery?
- The climate change evidence right before our eyes
- Why is the Mediterranean a climate change hotspot?
- Using remote sensing to detect, validate, and quantify methane emissions from California solid waste operations
The UK government has been urged by its advisors on climate change to ensure funds earmarked for a post-Covid-19 economic recovery go to firms that will reduce carbon emissions, reports BBC News. In a letter to the prime minister, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) outlines six principles for a resilient recovery. The letter has also been sent to first ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, notes Reuters. The Committee wants the government to prioritise investment in low-carbon, resilient infrastructure and has called for an expansion of tree-planting programmes, peatland restoration, green spaces and green infrastructure, says BusinessGreen, adding: “It has also asked the government to introduce measures that encourage walking, cycling, and working remotely.” The CCC says the government should avoid “locking in” greenhouse gas emission and climate risks at all costs, and tax policies should be leveraged to incentivise emissions reduction, for example by setting or raising carbon prices for high-emissions sectors, the website adds. The letter also argues any bailouts of carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on commitments to take “real and lasting” action on climate change. BBC News describes this as “veiled reference to the current discussions over a potential government bailout to save jobs in aviation”.
On aviation, there is wide coverage of job cuts at Virgin Atlantic as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. The Times reports: “Virgin Atlantic is to cut 3,150 jobs, about a third of its workforce, and will quit Gatwick airport after failing to secure a government bailout”. The Guardian says: “Virgin said it could take three years for flight numbers to return to 2019 levels, and that it had to cut jobs to survive.” Virgin Atlantic said it will move its flying programme from Gatwick to Heathrow, but intended to keep its slots at Gatwick “so it can return in line with customer demand”, reports BBC News. Virgin will also retire its seven Boeing 747s, notes Sky News, reducing its fleet from 43 planes to 36. In an internal post to staff, seen by the Financial Times, Shai Weiss, chief executive at Virgin Atlantic, warned current cost measures and support packages were “not enough”. He wrote: “If we are to safeguard our future and emerge from this crisis a sustainably profitable business, now is the time for further decisive action to reduce our costs and preserve cash.“ Virgin Group, which owns 51% of Virgin Atlantic, is “racing to find new investors within the next month as the airline fights for its survival”, adds the FT, noting: “It has also been in talks with the UK government for the past month over a £500m bailout of commercial loans and guarantees. However, its initial plan was rejected last month after the government was left unimpressed by its failure to seek investment elsewhere. It continues to be in ‘constructive’ talks with the government.” Virgin says that it was continuing to “explore all available options to obtain additional external funding”, reports CityAM. At the same time, green campaigners have written to chancellor Rishi Sunak to seek assurances that his department will impose strict carbon-cutting conditions on airlines in return for any bailout, reports the i newspaper. The letter, written by lawyers on behalf of climate change charity Possible, warns that unconditional support could be in breach of the UK domestic climate targets and international commitments, the paper adds.
French energy company Total yesterday announced new plans to aim for net-zero emissions by 2050, Reuters reports. The plans target net-zero emissions across its global operations by 2050, and net-zero on all operations and energy products in Europe by 2050 or sooner, the outlet says. In a statement, CEO Patrick Pouyanne said: “Energy markets are changing, driven by climate change, technology and societal expectations. Total is committed to helping solve the dual challenge of providing more energy with fewer emissions.” As part of the new strategy, Total says it intends to ramp up its investments in low-carbon energy sources – from 10% of capital spend to 30% by the end of the decade, reports BusinessGreen. The Financial Times notes that the announcement comes “despite an earnings hit from the oil price plunge triggered by the coronavirus pandemic”. It adds: “Like European supermajors BP and Shell, the French group is sticking with climate goals despite the financial impact of a collapse in oil demand. Its net adjusted profit fell 35% in the first quarter compared with the same period last year to $1.78bn.” The Wall Street Journal and Axios also have the story. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the CEO of Spanish oil and gas firm Repsol says that its own net-zero goal will not mean the company will stop producing oil. Josu Jon Imaz said: “In 2040, 40% of the energy basket in the world is going to still be oil and gas, so we are not going to exit the oil and gas sector.”
In other oil related news, the FT reports that the US’s biggest oil refiner, Marathon Petroleum, posted a first-quarter loss of $9.2bn as the worldwide coronavirus lockdown hit fuel demand. In Argentina, “biodiesel exports have ground to a complete halt due to the coronavirus pandemic hammering demand in Europe”, reports Reuters. The newswire also reports that “Texas energy regulators on Tuesday said they will not mandate oil production cuts, ending a month-long debate about whether or not they would wade into global oil politics for the first time in 50 years”. Meanwhile, the CEO of Vitol – the world’s biggest oil trader – tells Reuters that “the worst is over” for oil market volatility. Russell Hardy says that global oil demand sank by 26-27m barrels per day (bpd) in April and predicts a year-on-year drop of over 8m bpd, the newswire reports. He adds the “the mist is becoming a little clearer” in the short term. The Times says “oil prices have risen to above $30 a barrel for the first time in three weeks amid hopes that there will be a recovery in demand as lockdown measures start to ease”. And Foreign Policy reports on how Saudi Arabia could be the “unlikely winner” from the oil crash. Finally, the FT reports on how Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex has gone “from cash cow to resource drain”, and Politico and Axios report that oil lobbyists in the US are pushing back against the country’s largest banks after several of them ruled out financial support for oil drilling projects in the Arctic.
More than £50m could be paid to EDF to reduce power output from the UK’s largest nuclear reactor and avert the risk of blackouts this summer, reports the Times. It continues: “National Grid is negotiating with the French energy group to halve generation from Sizewell B in Suffolk as part of a series of measures to help it to keep the lights on.” The coronavirus lockdown has caused a drop in electricity demand that is making it harder for National Grid to manage the system, the paper explains, with the company warning of a “significant risk of disruption to security of supply” over this coming Bank Holiday weekend unless it is granted emergency powers to disconnect excess solar and wind farms.
There is continued coverage of a new study on a projected shift in the “climate niche” in which humans have lived for at least 6,000 years. The Guardian says the study “shows a billion people will either be displaced or forced to endure insufferable heat for every additional 1C rise in the global temperature”. Study co-author Prof Tim Lenton tells BBC News: “The study hopefully puts climate change in a more human terms”. How many people will end up at risk depends on how much CO2 emissions, which trap heat, are reduced and how quickly the world population grows, notes the Independent. Under very high emissions, a “third of Earth’s population will be forced to either abandon their homes or attempt to survive in near-unlivable’ conditions”, says the Sun. This projection is based on the scenario known as “RCP8.5”, notes BusinessGreen, which has been “the subject of a fierce debate between climate scientists and energy analysis in recent months”. It continues: “Some analysts have argued that RCP8.5 is based on emissions continuing to increase drastically in the coming decades and as such is unduly pessimistic given the global shift towards cleaner sources of energy. However, others have countered that the level of greenhouse gas emissions envisioned under RCP8.5 could feasibly occur by the end of the century, especially given the potential for emission-releasing feedback loops.” See more in Carbon Brief’s explainers on RCP8.5 and carbon cycle feedbacks. Also, see yesterday’s briefing for more coverage of the study.
BBC News environment analyst Roger Harrabin takes a closer look at the potential for an environmentally focused economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic. He writes: “Governments currently face a stark choice: bail out polluting businesses, using that as leverage to impose environmentally-minded reforms, or let them return to their carbon-intensive activities as an economic quick fix.” For those “seeking a greener way out of the Covid-19 slump, renewable energy will help, along with electric vehicle charging points and broadband”, says Harrabin. But “should cash go exclusively to self-evidently green sectors like solar power – or to dirty firms trying to clean up?”, he asks, noting that “the UK’s oil and gas industry warns that 30,000 jobs could be lost because of the pandemic and the current low oil price”. Ultimately, he ponders “why would governments support a commodity that’s fuelling the climate crisis, which is judged by the UN to be deeper than the Covid-19 crisis?”
The Harrabin article is one of a group of new BBC News pieces on climate change published as part of its year-long “Our Planet Matters” series. Environment correspondent Matt McGrath has five charts that explain the impacts of the Covid-19 lockdown on climate change. These include projections of how CO2 emissions are expected to fall this year – McGrath cites analysis by the International Energy Agency and Carbon Brief. The other articles include a “really simple guide” to climate change and a filmed report on how campaigners are finding alternative ways to protest about climate change amid the lockdown. Elsewhere, in the Daily Telegraph, Rupert Darwall – who writes for the climate-sceptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation – rails against the “net-zero mania that threatens to derail our lockdown recovery”.
John Mecklin, editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, introduces a special issue of the journal dedicated to the “indisputable evidence that climate change is happening right now, right before our eyes”. A series of features show that climate change “is not some vague theoretical effect that will come in the year 2100. It is here, now.”, he says. These articles include interviews with oceanographer Dr Peter Davis about the changes to Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, biologist Prof Pamela Templer on how New Hampshire’s forests are seeing warmer winters and less snow, and climate scientist Dr Brian Brettschneider on how climate change has already arrived in the Arctic. The special issue also includes articles on whether the US military is prepared for a changing climate and how scientists know the Earth is warming and humans are responsible.
Climate change is expected to drive rainfall increases in many world regions, but in the Mediterranean, winter rainfall is expected to decline by up to 40% as a result of warming. A new study investigates why this could be and finds that the rainfall decline could be driven by “a reduction in the regional land-sea temperature gradient characteristic of this region” and by “robust changes” to the troposphere, the lowest region of the atmosphere where much weather originates. “Our findings pave the way for better understanding and improved modelling of future Mediterranean hydroclimate,” the authors say.
Methane emissions from landfill and organic composting sites could be higher than previously estimated, according to a new study using remote sensing in California. The California Methane Survey flew a drone equipped with infrared imaging technology over 270 landfills and 166 organic waste facilities repeatedly during 2016–2018 to quantify their contribution to the statewide methane budget. Among their findings, the authors note “unexpected large emissions from two organic waste management methods (composting and digesting) that were originally intended to help mitigate solid waste emissions.”
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