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Daily Briefing

12.05.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING EU asks national governments to take the lead on ‘green’ state aid
EU asks national governments to take the lead on ‘green’ state aid

News.

EU asks national governments to take the lead on 'green' state aid

The European Union’s top climate official has encouraged member governments to attach “green conditions” to financial support for coronavirus-hit companies, after the bloc’s executive chose not to do so at the EU level on Monday, Reuters reports. The European Commission, which approves state support schemes, updated its temporary rules on Friday for firms receiving government aid during the pandemic, Reuters reports: “The new rules ban dividends, share buybacks and bonuses for bailed-out companies, for so long as the state holds a stake in them. But they do not attach climate-related conditions to EU approvals of state aid – despite calls from lawmakers and green groups to do so – and instead leave it to national governments to choose to add ‘green strings’ to bailouts.” According to the newswire, in a video call with lawmakers on Monday, EU climate commissioner Frans Timmermans said: “If an airline goes to national authorities and asks for support, I think it is legitimate to ask: ‘What are you going to do for society in return? Are you going to put a cap on bonuses? Are you going to stop paying dividends? Are you going to lower your carbon footprint?’” His comments come as a second Reuters story reports that the UN aviation agency’s planned scheme for offsetting emissions from international flights will supplement, not replace, the European Union carbon market, according to the EU’s transport commissioner. Meanwhile, a third Reuters story reports that many European cities are now “scrambling” to improve bike infrastructure as some return to work, in an attempt to avoid overcrowding on public transport and traffic on roads. The article says: “Britain, a laggard compared to its continental neighbours when it comes to cycling to work, is now encouraging people to get in the saddle as part of a £250m emergency active travel fund announced last week. And in France…the government plans to invest 20m euros to develop and subsidise two-wheel travel.” However, Bloomberg reports road traffic has already started to build up in many parts of Europe, with Germany’s congestion doubling last weekend. The Conversation explores how the UK plans to encourage more people in the UK to cycle via cycle-to-work schemes and pop-up cycle lanes. The news comes as the Guardian reports that most Britons want “quality of life indicators” to take priority over economic indicators in the UK’s plans to ease lockdown measures.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Guardian reports that US president Donald Trump is “dismantling environmental protections under the cover of coronavirus”. The Guardian says: “During the Covid-19 lockdown, US federal agencies have eased fuel-efficiency standards for new cars; frozen rules for soot air pollution; proposed to drop review requirements for liquefied natural gas terminals; continued to lease public property to oil and gas companies; sought to speed up permitting for offshore fish farms; and advanced a proposal on mercury pollution from power plants that could make it easier for the government to conclude regulations are too costly to justify their benefits.” In China, coronavirus recovery is causing infrastructure plans to be put on hold, with potentially negative consequences for environmental measures, the Financial Times reports. The FT says: “Recent progress in ensuring that infrastructure is green, sustainable and resilient may be suspended as governments back away from commitments to deal with longer-term threats such as climate change and rising sea levels.” Reuters reports that, in several parts of Asia, plans for economic recovery from coronavirus “may slow the demise of coal”. However, a second FT story reports that Asian investors are “warming” to the idea of embracing sustainable business targets, following a shift in public attitudes towards to climate change. Kimiko Hirata, director of Kiko Network, a Japanese environmental campaign group, tells the FT: “Public attitudes are changing because climate change has come with floods, typhoons and heatwaves. People feel it is not just in the textbooks any more.” In Brazil, police have been deployed to protect the Amazon rainforest for deforestation amid the pandemic, Reuters says.

Reuters Read Article
BP chief sees risk of oil demand passing peak as pandemic hits

The chief executive of oil company BP has said the impact of coronavirus on crude consumption could endure beyond the pandemic and may even lead to “peak oil”, the FT reports. Bernard Looney, who took the job at the energy firm in February, has told the FT that the Covid-19 crisis was only “adding to the challenges of oil in the years ahead”. He said: “I don’t think we know how this is going to play out. I certainly don’t know. Could it be peak oil? Possibly. Possibly. I would not write that off.” In other energy news, Bloomberg reports that an indicator of China’s coal demand surged almost a third above levels last year as “hotter-than-usual weather and factories rushing to make up for lost orders boosted power demand, spurring a rebound in prices”. It adds: “Coal use by coastal power plants at five major utilities rose for an eighth day to 577,100 tons as of Monday, more than 30% higher than the same period last year and the most since 12 January, data from China Coal Transport & Distribution Association showed.” The news comes as Reuters reports that Chinese officials are taking strides to “clean up” heavy industry in the country. Ministers have criticised the Chinese company Minmetals Corp over its failure to strengthen environmental measures, Reuters says. In the US, the federal government has approved what would become the largest solar project in the country’s history, a separate Reuters story reports. It says: “The Gemini Solar project is expected to generate enough electricity to power 260,000 homes in the Las Vegas area and will include a battery system to store energy for use after the sun goes down.” Bloomberg also covers the story. In Australia, electricity use has declined, but this has not led to a large decline in emissions, the Guardian reports.

Financial Times Read Article
India's carbon emissions fall for first time in four decades

India’s CO2 emissions have fallen for the first time in four decades – “and not just as a result of the country’s coronavirus lockdown”, says BBC News, reporting on Carbon Brief analysis released today. The article says: “Falling electricity use and competition from renewables had weakened the demand for fossil fuels even before the coronavirus hit…However, it was the sudden nationwide lockdown in March that finally tipped the country’s 37-year emissions growth trend into reverse.”

BBC News Read Article
Study pours cold water on oil company net-zero claims

BBC News reports that claims by oil and gas companies that they are curbing their CO2 emissions in line with net zero targets are overstated, according to an independent review. BBC News says: “The independent analysis of six large European corporations acknowledges they have taken big steps on CO2 recently…But the authors say none of the companies are yet aligned with the 1.5C temperature goal.” The research has been carried out by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), an investor-led group which investigates how companies are preparing for the move to a low-carbon economy, BBC News says. The Times and Bloomberg also cover the report.

BBC News Read Article
UK plan for green heating will take 1500 years to hit 2050 target

The UK will not be able to meet its 2050 climate change targets unless much more is done to cut emissions from heating buildings, New Scientist reports. Unless more is done, it will take about 1500 years to meet a heating target for 2050 recommended by the UK’s official advisers on cutting emissions, according to calculations by Jan Rosenow at the Regulatory Assistance Project, New Scientist says.

New Scientist Read Article

Comment.

Going nuclear on climate change?

Foreign Affairs has asked a group of experts to give their opinion on the debate statement: “A global expansion of nuclear energy should be a central piece of the fight against climate change.” The magazine explains: “Participants were asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with a proposition and to rate their confidence level in their opinion.” Experts questioned include: Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; Fiona Harvey, the Guardian’s environment correspondent; and Prof William Nordhaus, a Nobel economist at Yale University.

Foreign Affairs Read Article

Science.

The proportion of soil-borne pathogens increases with warming at the global scale

A new study assesses how global temperature rise affects soil-borne plant pathogens – a “critical” issue for supporting food and fibre production. Using data from a global field survey and a nine-year field experiment, the researchers show that warmer temperatures increase the relative abundance of soil-borne potential fungal plant pathogens. The study also provides a “global atlas of these organisms along with future distribution projections under different climate change and land-use scenarios”. The projections indicate “an overall increase in the relative abundance of potential plant pathogens worldwide”, the authors say.

Nature Climate Change Read Article
Science sidelined in approval of Australia’s largest coal mine

Scientific environmental advice for the proposed Adani coal mine in Australia was “repeatedly ignored or dismissed”, with scientists and agencies “subjected to political pressure”, a new paper says. The authors explain: “Despite repeated advice from multiple independent scientists, governments did not compel the mining company to conduct the investigations required to determine its risks to important nearby groundwater-dependent ecosystems, leaving open the prospect of irreversible ecological and cultural damage.” The paper argues that “this echoes other examples of scientific evidence being ignored where findings clash with political or economic objectives”.

Nature Sustainability Read Article
Climate model projections of 21st century global warming constrained using the observed warming trend

To constrain climate change projections from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6), a new study uses an approach that “gives more weight to models which are better able to match the observed 1970‐2014 warming trend”. The approach “results in only small changes in the mean and lower bound of CMIP6 projected warming”, the researchers say, “but substantially reduces the upper bound of projected early‐, mid‐ and late‐21st century warming under all SSP [Shared Socioeconomic Pathways] scenarios”.

Geophysical Research Letters Read Article

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