Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU climate neutrality goal not negotiable amid pandemic: lawmakers
- Amid pandemic, US renewable power sources have topped coal for 40 days
- Billions could live in extreme heat zones within decades, study finds
- The Times view on the new generation of pre-manufactured housing: Prefab fabulous
- Ecosystem state change in the Arabian Sea fuelled by the recent loss of snow over the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau region
- Coldest Canadian Arctic communities face greatest reductions in shorefast sea ice
- The influence of feeding behaviour and temperature on the capacity of mosquitoes to transmit malaria
There is continued coverage of how plans for a coronavirus recovery should address climate change, with European Union lawmakers stating on Monday that the pandemic should not soften the bloc’s long-term climate goals, Reuters reports. EU lawmakers doubled down on their target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in a debate over the bloc’s planned 7.5bn euro ($8.2bn) “Just Transition Fund” to help high-carbon regions shift away from fossil fuels, Reuters says. Alexandr Vondra, the Czech lawmaker guiding parliament’s talks on the fund, had suggested the pandemic could require the 2050 climate goal to be delayed, but received no support from fellow states, Reuters says. Meanwhile, a second Reuters story notes greenhouse gas emissions regulated under Europe’s carbon market fell by 8.7% last year, with a large fall from the power industry helping to offset a small increase from aviation. The Guardian reports that a leading Australian business group is also calling for coronavirus and climate change to be tackled together. Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, representing more than 60,000 businesses, told the Guardian that economic recovery from the virus and the transition required to meet net-zero emissions by 2050 are overlapping issues that should be taken on together. This call was echoed by leading global investor groups “that together manage trillions of dollars in assets”, according to Reuters. Investors said rich nations must lead the way in making pandemic recovery plans green, according to Reuters. Climate activists in Switzerland are also demanding a “green recovery” after coronavirus, a separate Reuters story reports. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that France and the Netherlands have issued a joint call for tougher enforcement of environmental and labour standards in EU trade deals. The two countries are urging the EU to be prepared to impose higher tariffs against countries that flout sustainable development commitments, the FT says.
Elsewhere, several outlets report on a new study finding a “green” coronavirus recovery would be the most cost-effective way both to revive virus-hit economies and tackle climate change. Bloomberg reports that the conclusion “comes from a survey of more than 200 central bankers, G-20 finance minsters, and top academics from across 53 countries, conducted by a group of star economists that includes Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, among others”. The results were released today in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Bloomberg adds. The authors examined more than 700 economic stimulus policies launched during or since the 2008 financial crisis, Reuters reports. “The results suggested that green projects, such as boosting renewable energy or energy efficiency create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns and lead to increased long-term cost savings relative to traditional stimulus measures.” The Sydney Morning Herald and ITV News also have the story. Carbon Brief carries a guest post taking an in-depth look at the study’s findings written by two of its authors.
Electricity generated by renewable sources, such as solar, wind and hydro, has exceeded coal-fired power in the US for a record 40 days, Reuters reports. “The boost for renewables is due to a seasonal increase in low-cost solar and hydro power generation, alongside an overall slump in electricity demand caused by coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders,” says Reuters. The findings come from a report based on US government data from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Reuters adds. Meanwhile, India’s solar and gas-fired electricity generation rose in April even as overall power demand fell at the steepest monthly rate in at least thirteen years, according to a second Reuters story. The article says: “Electricity generation from coal – India’s primary source of electricity – fell 32.3% to 1.91bn units per day, the data showed, with its contribution to overall electricity generation falling to 65.5%, compared with an average of over 73.7% last year.” The Financial Times reports that thermal coal prices have “collapsed” as coronavirus has slashed demand. The FT says: “Prices for the fossil fuel – used to generate electricity in power stations – held up during the early part of the pandemic crisis before tumbling over the past month. The drop in demand from industries such as car manufacturing has more than outweighed the bump from home usage. This overall fall in consumption has been particularly pronounced in Europe, where the UK has gone a record-breaking 24 days without using the fuel.” A second FT story reports that “oil’s cruelest month has forced a rethink on production”.
Elsewhere, many report on how the ongoing pandemic could shape changes to transport. BBC News reports that the French government has told Air France that it must cut domestic flights in order to receive a state loan. Air France should become “the most environmentally respectful airline”, France’s economy minister Bruno Le Maire told France Inter Radio, according to BBC News. The i newspaper reports that London is to clear streets for walking and cycling to discourage people from driving as they return to work. “Research last week revealed that Britons are wary of returning to public transport after the lockdown, with more than 60% expressing discomfort at the thought of bus or train travel,” the i says. The mayor’s office fears that a switch to driving could overcrowd roads, adds the newspaper. However, the UK Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the cost of public transport should be increased in the event of lockdown ending to prevent overcrowding on public transport, the Guardian reports. “Among further steps that could be taken to reopen the economy after more than a month of tough controls across Britain, the IFS suggested that tax breaks could be offered to firms that keep their staff working at home,” the Guardian adds. BBC News reports that new car registrations in the UK have hit their lowest level since World War 2. Only about 4,000 cars were registered in April, compared 161,000 in the same month last year, BBC News says. Ian Plummer, commercial director at online marketplace Auto Trader, tells BBC News that the pause could provide a chance “for the industry to accelerate the adoption of low emission vehicles” when restrictions lift. “However, it’ll be essential for manufacturers to push more electric vehicles into their UK networks along with greater financial incentives,” such as scrappage schemes, he said, according to BBC News. The FT reports that German carmakers are to meet with German officials to also discuss the introduction of scrappage schemes to boost demand. “Any such scheme is likely to focus on subsidies for low-emission cars, in particular electric vehicles,” the FT says. Meanwhile, a second FT story that Canada is to open the first plant supplying cobalt for electric cars in North America.
Many publications report on a study finding that billions of people could live in extreme heat by 2070 if little is done to tackle climate change. The New York Times reports that, “under a worst scenario, based on emissions of greenhouse gases continuing to increase substantially in coming decades”, as many as 3.5 billion people, or one-third of the projected population by 2070, could live in areas that are considered unsuitably hot for humans. “If emissions decline and warming slows, the number of people affected could drop to about a billion,” the New York Times adds. The i newspaper reports that the scientists defined “extreme heat” as regions with an average annual temperature of above 29C, which is “hotter than the Sahara desert and far beyond comfortable thresholds for human populations”. The Washington Post reports that, according to the results, for every 1C of global average warming, one billion people will “have to adapt or migrate to stay within climate conditions that are best suited for crop production, livestock and a sustainable outdoor work environment”. Earther also reports on the paper: “The study uses RCP8.5, a scenario where carbon emissions rise on an extreme level, to model what the end of the century would look…The results are truly shocking in map form. Nearly all of Brazil will become essentially uninhabitable, as will huge chunks of the Middle East and India, showing the poorest areas will be hit the hardest.” The research is also covered by, among others, the Sydney Morning Herald, USA Today and InsideClimate News.
An editorial in the Times argues that factory-built homes could “improve housing and make it greener”. The editorial reads: “Pre-made houses are also better for the planet. They require fewer lorry deliveries, meaning lower emissions, and less heat seeps out through their precisely constructed doors, windows and roofs. And without all the sawing and hammering on site, they are better for neighbours too.”
Elsewhere, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal criticises a recent Harvard University study finding there could be a link between air pollution and higher death rates from Covid-19. It says: “You knew it was coming – the political link between the coronavirus and climate change. And right on time the opponents of fossil fuels are flogging a sloppy study that ties pollutants to coronavirus deaths.” In the Daily Mail, climate-sceptic columnist Richard Littlejohn says the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion has “gone off the rails” by blockading construction sites for HS2, a new high speed rail network in the UK.
Rising global temperatures and the loss of snow cover in the Himalayas is causing blooms of a harmful algae in the Arabian Sea, a new study suggests. Using field data, laboratory experiments and satellite imagery, the researchers find that the decline in snow in the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau region is weakening winter monsoon winds. This is reducing mixing of waters in the Arabian Sea, the researchers say, which is giving one particular type of algae – Noctiluca scintillans, also known as “sea sparkle” – a competitive advantage. The range expansion of the blooms “represents a significant and growing threat for regional fisheries and the welfare of coastal populations dependent on the Arabian Sea for sustenance”, the study concludes.
“Shorefast” sea ice – immobile sea ice frozen to the shore that forms along the Arctic coastline during winter and spring – is likely to breakup earlier in the year because of warming temperatures, a new study suggests. The researchers use 19 years of near-daily satellite imagery to document the timing of shorefast ice breakup in 28 communities in northern Canada and western Greenland that rely on shorefast ice for transportation and traditional subsistence activities. The study projects that the average spring shorefast ice season could be shortened by seven, nine and 20 days by 2100 under RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively. The researchers note that “paradoxically, the coldest communities are projected to experience the largest reductions in springtime ice season duration”.
A new study sheds light on the impact of temperature fluctuations on the capacity of mosquitoes to transmit the infectious disease malaria. In laboratory experiments, the researchers find that the “competence” of mosquitoes to spread malaria was highest for those feeding in the evening and lowest in the morning. The differences appear to be “due to thermal sensitivity of malaria parasites during the initial stages of parasite development within the mosquito”, the researcher say, adding: “Mosquitoes feeding in the evening experience cooling temperatures during the night, whereas mosquitoes feeding in the morning quickly experience warming temperatures that are inhibitory to parasite establishment.”
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