Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU grapples with melding pandemic recovery and climate agenda
- BP profits dive 66% as coronavirus hits oil demand
- Solar and wind cheapest sources of power in most of the world
- Australia: Emissions sink for first time in years as power sector pollution falls
- Now is the time to plan the economic recovery the world needs
- How can we prevent this happening again?
- Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans gets clean energy and climate activism terribly wrong
- A (mis)alignment of farmer experience and perceptions of climate change in the US inland Pacific Northwest
European leaders have been debating how best to spend trillions of euros in coronavirus recovery funds to create a greener economy for the continent, the Financial Times reports. Speaking at an online climate summit titled the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, German chancellor Angela Merkel told those listening “it is important that recovery programmes keep an eye on the climate. We must not sideline climate but invest in climate technologies”. The chancellor’s comments were echoed by the UN secretary-general António Guterres, who told the virtual conference that “where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth”, according to the Guardian. The Financial Times notes that the European Commission has said it will stick to the targets set out in its Green Deal, including achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In her speech at the German-organised event, Merkel also reaffirmed her support for raising the EU’s 2030 emissions reduction target from 40% to 50% or even 55%, according to EurActiv. However, the piece also notes that “Germany has so far bailed out its fossil fuel industry like no other EU member state”, and a piece from the previous day in the same publication states that “German ambitions remain blurry”. Climate Home News reports on further comments from the German chancellor that rich nations must not forget their commitments to other countries, and besides bailing out their own industries must also increase financial support to the most vulnerable countries. Ahead of the meeting France called for the EU to use taxes or carbon markets to stop “extremely low prices” on fossil fuels, of the kind seen during this pandemic, from disrupting climate ambitions, Reuters reports. The article states that other EU member states – including the Netherlands and Austria – also back this proposal for a fossil fuel price floor during coronavirus recovery. Meanwhile, EurActiv reports that a paper circulated by Poland ahead of the talks warns economic slowdown caused by the pandemic “may lead to undermining energy security and the speed of clean energy transitions”.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said in a pre-recorded video message broadcast at the event that it is “duty of every responsible government” to keep the climate in mind during economic recovery, BusinessGreen reports. As the event drew to a close Alok Sharma, the president of the delayed UN climate summit, COP26, which is set to be held in Glasgow, “doubled down” on this sentiment and said the UK would take a leading role in raising the bar on climate action, according to the news website. Another BusinessGreen piece notes the conclusion of a new report that finds Covid-19 stimulus packages are “already benefitting high carbon industries”. Overall, Bloomberg reports that the Petersberg Dialogue, which is usually held in Berlin, served as a “test-case for virtual diplomacy”, and while it “suffered from frustrating technical glitches” there was also broad consensus that the “moment is ripe for action”.
BP’s first quarter profits have dropped by two thirds as the coronavirus pandemic hits oil demand and the company faces an “exceptional level of uncertainty”, BBC News reports. The firm said it would keep paying shareholders a dividend, despite oil prices falling to 20-year lows as demand plummets, and US oil even turning negative in value briefly last week. Chief executive Bernard Looney told the Financial Times that “the environment is brutal”, but said the company would not relax its net-zero commitment, noting the climate debate is not “going away” and may even be enhanced by the current situation. A piece by the newspaper’s energy editor David Sheppard explains why, amidst this chaos in the industry, “the oil market is even weaker than you think”. Reuters reports that “from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to Nigeria and Angola”, oil companies are haggling with national governments about how to share out the “pain” caused by production cuts, low oil prices and depressed fuel sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. The piece notes that the unprecedented output reductions “are impossible in most nations without the help of majors”. The Guardian reports that the pandemic “could prompt collapse of controversial fracking project” in Argentina.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that the Trump administration is offering a stream of “increasingly urgent ideas” in a desperate bid to prop up the nation’s oil producers. Meanwhile in more bad news for the industry, Reuters says US oil and gas pipelines may be put on hold after a court ruled that the Keystone XL had not been the subject of adequate consultation with federal agencies on risks to the environment.
Finally, Bloomberg reports that besides the oil industry’s struggles, the current pandemic is also “accelerating coal’s demise” as demand around the world falls. There is continued coverage of the story from yesterday that Great Britain has set a new record for coal-free power generation, and reports from both the Press Association and the Independent cite Carbon Brief’s analysis of the news.
Solar and onshore wind power are the cheapest new sources of electricity for at least two-thirds of the world’s population, according to a new report produced by BloombergNEF and reported on the Bloomberg news site. It concludes the levelised cost of electricity for onshore wind projects has fallen by 9% since the second half of last year, while the cost of solar power declined by 4%. The piece states this technology “could squeeze out coal and natural gas when utilities develop new power plants”. A piece in CapX states the UK renewables sector has held up “remarkably well” during the coronavirus crisis, and emphasises the role the industry can play in the nation’s recovery. The i newspaper reports that, as the UK comes to the end of what is set to be the sunniest April since records began, the month also brought “record-breaking” levels of solar power – with panels delivering 11% of the UK electricity demand last week.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports the global wind power industry, which was expecting 2020 to be a significant year, is under threat as coronavirus restrictions hit supply chains.
Australian emissions fell by 0.9% in 2019, the first annual decline in four years, as renewables made a dent in coal’s dominance in the nation’s power sector, according to analysis by environmental consultants Ndevr and reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. Renewable energy including wind and solar is the main driver behind the drop in greenhouse gas emissions, the piece says, with some states such as New South Wales and Victoria sourcing around a fifth of their power from these sources in the final quarter. Meanwhile, a piece in the Guardian reports on more analysis by consultancy RepuTex which finds Australia could get 90% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2040 without increasing power prices.
A blog post by International Energy Agency head Fatih Birol looks at how best to plan the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic via clean energy investment. It follows a high-level roundtable discussion last week involving leaders from around the world to review the crucial question of how best to create jobs and spur economic growth through clean technologies. “To be frank, the challenges in front of policy makers are unlike those created by any other recent crisis,” he writes: “As they design once-in-a-generation stimulus plans, policy makers are set to make hugely consequential decisions that are likely to shape our energy future for many years to come.”
In the Guardian, columnist George Monbiot warns against bailing out airlines and fossil fuel industries, and instead suggests “what many people were calling for long before this disaster hit: a green new deal”. He concludes: “We have stimulated consumption too much over the past century, which is why we face environmental disaster…Bail out the people, not the corporations. Bail out the living world, not its destroyers. Let’s not waste our second chance”.
In his weekly column, Times journalist Daniel Finkelstein considers what is necessary to prevent the next major crisis after the current coronavirus pandemic, noting that viruses are just one of the many threats humanity could face. “How about we try preparing ourselves better for all the big calamities — other pandemics, climate change, floods, hurricanes, famine — that might overcome us in Britain or in the wider world?” He examines cognitive biases and the difficulty people have in preparing for “low-probability but high-impact events”, emphasising the importance of “investing in technologies that can address the consequences of our short-termism and help us to overcome it”. On climate change, he says: “Imagine if we had technology that could suck carbon out of the atmosphere, so that tackling climate change didn’t rely on challenging political resistance to costly policies”. He proposes quantum computing as one means of speeding up research and solving problems that current seem insurmountable.
A piece in Vox by environmental policy researcher Leah Stokes states that the new Michael Moore-backed film Planet of the Humans, released for free online last week to mark Earth Day, “deceives viewers about clean energy and climate activists” and is a “gift for Big Oil”. The article notes that while there are “real tradeoffs in the clean energy transition”, the film does not attempt to grapple with them and instead “peddles falsehoods”.
This comes as the Guardian reports that the climate scientists and environmental campaigners have called for the “dangerous, misleading and destructive” documentary to be removed from public viewing. The film, which described itself as a “full-frontal assault on our sacred cows”, has been described as full of “distortions, half-truths and lies”, with many concerned that it only serves to push climate sceptic talking points.
Farmers’ perceptions of climate change are mismatched to reality in the US inland Pacific Northwest, a study finds. The authors surveyed more than 800 farmers across the region, where climate change has caused “significant changes” to temperature and rainfall. “However, we find no relationship between changes in temperature and precipitation distributions and individuals’ perceptions and intentions to adapt,” the authors say.
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