Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU leaders agree to consider climate in coronavirus recovery plan
- Cars must replaced by public transport and cycling in net zero future, government says
- Covid-19 has cut emissions. If we don’t pay attention, its cure will speed them up
- The future of energy
- Not so robust: Robusta coffee production is highly sensitive to temperature
- Temperature thresholds and the effect of warming on American farmland value
The Covid-19 outbreak continues to dominate the news cycle around the world, but many outlets are now focusing some of their coverage towards the impact the pandemic is having on energy and climate policies. Reuters reports that European Union leaders agreed late last week that the bloc’s coronavirus economic recovery plan should take heed of its aim to fight climate change: “Although the details of the plan itself still have to be worked out, a statement said they had agreed that it should be consistent with the ‘green transition’, the phrase the EU uses to describe the aim of reducing emissions that heat the planet.” The newswire adds: “The EU’s executive commission wants its 27 member states to sign up at a summit in June to plans to make the entire bloc greenhouse gas neutral by 2050. So far, Poland is the only holdout. Investors and environmental groups are seeking assurances that, as the economic fallout from coronavirus sucks up funding and political energy, Brussels will not lose sight of its climate change goals. Poland has warned that the pandemic will make EU climate targets harder to reach.” Bloomberg reports that the EU’s carbon market’s automatic stabilisers are “set to kick in, softening the blow of the economic slump in the European Union caused by the spread of the coronavirus”. It adds: “The system, known as the market stability reserve and introduced last year, will absorb some of the supply of allowances that factories and utilities need to buy to cover their greenhouse gas emissions. That will reduce the scale of the glut likely to build as industrial production plunges along with economic activity.”
The immediate impact of the pandemic is being right felt across the world’s energy and transport sectors. Unearthed reports that the “car industry is pushing for the implementation of EU climate targets to be delayed due to the coronavirus crisis, which has seen the sector’s sales plummet and its production severely disrupted”. VW tells Unearthed that “the conditions for achieving the targets are becoming more demanding”. The Guardian notes that the “motor industry has been accused by campaigners of trying to use the coronavirus crisis to avert stricter environmental regulation, after correspondence showed carmakers had lobbied the EU to defer impending laws”. The Financial Times says energy analysts are predicting that global petrol demand is “set to drop as much as 50% in some key markets” as western economies come to a halt in response to the pandemic. Reuters says that India’s electricity use has “plummeted to levels last recorded in March 2015”. The Financial Times reports that “electricity demand in Britain dropped by a 10th last week after the UK government imposed a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus”. The Daily Telegraph says that the “number of construction workers at Hinkley Point C nuclear power station [in Somerset] has been cut in half”, while the Guardian reports that the North Sea’s workforce has fallen by 40% [40,000 workers] within two weeks as oil companies cut the size of their offshore oil rig teams to help stem the spread of the coronavirus”. The Press Association says that “communities across Scotland are using cash from wind farms to help them cope through the coronavirus crisis”, adding that “wind-farm developers across the country pay out almost £21m a year in community benefit payments”. Meanwhile, InsideClimate News reports that in the US “the coal industry, which has been in a free fall in Kentucky and nationally, was left out of a $2.2tn bill passed by lawmakers and signed by President Trump Friday that seeks to rescue the country from the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic”. A separate InsideClimate News article focuses on how some polluting industries have tried to “cash-in on Covid-19, harming climate in the process”.
Several publications look at the wider picture. The Independent ponders: “Will the global shutdown help or hinder progress in the climate crisis?” It quotes Prof Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, who says that if trillions are spent on managing the coronavirus outbreak “we will not have the financial muscle to invest in a low-carbon future”. The Guardian speaks to Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, who says: “It turns out austerity was a choice. The government can spend anything [in the context of the coronavirus crisis], and they have socialised the economy…[It] exposes that we can do things differently. We must not go back to the status quo ante.” Bloomberg quotes Prof Jem Bendell at the University of Cumbria who says: “This crisis reveals how fragile our current way of life has become.” Bendell adds that the government should “nationalise one or two of [the ailing polluting companies] to get them aligned with national climate policies…Keeping the most polluting industries afloat will increase the likelihood of future pandemics.” E&E News notes that “denser cities could [help the] climate, but also increase virus transmission”. The Brisbane Times says that while emissions have temporarily fallen in many countries, some analysts now fear “revenge pollution” as government seek to stimulate economies. Finally, Axios notes that “a number of experts fear that the coronavirus is serving to sap resources and policymakers’ focus on climate change as they address the crisis”.
The UK government has said that cars must be replaced by public transport, cycling and walking as the “natural first choice” to get around in order to meet goals on climate change, reports the Daily Telegraph. The comments, which have been published in a foreword to a new Department for Transport consultation on decarbonising transport, are “the first time [the UK government has] suggested people will need to move away from using cars”, notes the newspaper. BBC News reports the reaction of Stephen Joseph, visiting professor at Hertfordshire University, who says: “This is utterly gob-smacking. We’re still digesting the document, but [transport secretary] Grant Shapps’ words really do seem to signify a radical change.” The i newspaper quotes Shapps’ foreword: “We are perfectly placed to seize the economic opportunities that being in the vanguard of this change presents. The faster we act, the greater the benefits. 2020 will be the year we set out the policies and plans needed to tackle transport emissions. This document marks the start of this process.”
Separately, the Times reports that “a new programme to convert Britain’s railways to electric power will be rolled out after the government admitted that greenhouse gases from trains will rise by a fifth in the next three decades”. The paper adds: “The Department for Transport has previously pushed other forms of green power, including hydrogen and battery technology, as an alternative to electrification. However, progress has also been painfully slow, with no agreement in place between the government and train companies over locations to test hydrogen trains, even though they are already running on lines in Germany.”
Elsewhere in the Times, the paper’s environment editor Ben Webster reports that “more than 750,000 young oak trees due for planting will be destroyed by nursery owners who blame delays in government help for woodland creation”. Webster adds: “The record destruction of seedlings comes despite promises to treble the tree planting rate. Nurseries collected millions of acorns in anticipation of a surge in demand after ministers repeatedly encouraged planting of native species such as oak. But nursery owners say demand has failed to materialise as many landowners are delaying planting because they think that new subsidies due in 2024 will be more lucrative than those currently on offer.” Earlier this month, Carbon Brief published an in-depth Q&A about the UK’s tree-planting ambitions.
There is a diverse range of coronavirus-themed commentary across the newspapers. An editorial in the Washington Post warns: “Addressing global warming cannot depend on economic hardship. Governments must manage the transition off fossil fuels so it occurs steadily and with minimal disruption…They should take recovery as an opportunity to emphasise sustainability. Covid-19 is the disaster of now. Climate change will be the disaster that defines younger generations’ lives.” In the Times, veteran environmental writer Charles Clover argues that “in official quarters coronavirus has become a handy excuse to put off making decisions that affect the health of our planet”, adding: “Some good will come from coronavirus if it kills off the assumption that people have to fly around the world to make decisions.” In the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman explains why the virus “resembles climate denial”, adding that “epidemiologists [have been] startled to find their best scientific efforts denounced as politically motivated fraud should have known what was coming. After all, exactly the same thing happened to climate scientists, who have faced constant harassment for decades.” In Foreign Policy magazine, Jason Bordoff – former senior director on the staff of the US National Security Council and special assistant to President Barack Obama – writes: “Any climate benefits from the Covid-19 crisis are likely to be fleeting and negligible. Rather, the pandemic is a reminder of just how wicked a problem climate change is because it requires collective action, public understanding and buy-in, and decarbonising the energy mix while supporting economic growth and energy use around the world.” CNN contributor John Sutter says that the pandemic “isn’t fixing climate change”, adding “We can – and must – choose to fix global warming. But it won’t happen on the coattails of a deadly pandemic.” In the New York Times, Columbia University’s Meehan Christ says that amid the lockdown, we do “have a chance to build a better future”. She concludes: “Perhaps the real question is not whether the virus is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for climate, or whether rich people will take fewer airplane flights, but whether we can create a functioning economy that supports people without threatening life on Earth, including our own.” In the Conversation, Natasha Chassagne from the University of Tasmania looks at what the pandemic could “teach us” about climate change, adding that governments could also use stimulus packages “to re-skill workers to service the new ‘green’ economy”. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas argues in HuffPost that “in this crisis, we are learning a lot about ourselves and who we can be”. She adds: “The choices being made now could have a profound impact on how we tackle [the climate emergency]. The response to coronavirus has shown what can be done when governments put their mind to it.” E3G’s Tom Burke writes in BusinessGreen that: “The climate emergency may be a slower burn but it is a big threat to everyone’s security and prosperity. Above all, we must all not forget this lesson. Governments have the means to keep the climate safe. Voters need to ensure that they also have the will.” In the Guardian, Tim Hollo, director of Australia’s Green Institute, says that “we can no longer pretend that we’re separate from each other and from the natural world…All of a sudden, especially at a moment like this, change will come.” In Quartz, reporter Michael J Coren looks at the fall in emissions and asks “can it last?” For Gizmodo, freelance climate and science journalist Jocelyn Timperley stresses that “it is vital [that the pandemic] does not mean the ongoing impacts of climate change are buried behind the headlines or ignored by governments”. Finally, in Management Today, advertising professional Rita Clifton argues that “we would be fools to squander ” the “unintended benefits of coronavirus”, namely, that the “environment is thriving”.
Today’s Financial Times comes with a special supplement devoted to the “future of energy” and contains several features and comment pieces. Prof Joe Smith, director of the Royal Geographical Society, argues why “we need to end our unhealthy human gluttony for cheap power”. Former FT energy writer Ed Crooks writes about why “US leaders must not flunk historic opportunity on energy spending”. Jens Ulltveit-Moe, founder and chief executive of Norway’s Umoe, sets out the “lessons from my $600m gamble on renewables”. Other articles include a feature on why Wall Street is “calling time on the shale revolution” and how greener biofuels are “battling for take-off to cut aviation emissions”.
Robusta coffee, known for its apparent heat tolerance, could be much more sensitive to temperature increases than previously thought, a study finds. Using 10 years of yield observations from 798 farms across South East Asia, the authors find that Robusta’s optimum growing temperature is below 20.5C. At 25C, which is the average temperature of farms in southeast Asia, its yield is around 50% lower than it would be at its optimum, the study finds. The authors add that every 1C rise above the optimum corresponds to around a 14% reduction in yields.
The value of croplands in the US could fall 15% for every degree of temperature rise, a study finds. Using economic modelling, the authors assess the likely impact of temperature on the value of US farmland. They find that temperature has a “smooth hill-shaped” effect on farmland value with a peak temperature of about 18C.