Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Global natural gas demand set for biggest fall on record
- 'Final blow' to aviation climate plan as EU agrees to weaken rules
- Over 150 companies, trade groups and campaigners urge government to align recovery with Sustainable Development Goals
- US power use to drop by record amount in 2020 due coronavirus: EIA
- Russian mining firm accused of using global heating to avoid blame for oil spill
- The Guardian view on a green new deal: to save jobs and the planet
- From global crisis to climate turning point
- Climate change drives increase in modeled HIV prevalence
Consumption of natural gas will see its biggest annual drop in history as measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic cause an “unprecedented shock” to demand, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) which the Financial Times has covered. Lockdown measures combined with a relatively mild winter in the northern hemisphere will see gas use drop 4% in 2020, double the drop seen following the financial crisis in 2008, the newspaper reports. It also notes comments made by IEA executive director Fatih Birol, who said that while gas has not been as hard hit as oil and coal – which are widely used in transport and industrial processes – it “is far from immune” from the pandemic. Reuters also has the story, which notes a “rebound” is expected in 2021, when most of the increase in demand will likely be in Asia, particularly in China and India “where there is strong policy support”.
There is also continued coverage of the UK’s milestone of going two months without using coal power. The Independent notes that this achievement, which became official as of midnight today, marks “the longest period the country has gone without using the fossil fuel since the industrial revolution”. The Financial Times remarks that low energy demand during lockdown has combined with “record sunshine and gusty periods ideal for generating electricity from renewable sources”, as well as “a trend of declining coal power”. The Daily Telegraph quotes Jess Ralston, an analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit: “Yet another record-breaking coal-free run in Britain highlights the fact that the fuel is simply not needed in a modern energy system.“ The Guardian also has the story, including an infographic showing how rapidly the UK has switched away from coal in recent years. (For more details of the UK’s transition away from coal, see Carbon Brief’s tracker of the nation’s coal phaseout, as well as our infographic examining “how the UK transformed its electricity supply in just a decade”.)
Reuters reports that Unite, the UK’s largest union, plans to hold a ballot for industrial action over the closure of two coal-fired generation units at Drax’s Selby power plant in North Yorkshire. Drax Group is planning to close two coal-fired units next April, potentially replacing them with gas units while the other four units burn biomass, using wood chip pellets.
EU member states have backed a change to aviation climate change policy that could see airlines pay nothing for their climate impact until 2024, according to Climate Home News. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered a massive drop in air traffic, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) called on the UN aviation body to ease airlines’ obligations to offset their emissions growth under the Corsia scheme (see Carbon Brief’s Corsia explainer). Iata called for the baseline from which emissions growth will be measured, which was meant to be this year, to be moved due to “inappropriate economic burden on the sector”, the news website reports. EurActiv also has the story, reporting that European Council representatives have agreed to push for “coronavirus-induced rule changes” that will see the CO2 emissions baseline be last year rather than 2019-2020 levels, as previously agreed. Reuters notes that green campaigners and academics, already sceptical about the Corsia scheme, said the change would “slash airlines’ offsetting obligations” and “delay climate action by the industry for several years”.
In other Covid-19 transport news, the Times reports on a study from the University of Westminster that finds the UK’s streets could be “swamped” by an additional one million extra cars during the rush hour due to limits on public transport use to promote social distancing during the pandemic.
Finally, Reuters reports that as Brexit talks continue in the background diplomats and officials have told the newswire that the EU has refused to link its Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to any new UK scheme without “guarantees that it would not undercut the bloc’s carbon market”.
A group of more than 150 “corporates, celebrities, charities, universities and trade associations” has urged the UK government to place the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the heart of its coronavirus recovery plans, BusinessGreen reports. In an open letter, coordinated by UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) and UN Global Compact Network UK, the coalition has called for the UN framework to be used to “steer a just and climate-friendly recovery from the pandemic”, the website reports. The Guardian notes that the heads of Unilever, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland are among those signing the letter, which states: “We must balance social and economic needs with the needs of our planet, protecting and managing nature and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. These goals do not have to be in conflict.”
Meanwhile, BBC News reports that as part of the “Race to Zero”, a diplomatic push ahead of the UN climate summit (COP26) set to be held in Glasgow next year, business leaders, cities and investors “are being urged to back a UN campaign aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”.
Elsewhere, according to Climate Home News, Greta Thunberg and three other youth activists have signed a letter, along with 22 climate scientists, raising “grave concerns” about Arctic nations’ plans to expand and subsidise fossil fuel extraction. It calls on small island state diplomats to “put Canada and Norway’s oil interests in the spotlight” as both nations seek election to the UN security council.
Electricity consumption in the US will “collapse” by a record 5.7% in 2020 following business closures during coronavirus lockdowns across the country, according to a report by the nation’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) covered by Reuters. The EIA’s short-term energy outlook states that if power use falls as expected in 2020, “it would be the first time since 2012 that total demand declines for two consecutive years”, the newswire reports. It also notes that renewables will rise from 17% to 21% in 2020 and 23% in 2021, and that both nuclear and renewables “will top coal for the first time in 2020”. Another Reuters piece reports that the first major US offshore wind farm, off the Massachusetts coast, has reached a key permitting milestone with the release of a “long-awaited” federal environmental study.
Meanwhile, a piece in Greentech Media reports on a new study from the University of California, Berkeley and GridLab, which concludes it will be feasible and relatively cheap to power the entire US on 90% clean electricity by 2035 “thanks to stunning declines in the costs of renewables”, with gas providing the remaining 10%.
Environmental groups have accused a Russian mining firm of blaming a major oil spill at its Nadezhda plant on climate change “to avoid punishment for its ageing infrastructure and potential negligence in the accident”, the Guardian reports. According to the newspaper, while WWF and Greenpeace Russia said climate change “likely played a role” in the spillage of more than 20,000 tons of diesel fuel, the risks of thawing permafrost were publicly known and could have been addressed. The New York Times notes the spill has been compared to the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska in 1989 and has “highlighted the risks of industrial development in the thawing Arctic”.
An editorial from the Guardian looks at the pandemic as an “opportunity to tackle the climate emergency” by ensuring there are new green jobs for those left unemployed by the crisis. It compares the UK unfavourably to Germany and South Korea, which it says are already ensuring their economies will return “greener and cleaner” after the pandemic: “The answer to large-scale layoffs is for the public sector to create jobs, especially in those regions where there will be no or few openings, and for such a scheme to be designed to recast the economy in an environmentally sustainable way. Large public spending could transform the economy with an industrial base that would be net zero in carbon emissions.” The editorial notes that there have been “encouraging reports” that the Treasury is considering a “green industrial revolution”. It adds: “But where’s the beef? Leaving lockdown will not be inherently climate-friendly. Mr Johnson must make it so by decoupling future economic activity from carbon emissions and ecological destruction.”
Meanwhile, a Daily Telegraph comment piece by financial columnist Matthew Lynn is titled “not now Greta, we are trying to save the global economy”. He writes: “You might think running a central bank was already pretty hard right now. But, hey, there is no problem quite so bad that Greta Thunberg and her climate change friends can’t find a way to make it a little bit worse.” He notes that “they” are accusing central banks of turning into “climate wreckers” due to their spending on fossil fuels. “Greta and Greenpeace would be completely happy to crash the economy if they could. But we will all be stuck in a deep recession forever if they are allowed to get away with it,” Lynn concludes.
An article by the co-founder of Bloomberg LP and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg asks how future generation will look back and view the world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. “Will they see leaders who were stuck in old ways of thinking and tried to save the declining technologies of the past? Or will they see leaders who recognised the opportunity to build a better, smarter future – and turned a devastating crisis into a turning point?” Rather than a choice between “environmental protection and economic growth”, Bloomberg argues that leaders must recognise and capitalise on the rapid developments in clean technologies in recent years. “The decisions governments make now and over the months ahead will have profound economic and environmental consequences for generations to come,” he writes. “The choice is ours to make.”
The article marks the launch of a new quarterly print magazine from Bloomberg Green, the media company’s environment-focused section which launched online five months ago. There is also a letter from the editor, Aaron Rutkoff, who poses the question: “Why make a climate magazine?” While he says “climate numbers are vitally important – and relentlessly grim” he also notes that “the world has entered a new era of climate solutions, and this publication is going to be its chronicle”. Among the articles in this issue are an interview with Shell CEO Ben van Beurden who “insists he doesn’t run an oil company any more”, a piece with “26 ways to launch a clean energy future out of the pandemic recovery” and Mohamed Adow, founding director of Power Shift Africa, discussing the use of green stimulus to tackle Africa’s “infrastructure deficit”.
Climate change could lead to between 11.6m and 16m additional cases of HIV across 25 sub-Saharan African countries by 2050, the study says. This scenario assumes that future emissions are very high (“RCP8.5”). The author says: “I find that warmer periods are linked with an increase in HIV prevalence, particularly for younger generations. Both economic and behavioural changes likely drive this linkage: I find evidence that male migration and sex-market use increase with higher temperatures.”
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