Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Halt the climate and nature-loss crises to prevent more pandemics, scientists tell world leaders
- Exxon to cut 14,000 from global workforce after energy slump
- 'Moderate to strong' La Niña weather event develops in the Pacific
- UK negotiator: Countries must resolve carbon market dispute to step up ambition
- If Biden wins, what would a US climate change pledge look like?
- Innovation and the climate
- Evidence-led climate policy and robust climate governance are key to delivering the Paris Agreement
- An inter-hemispheric seasonal comparison of polar amplification using radiative forcing of a quadrupling CO2 experiment
In a new report, experts have warned that preventing future pandemics depends on tackling biodiversity loss and climate change, the Independent says. The publication from the UN-established Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says that unless there is a massive shift in human activity, the world will face further disease outbreaks, the news outlet explains. The report says: “The underlying causes of pandemics are the same global environmental changes that drive biodiversity loss and climate change. These include land-use change, agricultural expansion and intensification, and wildlife trade and consumption.” IPBES found that about half of an estimated 1.7m undiscovered viruses in nature might be able to infect people, Reuters reports, adding that activities such as trading in wildlife, poaching or clearing forest to grow soy or palm oil can bring humans and pathogens into closer proximity. The report says that curbing intensive meat production would help alleviate pandemic risk, says the i newspaper, as would a tax on meat. IPBES chair Dr Peter Daszak tells the paper that a levy on the production or consumption of meat was a “viable strategy” for reducing the risk of pandemics as well as improving public health and the climate. He said: “It’s bad for our health, we know that. And it’s also unsustainable in terms of its environmental impact. It’s also a driver of pandemic risk…We can continue to eat meat, but we need to do it in a way that is far more sustainable if we want to get rid of pandemics.” (Carbon Brief recently published an interactive on the climate impact of meat and dairy.) The report notes that preventing pandemics could be more than 100 times cheaper than tackling their deadly effects, BBC News says. The Guardian adds the costs of changing land use practices “would be ‘trivial’, the experts found, compared with the trillions of dollars of damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic alone.” The Daily Telegraph, Hill and BusinessGreen also cover the report, while Carbon Brief has previously published a Q&A on the links between climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemics. Finally, Axios reports that the “pandemic is throwing a wrench into Americans’ understanding of science, which has big implications for climate change”. It adds: “Recent focus groups in battleground states suggest some voters are more sceptical of scientists in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, while surveys reveal the persistence of a deep partisan divide.”
Exxon Mobil will cut its global workforce by 15% over the next two years, reports Bloomberg, which describes the move as “an unprecedented culling by North America’s biggest oil explorer as it struggles to preserve dividends”. The cuts to Exxon’s 88,000-strong workforce will come through attrition, targeted redundancy programs in 2021 and scaled-back hiring in some countries, the outlet says. They will amount to around 14,000 people in total. Around 1,900 of the job losses will be in the US, reports Reuters. The “once mighty oil giant has been recently through difficult times also due to ill-timed bets on new oilfields and expansions”, the newswire says – adding that the company lost nearly $1.7bn in the first six months of the year and is expected to post another quarterly loss today. The job cuts will come mainly from its office in Houston, Texas, the outlet notes. The Hill and the Times also have the story. A second Reuters piece says that while Exxon was once the largest US publicly traded company in the country, it “is not even the largest energy name, having been surpassed by rivals and even a renewable company, as it tries to maintain its hefty dividend”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that oil prices “tumbled” yesterday, “touching a five-month low and extending the previous day’s sharp decline on the impact renewed coronavirus lockdowns could have on oil demand”. In other oil company news reported by Reuters, oil producer ConocoPhillips posted a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss yesterday as “it benefited from a recovery in crude oil prices from pandemic-driven lows”, Spanish oil and gas group Repsol returned to profit in the third quarter after a deep loss in the second, and Asian oil refiner Sinopec Corp saw a record quarterly profit in July-September “thanks to a jump in refining margins and earnings from the spin-off of pipeline assets”. Reuters also reports that this year’s repeated oil-and-gas production halts due to tropical storms have already hit energy firms’ results. And a further piece by the newswire says BP “plans to stop producing fuel in Australia and will convert its Kwinana oil refinery, the biggest of the country’s four, into a fuel import terminal, thanks to tough competition in the Asian market”.
Despite the mixed picture for oil firms, the climate sceptic Spectator columnist Ross Clark says it “might be time to purchase shares in oil again”. There is “a popular narrative that the oil industry is doomed”, he explains, yet even with “the ambition of many countries to go carbon-neutral by 2050”, it “does not necessarily mean that it will be achieved”. In addition, he says, carbon capture and storage means that “there is nothing to say that [oil and gas] can’t outflank technologies such as hydrogen and battery storage, to become a large part of a transition to zero carbon”. In the Financial Times, Asia technology correspondent Louise Lucas says that Shell’s decision to increases its shareholder dividend (see Carbon Brief’s daily briefing yesterday) is a “sweetener, not a game changer”. She writes: “Like peers, [Shell] is seeking to reshape itself as a climate-friendly carbon-neutral company: it aims for zero-net [sic] emissions from manufacturing of products and a 65% reduction from the products themselves by 2050 at the latest. It is doing so against a far from conducive backdrop, with oil prices skittering and the economic toil of coronavirus adding further pressure.”
Elsewhere in oil-and-gas news, Reuters reports that Russian president Vladimir Putin praised US president Donald Trump yesterday for his role in stabilising global oil markets. And Axios looks at why fracking is so important in the election battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed that a “moderate to strong” La Niña event has developed in the Pacific Ocean, reports BBC News. It continues: “The naturally occurring phenomenon results in the large scale cooling of ocean surface temperature. This La Niña, which is set to last through the first quarter of 2021, will likely have a cooling effect on global temperatures.” The last time that a strong event developed was in 2010-11, the outlet notes. Despite the cooling influence, this year “remains likely to be one of the warmest years on record”, says the Guardian. (Carbon Brief’s recent State of the Climate article shows that 2020 is more likely than not to be the warmest year on record.) The Guardian adds: “La Niña (the little girl in Spanish) is the ‘cold’ phase of El Niño southern oscillation, a series of oceanic and climatic events in the Pacific which exert a global influence on temperature, storms and rainfall. Possible impacts in 2020 include drier-than-usual conditions in east Africa, adding to food security challenges in the region, wetter conditions across large parts of south-east Asia and Australia, and increasingly intense Atlantic hurricanes.”
In other extreme weather news, Reuters reports that “Hurricane Zeta tore across the US South on Thursday with strong winds that left a trail of downed trees, snapped power lines and killed at least three people”. It adds that the storm brought 110 mile-per-hour (175 km-per-hour) winds to the Louisiana coast and knocked out power to 2.4m people from Louisiana to North Carolina. Yale Climate Connections notes that this is the largest US power outage of 2020. The death toll was later raised to six, another Reuters piece says. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Reuters reports that “rescue teams searched for more signs of life on Friday after a series of deadly landslides in central Vietnam unleashed by heavy rains from Typhoon Molave, as yet another powerful storm barrelled towards the Southeast Asia region”.
The UK’s lead climate negotiator, Archie Young, says that countries have a collective responsibility to agree on common rules for a global carbon market in order to drive greater climate ambition beyond 2021, reports Climate Home News. Under the Paris Agreement, countries have agreed to create a new carbon trading system to cut emissions at lower cost, the outlet says, but “designing a common set of rules has proved contentious in recent rounds of climate talks and remains one of the last unresolved issues of the Paris Agreement rulebook”. Speaking to CHN, Young said that “genuine progress was made” during the climate summit in Madrid last year and that, as hosts for the talks in 2021, the UK “will do everything that we can to bring parties together to enable and facilitate those conversations using our full diplomatic network”. However, Young cautioned that “achieving that deal is not simply the responsibility of the UK as an incoming presidency. It’s the responsibility of all the parties that hold strong views on the issue to work together to understand each other’s positions, find compromises, and identify where the right resolution lies”. For more on the carbon market rules with the Paris Agreement, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A.
In a piece for Reuters, European climate and energy correspondent Kate Abnett and environment and energy policy reporter Valerie Volcovici look into how Joe Biden could shape US climate policy were he to win the presidential election next week. Biden “has pledged that if he wins and takes office in January he would immediately rejoin the international accord and commit the country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050”, they write, adding: “A push by Biden to re-assert US leadership on the issue would likely also include a pledge to slash emissions by 2030.” Biden’s ability to implement his $2tn plan to cut emissions “would also depend on whether Democrats wrest control of the Senate from the Republicans next week”, Abnett and Volcovici say: “If they do not, he may need to take executive action.” However, “executive action is more vulnerable to lawsuits”, they note: “Trump has faced over 100 environment-related lawsuits for his moves to unwind regulations meant to protect health and the environment in his bid to lower costs for the energy and auto industries.” Also in Reuters, a “factbox” piece on US climate policy and the election describes the contest as “Biden’s green revolution versus Trump’s war on regulations”.
Elsewhere, a piece in InsideClimate News notes that “no matter who wins”, the US will leave the Paris Agreement the day after the election, “marking a disappointing milestone in the international effort to stop global warming”. However, it adds: “But the US could rejoin the global climate pact quickly, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he would do that early in his presidency.” The New York Times reports that Biden is “leaning into climate change in the final days before the election”. He has issued two new national ads “attacking President Trump’s science denial even as Mr. Trump continues to hammer his rival’s position on the oil industry”, the paper says. And finally in US election coverage, an “energy source” column in the Financial Times laments that “the most dispiriting feature of the presidential election has been the dire level of discourse about energy and climate”. It says: “It is a shame. Energy and climate, arguably the most pressing issues on Tuesday’s ballot, have been sloganised to death in this dispiriting campaign.”
Governments “are lining up” to set new climate targets for the middle of the century, says an editorial in the Economist, commenting on the recent net-zero commitments from Japan, China and South Korea. However, “targets are easier set than met”, the outlet says: “Today around 85% of the world’s industrial energy comes from fossil fuels. Getting consumption to near zero will involve enormous economic shifts. It will require huge changes in how energy is generated and used. And it will also require a sustained barrage of innovations to improve how steel or cement are made, say, or how buildings are designed and managed.” However, “too little capital is being channelled into innovation”, the weekly says. It suggests that “governments need to get involved in several ways, because the market on its own will not do enough to bring about the shift from fossil fuels”. In practice, this means that “government should expect to foot some or all of the bill for new nuclear power plants, new charging grids for electric vehicles, or thorough investigations of new technologies such as geoengineering. Governments also need to enact policies that encourage greener consumption. Pricing carbon is an essential step, forcing firms, and ultimately consumers, to bear the cost of their emissions, and in turn leading investors to allocate capital more efficiently’. However, the private sector “still has a crucial role to play”, the piece adds: “Investors and entrepreneurs are best at commercialising new ideas, from efficient grids to hydrogen-powered forklift trucks.” A separate Economist piece focuses on how “climate-conscious venture capitalists are back”.
And in another article, the Economist focuses specifically on Japan’s net-zero goal, noting that “Japan had previously pledged to be carbon neutral by an unspecified date in the second half of the century. That woolliness had confused bureaucrats and investors alike. The new goal is clearer, but [Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga] will have to prove it is not just an empty pledge”. An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald also comments on the new targets from Japan, South Korea and other. It says: “Tellingly, rather than welcoming these ambitious pledges, [prime minister Scott Morrison] has taken a defensive attitude. Australia has so far only pledged to reach net-zero in the second half of the century, which would put it well behind these countries”.
In a post for the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC)’s new-look website, CCC member Prof Corinne Le Quéré introduces the body’s new set of “insights” briefings. The eight documents detail the CCC’s “experience in advising the UK government on efforts to address climate change over the past 12 years”, explains Le Quéré. The briefings are “intended to provide a practical overview of the workings of the CCC and the UK Climate Change Act as an effective model for translating climate ambition into tangible action on reducing emissions and adaptation”, she says, adding: “Our hope is that they will provide a useful resource for colleagues around the world who are considering how to deliver objective, evidence-based climate policy.”
Polar regions are the most climatically sensitive areas of the globe, with an enhanced warming occurring during the cold seasons. The asymmetry between the two poles is related to the thermal inertia and the coupled ocean–atmosphere processes. While at the northern high latitudes the amplified warming signal is associated with a positive snow– and sea ice–albedo feedback, for southern high latitudes the warming is related to a combination of ozone depletion and changes in the wind pattern. This study used the Brazilian Earth System Model to investigate the response of the polar regions to an experiment where CO2 was abruptly quadrupled. They found that polar amplification is expected to become stronger in the coming decades. The consequences for the atmospheric and ocean circulation are still subject to intense debate in the scientific community.
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