Today's climate and energy headlines:
- 'Highest temperature on Earth' as Death Valley, US hits 54.4C
- Trump finalises plan to allow drilling in iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain
- BHP confirms thermal coal exit as investor pressure builds
- UK facing worst wheat harvest since 1980s, says farmers' union
- Ryanair cuts flights after quarantine hits bookings
- Send bond covenants into battle against climate change
- We live in a time of climate breakdown with no moral leadership – but we can take action
- A near-term to net-zero alternative to the social cost of carbon for setting carbon prices
- Emergent constraints on transient climate response (TCR) and equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) from historical warming in CMIP5 and CMIP6 models
- Human-induced changes to the global ocean water masses and their time of emergence
There is widespread coverage of the news – first reported yesterday – that temperatures reached 54.4C in Death Valley National Park, California on Sunday. If verified, this would be the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth, BBC News says. This would top the existing record of 54C – also in Death Valley in 2013, it adds. A higher reading of 56.6C was reported in Death Valley a century earlier, but is disputed, BBC News notes. Another record temperature for the planet – 55C – was reported in Tunisia in 1931, but the credibility of this has also been questioned, says the outlet. The New York Times reports that the new 54.4C record was reported in the park’s Furnace Creek by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Prediction centre. It still needs to be verified by climate scientists – a process that could take months, the paper says. The Sun reports that the potential record comes amid an oppressive heatwave in California: “The blistering heat in the Mojave Desert came as an intense heatwave scorched America’s West Coast, sparking firenados, wild lightning storms and power cuts.” Bloomberg also reports on California’s “brutal climate loop”. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports on why some are “pointing the finger” at solar power amid the power cuts in California. The news is also covered by the Guardian, Independent, Sky News, Metro and the i newspaper.
Many publications report that US president Donald Trump has announced that he will open up the US Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, a move that will allow oil and gas rights to be auctioned off. “Achieving a goal the Republicans have sought for 40 years, the action marks a capstone for an administration that has ignored calls to reduce fossil fuel consumption in the face of climate change,” the Washington Post says. The move will allow leasing on the 1.6m-acre coastal plain, part of a nearly pristine wilderness that is “home to migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as polar bears and foxes”, says the Washington Post. The area has been free of development for three decades, it adds. The Guardian reports that the US interior department plans to auction leases in the refuge before the end of the year. The Guardian says: “The lease sales will set off legal battles. Environmental groups and tribes argue that the administration’s assessment of environmental risks was flawed.” Politico reports that the plan has been in the works since Congress mandated in its 2017 tax bill that the Interior Department must auction off drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bloomberg reports the quick leasing indicates that Trump is attempting to lease the refuge to oil companies before the election – a move that could lead to a “political clash” if he is not reelected. Reuters also has the story.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that five carmakers have defied Trump by locking in a deal to minimise their greenhouse gases. The five – Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo – sealed a binding agreement with California to follow the state’s stricter tailpipe emissions rules, the New York Times says.
The world’s biggest mining group BHP has confirmed plans to exit thermal coal as pressure builds from investors to ditch the fossil fuel, the FT reports. The Anglo-Australian company announced it was examining options to divest from the Mount Arthur mine in New South Wales, Australia as well as its stake in the Cerrejón project in Colombia, the FT says. The Guardian reports that the move signifies that BHP is “readying itself for a low-carbon future”. It adds: “The move stops short of a complete exit from coalmining because BHP will retain its stake in a venture that produces the higher coking coal used to make steel.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the world’s largest offshore windfarm, which is in construction off the coast of the UK, has made a deal to sell power to the energy trader Danske Commodities.
The Guardian reports that the UK’s wheat harvest is likely to be down markedly this year, according to the National Farmers’ Union. Yields could be down by about a third, with the worst harvest since the 1980s predicted, the paper says. It adds: Good growing conditions over the summer, when about half the wheat harvest was brought in across the country, ended for many regions in the past week with severe thunderstorms following the mini-heatwave, which saw the longest period of temperatures over 34C since comparable records began in 1961…But the problems with the harvest started at the beginning of the year. While this spring was the sunniest since comparable measurements began in 1929, and substantially drier than usual, it followed the wettest February ever recorded.“ (For more on the UK’s record-breaking weather in winter – and particularly in February – see the Met Office guest posts written for Carbon Brief.)
The Times reports that the Irish airline Ryanair has cut flight numbers by a fifth over the coming two months after bookings plummeted when quarantine measures were imposed on France and Spain. The biggest cuts affect routes to and from France, Spain and Sweden, it says. Ryanair had previously increased flights to 60% of its normal schedule this month after resuming services in July, BBC News says. The Guardian’s financial editor Nils Pratley says Ryanair’s flight cuts are “no surprise and signal an aviation nosedive”.
In the FT, Bianca Taylor, a Public Voices fellow of the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, argues that bond covenants – financial tools used by lenders to place additional terms upon borrowers – should be used as a climate mitigation tool by insurers. She writes: “In fact, there is already an example of this. Last year the Italian utility company Enel issued the first general-purpose, SDG-linked bond. In plain language, this means the company issued a bond for its ordinary financing needs (not specific to any one project) that was linked to Enel’s goal to promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
In the Guardian, David Pocock, an Australian rugby union player and author, says it is up to Australian citizens to take a stand against climate change. He writes: “This may be too much to ask for politicians wedded to fossil fuel interests, too much for a government that has sabotaged efforts to reduce emissions to ensure a liveable future, too much to ask for a prime minister who brought coal into parliament not long before his country would burn. It is maybe too much to expect politicians to stop putting short-term profits in front of economic growth, environmental health and our shared future…During a time of lockdown, it can feel impossible to know what to do, how to change things. But one of the things we can do while stuck inside our homes is move our money away from the institutions that continue to fund projects that put us all at risk.”
New research explores an alternative to the social cost of carbon called the “near-term to net-zero” (NT2NZ) approach. This estimates the CO2 prices needed in the near term for consistency with a net-zero CO2 emissions target. Using a 2050 net-zero target for the US as an example, the researchers calculate a NT2NZ CO2 price of $34-64 per tonne in 2025 and $77-124 per tonnes in 2030. These results “are most influenced by assumptions about complementary policies and oil prices”, the researchers note.
Using an “emergent constraint approach”, new research aims to narrow down estimates for transient climate response (TCR) – a metric of climate sensitivity that is most relevant to warming in the next few decades. Using models from the Sixth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6), the study constrains the likely range of TCR to 1.3–2.1C, with a central estimate of 1.68C. This compares to a likely range of 1.0-2.5C from the fifth assessment report of the IPCC. (For more on CMIP6 and climate sensitivity, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth explainers.)
A new study defines when the signal of human-caused changes to temperature and salinity in the world’s oceans are expected to emerge from natural variability. Using 11 climate models, the researchers predict that “in 2020, 20–55% of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian basins have an emergent anthropogenic signal; reaching 40–65% in 2050 and 55–80% in 2080”. In addition, the “well-ventilated Southern Ocean water masses emerge very rapidly, as early as the 1980–1990s, while the northern hemisphere water masses emerge in the 2010–2030s”, the study finds.
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