Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Hurricane forecast: ‘One of the most active seasons on record'
- Extreme droughts in central Europe likely to increase sevenfold
- Problems plagued US CO2 capture project before shutdown: DOE document
- Saudi Arabia, Iraq stress full commitment to OPEC+ deal
- In tackling the global climate crisis, doom and optimism are both dangerous traps
- Glencore: stop digging
- Kamala Harris goes big on environmental justice as Biden considers her as running mate
- Increased future occurrences of the exceptional 2018–2019 Central European drought under global warming
Following a record number of Atlantic Ocean storms over the past two months, US government scientists have updated their forecast for the remainder of the hurricane season, saying it is likely to be extremely active, reports the New York Times. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there could be 19 to 25 named storms – those with sustained winds above 38 miles an hour (mph) – by the time the season closes at the end of November, the paper says, adding: “Of these, seven to 11 could be hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher, including three to six major ones.” Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead hurricane season forecaster, tells Reuters that “we’ve never forecast up to 25 named storms, so this is the first time”. This season has already broken records for being so active, notes the Hill, “with nine named storms already formed in 2020”. The Washington Post adds: “It would take only 21 named storms before all the names on the Atlantic list, determined ahead of time by the World Meteorological Organization, are exhausted and forecasters would turn to the Greek alphabet. This happened only once before, in 2005, a devastating season that was the most active on record.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel tells the Associated Press that an extra quiet Pacific storm season is another indicator for an active Atlantic – when the Pacific is quiet, the Atlantic tends to be much busier as they tend to balance out. AP also notes: “Even though studies predict that a warmer world means generally stronger and wetter hurricanes, NOAA’s Bell and Emanuel said there are so many complicated factors in an individual season they can’t say either way whether manmade climate change is a factor in active years like 2020.”
New research suggests that extreme droughts are likely to become much more frequent across much of Europe, the Guardian reports, and if global greenhouse gas emissions rise strongly they could happen seven times more often. The paper continues: “The area of crops likely to be affected by drought is also set to increase, and under sharply rising CO2 levels would nearly double in central Europe in the second half of this century, to more than 40m hectares of farmland.” However, cuts to emissions from their current levels could halve the likelihood of such extreme droughts and shrink the affected land area by nearly 40%, the paper says. Study author Rohini Kumar tells the Guardian the findings were concerning. “The findings indicate that introducing measures to reduce future carbon emissions may lower the risk of more frequent consecutive drought events across Europe. On the one hand, we need to step up our efforts to reduce greenhouse gases worldwide, and at the same time deal with strategies to adapt to climate change.” MailOnline also covers the study.
In other climate impacts news, Reuters reports that “the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed, losing more than 40% of its area in just two days at the end of July”. The Milne Ice Shelf is at the fringe of Ellesmere Island, in the sparsely populated northern Canadian territory of Nunavut. The Canadian Ice Service said that “above normal air temperatures, offshore winds and open water in front of the ice shelf are all part of the recipe for ice shelf break up”, Reuters notes. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that “homes have been evacuated in Courmayeur in Italy’s Aosta valley, after a renewed warning that a huge portion of a Mont Blanc glacier is at risk of collapse”. The Independent reports that “wildfires north of the Arctic Circle have released more dangerous greenhouse gases in two months than all of the fires last year combined”. Bloomberg reports that Arctic sea ice extent “reached the lowest level since at least 1979 for July as temperatures spiked in the region, leaving large stretches of Russia’s Siberian coast mostly ice-free”. And, finally, Reuters reports that “last month was the world’s third-hottest July on record, new data show – the latest milestone in a global warming trend that has seen the three hottest Julys within the last five years”.
A US Department of Energy report has concluded that a $1bn project to capture CO2 emissions from a Texas coal plant suffered chronic mechanical problems and routinely missed its targets before it was shut down this year, reports Reuters. The Petra Nova plant “was designed to capture 33% of the carbon emissions from one of four units at the WA Parish coal plant”, Reuters says, “and pipe it 81 miles to the West Ranch oil field, where it would push more oil to the surface”. However, the report finds that the plant “suffered outages on 367 days” since it started up in 2017, Reuters notes, adding: “Issues with the carbon-capture facility accounted for more than a quarter of the outage days, followed by problems with the plant’s dedicated natural gas power unit, according to the report.” The plant has not been running since the beginning of May after NRG Energy Inc – one half of the joint venture behind the project – said a collapse in the price of oil prompted by the coronavirus pandemic made it uneconomical, Reuters reports: “NRG would not comment on the plant’s technical performance, but said it could be brought back online when economic conditions improve.”
In other coal news, South Africa is tightening environmental demands for new coal-fired power plants, reports Climate Home News, after “what campaigners called a ‘landmark’ ruling that licences for water use should consider the risks of climate change”.
Saudi Arabia’s energy minister and Iraqi counterpart have stressed their countries’ full commitment to a deal to curb global oil production, reports Reuters. “The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, began a record supply cut in May to bolster oil prices hammered by the coronavirus crisis,” the newswire explains. However, “OPEC oil output rose by over 1m barrels per day (bpd) in July as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf members ended their voluntary extra curbs on top of the OPEC-led deal, and other members made limited progress on compliance”. A separate Reuters piece reports that Iraq will make additional cut in its oil production of about 400,000 barrels per day in August “to compensate for its overproduction over the past period under the OPEC+ supply reduction pact”.
Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that “China’s crude imports surged 25% in July from a year earlier, as massive purchases made while prices collapsed in April arrived and as some shipments delayed at ports in June finally cleared customs”. And another Reuters article notes that “China’s crude oil imports rose by 12.1% year-on-year in the first seven months of 2020 to 320m tonnes”.
In oil-related comment, a Financial Times Energy Source column – written by Derek Brower, Anjli Raval and Myles McCormick – unpacks BP’s “big clean-energy pivot”, which was reported earlier this week. The trio write: “The transition plan marks one of the most significant strategic pivots from any major oil company, allowing investors to have a clear line of sight about the path ahead for BP. It throws out the supermajor rule book. BP will be leaner and more focused, and will dilute its fossil fuel earnings with more renewables, while handing out less generous payouts.” However, the column also cautions that BP’s “ability to scale up cleaner businesses is unproven. Why would investors with a climate bent not turn to pure-play clean energy companies with a record?”. And, finally, Axios energy and climate change reporter Amy Harder says BP’s move “stands in stark contrast to American companies”, adding: “These firms are so far not making sizeable moves toward renewables and away from oil and gas, regardless of the coronavirus.”
“The popular discourse around the climate emergency all too often highlights fringe voices that predict the end of the world or suggest that there is little to worry about,” write Dr Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute (and Carbon Brief’s climate science communicator), and Prof Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the Met Office Hadley Centre and University of Exeter, in a piece for the Guardian. This sharply divided debate “between doom and dismissal risks obstructing climate action, rather than motivating it”, they warn, adding: “Climate impacts are often framed as an issue of thresholds: we must limit warming to below certain specific numbers, beyond which there be dragons. However, the science suggests that the climate crisis is really an issue of degree. There is no magic line that we know of beyond which things suddenly transition from manageable to catastrophic. Rather, the damage becomes worse the more warming that occurs – often exponentially so.” Climate change “will not be solved quickly or easily, and overheated polemics are not helping”, Hausfather and Betts say, concluding: “We see a real risk that dwelling on doom may serve to obstruct climate action rather than motivating it, promoting fatalism and further polarisation. There is also evidence that fear is not a very effective tool to engage people around the climate. But dismissing the severity of climate impacts and the real possibility of worst-case outcomes is also an extremely dangerous gamble. The risks are serious enough, and we need a common understanding of the urgent need to tackle them.”
“Glencore’s commitment to dirty coal is a further cause for concern,” says the Financial Times Lex column, commenting on yesterday’s announcement that the mining giant was scrapping its $2.6bn (£1.97bn) dividend after writing down the value of its coal assets. “Coal fell precipitously,” in the first half of the year, the column says, and “coal made up just one-third of ebitda [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation] in the first half, down from 46% in the same period last year.” It continues: “Glencore’s high-quality Colombian coal is struggling to find buyers in its traditional markets such as Europe. This accounts for a big chunk of the $3.2bn impairment taken in the first half. Yet [chief executive] Mr Glasenberg has lost none of his optimism for coal – reiterated regularly in past quarters – pointing to demand in China and India. Top quality Australian thermal coal prices have collapsed more than 58% over two years.” The column concludes that “assuming commodity prices for coal, copper and zinc are not about to take off, Glencore needs to junk its coal mines”. Meanwhile, there is also continued news coverage of Glencore’s half-year losses – in the Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Reuters.
In the Washington Post’s “Energy 202” column, energy and environmental policy reporter Dino Grandoni says that days before presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden makes a final decision on his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris is “making her case for the job by issuing a series of environmental justice bills”. Grandoni continues: “The California Democrat put out her second bill tackling the racial injustices of pollution in as many weeks as she is being considered by Biden to join the Democratic Party’s 2020 ticket…On Thursday, Harris teamed up with [Democratic US Representative for New York] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to introduce legislation meant to protect disadvantaged communities. Their proposal, called the Climate Equity Act, would require relevant bills in Congress to be scored on how much they may adversely impact poor and minority communities, which often bear the brunt of pollution and other environmental damage.” Harris “may be able to add something to Biden’s ticket on climate”, says Grandoni, with one thinktank energy adviser telling him that “Harris has real credibility as a Californian on climate” after the state has been able to grow its economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Reuters also covers the new bill from Harris and Ocasio-Cortez.
Elsewhere, Peter E Harrell – former deputy assistant secretary for counter threat finance and sanctions in the US State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and now an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security – writes in Foreign Policy magazine that President Donald Trump’s “use of national security laws to impose tariffs and sanctions sets a precedent for a future Democratic president to address climate change even if Congress fails to act”. This has “created a clear opening for a future Democratic president to impose wide-ranging tariffs and sanctions to combat climate change”, Harrell says.
Since the spring 2018, a large part of Europe has been in the midst of a record-setting drought. Using long-term observations, this study demonstrates that the occurrence of the 2018–19 (consecutive) summer drought is unprecedented in the last 250 years. Using a suite of climate model simulation outputs, the authors show the role of anthropogenic warming on exacerbating the future risk of such a consecutive drought event. Under the highest emissions scenario (RCP 8.5), they find a seven-fold increase in the occurrence of the consecutive droughts, with additional 40 million hectares of cultivated areas being affected by such droughts during the second half of the twenty-first century. The occurrence is significantly reduced under low and medium scenarios (RCP 2.6 and RCP 4.5), suggesting that an effective mitigation strategy could aid in reducing the risk of future consecutive droughts.
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