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Daily Briefing

16.09.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Hurricane Sally is a slow-moving threat. Climate change might be why
Hurricane Sally is a slow-moving threat. Climate change might be why

News.

Hurricane Sally is a slow-moving threat. Climate change might be why

As Hurricane Sally moves across the Gulf of Mexico, the New York Times reports that it represents “a climate change reality that has made many hurricanes wetter, slower and more dangerous”. The newspaper reports that scientists see the slow progress the storm is making across the gulf as “yet another effect of climate change” in the US, as fires continue across western states. The piece recalls that other recent hurricanes, including Harvey, have “stalled” in the same way. The nation is experiencing a hurricane season that is among the most active on record, it notes, and a Reuters article notes that meteorologists will soon have exhausted all the designated storm names for the season. Another piece in the New York Times states that “climate change is making hurricanes wetter” and that Hurricane Sally’s slow movement is leading to predictions of a deluge along the Gulf coast. However, it also notes that the high rainfall “cannot be chalked up to increased atmospheric moisture alone”. Reuters reports that more than a quarter of US offshore Gulf of Mexico oil output was shut and export ports were closed as the hurricane reached the area.

Meanwhile, coverage continues of the wildfires still burning across much of the nation. The New York Times describes how Donald Trump and Joe Biden are engaged in a “battle” for suburban voters of the wildfires, with Democrat presidential nominee Biden appealing to people’s concerns and taking advantage of president Trump’s lack of response. “For at least some suburban voters, particularly those who live in the West, the threat of losing their homes to fire or the health risks to their families of skies clouded with smoke seem more immediate than the social unrest spotlighted by Mr. Trump in his speeches and advertisements,” it notes. The New York Times also has an article on how conservative media personalities, such as Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson, have been dismissing scientists’ conclusions that climate change is a “key culprit” in West Coast wildfires, aligning with president Donald Trump, who according to the Daily Telegraph appeared to have blamed “explosive” trees and poor forest management for the wildfires. A piece in Current Affairs describes this as “the last ditch talking point on climate change” – that is, blaming government mismanagement for the problem.

The New York Times has an interactive piece on “how climate migration will reshape America”. It is based on analysis and exclusive climate data from the Rhodium Group, as well as interviews with economists, demographers, climate scientists, insurance executives, architects and urban planners. Among other things, it finds that at least 28 million Americans are likely to face “megafires” by 2070.

Finally, for the first time in its 175-year history Scientific American, has backed a presidential candidate, Biden, due to the current president’s “rejection” of evidence and science. “It’s time to move Trump out and elect Biden, who has a record of following the data and being guided by science,” it concludes.

The New York Times Read Article
World fails to meet a single target to stop destruction of nature – UN report

The world has not met a single target to protect wildlife and ecosystems in the past decade, according to a “devastating” report from the UN that is covered by the Guardian. It notes that, for the second consecutive decade, the international community has not fully achieved any of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets which were agreed in Japan in 2010 in a bid to slow the demise of the natural world. The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, which has received widespread media coverage, was published before a key UN summit on the issue later this month, the newspaper notes. It also says the UN warned that failure to act on the deterioration of the natural world could undermine the climate targets set out in the Paris Agreement and the sustainable development goals.

The New York Times says that the biggest driver of biodiversity loss on land is habitat destruction and degradation, due primarily to farming and overfishing, but notes that climate change will play “an increasing role as its effects intensify over the coming years”. It also mentions that climate change and biodiversity loss are “inextricably linked”, noting that clearing forests, for example, can have negative impacts for both. BBC News reports that within the biodiversity framework, which has been dubbed a “Paris climate agreement for nature”, are commitments to taking action on climate change with a “rapid phasing out” of fossil fuels, protecting and restoring marine ecosystems and eating a more sustainable diet with more moderate consumption of meat and fish. The Daily Telegraph leads on the dietary aspect of the UN report, stating the organisation has warned that “moving to mostly vegetarian diets will be crucial to save the natural world”.

The Guardian Read Article
Hitachi preparing to pull out of nuclear project in blow to UK climate ambitions

The Japanese firm Hitachi is set to abandon its plans to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa on the Welsh island of Anglesey, according to a frontpage story in the Financial Times. The newspaper describes the news as a “severe blow to Britain’s struggling nuclear power programme” as the country is “rushing” to cut emissions to meet its net-zero target for 2050. It also notes the latest development could affect the UK’s plans to reduce reliance on China, “which has been keen to fund other nuclear projects in the face of growing opposition from UK politicians”. According to the Times, Hitachi has been struggling to fund the project and is expected to confirm after a board meeting today that it is abandoning it altogether. The Financial Times’ Lex column writes that after suspending the project since the start of last year, Hitachi should “do its shareholders a favour by pulling out”. Carbon Brief has a Q&A published last year on whether the UK can meet its climate targets without the Wylfa nuclear plant.

Financial Times Read Article
BP clean energy push starts with five-year dash on solar, wind

BP’s proposed transition from one of the world’s biggest oil companies to being a “clean energy giant” will start with a “five-year sprint to dramatically boost wind and solar power”, according to Bloomberg. Reporting on an online presentation that comes as part of a series this week to show how the firm can become net-zero by 2050, Bloomberg says BP plans to have approved more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy projects by 2025. This would be an eightfold increase from 2019 and most of it would be solar making the company one of the world’s biggest generators of solar electricity, the news website reports. In another piece, Bloomberg says the oil major has “offered a glimpse of the profitability of its huge and secretive trading arm”, suggesting its annual returns are as much as $2.5bn. The Times reports that BP has “joined calls” to bring a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK forward, from the current date of 2040. The government held a consultation this year on proposals to change the deadline to 2035 or even sooner, the newspaper notes.

The Times also reports on updated forecasts from the International Energy Agency (IEA), reflecting the resurgence in coronavirus cases and lockdowns, which has led to it changing its predictions for oil demand this year. The IEA now says it expects demand to be 91.7m barrels a day this year, a drop of 8.4m daily barrels to a low “not reached since 2013”.

Another Bloomberg piece reports that a “surge” in purchasing of blending fuels by China, the world’s biggest importer, this year means oil demand is probably bigger than official figures indicate, according to the trading arm of refining giant Sinopec. It notes that oil buying by Chinese refiners has played an outsized role in supporting global prices this year, as the nation emerged from coronavirus lockdowns as much of the world was just entering them.

BusinessGreen covers a new report from the Oil and Gas Technology Centre which sets out a vision for establishing the North Sea basin as a “globally significant clean tech hub”.

Bloomberg Read Article
Business leaders back EU’s draft 55% carbon target for 2030

More than 150 business leaders and investors have called for EU countries to set higher climate goals for 2030, backing a European Commission draft plan to aim for a 55% reduction in emissions by the end of the decade, EurActiv reports. A Politico article calls the move from the current target of 40% reduction to 55%, the “15 percentage points of emissions cuts that change everything”. Climate Home News reports that the EU is facing an “internal” battle as it prepares to increase the ambition of its target. It says members of the EU Parliament’s environment committee have called for deeper emissions cuts of 60% by 2030, while a small group of eastern European member states led by Poland is expected to resist the proposed commitments.

Separately, a Reuters piece reports that the European Parliament has voted in favour of including emissions from the maritime sector in the EU’s carbon market from 2022, “throwing its weight behind EU plans to make ships pay for their pollution”.

EurActiv Read Article

Comment.

US wildfires reveal partisan divide on climate

An editorial in the Financial Times addresses the gulf between Democrats and Republicans in the US on climate change, in the context of the wildfires currently tearing their way through much of the nation’s west coast. It notes that scientists are clear that “warmer, drier conditions, wrought by a human-made rise in temperatures” are among the drivers behind the fires – and this explanation has been made clear by state governors. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, “remains as doubtful as ever about the phenomenon [of climate change] itself, let alone government action to abate it”, the editorial states. “It is too much, and too late, to expect Mr Trump to change his mind. But driven in part by pressure from young voters, his party has shown tentative signs of taking climate change seriously. It should take the wildfires as the cue to go further. If the planetary good were not reason enough, there is a strong one grounded in narrow American interest,” it continues. The editorial also notes that there is “no innate conflict between conservatism and climate consciousness,” noting that a party that draws support from rural areas must take wildfires seriously.

An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle states that Trump is “fiddling while California burns”. It adds: “While the president prefers to blame state officials for forest mismanagement, the federal government owns and manages much of the land that has burned. Nor can Trump claim the high ground on the state’s most important wildfire-related failure, irresponsible development, having disparaged the most serious attempts to address the problem.”

A New York Times comment piece says that the wildfires demonstrate that stopping climate change is no longer enough and they emphasise the need to be placed on adaptation. “Given this grim prognosis, how can the West minimize the loss of life and destruction that global warming is already causing, and what do other US regions need to do to adapt?” writes Spencer Bokat-Lindell, before examining the options.

Financial Times Read Article

Science.

Global aridity changes due to differences in surface energy and water balance between 1.5C and 2C warming

Limiting global warming to 1.5C rather than 2C would stem increases in aridity in the Amazon Basin, western Europe, and southern Africa, a study says. In the Mediterranean, a “significant acceleration” in aridity is projected under 2C, when compared 1.5C, it adds. “In some geographic regions, such as Australia, a strong nonlinear shift of aridification is found as 2C warming results in shift to wetter state contrast to significant increases in aridity and dry-year frequency at the weaker level of warming,” the authors say.

Environmental Research Letters Read Article
Social inequalities in flooding inside and outside of floodplains during Hurricane Harvey

There were “substantial racial inequalities in flood extent” caused by Hurricane Harvey – a Category 4 storm that made landfall on Texas and Louisiana in August 2017, a study finds. The research uses data on 100-year floodplains, flood impacts, socio-demographic characteristics and residential parcels to examine flooding inside and outside of floodplains during Hurricane Harvey. In their conclusion, the author says: “Natural disasters create impacts on human populations in uneven ways as they occur across spatially unequal human settlements. In the case of flooding during extreme weather events, these uneven impacts correlate with existing socio-spatial patterns of segregation, including by race.”

Environmental Research Letters Read Article

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