Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Lithium find in Cornwall spurs hopes of regeneration
- Firefighters make headway in subduing US western wildfires
- Hurricane Sally's rains wreak havoc on southeastern US states
- End sale of petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles by 2030, Labour urges government
- Saudi Arabia chafes at Opec partners’ ‘false promises’ on cuts
- The slow death of Big Oil
- Stopping climate change could cost less than fighting Covid-19
- It’s time to get real on nuclear
- What Trump’s environmental rollbacks mean for global warming
- Fast climate responses to aerosol emission reductions during the Covid‐19 pandemic
- Robust Arctic warming caused by projected Antarctic sea ice loss
Reserves of lithium described as “globally significant” have been discovered in hot springs within Cornwall’s historic tin mining area, reports the Guardian. According to the mineral exploration company Cornish Lithium, initial tests suggest some of the world’s highest grades of lithium could be found in the county’s geothermal waters, the paper says. The company is now planning to build a pilot lithium extraction plant at its United Downs site at St Day, near Redruth, with commercial production starting in three to five years. At a press conference, Jeremy Wrathall, CEO and founder of Cornish Lithium claimed there could be enough lithium in Cornwall to meet all the UK’s demand as it moves from fossil fuel vehicles to electric equivalents, the Guardian notes. (Lithium is a “key ingredient in electric car batteries”, says the Daily Telegraph, “but China, Australia and Chile currently dominate supply”.) Reuters reports that the company is considering another round of crowdfunding to support their pilot plant, which received an undisclosed investment from the UK government in August. (Lithium is one of the metals covered by Carbon Brief’s 2018 explainer on the resources that are key to a low-carbon future.)
In related news, the Financial Times reports that Tesla co-founder JB Straubel has been funded by Amazon for a start-up company aiming to extract lithium, cobalt and nickel from old smartphones and other electronics for reuse in new batteries for electric vehicles. The company – Redwood Materials – is one of five companies Amazon is investing in as part of its $2bn Climate Pledge Fund, announced earlier this year, the paper explains. Straubel tells the FT that “there are a phenomenal amount of cell phones in the world that currently are being discarded as trash or thrown into a landfill”, adding: “It’s a massive, untapped resource…If we can recover 98 or 99% of those materials and reuse them, we don’t need very much new material to keep that whole process running.” Other companies to receive funding from Amazon include the Canadian company CarbonCure Technologies, which has developed a carbon-sequestering technology for concrete, reports BusinessGreen. It adds that carbon credit marketplace Pachama, high-efficiency motor firm Turntide Technologies, and electric vehicle company Rivian were also announced as recipients. Amazon is not disclosing the exact amounts of the investments, but a spokesperson tells Axios that they range “from hundreds of thousands in seed and early-stage investments to multi-million dollar investments”.
Additionally, the Financial Times reports that LG Chem – the world’s largest manufacturer of electric batteries – is to spin off its battery business. The South Korean company, which supplies US carmakers Tesla and GM, will fund an expansion of its facilities through a potential initial public offering as it benefits from a surge in orders, the FT explains. It continues: “The battery business – due to be hived off in December – will be wholly-owned by LG Chem, but the Asian country’s biggest petrochemical company said it would consider a stock market listing for the new business.” The Guardian reports that “portable emissions-free ‘power plants’ could soon hit the road under plans by Toyota to fit some of the company’s light-duty trucks with hydrogen fuel cells that can generate electricity”. And, finally, the Financial Times reports that “rooftop solar generators, electric vehicle batteries and other small energy resources will be allowed to supply wholesale power markets in the US, in a challenge to top-down delivery systems controlled by electric utilities”.
Firefighters tackling the wildfires raging across California, Oregon and Washington have made “substantial progress in subduing the blazes”, reports Reuters. Cooler weather has allowed fire crews to make headway in all three states, the outlet says, although “the region still faces a formidable recovery from the fires, which have burned some 3.2m acres (1.3m hectares) in California since mid-August and another 1.7m acres (650,000 hectares) in Oregon and Washington state since Labor Day”. Meanwhile, there is continued analysis of – and reaction to – the fires. Estimates by the Washington Post suggest that California’s fires this year alone have put about 90m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. This is “some 30m tonnes more than the total CO2 emissions from providing power to the entire state”, the paper says. A New York Times piece interviews Jack Healy – its own Colorado-based national correspondent – on what it has been like to report on the fires. The Independent reports that Jerry Brown – former governor of California – has said that residents of the state should consider heading north of the border as the pattern of climate change-driven wildfires continues to worsen.
With the active Atlantic hurricane season and other extremes, the Financial Times speaks to scientists who say this year’s sequence of natural disasters and record temperatures have exceeded their worst fears. Canadian author and photographer Ed Struzik writes in the Yale Environment 360 that this year’s fires suggest that world has entered a “perilous new era that will demand better ways of fighting wildfires”. Writing in the Washington Post, Crystal Kolden – assistant professor of management of complex systems at the University of California – says that “President Trump would like to believe that forest management, not climate change, is the reason for the more destructive wildfires that have burned the West this summer.” But, “this is false”, she counters: “There is widespread agreement among fire scientists that climate change amplifies the effects of land management decisions, in California and elsewhere.” A piece in the Los Angeles Times asks whether the fires in the western US are “too big for Washington to ignore?”. While Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh writes: “How far we’ve fallen since the days when Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush promised to act on global warming, saying he would combat the greenhouse effect with ‘the White House effect’.” And in the Guardian, Brigid Delaney – senior writer for Guardian Australia – pens a letter to America, warning that “even the worst fire season in living memory was not enough…to make the leaders panic and DO SOMETHING about man-made global heating”.
Elsewhere, BBC News has a video feature from its Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg about the greenhouse gas emissions from the wildfires in Siberia this year, plus a second video by him on how vast swathes of frozen ground in Siberia are thawing, “with potentially devastating consequences for the climate”. And in Brazil, Reuters reports that President Jair Bolsonaro says that Brazil is being “disproportionately” criticised for fires in the Amazon rainforest and Pantanal wetlands, at a time when many places around the world were seeing a surge in blazes.
There is continued coverage of Hurricane Sally, which “dumped more than a foot of rain over the US southeast” yesterday, reports Reuters, killing at least one person, washing out bridges and roads and leaving “hundreds of thousands without power and others with ruined homes”. Sally “brought torrential rains and flash flooding to Alabama and Georgia as it sped toward the Carolinas”, the outlet says, adding that Sally is “the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth of tropical storm of hurricane strength to hit the US”. Almost 500,000 homes and businesses in Florida and Alabama are still without power, Reuters reports. At the same time, offshore energy producers and exporters have been clearing up the damage caused by Sally and “booting up idle Gulf of Mexico operations after hunkering down for five days”, another Reuters piece reports. Sally had shut 31% of offshore Gulf of Mexico crude oil production, the newswire says, 24% of natural gas production. and 1.4m barrels per day of US refining capacity at six refineries. The Washington Post has a “by the numbers” piece about Sally, noting that the hurricane winds gusted at up to 123mph, it caused a storm surge of about six feet, and it had been 16 years since Alabama’s previous direct hurricane strike.
Meanwhile, several other named storms are also currently in the Atlantic, with Hurricane Teddy strengthening to Category 4 yesterday, Reuters reports. However, Teddy will “encounter the cool water wake left behind by Hurricane Paulette, which should limit intensification”, notes Yale Climate Connections. It adds that Teddy will likely “weaken to Category 2 strength by the time it makes its closest approach to Bermuda on Monday”. Another depression is “expected to strengthen into a tropical storm on Friday as it moves northward over the western Gulf of Mexico”, Reuters says, making it the 22nd named storm of the season. It adds that the “the system could be near or at hurricane strength by Sunday”. An opinion piece in the Washington Post by Scot McFarlane – a PhD candidate at Columbia University – looks at how flooding along rivers in the southern US is “rooted in human action and racist history”. Finally, the Washington Post reports that a small, hurricane-like Mediterranean storm – known as a “medicane” – is “churning toward Greece, packing wind gusts to 85 mph and a foot of rain as it blasts through the Ionian Sea”.
The Labour party has urged the UK government to ban sales of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2030 to tackle climate change and air pollution, the Daily Telegraph reports. The government has consulted on plans to shift the ban from a 2040 deadline to 2035, or earlier if feasible, and including hybrids, the paper explains. It continues: “Ahead of a final decision, Labour has called for the government to be ‘ambitious’ by ending the sale of new petrol, diesel, and hybrid cars and vans by 2030, to create jobs, cut carbon emissions and reduce air pollution. Shadow ministers have written to the transport secretary Grant Shapps, warning him that a failure to ensure a rapid shift to zero-emissions vehicles will damage the UK’s car industry.” Matthew Pennycook, Labour shadow climate change minister, said an enhanced 2030 target was “ambitious but achievable”, reports the Independent, which adds that “environmentalists also welcomed the plan”.
Elsewhere in the UK, the i newspaper reports on a new poll that suggests nearly a third of pupils want climate change and sustainability to be covered much more comprehensively at school. BusinessGreen adds: “The poll, which was carried out by Censuswide on behalf of Zurich Insurance, also shows enthusiasm among young people for significant policy changes to prevent further damage to the climate.”
Saudi Arabia has launched a rebuke against oil producers that have not fulfilled their share of supply curbs, reports the Financial Times, saying moves to flout the terms of a collective deal were “damaging” for the group as a whole. The kingdom’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, said: “Using tactics to overproduce and hide non-compliance have been tried many times in the past, and always end in failure. They achieve nothing and bring harm to our reputation and credibility.“ The FT notes that “while he did not name any particular producer, Prince Abdulaziz delivered his remarks sitting next to Suhail Al Mazrouei, the minister of energy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has been among the countries overproducing by hundreds of thousands of barrels in recent months”. The UAE will “pledge formally to compensate for its overproduction with deeper cuts in the coming months”, the Financial Times Energy Source column says. At the same time, Prince Abdulaziz warned traders against betting heavily in the oil market, reports Reuters, saying he will try to make the market “jumpy” and promised those who gamble on the oil price would be hurt “like hell”. The comments came after a virtual meeting between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and its allies, known as Opec+, says Reuters. Prince Abdulaziz told the gathering that the group could hold an extraordinary meeting in October if the oil market soured because of weak demand and rising coronavirus cases, the outlet says. While Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said he expects global oil demand to recover fully in the second quarter of 2021, Reuters reports. Oil prices rose by 2% on the back of the Opec+ meting, another Reuters piece says.
In other oil news, Bloomberg reports that the US Interior Department “is looking to tighten requirements on bonds issued by a growing number of bankrupt oil producers to deal with abandoned offshore wells that could eventually become environmental disasters”. The outlet also reports that more than 250 environmental and indigenous groups are warning some of the world’s biggest energy companies of a backlash if they participate in a government auction of Arctic refuge drilling rights. And, finally, Reuters reports that “US lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spoke out on Thursday against the potential use of Department of Agriculture funds to bail out refiners that are denied exemptions from the nation’s biofuel blending laws”.
“Big Oil has to reinvent itself if it wants to survive in a low-carbon world,” says an editorial in the Financial Times. It continues: “BP said this week it believes the global demand for oil may peak within the next few years and that consumption may never recover from the pandemic. Such a bleak assessment from one of the world’s largest oil companies would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.” (See Carbon Brief’s analysis of BP’s energy outlook for more details.) Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the world was changing, the FT says: “Climate change has moved to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. Pressure on the oil industry to adapt has come from all sides even as companies have yet to figure out how to generate revenues from lower-carbon businesses. Investors are more vocal, urging the likes of BP and Royal Dutch Shell to recognise the financial impact that global warming could have on their operations.” The “future shape of oil demand remains unclear”, the editorial notes, and “the world also still relies heavily on oil as a source for other products, notably petrochemicals”. But while “low-cost producers will keep on pumping for as long as they can”, the “beginning of the end is here”.
Elsewhere, the Economist has a cover story this week on “the new energy order”. An editorial – covering similar ground to the FT – asks “is it the end of the oil age?”. It says: “As Covid-19 struck the global economy earlier this year, demand for oil dropped by more than a fifth and prices collapsed. Since then there has been a jittery recovery, but a return to the old world is unlikely. Fossil-fuel producers are being forced to confront their vulnerabilities. ExxonMobil has been ejected from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, having been a member since 1928. Petrostates such as Saudi Arabia need an oil price of $70-80 a barrel to balance their budgets. Today it is scraping along at just $40.” While there have been oil slumps before, “this one is different”, the article says: “As the public, governments and investors wake up to climate change, the clean-energy industry is gaining momentum. Capital markets have shifted: clean-power stocks are up by 45% this year. With interest rates near zero, politicians are backing green-infrastructure plans.” In place of oil, “a picture of the new energy system is emerging”, the editorial says: “With bold action, renewable electricity such as solar and wind power could rise from 5% of supply today to 25% in 2035, and nearly 50% by 2050. Oil and coal use will drop, although cleaner natural gas will remain central. This architecture will ultimately bring huge benefits. Most important, decarbonising energy will avoid the chaos of unchecked climate change, including devastating droughts, famine, floods and mass dislocation.” Elsewhere in the magazine, there is a briefing on how “America’s domination of oil and gas will not cow China” and a second editorial on why “politicians should take citizens’ assemblies seriously”. (For more on the UK Climate Assembly, read Carbon Brief’s in-depth coverage of its recent report.)
Finally, in comment pieces on oil, Reuters columnist Clyde Russell writes that, in the oil industry, “two distinct camps are emerging”. He explains: “The first sees oil and gas as an industry that will inevitably decline as the world switches to renewables in a bid to combat climate change, while the second sees a growing role for fossil fuels as the global population expands and hundreds of millions of people seek to join the energy-intensive middle classes, especially in Asia and Africa.”
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Dr Paul Dorfman – who has worked as a government adviser on nuclear issues – analyses the state of the UK nuclear industry following the decision by Japanese firm Hitachi to pull out of the Wylfa scheme in Wales. “If there’s such a thing as a coherent evidence-base,” he writes, “the market is clear that new nuclear plants are a thing of the past”. He explains: “Standard and Poor’s, the global credit-rating agency, sees ‘little economic rationale for new nuclear build in the US or Western Europe, owing to massive cost escalations and renewables’ cost competitiveness, which should lead to a material decline in nuclear generation in those countries by 2040’.” And reports from UK government departments and parliamentary committees “agree with market analysis”, Dorfman writes. The “last chance saloon for new UK nuclear now seems to be the fiscally dexterous Regulated Asset Base scheme, or RAB”, he says: “However, under RAB, the plan is for the very great financial burden of nuclear construction risk to be passed on to hard-pressed UK consumers and taxpayers in the form of a blank cheque. Not a happy prospect, politically.” Another challenge is that “we need to be carbon neutral and soon”, Dorfman writes, so it is “worrying that EDF admits that it will take 20 years after Sizewell C starts construction to pay off its own carbon bill”. It “makes sense” to replace old nuclear with “quick-to-build renewables” as it comes offline, he suggests, adding: “Renewables are an exponentially growing economic sector with huge potential for job creation alongside electricity grid up-grade, energy efficiency and management, new storage technology, and market innovation from supply to service provision.” He concludes: “It’s time to get real. Yes, we can modernise our electricity system, and resolve the real energy trilemma – it’s an economic, technological and political win-win.”
Elsewhere, Alistair Osborne – chief business commentator of the Times – writes that while Covid-19 “was the clincher for Hitachi finally pulling the plug on Wylfa”, the “real problem is big nuclear itself: a radioactive mix of last-century tech, rocketing upfront costs, post-Fukushima safety demands and a toxic clean-up bill”. The proof “is all around us”, he says: “Toshiba blowing itself up with Westinghouse; the endless delays and soaraway costs of EDF’s reactors at Flamanville in France, Olkiluoto in Finland and our own Hinkley Point C, a £22.5bn plant that Britain had to bribe the French company to build.”
In an interactive article, Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich at the New York Times visualise the impact of President Trump rolling back US environmental policies. Based on analysis by the research firm the Rodium Group, the article shows that rollbacks “are expected to result in an additional 1.8bn metric tonnes of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2035”. This is “more than the combined energy emissions of Germany, Britain and Canada in one year”, the article says. Overall, the Trump administration has acted to repeal or weaken at least 100 environmental regulations over the past four years, the piece explains. Yet, the “changes have not halted all efforts to address climate change nationwide. Even as the federal government retreats from regulating emissions, many states and cities are acting on their own to clean up pollution from power plants and buildings”. As a result, US emissions “are expected to be lower at the end of Mr. Trump’s first term than they were when he took office”, the article concludes. However, “the climate rollbacks mean that emissions will still be higher than they would have been if the rules had stayed in place, at a time when scientists and environmentalists say they will need to fall even faster to avert the worst consequences of global warming”. Meanwhile, the Hill reports that a court has temporarily halted an Environmental Protection Agency rule that rescinded Obama-era standards for methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, “preventing the rollback from taking effect for the time being”.
Aerosols exert a powerful cooling effect on the climate, and regional warming associated with their reduction during the Covid-19 pandemic should provide one of the clearest climate signals of the event. This study finds that in January–March, there was an anomalous warming of 0.05–0.15C in eastern China, and the surface temperature increase was 0.04–0.07C in Europe, eastern US and South Asia in March–May. The longer the emission reductions undergo, the warmer the climate would become. The emission reductions explain the observed temperature increases of 10–40% over eastern China relative to 2019. This study provides an insight into the impact of Covid‐19 pandemic on global and regional climate and implications for immediate actions to mitigate fast global warming.
Over the coming century, both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice cover are projected to substantially decline. While many studies have documented the potential impacts of projected Arctic sea ice loss on the climate of the mid-latitudes and the tropics, little attention has been paid to the impacts of Antarctic sea ice loss. This study finds that the effects of end-of-the-century projected Antarctic sea ice loss extend much further than the tropics, and are able to produce considerable impacts on Arctic climate. Their model indicates that the Arctic surface will warm by 1C and Arctic sea ice extent will decline in response to future Antarctic sea ice loss.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.