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Daily Briefing

20.02.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Oil and gas production is contributing even more to global warming than was thought, study finds
Oil and gas production is contributing even more to global warming than was thought, study finds

News.

Oil and gas production is contributing even more to global warming than was thought, study finds

Methane emissions from fossil fuels are 25-40% higher than previously thought, says CNN, based on a widely reported study published in the journal Nature. The research shows that naturally occurring emissions of fossil methane are lower than thought, meaning emissions from oil and gas extraction are higher, CNN explains. It says the findings mean a greater proportion of methane emissions could be addressed by action to tackle climate change, according to the study authors. But CNN adds: “[T]he Trump administration is proposing to ease regulations on methane that would no longer require the industry to monitor for and stop leaks.” The study “strengthens suspicions that fossil-fuel companies are not fully accounting for their impact on the climate, particularly with regard to methane”, according to the Guardian. It adds: “Other scientists who were not involved in the research concurred there were positive implications in the findings, but only if governments were able to rein in fossil-fuel companies, which has not been the case until now.” The New York Times say the findings “add urgency to efforts to rein in methane emissions from the fossil-fuel industry, which routinely leaks or intentionally releases the gas into air”. It adds that atmospheric concentrations of the gas have “more than doubled from preindustrial times” and recalls an investigation it published last year, which “revealed vast quantities of methane being released from oil wells and other energy facilities instead of being captured”. National Geographic explains how the new findings are based on an ice core drilled in Greenland, containing air bubbles trapped before the start of the industrial revolution: “[T]he key finding was about how little methane from geologic sources there was in the ice…in those pre-fossil-fuel-dependent days.” The Washington Post also reports what it calls the “provocative new study”, but it points to “other studies” that suggest naturally occurring fossil-methane seeps may yet be higher than the new estimates. It also quotes one scientist disagreeing with the implication that lower natural emissions means higher oil and gas-related releases. The Daily TelegraphUSA TodayAFPVergeBloombergAxiosMailOnline and ABC News all have the story. Carbon Brief also covers the study and gets the reaction from several scientists not involved in the work.

Labor to announce net-zero emissions target by 2050 and will oppose taxpayer funding of new coal power

In an “exclusive” report, the Guardian says that the Australian opposition Labor Party is backing a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 for the country. It adds that party leader Anthony Albanese is “expected to confirm in [a] speech on Friday that Labor will oppose using Kyoto carryover credits” towards Australia’s existing 2030 target. [For more on Kyoto credits see Carbon Brief’s in-depth explainer on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.] The Sydney Morning Herald reports the comments of Mike Cannon-Brooks, “one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs”, who wants the government of Scott Morrison to back a net-zero 2050 target. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that after recent bushfires and floods “fuel[ed] public concerns in Australia about global warming”, the country’s “powerful mining lobby is facing increasing pressure from investors to drop support for new coal mines, according to a dozen interviews with shareholders in global mining companies”. A second Reuters article reports that Australia is to hold a “wide-ranging” inquiry into the recent bushfires. It reports prime minister Scott Morrison saying on Thursday: “This Royal Commission is looking at the practical things that must be done to keep Australians safe and safer for longer in hot dry summers – conditions in which Australians will live into the future.” The piece adds: “Morrison has stoked widespread public anger by refusing to directly link the bushfires to climate change.” The Guardian reports: “Expanding federal government powers to call out the military, national standards for hazard reduction and the mitigation of natural disasters – but not climate change itself – will be the focus of the bushfire royal commission.” Separately, the Sydney Morning Herald reports “concerns” for the Great Barrier Reef, where corals have “started to bleach” in the far north. It points to the “prospect of a mass-bleaching event unfolding over the next two to four weeks”. The Guardian also picks up on reports of coral bleaching. Finally, a comment for the Guardian backs a bill introduced to the Australian parliament, which would create a policy framework for the country modelled on the UK’s climate change act.

The Guardian Read Article
Democratic candidates engage in lengthy debate over climate change

Democratic presidential hopefuls last night held a debate on climate change, the Hill reports, adding that they “address[ed] energy sources ranging from natural gas to lithium batteries”. According to Axios: “[The] debate…laid bare the candidates’ differences over fracking as Bernie Sanders defended his push for an outright ban…Michael Bloomberg, whose has donated heavily to anti-coal and other climate efforts, said he did not support a ban a fracking.” Another article for the Hill says that an “[e]nvironmental group ranks Bloomberg, [Amy] Klobuchar last in climate plans”. InsideClimate News reports from Nevada, where it says, for “many” Latino voters in the state’s upcoming Democratic primary, “action on climate change is key”. The Guardian reports that in a “surprising shift”, the Republican-backing “red state” of Utah is “embrac[ing] [a] plan to tackle [the] climate crisis”. It continues: “Utah aims to reduce emissions over air quality concerns as other red states are also starting to tackle global heating.” Separately, Reuters reports that the Republican governor of Arizona is “on track to bar cities from imposing natural gas bans”. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on a “new House Republican climate agenda”. It explains that the plan includes tree planting and support for carbon capture and storage, as well as advanced nuclear and energy storage. But it adds: “One thing the Republican climate plans won’t do, though, is cut the use of fossil fuels most responsible for heating up the planet.” The Hill reports that the Internal Revenue Service has issued guidance to business on how to take advantage of an existing tax credit for carbon capture technology.

Separately, the Financial Times reports on the “staggering” amount of debt held by the US shale gas sector. It says bankruptcy risks are “rising” as weak oil prices and credit restrictions coincide with some of this debt starting to come due.

The Hill Read Article
Coronavirus outbreak slashes China carbon emissions: study

There is continued international coverage of analysis published yesterday by Carbon Brief, showing that the coronavirus crisis has temporarily cut China’s CO2 emissions by some 25%. Agence-France Presse reports: “The coronavirus epidemic that has paralysed the Chinese economy may have a silver lining for the environment.” It says the estimated 100 million tonnes of CO2 cut from Chinese emissions over the past two weeks is equivalent to 6% of the global total for the period. La Vanguardia in Spain and Le Figaro in France also cover the analysis, which is mentioned in coronavirus live blogs published by the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. Meanwhile, Carbon Brief’s analysis has been updated to include an estimate of the impact of the crisis on aviation emissions: “[T]he on-going flight suspensions and cancellations have cut global CO2 emissions from passenger flights by around 11% (3Mt) in the past two weeks.”

Agence-France Presse Read Article
Flooded mum blasts missing Boris Johnson as Tory climate record in the spotlight

An “exclusive” for the Mirror reports the comments of a Cardiff resident whose home has been flooded by recent heavy rains, saying: “This flooding is definitely down to global warming. People need to wake up to climate change.” The paper reports: “Flood victims and climate crisis campaigners have slammed [UK prime minister] Boris Johnson for failing to visit communities devastated by Storm Dennis.” It continues: “The Tories have been blasted for taking donations from investors in fossil fuels – while the PM has had campaign money from hedge fund boss Michael Hintze, a backer of climate science-denying Global Warming Policy Foundation.” It adds: “Mr Johnson has ‘almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change’, according to the well-respected research website, TheyWorkForYou.” BusinessGreen reports on the comments of Environment Agency chair Emma Howard-Boyd, set out in a letter to the Daily Telegraph yesterday. The website reports her writing: “The nature of extreme weather like this means that flood defences cannot prevent flooding everywhere, all of the time…It is likely that we will see similar events, in more places across the country, due to climate change.” The Financial Times says that “atmospheric rivers” are “key to understanding the severe flooding affecting Britain”, citing “a leading US weather expert” who, it reports, says that “climate change increases the threat they pose”. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that “one in 10 new homes in England” built since 2013 are on land at the “highest risk of flooding”. It says the number of such properties has “more than doubled in recent years”. The Times reports: “Ministers are focusing too heavily on weak nature-based solutions to flooding and failing to invest enough in dams, scientists have warned.”

Separately, Press Association reports that draft standards for new homes do not go far enough to address emissions, flood resilience and overheating, according to the government’s statutory Committee on Climate Change. The committee has written a letter to government on the draft “future homes standard”, Press Association reports: “The letter says the planned measures for new homes are an important step, but do not go far enough to cut emissions, and address the growing risk of overheating, flooding and water shortages.” BusinessGreen also has the story.

The Mirror Read Article

Comment.

Coal-fired power is losing 'unfair fight' in India to renewables

“Coal-fired power in India is being increasingly priced out of the market by cheaper renewables such as solar, with the dirtier fuel abandoned by private capital, and only projects with government support being viable,” writes Reuters columnist Clyde Russell. He says: “If there was one major theme at this week’s annual industry gathering, Coaltrans India,” it was the idea that the Indian coal sector is “under siege…fac[ing] a future of limited growth and eventual disbandment”. Russell concludes: “One of the best pieces of advice ever given to those seeking information and the truth was ‘follow the money’, the exhortation from the ‘Deep Throat’ source to the journalists investigating the Watergate scandal that felled former US president Richard Nixon. If this is applied to India and power generation, it’s clear that the money has abandoned coal for renewables, with only government companies remaining committed to the dirtier fuel.” Meanwhile, S&P Global reports that India is aiming to become self-sufficient in thermal coal for power stations starting in the financial year 2023-2024. It adds: “However, the reaction from market participants were mild and said bottleneck for coal self-sufficiency lies with logistics constraints.” Separately, a Guardian feature reports on the “children and slaves mining Pakistan’s coal”.

Clyde Russell, Reuters Read Article
Punishing hard-working Brits by hiking fuel tax is a sure way for Boris Johnson to lose votes

An editorial in the Sun asks “why on earth Boris Johnson’s top adviser [is] considering hiking the fuel tax?”, arguing an increase in fuel duty would be “a sure way to haemorrhage votes”. The editorial is commenting on an “exclusive” report by the Sun which says that Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings is “push[ing] to hike fuel duty for the first time in a decade”. It continues: “He wants to end the fuel duty freeze, which has been in place since 2010 and saves drivers about £1.50 every time they fill up…Some in No10 believe it will also boost the Tories’ reputation on the environment.” The Sun notes that a further five-year fuel duty freeze would “cost the government about £4bn a year”. [Fuel duty freezes since 2010 already cost the government more than £9bn per year.]

Editorial, The Sun Read Article
The Times view on the carbon footprint of stag dos: British Bachelors

A tongue-in-cheek editorial in the Times comments on a widely reported, but unverified claim that half of flights by British men aged 20-45 are for “stag dos”. It says: “Surely some stags can be persuaded to celebrate in Britain instead. After all, the UK has plenty to offer the discerning lad on tour.” News coverage in the Times runs under the headline: “Stag-do explorers leave a big carbon hoofprint, says charity.” The claim is also reported by BBC NewsMetro and the Mirror.

Editorial, The Times Read Article

Science.

Insignificant effect of Arctic amplification on the amplitude of midlatitude atmospheric waves

Rapid warming in high latitudes – known as “Arctic amplification” – has an “insignificant” effect on the jet stream in the mid-latitudes, a new study says. Recent research has linked the warming Arctic region with a “wavier” jet stream. However, the new study shows “that the previously reported trend toward a wavier circulation during autumn and winter has reversed in recent years, despite continued Arctic amplification”. The authors conclude that the previously observed link with the jet stream “does not represent a forced response to Arctic amplification”.

Science Advances Read Article
The role of transport electrification in global climate change mitigation scenarios

Electrifying the transport network without replacing fossil-fuel power plants could “lead to the unfortunate result of increasing emissions instead of achieving a low-carbon transition”, a new study suggests. The researchers “conduct scenario simulations to depict the role of transport electrification in climate change mitigation and how the transport sector would interact with the energy-supply sector”. The findings show that “with technological innovations such as electrified road transport, climate change mitigation does not have to occur at the expense of economic growth”, the authors conclude.

Environmental Research Letters Read Article
Migration and household adaptation in climate-sensitive hotspots in South Asia

Migration is “an important livelihood diversification strategy” for climate-sensitive hotspots, a new study suggests. Researchers investigated migration patterns and their links to adaptation to climate change in climate hotspots in South Asia. Migration was found to help improve household adaptive capacity, albeit in a limited capacity, the authors say. For example, “typically, one or more household members, often young men, migrated internally or internationally to work in predominantly informal sectors. Remittances helped spatially diversify household income, spread risks, and insure against external stressors”. Migration “was mainly used as a response to risk and uncertainty, but with potential to have positive adaptation co-benefits”, the authors note.

Current Climate Change Reports Read Article

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