Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Oil falls as China omits 2020 growth target amid pandemic
- Atlantic hurricane season forecast to be unusually active
- Renewable energy may be switched off as demand plummets
- Rwanda submits tougher emission-cutting plan to the UN
- A new opportunity to tackle climate change: The covid and climate crises are connected
- Global geologic carbon storage requirements of climate change mitigation scenarios
- Escalating global exposure to compound heat-humidity extremes with warming
Oil prices have fallen after China failed to set an economic growth target for 2020, Reuters reports, “sparking concerns that the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic will cap fuel demand in the world’s second-largest oil user”. Brent crude was trading down $1.38 – or 3.8% – at $34.68 a barrel by 0420 GMT, the newswire notes. The decision marks the first time China has not set a target for gross domestic product (GDP) since the government began publishing such goals in 1990, another Reuters piece says. Speaking at the National People’s Congress in Beijing on Friday morning, Premier Li Keqiang delivered an annual policy address that “instead laid out a renewed focus on maintaining employment and investment”, says Bloomberg. “We have not set a specific target for economic growth this year,” Li said. “This is because our country will face some factors that are difficult to predict in its development due to the great uncertainty regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the world economic and trade environment.” Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that “China’s finance ministry will allocate a total of 407.3bn yuan ($57.22bn) to ecology and environment protection in 2020, up from 390.6bn yuan last year”. A statement released today outlines that, of this total, “25bn yuan will be allocated to air pollution prevention and control, 31.7bn yuan to water and 4bn yuan to soil protection”, the newswire explains.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that “the Trump administration has slashed royalties that some energy companies pay for oil and gas produced on public lands to a fraction of their pre-pandemic levels in a move that is aiding some major producers in the hard-hit industry”. It continues: “Oil and gas producers typically pay the federal government 12.5% of the revenues from onshore wells on federal land, but [the] interior [department] has so far approved cut for more than 70 leases in Utah to between 2.5 and 5%”. The move “shows drillers are taking the government up on its offer to consider royalty cuts on a case-by-case basis after the interior department rejected industry calls for blanket relief covering all federal leases”, Reuters says. And the Independent reports that the Trump administration “will allow more time for opinions on plans to lease public land to oil and gas companies after outrage that the tribal communities who would be most affected were unable to join the scheduled ‘virtual’ meetings and are being severely impacted by the coronavirus”. In other US energy news, Politico reports that “clean energy companies and advocates are blasting Democrats in the House [of Representatives] for neglecting to give the industry any help in its pandemic relief bills”.
In other energy news, the Financial Times reports that the Tengiz field in Kazakhstan – one of the world’s largest oilfields – has been “threatened with closure by local health authorities following a surge in coronavirus infections among its workers”. Yale Environment 360 reports on how “a major pipeline that would carry oil 900 miles across East Africa is moving ahead”. The Guardian reports that “European gas markets have fallen to fresh record lows as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to erode the demand for fossil fuels”. And Reuters reports that Algeria plans to build several photovoltaic solar plants at an estimated cost of 3.2-$3.6bn to meet growing domestic demand for electricity and to sell power abroad.
In Australia, the Guardian reports that deputy prime minister Michael McCormack says he is “very concerned” over reports that China’s power plants have been warned not to buy Australian coal. At the same time, the Australia government has been warned by oil and gas producers against underwriting a massive expansion of the domestic industry, reports the Guardian, “saying the country does not have a gas shortage and intervention could reduce supply and raise prices”. Finally, the Guardian also reports that a “cross-society collection of groups – representing business, the energy industry, property owners, unions, major investors, disadvantaged people and the environment – have banded together to warn that Australia’s prosperity depends on eradicating greenhouse gas emissions”. And the paper reports that “a team of Australian researchers are claiming a world first in a global race to develop cheaper, more flexible and more efficient solar panels after their experimental cell passed a series of heat and humidity tests”.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting an above-average season for hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean in 2020, the Washington Post reports. In its annual outlook, NOAA “calls for a 60% likelihood of an above-average season, with a 70% chance of 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 of which will become hurricanes”, says the paper. It adds: “Three to six of those could become major hurricanes of Category 3 intensity or higher, and there is a chance that the season will become ‘extremely active’, the agency said.” A typical Atlantic hurricane season, which falls between the starts of June 1 and the end of November, has about 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, notes the Hill. However, the Guardian points out that “for the sixth year in a row there’s been a named storm before [1 June], with tropical storm Arthur brushing the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Monday”. According to Forbes: “Scientists have pointed to the warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures and weaker trade winds in the Atlantic Basin as contributing factors of increased tropical activity. Warm waters are the ‘fuel’ of tropical systems. There is also an increasing likelihood of La Niña, a weather pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and allows more Atlantic hurricanes to develop.” Reuters and NPR also have the story, and earlier this week Carbon Brief reported on new research that found that major tropical cyclones across the world have become 15% more likely since 1979.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Cyclone Amphan – the most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in more than a decade – has killed at least 82 people. The newswire adds: “Designated a super cyclone, Amphan weakened after making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm by the Indian weather office, and it was expected to subside into a depression later.” The Financial Times says: “While Indian authorities averted a large death toll by evacuating more than 500,000 people, relief organisations warned that cases of Covid-19 could flare up in the crowded relief centres.” And finally, the New York Times reports that climate change is likely to raise the risk of dam failures in the US – like that seen in central Michigan earlier this week. Reuters notes that President Trump has declared a state of emergency following the flooding caused by the failure of two dams.
Hundreds of UK renewable energy projects may be asked to turn off this weekend to avoid overloading the grid as electricity demand plummets to record lows, reports the Guardian. It continues: “Britain’s demand for electricity is forecast to tumble to a fifth below normal levels due to the spring bank holiday and the shutdown of shops, bars and restaurants mandated by the coronavirus lockdown. National Grid is braced for electricity demand to fall to 15.6GW on Saturday afternoon – a level usually associated with the middle of the night – and continue to drop even lower in the early hours of Sunday morning.” At the same time, the sunny weather is expected to generate more renewable electricity than the UK needs, the paper notes. To deal with the challenge of balancing the grid during low demand, the National Grid is planning to use a new scheme “that will pay small wind turbines and solar installations to stop generating electricity if the UK’s renewable energy sources threaten to overwhelm the energy system”, the Guardian says: “About 170 small-scale renewable energy generators have signed up to the scheme, with a total capacity of 2.4GW. This includes 1.5GW of wind power and 700MW of solar energy. Other companies have also signed up to boost their electricity use when demand falls too low.” The Times reports that the National Grid estimates that “measures to keep the lights on as the pandemic takes its toll on electricity demand will cost about £500m this summer”. And BusinessGreen reports that the government has set out plans to take carbon emissions into account when securing back-up power supply for the UK’s electricity grid . As part of a suite of reforms announced yesterday for the capacity market, the change is intended to “make it easier for green grid technologies such as battery storage projects and demand side response (DSR) services to compete for contracts”, the outlet notes.
Meanwhile, a new Conservative MP tells the Guardian that the UK government is poised to push for a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Alexander Stafford, the MP for Rother Valley in Yorkshire, tells that paper that “I very much hope we will hear about a green recovery soon from ministers…We want a recovery, we want it green, so we will work for a green recovery”. The UK is in prime position to create a “huge bonanza of jobs” in renewable energy and other green industries, Stafford says. Finally, the Financial Times has an in-depth feature on “an Essex council’s £1bn borrowing spree to fund investment in solar power”.
Rwanda is the first African country to submit a tougher climate target to the United Nations, reports Climate Home News, “promising to cut emissions at least 16% by 2030 compared with a business-as-usual baseline”. It continues: “Subject to technical, financial and technological support from richer nations, the small landlocked country said that could go up to a 38% emissions cut in the next decade.” Environment minister Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya said: “Our country is already counting the cost of climate change. We have already tragically lost more than 140 citizens and more than 3,000 homes due to floods and landslides this year alone…With this new, more ambitious climate action plan, we have a clear roadmap to limit our already low emissions and ensure our society and economy are resilient to the impacts of a warming world.” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, congratulated Rwanda on its new plan, adds CHN. She tweeted: “As Covid-19 has not postponed the climate crisis, I am looking forward to receiving more updated ambitious [climate plans] from other countries.”
The Economist’s cover story in its latest edition focuses on the links between the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. An editorial says: “The two crises do not just resemble each other. They interact. Shutting down swathes of the economy has led to huge cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.” In a briefing, the Economist explains how “the pandemic both reveals the size of the challenge ahead and also creates a unique chance to enact government policies that steer the economy away from carbon at a lower financial, social and political cost than might otherwise have been the case”. The editorial adds: “Rock-bottom energy prices make it easier to cut subsidies for fossil fuels and to introduce a tax on carbon. The revenues from that tax over the next decade can help repair battered government finances.” However, the editorial also warns of the risk of “climate-damaging policies”, noting: “America has been relaxing its environmental rules further during the pandemic. China – whose stimulus for heavy industry sent global emissions soaring after the global financial crisis – continues to build new coal plants.” In a separate article, the magazine looks in more details at how a “glut of new coal-fired power stations endangers China’s green ambitions”.
Elsewhere, Guardian journalist Fiona Harvey discusses how “a green recovery can produce higher returns on public spending and create more jobs in both the short term and the long term, compared to the alternative of pouring stimulus cash into the fossil fuel economy”. And writing in the Financial Times, Lord Barker of Battle – the former UK energy minister and executive chairman of Russian energy and metals company En+ Group – says infrastructure projects in the aftermath of the pandemic “must be built with low-carbon materials”.
Integrated assessment models have identified carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an important technology for limiting climate change. To limit warming to below 2C, many scenarios require tens of gigatons of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. These scenarios are often unconstrained by growth rates, and uncertainty in global geologic storage assessments limits resource-based constraints. This study provides a mathematical framework for stakeholders to monitor short-term CCS deployment progress and long-term resource requirements in the context of climate change mitigation targets. Growth rate analysis, constrained by historic commercial CO2 storage rates, indicates sufficient growth to achieve several of the 2100 storage targets identified by the IPCC. A maximum global discovered storage capacity of approximately 2700Gt is needed to meet the most aggressive targets, with this ceiling growing if CCS deployment is delayed.
Heat stress harms human health, agriculture, the economy, and the environment more broadly. Exposure to heat stress is increasing with rising global temperatures. While most studies assessing future heat stress have focused on surface air temperature, compound extremes of heat and humidity are key drivers of heat stress. This paper uses atmospheric reanalysis data and a large initial-condition ensemble of global climate model simulations to evaluate future changes in daily compound heat-humidity extremes as a function of increasing global-mean surface air temperature (GSAT). The historical ~1C of GSAT increase above preindustrial levels has already increased the population annually exposed to at least one day exceeding 33C (the reference safety value for humans at rest) from 97 million to 275 million. Maintaining the current population distribution, this exposure is projected to increase to 508 million with 1.5C of warming, 789 million with 2C of warming, and 1.22 billion with 3C of warming.
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