Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Oil jumps nearly 15% in record trading after attack on Saudi facilities
- Jair Bolsonaro’s government blocked funding for fire prevention
- A fifth of UK fresh food imports from areas at risk of climate chaos, MPs warn
- 1.1 million students in NYC can skip school for climate protest
- UK will see four heatwaves a year and twice as many flash floods by 2070s, Met Office predicts
- Road transport emissions up since 1990 despite efficiency drive
- The climate crisis and the case for hope
- Why I got an electric car — and you should too
- Oil crisis affects us too
- Net-zero: the story of the target that will shape our future
- One of India’s largest coal-mining states says it will not build new coal power plants
- Two decades of glacier mass loss along the Andes
- Germany’s decision to phase out coal by 2038 lags behind citizens’ timing preferences
- Indian Ocean warming can strengthen the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation
Extensive coverage continues of the aftermath of the attacks on Saudi Arabian crude oil facilities that have cut the kingdom’s production in half. “Brent crude, the international benchmark, settled at $69.02 (£55.55) a barrel, rising $8.80, or 14.6%, its biggest one-day percentage gain since at least 1988,” says Reuters. “Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter and, with its comparatively large spare capacity, has been the supplier of last resort for decades,” the article adds, noting that sources have told Reuters that a full return to normal production “may take months”. Saudi Arabia said yesterday that a preliminary investigation indicated the attack was carried out using Iranian weapons, says another Reuters piece, “but stopped short of directly blaming regional foe Iran”. A day after saying the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to the incident, President Trump said yesterday there was “no rush” to do so, reports Reuters. He added that it “certainly looking” that Iran was behind the attack “at this moment”. Trump also tweeted that the US had become such a big producer it no longer needed oil from the Middle East, reports another Reuters article. And Reuters also reports that Chevron’s chief executive told CNBC that the attack on Saudi oil plants will not have much impact on US oil production in the short term. Another Reuters piece notes that US shale oil output “is expected to rise by 74,000 barrels per day (bpd) in October to a record high 8.843m bpd”, while another reports that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) says it is too early for members to take any action on raising output or holding a meeting. A piece in the Financial Times says the spike in oil prices “could not have come at a more inopportune time for the global economy”. It continues: “The manufacturing sector is in the doldrums around the world, the US-China trade conflict is unresolved and some major economies are on the verge of recession. A sustained increase in oil prices would be more bad news for global growth.” The FT also has a Q&A on the attacks, while Axios looks at the “uncertain oil market landscape”.
The Brazilian government blocked 30% of its environment agency’s budget for preventing fires earlier this year, according to an internal document seen by Unearthed. The document shows that R$13.5m (Brazilian reals) or £2.7m was frozen from the fund at the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama). This has left R$5m (£1m) to tackle the blazes that continue to rage in the Amazon, Unearthed notes. Senior staff at the agency have also told Unearthed that their work is being deliberately undermined by President Bolsonaro’s government. Meanwhile, a report from Human Rights Watch finds that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is largely driven by criminal networks that threaten and attack government officials, forest defenders and indigenous people who try to stop them, reports the Guardian.
Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports that Singapore has offered to help Indonesia fight fires in the country that “have sent a pall of smoke air over neighbouring countries and pushed air pollution in the city state to levels unseen in three years”. In a Facebook post, Masagos Zulkifli – Singapore’s minister for the environment and water resources – said Singapore had offered technical firefighting assistance to Indonesia “and is prepared to deploy them if requested”. By late yesterday, there had been no official response, notes the FT. Indonesia closed more schools yesterday in parts of the islands of Borneo and Sumatra due to the smoke, says Reuters. Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency says more than 328,000 hectares of forests and peatlands have been burnt since January, the article notes. The annual burning “usually peaks from July to October during Indonesia’s dry season”, BBC News says, as “farmers take advantage of the conditions to clear vegetation for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations using the slash-and-burn method”. “But it’s not just small-scale farmers at work here,” the article adds. “The concern is many of these fires are started by big corporations that want to plant oil palm plantations.”
A report from a group of British MPs warns that around a fifth of the fresh food the UK imports comes from areas threatened with climate change, the Guardian reports. The report from the House of Commons environmental audit select committee “set out a clear plan for how the UK’s food supplies could be protected from the climate emergency and to publish information on how food may be affected by Brexit”, says the Guardian. Committee chair Mary Creagh MP said: “We are facing a food security crisis, exacerbated by uncertainty over the UK’s future trading position with the EU and the rest of the world,” reports Sky News. Her quote continues: “More people are living in cities at risk from over-heating and water shortages, they’re breathing polluted air, eating more fast food and getting less exercise. What’s needed is a planetary health champion to put this agenda at the heart of government.” Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph reports on a new study that finds a “flexitarian” diet which includes one portion of meat a day has a lower carbon footprint than a vegetarian diet that includes dairy.
New York City has announced that school students can miss classes without penalties to join the youth climate strikes planned around the world on Friday, reports the New York Times. It adds that the city’s education department said students will need consent from their parents or guardians to be excused and that it will also send guidelines to schools, encouraging them to hold discussions “about the impact of climate change and the importance of civic engagement”. Organisers of the protest expect it to be even bigger than last March, when 1.5m people took to the streets demanding change, says Sky News. Teen Vogue magazine has a special cover story on the strikes, featuring an interview with Greta Thunberg, while DeSmog UK speaks to some school strikers – and parents – in the UK. The worldwide protests are being held three days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit, which is being hosted by the city, the NY Times piece notes. Climate Home News has an explainer about the format of and expectations for the summit, while InsideClimate News reports that bots are being used to “swarm Twitter with attacks on climate science” ahead of the event.
Elsewhere, the Press Association reports that a thinktank has said the voting age should be lowered to 16 to give young people a voice on their future in the face of environmental damage. It says the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned that young people and future generations are facing a “toxic inheritance” of climate change, loss of wildlife and damage to the oceans and soils.
The UK will experience increasingly extreme weather by the 2070s, “including four heatwaves a year and almost twice the amount of current flash flooding”, says the Independent, reporting on new climate change projections published by the Met Office. The new “high resolution” data provide projections for the UK “using a grid, which broke down Britain into 2.2km squares”, says the Independent. This local data helps identify the challenges posed by climate change in unprecedented detail, says the Daily Telegraph, which “means potential flood and storm risks can be pinpointed to an exact area to enable the government to plan a response”. Dr Lizzie Kendon, a climate scientist at the Met Office is quoted explaining that “the level of spatial detail we are working with is 10 times finer than the resolution of previous model projections. This is like looking at a digital picture of a person’s face in much greater detail”. The work is an extension of the UK climate projections published last year and explained in depth at the time by Carbon Brief.
Government figures show that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from road transport are higher than they were in 1990 – despite more efficient cars – because traffic has increased by almost a third, reports the Guardian. The report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says GHG emissions have risen by 6% compared to three decades ago. More fuel-efficient vehicles have mitigated but not stopped the increase in emissions, the Guardian notes, as traffic rates have risen from 255bn miles travelled a year in 1990 to 328bn miles in 2018. The report adds that “reducing emissions from road transport remains a significant challenge as the UK looks to reach net-zero emissions by 2050”, says BusinessGreen. At the end of 2018, just 0.5% of all vehicles licensed in the UK were ultra-low emission vehicles, its report notes.
It is “not easy to feel hopeful at this dark hour”, writes Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell, but there are “signs that the climate fight is gaining momentum and becoming the driving political movement of our time”. Goodell makes the “reckless prediction” that “people will look back on the fall of 2019 as the turning point in the climate crisis”. He points to “tens of thousands of people [that] will participate in a global climate strike”, a “majority of registered voters now say[ing] climate change is an ‘emergency’”, climate change being “at the top of the agenda for every Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential campaign”, and “of course, there’s the Green New Deal, which has emerged in the past year to become one of the hottest political topics of the moment”. “Of course, I could be wrong again,” he says, “Greta Thunberg might lose her magic, the Green New Deal might get co-opted by weak-kneed Democrats, and the fossil fuel industry could be propped up for years by Trump and Putin and their progeny”. “But if the climate crisis has taught us anything, it’s that it’s up to us to choose the future we want,” he concludes. “I know what I’m fighting for. Do you?”
UK transport secretary Grant Shapps has a piece in the Red Box section of the Times extolling the benefits of his electric car. “Most people already know electric cars are greener than their petrol and diesel counterparts, helping to cut carbon emissions and cleaning up the air we all breathe,” says Shapps, “but many are unaware they’re also much more reliable and cheaper to use”. “Charging up the battery costs a fraction of the price of petrol,” he writes, and “although the upfront costs are higher, decreasing battery prices are closing the gap”. He adds: “All of this is why we are launching Go Ultra Low, a joint government and industry public awareness campaign to help motorists understand the benefits, cost savings and capabilities of the wide range of electric vehicles on the market.”
The “soaring” oil price following the drone attack on a Saudi Arabian oil terminal at the weekend “shows just how much we need to protect ourselves by finding other sources of energy apart from fossil fuels” an Evening Standard editorial says. “It’s a good thing anyway to back low-carbon sources such as nuclear and solar power, to meet targets on climate change,” the article continues, “but energy independence is all the more important when one drone attack such as today’s risks disrupting supplies and hitting economies”. Elsewhere, Financial Times chief foreign affairs columnist Gideon Rachman writes that “it is likely that, if the US sticks to its claim that Iran was behind the attack, it will stage a military response”. “If and when that happens, there are no guarantees that the conflict will not escalate further,” Rachman says. “Given that the weekend attacks have already caused a 20% spike in the price of oil, the potential for further mayhem on the markets is clear.”
Climate Home News deputy editor Megan Darby has a long feature describing the history of the concept of “net-zero emissions”. Darby speaks to some of the key architects behind the idea, including climate change lawyer Farhana Yamin, who notes the simplicity of zero emissions:“Once people get their heads round this scary idea, they enjoy having this constraint and something to work towards.” Yamin keeps returning to how an “informal network of women drove the campaign in their various spheres of influence, reinforcing one another’s conviction”, writes Darby. “There are many mothers of this goal,” Yamin says. Darby explains how the line referring to a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks” was included in the Paris Agreement and how those “few lines have become the dominant guideline for national governments aspiring to be climate champions”.
In a feature for Quartz, senior reporter Akshat Rathi and energy and environment writer Kuwar Singh report from India that “the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, home to the country’s third-largest coal reserves, will not build any new coal power plants”. “This comes only days after the government in the western state of Gujarat announced it will not give permission to build new coal power plants,” they write. However, “neither state…has made the decision permanent via legislation”. The decision is based on two factors, the article notes: “First, Chhattisgarh already has a large number of coal plants that meet a vast majority of the state’s electricity demand and also export to other states. These plants are under-used, though, which means any future increase in the state’s power demand could be easily met.” And second, “falling costs of solar power and the state’s responsibility to contribute to the ambitious national goal to build renewable power plants mean that Chhattisgarh is likely to rely on using solar to fill up any excess demand”. Elsewhere, Mining Weekly reports that South Africa’s thermal coal export industry is facing a “long-term, permanent decline” in part due to “the fact that its exporters are more dependent on a single import destination, India”.
A new study presents mass changes in Andean glaciers between 2000 and 2018. Using satellite images and digital elevation models, the researchers estimate a decline in total ice mass of 23bn tonnes per year. The largest decline in ice mass is in the Patagonian Andes and the Tropical Andes, the researchers find, “compared to relatively moderate losses in the Dry Andes”. The results “provide a comprehensive, high-resolution and multidecadal data set of recent Andes-wide glacier mass changes”, the authors conclude, which “constitutes a relevant basis for the calibration and validation of hydrological and glaciological models intended to project future glacier changes and their hydrological impacts”.
German citizens would prefer that coal-fired power is phased out of the country’s energy mix by 2025, a new study suggests, rather than the 2038 target set by the government. Using “a choice experiment that assessed 31,744 hypothetical policy scenarios in a representative sample of German voters”, the researchers show that voters “would uphold their support for greater climate ambition up to an additional cost to society of €8.5bn”. “Voters in Rhineland and Lusatia, the country’s main coal regions, also support an earlier phase-out, but to a lesser extent than voters in other regions,” the study finds.
A new study assesses the potential link between the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and warming of the tropical Indian Ocean (TIO). Using coupled climate model simulations, the study identifies several mechanisms through which TIO warming causes an intensification of the AMOC. They estimate that a TIO warming of 0.1C above the average warming of tropical oceans intensifies the AMOC by around one Sverdrup (equivalent to one million cubic metres of water per second). The authors suggest that “TIO warming could delay the AMOC weakening under greenhouse warming”, and “might be already playing a role in sustaining the AMOC”. “Indeed,” they add, “we find that the AMOC weakens more strongly or completely collapses if we suppress TIO warming under the doubled and quadrupled CO2 scenarios”.
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