Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Opec secures record global oil cuts deal under US pressure
- Ten EU countries urge bloc to pursue 'green' coronavirus recovery
- China may delay submitting climate plans amid economic slowdown
- Coronavirus tipped to trigger record fall in global emissions
- Aircraft emissions fall sharply as pandemic grounds flights
- Second wave of locusts in east Africa '20 times worse', says UN
- Methane levels reach an all-time high
- The Guardian view on the climate and coronavirus: global warnings
- Oil accord highlights the new world disorder
- An observation-constrained assessment of the climate sensitivity and future trajectories of wetland methane emissions
- The public remain uninformed and wary of climate engineering
- Climate change, ecosystem services and migration in the Marshall Islands: are they related?
Many publications report that OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) has come up with a plan to make the largest oil production cuts in history in an attempt to counter the collapse in demand driven by the coronavirus pandemic and, thereby, ending the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The FT reports that Opec said it would slash 9.7m barrels a day in oil production in May and June – equivalent to around 10% of the global supply – and continue with lower reductions until April 2022, in the hope of stabilising global crude markets. The FT notes that the deal comes “following pressure from US president Donald Trump”. It adds: “Trump welcomed the announcement, saying it would protect US jobs and congratulated Saudi Arabia and Russia.” The deal is backed by the G20, a second FT story notes. It is “more than four times deeper than the previous record cut in 2008”, Reuters says. The Times reports that, according to some experts, the deal may not be enough to address the scale of the problem, “with about a quarter of global demand or 25m barrels per day estimated to have been erased by global restrictions to try to halt the spread of the pandemic”. Politico reports that the deal was reached on Friday after a “marathon video conference between 23 nations”. It adds: “The cartel and other nations agreed to allow Mexico to cut only 100,000 barrels a month, a sticking point for an accord.” BBC News adds that Opec has yet to announce the deal, but individual nations have confirmed it. A second Reuters story reports that a spokesman for the Kremlin on Monday said Moscow considered the deal to be “important” and that it would help keep oil prices from collapsing. Axios reports the deal may not be enough to save many oil companies from the risk of insolvency. A third story in Reuters reports oil prices were “mixed” on Monday, suggesting the deal “was not enough to assuage existing worries about the demand destruction brought on by the coronavirus pandemic”. The Hill, the Economist and CNBC also report on the deal. The FT carries a third story exploring what the deal “means for the world”.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that Australia’s booming liquified natural gas (LNG) industry has stalled amid coronavirus uncertainty, while a fourth Reuters story reports US shale gas output is to drop by a record 194,000 barrels this month. A fifth Reuters story that US banks banks are preparing to seize assets in response to the shale industry decline.
Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and six other countries are urging the European Union to adopt a “green” recovery plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports. In an open letter published last Thursday evening, 10 environment and climate ministers said any rescue package should support the European Commission’s Green Deal strategy to “embrace a low-carbon future”. According to Reuters, the letter says: “We need to send a strong political signal to the world and our citizens that the EU will lead by example even in difficult times like the present and blaze the trail to climate neutrality and the fulfilment of the Paris Agreement.“ The other countries to sign the letter were Austria, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Latvia and Luxembourg, Reuters adds. By Saturday, France and Germany had also joined the group, EurActiv reports. Belgium has not joined the group after a dispute broke out between the three regional parliaments, a second EurActiv story says. Bloomberg today reports that the climate ministers have also formed a “new alliance” of 180 members with chief executives and researchers. “Political will is here,” the new group said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “We already have the plans and strategy. Projects such as the European Green Deal and other national zero carbon development plans have a huge potential to build back our economy and contribute to creating a new prosperity model.” Elsewhere, a second Reuters story reports cement and steel companies are being warned by investors over their lobbying on planned European Union carbon costs.
Climate Home News reports that China, the world’s largest emitter, might delay submitting its climate plans at least until after the US presidential election in November as “officials focus on reviving the economy from an unprecedented slowdown”. “It’s more unlikely now that China will come out with something before the US election,” Dong Yue, research fellow at the Beijing-based think-tank Energy Foundation China, said at a briefing, according to Climate Home News. However, China’s environment ministry did not respond to an email request for comment on exactly when it would publish its plans, Climate Home News says. Meanwhile, Chile has submitted its climate plans to the UN, with a more ambitious goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, a second Climate Home News story reports. The story adds: “It sets a cap on annual emissions of 95m tonnes CO2 equivalent by 2030, a substantially stronger target than Chile promised in its 2015 contribution to the Paris Agreement, and slightly stronger than the draft proposal.” Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Japanese environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi warned on Monday that the Paris Agreement “could face death if steps to fight global warming were put on the backburner to facilitate the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic”.
There is wide coverage of Carbon Brief analysis, published on Thursday, that shows the coronavirus is likely to cause the largest ever annual drop in global CO2 emissions. The Sydney Morning Herald says that emissions could fall by “more than during any previous economic crisis or war, led by a plunge in fuel consumption as the coronavirus hits economic activity and travel”. The Daily Telegraph says: “A report from UK-based website Carbon Brief yesterday suggested global carbon emissions could fall by 1,600m tonnes, representing 4% of the global total.” The analysis also finds that “even a cut of emissions on this scale would not be enough to limit global warming to internationally agreed levels, which would need to be at 6% every year for the next 10 years”, the paper adds. As MIT technology Review puts it: “To prevent 1.5C of warming, the world would need to cut emissions by 6% every year for the next decade. In other words, even after shutting down much of the economy for months, including global trade, travel, and construction, nations may still not decrease climate pollution enough this year to be on track to prevent that dangerous level of warming.” Axios says the findings provide “a sense of the staggering effects of the outbreak that’s freezing huge amounts of travel and economic activity”. Carbon Brief’s approach uses “five key datasets, covering roughly three quarters of the world’s annual CO2 emissions, including the entire output of the US, the EU carbon market, the Indian power sector and the global oil industry”, says BusinessGreen. It adds that the analysis “is at pains to stress the experimental nature of the projection, due to myriad challenges in securing reliable data and forecasting for the year ahead during a deeply uncertain and unprecedented period for much of the global economy”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions fell 3.9% to a record low in the year ended March 2019. New government figures show the drop was down “to wider use of renewable energy, the gradual return of nuclear power and lower energy demand due to warmer winter”, the outlet says.
Airplane emissions dropped by almost a third last month as the coronavirus lockdown grounded large numbers of flights – a drop in emissions equivalent of taking around 6m cars off the road, the FT reports. The cancellation of nearly 1m flights in March caused 28m fewer tonnes of CO2 to be emitted, according to FT analysis. “This is equivalent to a month of the UK’s total CO2 emissions and constitutes a drop of 31% from the comparable period last year,” the FT says. Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, tells the FT the decline was larger than that caused by previous shocks to commercial aviation, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption a decade ago. Climate Home News reports the empty skies has given climate scientists the opportunity to study how planes’ contrails trap heat in the atmosphere.
A second wave of locusts entering East Africa now could be 20 times worse than a first wave affecting the region in the winter from 2019-202, the Guardian reports. This second invasion comes from breeding grounds in Somalia and includes more young adults, “which are especially voracious eaters”, says the Guardian. “In February, eight east African countries experienced the worst outbreak in 70 years, exacerbated by climate change and war in Yemen,’ the Guardian says. Carbon Brief previously published an in-depth article examining the links between the 2019-2020 locust swarms and climate change.
Levels of atmospheric methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, have hit an all-time high, according to preliminary results from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Nexus Media reports. “To gauge methane levels, scientists regularly gathered samples of air from dozens of sites around the world and analysed them at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado,” the publication reports. “Here we are. It’s 2020, and it’s not only not dropping. It’s not level. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growth rates we’ve seen in the last 20 years,” Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University, tells Nexus Media. The Independent also has the story.
There has been a wave of new commentary over the Easter weekend focusing on how the Covid-19 crisis might affect action on climate change. An editorial in the Guardian says that it’s “too soon to say with any confidence what impact coronavirus will have on the climate emergency”. It adds: “Could the renewed shock of human vulnerability in the face of Covid-19 make way for an increased willingness to face other perils, climate chaos among them? Impossible to say at this stage, perhaps. Certainly not without a fight against all those who will promote a return to business (and emissions) as usual. But with the postponement of crucial UN biodiversity and climate conferences, it has never been more important to keep up the pressure. There is no exit strategy from our planet.” Writing for CNN, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation, say: “This pandemic is far from over, but it has already brought certain truths (which should have been evident) into stark relief: that viruses do not respect borders; that without solidarity, we will not defeat this pandemic, because we are only as safe as our most vulnerable people; that scientific knowledge and advice matter; and that delay is deadly. The same lessons hold true for our climate emergency.” In the New York Times, columnist Timothy Egan observes that “we have only a few years to save ourselves from ourselves…our trashed and overheated world is a slower pandemic”. In Climate Home News, former climate diplomat Thom Woodroofe and Brendan Guy, manager of international policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, explain why “a Democratic president [in the US] has the potential to be a game changer for the international fight against climate change”.
Today’s Financial Times carries a “big read” under the headline: “How coronavirus stalled climate change momentum.” It quotes a range of climate experts including Pete Betts, Glen Peters, Ralph Keeling, Lauri Myllyvirta, Rachel Kyte and Nicholas Stern. The article concludes with the thoughts of Stern: “People have to understand that the consequences of their actions can be collective and can be big. In a sense that is the same story in climate change.” Foreign Affairs has a long essay by Nobel-winning climate economist William Nordhaus on “how to fix” the “failing global effort” to tackle climate change which is now further complicated by Covid-19. He proposes a “climate club”: “Nations can overcome the syndrome of free-riding in international climate agreements if they adopt the club model and include penalties for nations that do not participate. Otherwise, the global effort to curb climate change is sure to fail…Why have landmark agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris accord failed to make a dent in emission trends? The reason is free-riding, spurred by the tendency for countries to pursue their national interests…How could the Climate Club work? There are two key features of the Climate Club that would distinguish it from previous efforts. The first is that participating countries would agree to undertake harmonized emission reductions designed to meet a climate objective (such as a two-degree temperature limit). The second and critical difference is that nations that do not participate or do not meet their obligations would incur penalties.”
In MIT Technology Review, James Temple writes about the “unholy alliance of covid-19, nationalism and climate change”. In ProPublica, Abraham Lustgarten focuses on how the next several months could see hurricanes and floods hit many vulnerable people around the world and that “climate change won’t stop for the coronavirus pandemic”. In the New Republic, Daniel K Gardner argues that the “planet can’t afford a coronavirus feud”. He continues: “The lesson that the present discord over the coronavirus pandemic teaches us is not that collaborating with China on global warming can’t work. Presidents Obama and Xi showed that it can. It’s rather that, in facing a global crisis like climate change, we are better served by a president who is capable of, and dedicated to, finding common ground with others, whatever the differences separating us may be.” In the New York Times, Bethany McLean says that the Covid-19 pandemic “may kill our fracking dream forever”, adding: “Energy independence was a fever dream, fed by cheap debt and frothy capital markets.” In Scientific American, Laura J Martin says that “confronting global warming will take a completely different approach from confronting the pandemic”. She adds: “Rather than young people changing their lifestyles to protect the elderly, the large and growing proportion of older citizens in industrialized countries will have to change their lifestyles in order to protect children and those not yet born.” In the Guardian, former Australian environment ambassador Patrick Suckling writes: “Reckoning with climate change will support a strongest possible recovery. The threat of climate change that is driving global action against it has not gone away. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic is a harbinger of climate disasters to come and the resilience we need to build into our systems – including health – to deal with what we know will be the adverse impacts of climate change.” And, finally, in her “All Models are Wrong” PLOS blog, climate scientist Dr Tamsin Edwards says: “Will our responses to this pandemic prepare us in any sense for the global co-operation, political leadership informed by science, and transformative will needed to act on climate change? Or will it confirm and amplify the challenges, with our human frailties and inequalities, our susceptibility to conspiracy and mistrust and selfishness, the damage done to economic systems we take for granted?…We can nurture seeds of hope, and use this time as a practice run for being more human.”
An editorial in the FT says “the response to the largest oil supply cut agreement in history shows the depth of the hole into which the global economy has sunk”. It reads: “Oil prices fell sharply after the deal between the Opec cartel and Russia was outlined late on Thursday. After G20 countries endorsed it and it was finalised over the weekend, prices bounced a little but fell back. The accord is too little to prompt a rally but – if it can hold – may be just enough to put a floor under prices.”
Methane (CH4) emissions from the world’s wetlands could increase by 50-80% by 2100 because of global warming, a new study suggests. Wetland methane emissions depend on temperature, water table depth, and both the quantity and quality of organic matter, the authors say, and “warming will affect these three drivers”. The study produces its “global estimate of wetland methane emissions based on atmospheric inverse modeling of CH4 fluxes and observed temperature and precipitation”. The estimate is “within the range of 50% and 150% reported in previous studies”, the study notes.
A new study provides quantitative measurements of the public perception of “climate engineering approaches” in the populations of the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand. The findings show that the public in all four countries “continue to have little knowledge of climate engineering”, the researchers say. They add: “All approaches are regarded unfavourably, albeit less so for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) than solar radiation management (SRM).” The results indicate that “attempts to engage the public with climate engineering have seen little change over time”, the study concludes, “and consequently, there is growing urgency to facilitate careful citizen deliberation using objective and instructive information about climate engineering”.
The drivers for residents of the Marshall Islands moving to the US are primarily “education, health care, work and family visits”, a new study says, and “only few mention climate impacts or environmental change”. To study the relationship between climatic events, ecosystem services and migration, the researchers conducted a “survey, focus group discussions, expert interviews and a geo-spatial analysis of flood extent and migration rates”. The respondents “do identify impacts of climate change on their livelihoods, health and safety”, the study notes, and “62% of Marshallese respondents in the US indicated that climate change affects their decision to return to Marshall Islands in the future”.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.