Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Save nature or risk economic disaster, global leaders tell each other
- Greenland ice sheet on course to lose ice at fastest rate in 12,000 years, study finds
- Oasis Petroleum files for bankruptcy
- Green homes grant: Demand expected to soar as energy efficiency scheme launches
- India gets no bids for two-fifths of coal mines up for auction
- Trump-Biden debate ignored our worst threat: climate change
- Is China a green saviour – or the ultimate climate villain?
- Royal Dutch Shell’s Ben van Beurden on journey from hero to zero
- Global variation in diurnal asymmetry in temperature, cloud cover, specific humidity and precipitation and its association with leaf area index
- Persistent collapse of biomass in Amazonian forest edges following deforestation leads to unaccounted carbon losses
Various publications cover the virtual launch of a United Nations (UN) biodiversity summit, during which at least 112 world leaders presented statements to each other and a digital audience. Bloomberg notes that, despite the scale of the event in which nations discussed the mass extinction of species and its impacts on economic development, no specific set of actions is expected to emerge from the summit. The news website reports that UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called for “much greater ambition” at an event that came shortly after a report on the world’s “utter failure” to achieve the biodiversity targets set during a 2010 summit in Aichi, Japan. Bloomberg says that “one after another, [leaders] called for more action and bold steps to avoid climate collapse”. There were hopes for the statement from China’s president Xi Jinping following last week’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, but Climate Home News notes that “those expecting a repeat of President Xi Jinping’s surprise announcement last week…were left disappointed”. The article notes that the summit was aimed at building political momentum and to bolster financial commitments ahead of talks scheduled for May next year in Kunming, China. BBC News notes that “genuine commitments” are expected at the 2021 conference, which was postponed due to the pandemic. All member countries will be expected to take up a new “biodiversity framework” to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030. BusinessGreen covers the speech made by UK prime minister Boris Johnson at the event yesterday, in which he said “nature is declining at a pace that is truly terrifying”. Ahead of the summit’s launch, Reuters reports that David Attenborough led a call by conservation groups for nations to invest $500bn a year to halt the destruction of nature.
Several publications, including Carbon Brief, have covered a new Nature study on the projected rate of Greenland ice melting in the coming years. The Washington Post reports that the ice sheet is set to lose mass at around four times the fastest rate over the past 12,000 years and that at its current trajectory such melting would “dump huge quantities of freshwater into the sea, raising global sea levels and disrupting ocean currents”. The Associated Press notes that the study was based on ice core data and models, and is the first to “painstakingly reconstruct” Greenland’s ice loss record over the entire course of the Holocene, “the geological epoch that has allowed civilisation to flourish”. It notes that until the late 1990s, Greenland’s ice sheet was “roughly in balance”, with gains from snowfall equalling the losses from glaciers crumbling and melt-off. However, it notes that climate change has “destroyed that balance”, with net water now flowing from the sheet into the Atlantic.
An editorial from Nature reflects on the social and geopolitical implications of changes in the Arctic, including impacts on indigenous communities and competition for regional influence, trade routes and the search for fossil fuels by world powers such as the US, Russia and China. Separately, a Washington Post piece reports that a top Trump official has delayed the release of a study that shows how oil and gas drilling in Alaska could encroach upon the territory of polar bears.
In more climate science news, the Guardian reports on “the first worldwide assessment of how global heating is differently affecting days and nights”, which found climate change is heating up nights faster than days in many parts of the world. Sky News and the Press Association are among the other publications covering the study.
Oasis Petroleum, a US shale company, has become the “latest big US oil and gas group to hit the wall” following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Financial Times reports. It joins a total of 36 oil-and-gas producers which have filed for bankruptcy in the first eight months of this year as global oil demand declined, the newspaper notes. Another piece in the Financial Times covers a new report from thinktank Carbon Tracker which concludes that US taxpayers may end up footing the bill for tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars to clean up the nation’s oil-and-gas wells due to these bankruptcies.
There is continued coverage of Shell’s plans to cut up to 9,000 jobs, around 10% of its workforce, due in part to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and also a major shift to “keep pace with the global transition to clean energy”, as the Guardian says. Shell, which is Europe’s biggest oil company, has set a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the Times notes. It quotes chief executive Ben van Beurden, who said the company’s oil-and-gas production business would continue being “run to ensure a strong flow of cash”, but the company will scale back its refining business and look to a a future in which green energy dominates. The Financial Times notes that not only have Shell’s shares more than halved due to the pandemic’s impact, now rivals such as BP have “caught up on climate messaging”, placing further pressure on the business. The newspaper’s Lex column notes that companies such as Shell have been slow to take up renewables and that markets “will not quickly reward them for following on so late”. Separately, BusinessGreen reports on a new roadmap published by Shell focusing on decarbonising shipping, which looks at hydrogen fuel cells and liquified natural gas as option to clean up the sector.
As the UK government’s new flagship energy efficiency scheme for homes launches, concerns have been raised that demand for could far outstrip supply, according to BusinessGreen. The £2bn Green Home Grants scheme, announced as part of the UK’s “green recovery” from coronavirus, offers homeowners grants of up to £5,000 to help pay for home upgrades and low-carbon technology installations, the news website notes. It says that a poll by thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit indicates demand for scheme vouchers will likely exceed supply by more than 10 times. MailOnline reports that ministers say the scheme will also help save up to £600-a-year on energy bills, as well as cut carbon emissions from buildings and support 100,000 jobs.
In more UK news, Reuters reports that the National Grid has pledged to cut its “scope 3” emissions by 20% by 2030, while Bloomberg covers a plan by National Grid to for an offshore grid that will link new offshore wind farms and interconnectors, which it says will save consumers £6bn by 2050.
Finally, Teesside Live reports on the announcement that Teesside has been named the UK’s first hydrogen transport hub by the Government, with the aim of making the area of north-eastern England a “global leader” in green hydrogen.
India has received no bids for 15 of the 38 mines auctioned as a part of the government’s coronavirus recovery plan to open up coal mining to private companies, “reflecting little investor appetite for the sector clouded by environmental concerns and low margins”, Reuters reports. The world’s second largest consumer, importer and producer of the fuel previously had its operations overseen by a state-owned company, but prime minister Narendra Modi opened up mining to the private sector this year.
Another Reuters piece looks at coal miners’ attitudes to president Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, while E&E News has a piece on Arch Resources Inc, the US’ second-largest coal company, moving away from coal power.
While the first TV head-to-head debate between Donald Trump and his challenger Joe Biden saw the first question about climate change asked in a presidential debate since 2008, Los Angeles Times editorial writer Scott Martelle says the resulting discussion was “not nearly good enough”. He acknowledges that there “wasn’t much substantive discussion about anything” during the debate and points out that “10 minutes of squabbling over forest management and the economic impacts of Biden’s proposals” did not capture the scale of the issue. Martelle notes that the next debate will be in Miami and will have a townhall format, meaning climate change may get more attention given “the grave risk Florida faces from both rising sea levels and hurricanes”. A piece in the Guardian notes that the question addressed to Trump, about whether he believed climate change was driven by human activities, framed this as “something that is for some Americans still debatable”. A piece on the debate by New York Times television critic James Poniewozik notes: “There were important issues on the agenda — the pandemic, the wounded economy, climate change. But Mr Trump was mostly determined to drown them, and his opponent, and even the moderator, out”. In a piece for the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes that the president “lied, remarkably, to his own disadvantage” on the subject of climate change. “He falsely overstated Biden’s climate policies, allowing Biden to appear moderate by comparison,” he notes, adding that Trump did not explain his own administration’s climate policy well, “even though polls show that environmental policy is among his most unpopular issues”. Carbon Brief has produced a tracker allowing a comparison between the Republican and Democrat positions on climate and energy policies.
A Guardian editorial describes the debate as a “bad night for the world” and notes that it has been variously described by commentators as “a trainwreck, dumpster fire, shitshow and the worst debate in presidential history”. Discussing Trump’s shortcoming, the editorial notes that the withdrawal of the US from multilateral institutions is allowing China to posture as a global leader. “While deadly wildfires have raged in California, Mr Trump questions global heating. Meanwhile, [Chinese leader] Mr Xi pledged last week that his country would be carbon neutral by 2060,” it notes.
“Xi Jinping’s bid for world climate leadership might be more palatable if China were not building a new coal plant every two weeks,” writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the international business editor of the Daily Telegraph. Relaxing its “traffic light” system for permitting new coal plants while also “pitching for supremacy in renewable technology and electric vehicles”, China is “the lead player in both the ‘clean tech cold war’ and the parallel contest of ‘dirty nationalism’”, Evans-Pritchard argues. A “brief hiatus in coal expansion after the Paris Agreement” has given way to a “fresh construction blitz as soon as the economy faltered last year”, he says. Yet “President Xi had the chutzpah to present his net-zero plan at the United Nations, which has decreed that no coal new plant should ever be built anywhere in the world”. Nonetheless, recent research shows that “solar is already cheaper than coal power in every city and in every sub-climate of the country”, Evans-Pritchard notes. China is both a “climate villain” and a “climate champion”, he concludes: “I have no doubt that China will achieve peak emissions long before 2030 and net zero long before 2060, not because Xi Jinping says so, or because the next 14th Five Year Plan makes all the right noises, but because that is the relentless logic of the technology shift and the cost curve.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Holland, Sky News’s climate change correspondent, says it “seems hard to re-imagine China as a champion of climate change given the devastation caused by its speedy economic development”.
“First the investors, now the staff. Royal Dutch Shell’s net-zero dreams aren’t so cool for everyone,” says Alistair Osborne, chief business commentator of the Times, discussing the recently announced job cuts at the company. Osbourne ponders the question of whether Shell’s chief executive Ben van Beurden can “green up the business without the heat also rising on him?”. Van Beurden has said that there are “too many levels between me, as the chief executive, and the operators and technicians at our locations”, but “did it really take his new green agenda to discover that? Or is it just cover for overdue streamlining?”, asks Osborne. “Shell’s plans to end up with less than ten refineries versus the 55 it had 15 years ago certainly look dramatic,” says Osborne, but it also raises a question around paying for “a toppy £47bn in 2015 for gas outfit BG, bulking up in hydrocarbons”. There is ”no disguising there’s been quite a shift in strategy in five years”, concludes Osborne, but “it’s hard to spot the investment case just now for following Shell on its green journey. For shareholders and the staff losing their jobs, the benefits so far have been net-zero”.
Global night-time temperatures have risen more quickly than daytime temperatures over the last four decades, a new study suggests. Using hourly data for 1983-2017, the researchers find a difference in average annual temperature of more than 0.25C between daytime and night-time warming in over half of the global land surface. The authors say this “warming asymmetry” has been driven primarily by changing levels of cloud cover. Areas with more night-time warming have seen more cloud cover and have become wetter – with “important consequences for plant phenology and species interactions”. Conversely, the authors note, “greater daytime relative to night‐time warming is associated with hotter, drier conditions, increasing species vulnerability to heat stress and water budgets”.
The Amazon lost almost a billion tonnes of carbon during 2001-15 through fragmentation of the forest at its edges, a new study warns. Using remote sensing, the researchers estimate carbon losses through the “edge effect” at 947m tonnes of carbon, which corresponds to one-third of losses from deforestation. While carbon losses from deforestation have dipped by 7m tonnes per year over the period, those from the edge effect “remained unchanged”, the researchers say, with an average of 63m tonnes lost per year.
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