Today's climate and energy headlines:
- 'Surprisingly rapid' rebound in carbon emissions post-lockdown
- British Gas owner Centrica to cut 5,000 jobs
- Climate crisis to blame for $67bn of Hurricane Harvey damage – study
- US solar installations fall puts 72,000 jobs at risk
- Bolsonaro extends deployment of troops to curb Amazon deforestation
- Australian state recommends approving controversial $2.5bn Santos gas project
- Coronavirus means even more people might die during a heatwave this summer
- Shipping and the Paris climate agreement: a focus on committed emissions
- The effect of technology spillover on CO2 emissions embodied in China-Australia trade
Carbon dioxide emissions have rebounded around the world as lockdown conditions have eased, the Guardian reports. A Nature Climate Change study published last month showed that human-caused CO2 emissions had fallen by as much as 17% during the height of the worldwide lockdowns in early April. (See Carbon Brief’s coverage of the paper for more details.) Now, the latest numbers by the same authors show that “daily carbon emissions are still down on 2019 levels, but by only 5% on average globally”, the Guardian says. Lead author Prof Corinne Le Quéré tells the paper: “Things have happened very fast…Very few countries still have stringent confinement. We expected emissions to come back, but that they have done so rapidly is the biggest surprise”. The Guardian notes: “Emissions for the year to date, from 1 January to 11 June, are 8.6% lower than in the same period for 2019, and emissions for the whole of this year are likely to be between 4% and 7% lower than for the whole of last year. That is not enough to make a significant contribution to the cuts in emissions needed to fulfil the Paris agreement on climate change.” Road transport is the most responsive sector, Le Quéré says, adding: “Emissions from transport were always going to go back up, but government responses have not been as fast as I would have liked [to make changes to people’s driving habits]. It would be terrible if we carry on going back to normal. It would be a disaster.”
Centrica, the owner of British Gas, is to cut 5,000 jobs this year to “arrest the decline” of the company, BBC News reports. It continues: “The company has been losing customers to rivals and, in February, blamed a big loss in 2019 on the energy price cap and falling gas prices. Centrica also said the coronavirus crisis had shown how the company could be ‘agile and responsive’. New boss Chris O’Shea said most of the cuts would fall in the UK as the energy giant seeks to slim down its business.” The job losses, almost a fifth of the group’s 27,000 workforce, are designed to accelerate a cost-savings target of £2bn by 2021, a year earlier than planned, says the Times, adding: “About 20,000 of the group’s employees are based in the UK, so most of the job cuts are expected to fall here.” Half will come from leadership, management and corporate roles, the Financial Times notes. O’Shea said: “I truly regret that these difficult decisions will have to be made and understand the impact on the colleagues who will leave us”, reports the Daily Telegraph. He added: “However, the changes we are proposing to make are designed to arrest our decline, allow us to focus on our customers and create a sustainable company.” The FT Lex column says: “Centrica’s plan to sell its oil and gas production business, which ate up 70% of investment last year, has been shelved due to low commodity prices. Reducing net debt, by selling its stakes in nuclear energy plants, worth perhaps £650m, or even its North American energy supply business, is a necessity, not an option.” At the same time, the Guardian reports that Heathrow Airport has offered voluntary redundancy to all of its 7,000 direct employees after coronavirus had wiped out its passenger traffic. And DeSmog UK reports on new analysis that suggests job losses in the UK aviation sector and its supply chain “will likely top 70,000 in the next two to three months”. The Press Association, Reuters, Sky News, the Independent, Daily Mirror and Evening Standard all have similar coverage.
New research estimates that at least $67bn of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 can be attributed directly to human-caused climate change, reports the Guardian. A similar study by the same authors suggests that droughts in New Zealand between 2007 and 2017 cost the economy about NZ$4.8bn, of which $800m was directly linked to climate change, the Guardian says, while floods caused insured losses of about NZ$470m over the same period, of which NZ$140m was linked to the climate. Together, the studies suggest that “climate change-related damages associated with extreme events have been underestimated in most assessments of the social cost of carbon”, lead author Prof Dave Frame tells the paper. The article is flagged as an “exclusive”, but the researchers have also written a guest post for Carbon Brief on their studies.
Elsewhere, the MailOnline reports on new research that the “world will experience larger and more frequent extreme waves over the next 80 years” if global emissions are not curbed. And the Sun reports that the “Russian Arctic Circle experienced a high of 30C degrees this week, making the region warmer than Benidorm”.
Solar installations by homes and businesses across the US are set to slide by a third this year, reports the Financial Times, “resulting in thousands of job losses, as the coronavirus pandemic knocks a booming industry off course”. According to a joint report by Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), installations of “distributed solar” capacity – where electricity is produced by households and businesses using rooftop, ground or wall panels rather than by a central power plant – have plunged in the second quarter after a bumper start to the year, the FT says. It continues: “New capacity installed this year is expected to fall 31% to about 3.4GW. The SEIA estimated that out of a total of more than 260,000 employed in the sector at the start of the year, some 72,000 jobs, from sales people to electricians, had been lost by the end of May – a figure it expects will continue to rise into June.” In spite of the hit to small-scale projects, overall new solar capacity installations are still set to increase this year, the FT notes: “Larger scale ‘utility solar’ projects, which make up about two-thirds of the market, take between a year to three years to complete, meaning most of those that will be built this year are already under construction.” A piece in Axios says that, despite the pandemic, “massive offshore wind farms planned for America’s East Coast are poised to move ahead after the Trump administration inched closer this week to approving the first full-scale project”.
Elsewhere in the US, Reuters reports that “a US development agency proposed lifting restrictions on the financing of advanced nuclear energy projects for export, a move the Trump administration hopes will help the industry compete with state-owned companies in China and Russia”. Opening a 30-day comment period, the US International Development Finance Corporation, (DFC) said the proposal could “help deliver a zero-emission, reliable, and secure power source to developing countries, promoting economic growth and affordable energy access in underserved communities”, reports the Hill. But critics say that lifting a longtime prohibition on how development funds can be spent could divert funds from needy nations to wealthier ones with better infrastructure, the outlet adds.
Also in the US, Reuters says that a report commissioned by a US regulator on climate-related risks to financial markets – the first of its kind – will be ready next month and will include specific policy recommendations for federal oversight.
Brazil’s government has renewed for 30 days a presidential decree allowing the deployment of the armed forces to combat rising deforestation in the Amazon and protect the world’s largest rainforest, Reuters reports. It continues: “Brazil deployed thousands of soldiers to protect the rainforest one month ago as the government mounted an early response to a surge in deforestation ahead of the high season for forest fires.” The extension gives the military authority over environmental agencies in the Amazon. The news follows reports that revised Brazilian government data showed that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest last year was worse than thought. Elsewhere, the Economist reports on the role of global intermediaries for beef and soya in driving deforestation in the Amazon. The magazine continues: “The companies do not chop down trees themselves. Rather, they are middlemen in complex supply chains that deal in soya and beef produced on deforested land.” In another piece, the Economist says: “Nearly all deforestation in Brazil today is illegal. But we do not know which firms use suppliers that operate on illegally cleared land. Even beef exporters are in the dark: they mostly record where their cattle were fattened, not where they were reared. Fortunately, plausible deniability is becoming harder to sustain.”
In other tree-related news, the Times reports that the UK’s tree planting drive to tackle climate change is “not on target”. It adds: “Overall 33,260 acres of trees were planted in the year to the end of March, down from 33,458 acres the year before.”
The Australian state of New South Wales said a controversial coal seam gas project planned by Santos Ltd should be approved as it would be crucial to plugging an expected shortfall in supply from 2024, reports Reuters. It continues: “The recommendation, following a three-year review, was handed over on Friday to the state’s Independent Planning Commission, which now has 12 weeks to determine whether the A$3.6bn ($2.5bn) project should go ahead. The project is ‘critical for energy security and reliability in NSW’, the state government said in a letter to the commission. The project could meet up to half of the state’s gas needs, helping to replace the rapidly depleting Bass Strait gas source that has supplied Australia’s southeastern states for 50 years.” If approved, the project could involve up to 850 coal seam gas wells being drilled on 1,000 hectares of a 95,000 hectare site taking in the Pilliga forest and nearby grazing land, the Guardian says. The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said about 98% of nearly 23,000 submissions it received on the proposal opposed the project, the paper adds: “It said most argued the project would damage the region, affect biodiversity in the Pilliga forest and lead to substantial greenhouse gas emissions.”
Also in Australia, the Guardian reports that three major insurance groups that provided cover for parts of the Adani coal project in Queensland have said they will not provide future policies to the project. AXA XL, Liberty Mutual and HDI tell the paper that they will not have any further involvement in the project after previously providing insurance cover that has now expired.
In a piece for the Independent, Bob Ward – policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics – writes that “Britain is reeling from the mounting death toll from Covid-19, but hot weather this summer could make things even worse”. Ward says the UK government is “failing to act” on a new report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that warns the “Heat-Health Watch” system that sends out alerts based on temperature has its thresholds set too high. The report finds that “more than 90% of deaths during heatwaves in England have been occurring outside the periods of alerts”, Ward says. And Public Health England also warned last month that “those who are at greater risk from heat are also at greater risk of suffering from Covid-19, and those people may need to spend more time at home”, Ward adds. Nonetheless, “no changes to temperature thresholds have been made” and the system was activated at the start of last week as summer kicks in”, Ward says.
The shipping sector “can’t wait” for new, low-carbon ships to enter its fleet if it is to cut CO2 emissions in line with Paris Agreement targets, according to a University of Manchester study published in the new journal BMC Energy. The new Tyndall Centre research shows that CO2 emissions from existing ships could swallow up shipping’s entire “safe carbon budget”. The findings suggest that existing ships could use up industry’s carbon budget before new ships are taken into account. Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, the authors say, rather than just rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions.
CO2 emissions embodied in international trade have drawn wide attention in the academia and national climate negotiations. This study estimates the embodied CO2 emissions in the trade between China and Australia using long time series disaggregated sectoral data based on missions embodied in bilateral trade. The results show that export volume contributed to these embodied CO2 emissions increase, while emission intensity could offset these CO2 emissions increase. The authors further predict that technology spillover can significantly reduce embodied CO2 emissions in trade. Electricity, transportation and cement industries have significant potential to reduce carbon emissions.
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