Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Trump administration overturns rules on methane leaks
- Oil slips after IEA lowers 2020 demand forecast
- Trump exiting Paris accord will harm US economy – LSE research
- Angola ratifies Paris Agreement promising more ambitious climate plan
- Scottish minister warns of climate challenge after Stonehaven crash
- 'Opportunity to reboot': Moderate Conservative MPs serve up green recovery policy menu
- Australia asks UN to dismiss Torres Strait Islanders' claim climate change affects their human rights
- Kamala Harris and the future of the Democrats
- Seasonal dependency of tropical precipitation change under global warming
Methane leaks from oil and gas wells will no longer be regulated in the US, reports the Financial Times, “as the Trump administration rolls back a set of environmental rules even in the face of opposition from large oil and gas companies”. Andrew Wheeler, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yesterday announced a finalised version of proposals originally made last November to remove methane from federal oversight across the oil and gas industry, the FT explains. (Reports that the move had been finalised emerged earlier this week.) The new rules rescind standards that specifically regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production, processing, transmission and storage, the Hill says. Speaking in Pittsburgh – the “heart of the gas drilling region in Pennsylvania” notes NPR – Wheeler said: “This is especially important to smaller energy operators who are the backbone of the energy industry in this country,“ reports Bloomberg, He added: “These rules are promises kept by the Trump administration and President Trump himself to the energy industry, Pennsylvania and the country.” The EPA plans to use new methane rules to help set a “higher bar” for regulating other emissions that contribute to climate change [implying weaker standards], according to people familiar with the situation and an excerpt of the new rule, notes the Wall Street Journal. The change is “effectively freeing oil and gas companies from the need to detect and repair methane leaks”, says the New York Times. It continues: “The rollback of the last major Obama-era climate rule is a gift to many beleaguered oil and gas companies, which have seen profits collapse from the Covid-19 pandemic. But it comes as scientists say that the need to rein in methane leaks at fossil fuel wells nationwide has become far more urgent.” (Recent research, covered by Carbon Brief, shows that methane emissions hit the “highest levels on record” in 2017.) However, large oil companies have argued for keeping the rules, adds the Guardian, saying they are needed so the industry can limit its climate footprint as it markets gas as a smart alternative to coal – which emits far more CO2. The FT’s Energy Source column adds that “Big Oil and environmentalists are united in opposing this”. Environmental groups and some state attorneys general told Reuters that the rollbacks will be challenged in court. Peter Zalzal of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said that “eliminating these safeguards would ignore the overwhelming body of scientific evidence documenting the urgent need to reduce methane pollution”. EDF estimates the change in rules would result in the release of an additional 4.5m tonnes of methane every year, reports InsideClimate News.
Oil prices fell yesterday after the International Energy Agency (IEA) lowered its 2020 oil demand forecast due to unprecedented travel restrictions to tackle the coronavirus, reports Reuters. The IEA cut its 2020 oil demand forecast and said reduced air travel would lower global oil consumption this year to 8.1m barrels per day (bpd) below 2019 levels, the newswire explains. The IEA now sees demand at 91.9m bpd this year, notes Axios. The agency says that this was its first downgrade in several months, “reflecting the stalling of mobility as the number of Covid-19 cases remains high” and the ongoing “weakness in the aviation sector”, adds the Financial Times. The Independent also has the story, while Reuters also reports that the Philippine unit of Royal Dutch Shell will permanently shut one of the country’s two oil refineries, “blaming a pandemic-led slump in margins”. In a Financial Times “Long View” opinion column, Lex reporter Alan Livsey says: “Oil markets are caught between these two notions: one bearish, the other bullish. In the year ahead, bulls should win out. When that happens, look for inflation expectations to rise, sending bond prices lower and yields higher.”
Elsewhere, there is continued coverage of the oil spill from a wrecked Japanese tanker off the coast of Mauritius. A piece by BBC News looks at why the spill is “so serious”. The outlet explains that the spill “has taken place near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve, which is a wetland of international importance. So, it’s the location rather than the size of the spill which is causing greatest concern about its potentially serious environmental impact”. One local expert tells Reuters that “this oil spill occurred in one of, if not the most, sensitive areas in Mauritius…We are talking of decades to recover from this damage, and some of it may never recover”. Another Reuters piece reports that Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping, owner of the stricken tanker, said yesterday that it felt its responsibility acutely and intends to take steps towards assessing compensation.
A group of economists has argued that withdrawing from the Paris agreement does not make economic sense for the US, reports that Guardian, as the cost of clean energy has fallen since the agreement was signed in 2015, while the risks of climate impacts have increased. In a “policy brief” paper, economists from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at the London School of Economics found that President Trump’s assertion that the Paris accord would impose costs on the US while other countries would benefit does not stack up. The economists warn that “the US risked severe economic harm if temperatures rose above the 2C threshold, while the costs of meeting the US’s commitments under the accord were falling”, the Guardian says, adding: “The authors of the policy brief found that the [US’s Paris] commitment could be met fairly easily on current trends, as the rise of renewable energy and switch from coal to cheaper gas were resulting in lower emissions already.” The economists criticise the Trump Administration’s decision as “irrational”, notes BusinessGreen, and argue the long-term interests of the US are best served by continuing to participate in global diplomatic efforts to combat climate change. “The arguments put forward by the Trump Administration to try to justify withdrawal are inaccurate and misleading,” the briefing states. “Essentially, the Trump Administration has ceded control over the future economic impacts of climate change on the US to its trading partners and competitors.”
Angola has now ratified the Paris climate Agreement, reports Climate Home News, leaving just seven nations to formally endorse the 2015 accord. The outlet continues: “Angola’s newly appointed minister of foreign affairs Téte António said in a tweet that Angola’s parliament had unanimously approved the country’s ratification of the Paris Agreement, already backed by 189 other nations. Angola is Africa’s number two oil producer behind Nigeria. International agreements are initially signed to signal intent to comply, but only become binding through ratification.” Until this week, Angola was one of four countries of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries not to have ratified the Paris Agreement, the outlet notes, and Iran, Iraq and Libya are among seven countries yet to formally endorse the deal. Together, they account for around 4% of global emissions.
Meanwhile, Climate Home News also reports that most of the forthcoming United Nations (UN) scientific report on climate change is likely to be delayed beyond the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 because of Covid-19. It explains: “The three parts of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the main guide to policymakers around the world had originally been due in 2021 in an update of the last global assessment completed in 2014. On current plans, however, only the first section of the IPCC report about the science of global warming, including scenarios for temperatures and sea level rise, is now expected to be issued before the summit in Glasgow as timetables slip, IPCC sources said.”
There is continued coverage of the fatal derailment near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire in Scotland, where a train hit a landslip that had been caused by heavy rains. The Guardian reports that Scottish transport secretary, Michael Matheson, visited the accident site yesterday, and said it was reasonable to presume the weather had had an impact on events, adding he hoped investigating authorities would advise whether efforts to address the challenges posed by extreme weather events should be stepped up. He said that track operator Network Rail is “well aware of our views about the need to make sure that we are taking forward the right types of mitigations that help to manage a challenge of these types of localised, intense weather events”. Also visiting the site, Network Rail’s chief executive, Andrew Haines said: “Our network was designed for a temperate climate, and it’s challenged when we get extremes such as storms and floods. We’re seeing this more and more and although we can address them on the ground with precautionary measures, we are acutely aware we need a long-term resolution, and we had already secured additional funding and resources to help achieve this,” reports the Daily Mail.
In other UK transport news, the Daily Telegraph reports that London City airport is halting its expansion plans following a collapse in business travel. The paper says: “The Docklands airport will pause a £480m programme to boost passenger capacity once construction on eight new stands for aircraft and a taxiway parallel to the runway is finished at the end of the year.” The Daily Telegraph also reports on how the “cash crunch” for aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls Royce caused by the drop in air travel is “just another crisis” for the company.
A group of moderate Conservative MPs has published policy recommendations designed to help deliver on the Prime Minister’s pledge to “build back greener” from the Covid-19 recession, reports BusinessGreen. The One Nation Conservatives group’s wide-ranging paper “calls for an improved focus on green jobs training, tighter home energy efficiency standards, support for natural climate solutions such as tree planting and better soil health, accelerated clean technology development, and schemes to incentivise cycling and low carbon transport”, the outlet says. Jerome Mayhew, a new Conservative MP and the paper’s lead author said: “We have the opportunity to reboot our economy and create jobs by accelerating the rollout of clean and resilient infrastructure and stimulating low-carbon industries across the UK,” reports the Independent. John Rentoul, the Independent’s chief political commentator, writes that the paper is a “welcome sign that the Conservative Party is greener than ever”.
The Australian government has asked the human rights committee of the UN to dismiss a landmark claim by a group of Torres Strait Islanders from low-lying islands off the northern coast of Australia that climate change is having an impact on their human rights, reports the Guardian. The paper continues: “The complaint, lodged just over 12 months ago, argued the Morrison government had failed to take adequate action to reduce emissions or pursue proper adaptation measures on the islands and, as a consequence, had failed fundamental human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islander people. But the lead lawyer for the case, Sophie Marjanac, says the Coalition has rejected arguments from the islanders, telling the UN the case should be dismissed ‘because it concerns future risks, rather than impacts being felt now, and is therefore inadmissible’.” Writing in the Guardian, Yessie Mosby – a Zenadh Kes Masig man, living in the Kulkalgal tribe area in the Central Torres Strait Islands – explains why the islanders are taking the Australian government to the UN. He says: Climate change is putting our island home at risk. The Torres Strait has not contributed to climate change, but we are on the frontline of its impacts. I’ve seen the impacts myself very clearly as the years pass. Inundation and the erosion of the shorelines have washed away our roads, salinity is destroying our coconut trees and garden crops, and our drinking water wells have been contaminated.“
Elsewhere in Australia, the Guardian also reports that the Morrison government’s Great Barrier Reef envoy, Warren Entsch, has urged fellow Liberal MPs to do more on climate change policy. In a report to the environment minister, Entsch said climate change was having a growing impact on the Great Barrier Reef and was unequivocally its greatest long-term threat, the paper explains, adding: “He said he feared that programs to address greenhouse gas emissions might be dropped as the government rationalised spending in response to the Covid recession, and called for it to take another path.” And the Australian reports that “renewables take the wind out of coal’s sales” in a piece that notes that the country’s “coal generation has fallen to its lowest level in at least 12 years”.
There is yet more comment on the decision by Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden to select California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. A Financial Times editorial says Harris’s “elevation also reinforces the progressive trend of the Democratic party”. It explains: “Mr Biden was running to the left of Barack Obama, his old boss, even before the coronavirus pandemic and the race protests. On tax, healthcare and climate change abatement, he is open to a larger role for the federal government. He saw off Bernie Sanders, the Vermont leftist, by co-opting some of his ideas. Because he is so outwardly conventional, the ambition of his platform is sometimes missed.” A Times editorial notes that “as a presidential candidate, [Harris] briefly embraced some of the radical left’s cherished goals, including free healthcare for all and the green new deal, before tacking away. That has left the Republicans unsure whether to paint her as a radical leftist or as an opportunistic insider”. In a Times “Thunderer” column, Charlie Donovan – executive director of the Centre for Climate Finance and Investment at Imperial College Business School – says that “while the differences between Democratic and Republican priorities couldn’t be starker, climate change and energy issues are often overlooked. Yet few topics will so fully dominate the agenda of a new US president’s first 100 days.” He adds: “The Trump administration has spent the past four years undoing sensible regulations and trying (in vain) to bring back dying industries…But climate denial hasn’t just been bad for the planet, it has done a grave disservice to American businesses and workers by putting them behind in the global race for dominance in clean energy.” In contrast, with a Biden/Harris administration, “the US will quickly reassert its technological prowess in global clean tech”, Donovan says: “Being more aligned politically to the UK than its European counterparts, there is a real chance to influence that direction of travel, realising together the economic benefits of zero-carbon ambitions.” Finally, the FT Magazine has an in-depth feature on Biden’s presidential bid, noting that: “Low-hanging foreign-policy fruit that Biden would pluck in his opening days include rejoining the World Health Organization, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.” And InsideClimate News reporter Dan Gearino writes that Joe Biden’s climate plan shows that “net-zero is now mainstream”.
Tropical rainfall changes under global warming vary with season. This study investigates the characteristics and cause of the seasonality in rainfall change. Tropical precipitation change is decomposed into thermodynamic and dynamic components. The thermodynamic component represents the wet-get-wetter effect. The dynamic component includes the warmer-get-wetter effect due to the spatial variations in sea surface temperature (SST) warming. In the eastern equatorial Pacific where the SST warming is locally enhanced, for example, rainfall increases only during the March–May season when the climatological SST is high enough for deep convection. The results support the notion that reducing model biases in climatology improves regional rainfall projections.