Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK business leaders call for green coronavirus recovery plan
- Climate activists protest Germany′s new Datteln 4 coal power plant
- UK weather: Sunniest spring since records began
- Permian gas pollution halves in upside of oil crash
- How we broke the world
- Britain needs new nuclear, and the government should fund it
- The impact of long dry periods on the aboveground biomass in a tropical forests: 20 years of monitoring
- Extreme hurricane rainfall affecting the Caribbean mitigated by the Paris Agreement goals
The Financial Times reports that almost 200 companies have called on UK prime minister Boris Johnson to launch a green economic recovery plan, insisting that future corporate bailouts should take account of the UK’s net-zero climate target. The newspaper continues: “Business leaders – including the head of Lloyds Banking Group, the chief executive of Heathrow Airport and the UK country boss of BP – have sent a letter to the prime minister outlining their demands stemming from the coronavirus crisis…The letter was organised by the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, which wants the UK and Europe to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, and five other non-profit organisations.” BBC News also covers the news, adding: “The signatories to the letter include Lloyds Bank, Asda, Siemens and Sky. The proposals outlined by firms such as Mitsubishi, Signify and Yorkshire Water in a letter to the prime minister include: Driving investment in low carbon innovation, infrastructure and industries; Focusing support on sectors that can best support the environment, increase job creation and foster the recovery – whilst also decarbonising the economy; Putting strings on financial support to ensure firms getting bailout cash are well managed, and in step with climate goals.”
Separately, Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that “investors worldwide are underestimating the financial risks from climate change and companies need to start disclosing their exposure”. The news outlet continues: “As global temperatures rise, severe climate events may impact companies owning assets in areas hit by drought, floods, wildfires and storms, the fund said Friday in the latest chapter released from its Global Financial Stability Report. At present, asset prices fail to reflect the risk of extreme weather events that may cost $1tn annually starting in 2050, the IMF said.” IMF researcher say in their report: “Equity valuations as of 2019 do not appear to reflect the predicted changes in physical risk under various climate change scenarios.” The Guardian also covers the IMF report. The Financial Times looks at new data compiled by Proxy Insight, which shows that “climate change resolutions at annual meetings received average shareholder support of 23% up to 20 May this year, compared with 16% during all of 2019”. However, despite this trend, Reuters reports that “a majority of French oil major Total’s shareholders have rejected a resolution by a group of investors aimed at changing the company’s statutes to do more to meet its obligations under the 2015 Paris climate accord”.
Meanwhile, Justin Rowlatt, BBC News’s chief environment correspondent, has a feature looking “how a green new deal really could go global”. He continues: “If you are thinking this is just something that sandal-wearing European liberals might get behind, think again. Donald Trump may be an avowed supporter of fossil fuels, but his Democratic opponent in the November presidential election is not. Joe Biden is reckoned to be planning a similarly huge green stimulus package for the US…This is not just about rallying voters. There are sound economic reasons why politicians see green technology as a prudent investment. First off, renewables are now often cheaper than fossil fuels in large parts of the world. The technologies are proven and can be built at scale today. And most importantly, their cost follows the logic of all manufacturing – the more you produce, the cheaper it gets…But here’s the rub. China currently looks set to take a very different route to recovery. It remains the biggest piece of the climate change puzzle.” The New York Times also has a feature looking at the some countries and regions around the world are laying out “a vision of a green future”. It quotes Li Shuo, a Beijing-based policy adviser for Greenpeace: “It will be a very, very challenging way forward in terms of international climate momentum. Covid-19 should be interpreted as a very negative factor for international climate cooperation.”
Around 500 climate activists gathered on Saturday outside the new Datteln 4 coal power plant in Germany’s Ruhr region, to protest against its opening, reports Deutsche Welle. The German news outlet continues: “The plant, owned by Dusseldorf-based energy company Uniper, began running on Saturday, after a nearly 10-year delay to its initial start date. It fired up just months after Germany unveiled a plan to phase out coal by 2038. Speaking at the protest, German Fridays for Futures climate activist Luisa Neubauer said: ‘It’s a post-factual power plant. The facts speak for themselves.’ She said it was a ‘provocation’ to mark the planned coal phaseout with a new coal power plant.” Euronews adds: “Around 150 former miners also joined the protest; they lost their jobs when Germany’s last coal mine closed in 2018. The coal that Datteln 4 will burn will instead mostly come from Russia and Colombia.” The Guardian has a feature about the coal-mining village of Reichwalde under the headline: “‘For climate protesters, we are like filth’: the German village where coal is still king.”
Separately, Reuters reports that “Germany’s government on Friday failed to agree on a national hydrogen strategy, with ministers divided over proposed capacity and implementation times for the long-awaited plan to help decarbonise the economy and cut carbon dioxide emissions”. It adds: “An email from the economy ministry seen by Reuters showed the strategy was not ready for adoption by the cabinet on 3 June, a date environment minister Svenja Schulze had earlier said could be achieved. However, a last-minute intervention to salvage the 3 June completion remains possible, sources close to the negotiations said. Would-be investors in new energy systems are frustrated by the long wait for clarity on how much electrolysis capacity the country wants to build and over what time period. Economy minister Peter Altmaier of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Conservatives wants between 3,000 and 5,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity to be built by 2030 while the Social Democrats, junior partners in the coalition, want 10,000 MW.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that “greenhouse gas emissions in the EU continued their fall in 2018, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, according to a new report from Europe’s environment watchdog”. It continues: “Emissions fell by 2.1% compared with 2017, to a level 23% lower than in 1990, the baseline for the bloc’s emission cuts under the UN’s climate agreements. If the UK is excluded, the decline since 1990 was smaller, standing at 20.7%.” Finally, Reuters reports that the “Norwegian government proposes spending [$369m] on investments to make its economy greener as it gradually emerges from coronavirus lockdowns”.
The Met Office has confirmed that the UK has experienced its sunniest spring since records began in 1929, reports BBC News. It adds: “It is also set to be the driest May on record for some parts of UK, including the driest in England for 124 years. Some areas are already warning of drought conditions despite exceptionally wet weather and flooding earlier in the year. But there are no plans for hosepipe bans yet, according to the water industry trade body Water UK.” The Met Office will publish its full figures for the period later today. BBC Weather meteorologist Matt Taylor is quoted as saying: “Some scientists say these ‘stalled’ weather patterns are a result of climate change and the warming that is taking place in the Arctic region could lead to more extreme weather events in future.” And BBC News also quotes Prof Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, who says the swing from record-breaking wet weather to the months of sunshine was “unprecedented” and “concerning” because it showed how much the UK’s climate was changing. The Sunday Times quotes Ben Page, chief executive of the pollster Ipsos Mori, who says the dry, sunny weather had helped many people during the Covid-19 lockdown to “appreciate the small things: plants coming into bloom, clear skies”.
The Financial Times reports on new analysis by Rystad Energy showing that “natural gas pollution at the world’s most prolific oilfield will halve in the coming months, providing an environmental upside to the worst crash in the price of crude in decades”. It adds: “As tumbling demand forces producers to shut in wells across the US, analysts at Rystad Energy estimate the amount of gas flared – where drillers burn off the less valuable gas found alongside the oil – in the Permian Basin will fall from 600m cubic feet a day at the beginning of the year to below 300m cubic feet in the second half. The drop-off is equivalent to the amount of gas required to heat half of all homes in Texas.”
Meanwhile, in other lockdown pollution news, the Times reports that in the UK “dozens of schools will be protected from traffic fumes under plans to ban vehicles at drop-off and pick-up times”. And another Times article says that “one of the most lasting, and visible, impacts of the crisis could be felt on the nation’s roads”. It continues: “Pavements have been widened into the road, ‘pop-up’ cycle lanes have appeared, cuts in the speed limit have been imposed and traffic has been banned from some streets. Analysis by the charities Sustrans and Cycling UK suggests that at least 100 temporary measures have been introduced by authorities in areas such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff, Newcastle, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds, Ipswich, Southampton, Brighton and across London.” Separately, the Guardian says that “public health officials worry that in cities across the US, summer heatwaves will collide with the coronavirus pandemic, with deadly consequences for poor, minority and older populations”.
New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman examines how “greed and globalisation set us up for disaster” ahead of the Covid-19 crisis: “This trend of more frequent destabilising crises has been building over the past 20 years: 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008, Covid-19 and climate change. Pandemics are no longer just biological – they are now geopolitical, financial and atmospheric, too. And we will suffer increasing consequences unless we start behaving differently and treating Mother Earth differently.” He continues: “You have to be in total denial not to see all of this as one giant flashing warning signal for our looming – and potentially worst – global disaster, climate change…Unlike biological pandemics like Covid-19, climate change does not ‘peak’. Once we deforest the Amazon or melt the Greenland ice sheet, it’s gone – and we will have to live with whatever extreme weather that unleashes…But unlike the Covid-19 pandemic, we have all the antibodies we need to both live with and limit climate change.”
Former climate scientist and National Geographic writer Alejandra Borunda looks at how “emissions may be down, but carbon dioxide still piles up relentlessly in the atmosphere”. Citing recent analysis published by Carbon Brief, Borunsa says “the disruption only results in a tiny drop in the overall concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere because of how long the gas effectively lingers”.
Meanwhile, as part of the Guardian’s “green recovery” series, Frank Jotzo – director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University – writes that “the coming recession is the best reason to step up the pace of renewables investment”. He concludes: “Governments will take out big loans to get the economy out of the Covid recession. We must be sure to spend it in a way that benefits our society in the future. That means creating better social fabric, more education and infrastructure. And it means helping build up industries that have a strong prospect in a world economy that acts on climate change. Today’s younger people will be paying the debt back through higher taxes. They should be able to look back at Covid-19 as a time when useful public investments were made that helped protect their future.”
The FT’s city editor Jonathan Ford observes: “It is almost a year since Britain became the first country in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. But as yet there is no coherent plan for how it is actually going to get there. Despite the impressive vehemence of ministerial advocates, great areas of policy remain sketchy. What technologies will replace the fossil fuels we presently rely on for so much of our energy?” Ford offers his views: “If more nuclear is required, as seems certain, if only as an insurance policy, a big question concerns the funding model. The UK’s first new nuclear project – at Hinkley Point in Somerset – is a by-word for extravagance…State funding would bring down the electricity prices needed to service a project’s financing pretty sharply…As the coronavirus crisis has shown, politicians need to plan for contingencies. Britain’s economic competitiveness ultimately depends on the decisions around energy transition. With so much at stake, nuclear cannot be dropped.”
In the Daily Telegraph, business journalist Ed Clowes argues that the “days of coal powered energy aren’t as numbered as they seem”. He continues: “There remains a stubbornly persistent demand for coal on a day-to-day basis. This is because parts of the country still rely on the security and stability of coal power – particularly in the winter, when demand can spike unexpectedly and is essential to ensure continuity of supply to households. Coal is dirty. But it’s also reliable…Until the long-delayed nuclear plant Hinkley Point C comes online, experts say the UK may start to see emissions rise once more. Currently, the country gets around 20% of its energy from its decrepit fleet of nuclear reactors. These are all scheduled to be decommissioned by 2030, leaving a gaping hole in Britain’s ability to generate sufficient power.”
Droughts can kill large trees – “shutting down and reversing” a forest’s ability to store carbon over long periods, a new study finds. The research looks at the impact of droughts on long-term carbon storage over 20 years in central Brazil. “These new results add to evidence that anthropogenic climate changes are already adversely impacting tropical forests,” the authors say.
Limiting global warming to 1.5C rather than 2C could halve the likelihood of extreme hurricane rainfall on the same scale as Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean, research finds. Hurricane Maria was a deadly Category 5 hurricane that struck Dominica, St Croix, and Puerto Rico in September 2017. The authors say: “Our results highlight the need for more research into hurricanes in the Caribbean, an area which has traditionally received far less attention than mainland USA and requires more comprehensive infrastructure planning.”
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