Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK greenhouse gas emissions fall for seventh year in a row
- Trump administration eases environmental enforcement during outbreak
- EDF to delay applying for UK nuclear plant building consent
- Green focus pledged for the European Union’s virus recovery plan
- Covid-19 and climate change: The epidemic provides a chance to do good by the climate
- Greta Thunberg: How she became a leader of the global climate movement
- Climate change drives poleward increases and equatorward declines in marine species
Government figures show the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions fell for a seventh consecutive year in 2019 after a record year for renewable energy, the Guardian reports. The provisional data – published yesterday and confirming analysis published by Carbon Brief earlier this month – “revealed a 3.6% fall in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 2018 and almost 28% from 2010”, says the paper. A key factor was “the shift in the energy sector away from coal power towards gas and renewables such as wind and solar power, and biomass”, says the Press Association. It adds: “Last year, the share of electricity generation by renewables increased to 36.9%, a record high, separate figures from the Business and Energy Department (BEIS) reveal. The increase helped push low-carbon electricity, which also includes nuclear power, to a record 54.2% share of the generation mix, up from 52.6% in 2018.” [Carbon Brief analysis, published in January, also estimated that 54% of UK electricity generation in 2019 came from low-carbon sources.] The 3.6% fall was greater than 2018’s 2.5% and 2017’s 3%, says Reuters, while the Times notes that “output from wind farms rose to a record high”. Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK’s energy and clean growth minister, said the figures “show the extraordinary progress the UK has made in tackling climate change, with emissions falling 45% since 1990”, reports BusinessGreen. The outlet also notes that “transport now accounts for more than a third – 34% – of UK carbon emissions, while, emissions from business made up 18%, residential emissions took a 19% share, electricity generation made up 16%, and the public sector accounted for 2% of emissions”. The remaining 11% share of emissions is made up of “agriculture, waste management, land use change, and forestry”, it says. Transport emissions did fall by 2.8% last year, the i newspaper notes, “largely thanks to more efficient petrol and diesel cars on the market”.
The Trump administration in the US has decided to ease enforcement of environmental regulations covering polluting industries to help them cope with impacts from the coronavirus outbreak, Reuters reports. In a press release, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the organisation “recognises challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements”. Reuters notes that “the decision follows requests by the oil lobby and other industry groups for regulatory relief as governments around the world scramble to contain fallout from the pandemic”. The move will allow “power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution”, says the New York Times. The paper adds that “the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements”. If the policy is in place for less than three months, the agency “does not plan to ask facilities to ‘catch-up’ with missed monitoring or reporting, reports Axios. The American Petroleum Institute (API) had written to the EPA earlier this week to “ask for a suspension of rules that require repairing leaky equipment as well as monitoring to make sure pollution doesn’t seep into nearby water”, notes the Hill. Reuters also reports that the EPA is due to make a decision on whether to “allow sales of winter-grade gasoline into the spring and summer to help the fuel industry deal with a massive supply glut, after a source said several states already unilaterally waived the anti-smog requirements”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that oil prices are continuing to fall as a “growing number of virus-related restrictions on travel slashed global fuel demand”. The Hill reports that energy market analysts IHS Markit says the sudden drop in travel due to the coronavirus could cut demand for oil by more than 50%. Oil markets are now reminiscent of prices “not seen since the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s”, the outlet says. Another Reuters piece reports that Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, has said that worldwide oil demand could drop as much as 20 million barrels per day, or 20% of total demand, as three billion people are currently under stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Reuters also notes that the US said it “is in close communication with Saudi Arabia” to help “avoid actions that would increase market volatility”. Axios reports on a new survey of oil companies, which shows “that many need oil prices far higher than today’s low prices to profitably drill new wells”. This provides a “sobering look at how much the oil price collapse and falling demand are going to batter the US industry”. The Hill notes that “the future of the Trump administration plan to purchase millions of barrels of oil is in doubt after the Senate declined to provide funding for the purchase in its latest coronavirus stimulus package”. Yet, a senior official from the US Energy Department tells Reuters that it has enough money set aside for a potential purchase of oil for Strategic Petroleum Reserve without additional funding.
There is also continued coverage of the financial rescue package agreed by the US government. Reuters reports that “after the US House of Representatives approves the airline bailout and President Donald Trump signs it as early as Friday, airlines are to receive initial payments within 10 days”. The outlet says that “US airlines are preparing to tap the government for up to $25bn in grants to cover payroll in a sharp travel downturn”. It adds: “Airlines can ask for the equivalent of their payroll between 1 April and 30 September of last year, according to the terms of the bill, meaning some large airlines could get $4bn or more in total.” Another Reuters piece says the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has asked governments around the world to provide or facilitate financial support for the major carriers it represents.
Finally, in related news, Axios reports on new analysis of how coronavirus could affect global natural gas markets, while Reuters reports that the virus outbreak will cut British car output by more than 15% this year. And Climate Home News reports on how “scientists are monitoring the atmosphere at a mountaintop in Hawaii for clues that the coronavirus will be the first economic shock in more than 60 years to slow a rise in CO2 levels that are heating the planet”.
Utility company EDF says it will delay its building application for the Sizewell C nuclear plant in the UK due to the coronavirus crisis, Reuters reports. It continues: “The application for the new nuclear power station was due to be submitted to the UK’s Planning Inspectorate by the end of March, but that will be deferred by a few weeks, EDF said.” The decision was taken to allow more time for people to register for the consultation process, the Press Association notes. An EDF spokesperson said: “We are ready to submit the application but we recognise that many people in Suffolk, including the local authorities, are adjusting to new circumstances created by the coronavirus crisis. We will defer the submission for a few weeks and, once submitted, we will extend the period for registration to make it easier for people to participate.”
The European Union is set to make greening the economy an essential part of efforts to recover from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic, reports Bloomberg. It continues: “Heads of government pledged on Thursday to make their emergency measures compatible with the principles set out in the Green Deal. The promise, while short of details, is the first reassurance for investors who want to take stakes in climate projects and are looking to see how their work will be treated in stimulus packages now evolving worldwide.” A joint statement agreed by the EU leaders meeting via a videoconference said that while the “urgency is presently on fighting the Coronavirus”, the bloc “should, however, start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and economies and to sustainable growth, integrating inter alia the green transition and the digital transformation, and drawing all lessons from the crisis”. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that an EU deadline of the end of April for firms to surrender emissions trading system (ETS) carbon allowances will stand, despite calls for extensions from some industry groups due to the pandemic. It adds: “Industry, utilities and airlines running flights in Europe must report their ETS emissions for the previous calendar year by 31 March, and surrender enough carbon permits to cover these emissions by 30 April under the bloc’s ETS rules.”
A piece in the Economist looks at the potential long-term impacts of the drop off in pollution and greenhouse gases seen during the worldwide coronavirus lockdown. It says: “An optimist might see these changes as a silver lining to what is an extremely dark cloud. But that would depend on their being sustained when things return to normal. As François Gemenne of the University of Liège, in Belgium, puts it, “the climate needs a sustained drop in greenhouse-gas emissions, not a year off”. Unfortunately, not only is that unlikely to happen, but the response to the crisis could easily make things worse.” The piece notes that while global emissions dropped during the recent global recession, a subsequent rise in emissions occurred due to the “rapid growth in certain large emerging economies, notably those of China and India” and “stimulus packages deliberately intended to promote carbon-intensive areas of business, such as construction”. “Sadly,” the article says, “there are signs of a similar pattern of environmentally inappropriate stimuli happening now”. However, global governments “could, if they chose to” spend stimulus money on “more solar energy (or even, heaven forfend, nuclear power) instead of bungs to oil and gas; more batteries for cars, and money for research into hydrogen-powered fuel cells; cash prizes for ways of making steel and cement without releasing CO2; and so on”, the outlet says.
Elsewhere, senior contributor Michael Liebreich asks a similar question in a post for Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “At the time of writing, it is hard to divine the full impact Covid-19 will have in the near term. Will emissions bounce back quickly, or will they remain depressed by a sluggish economy for a few years?” His article explores the different factors involved, such as oil prices, stimulus packages and the implications for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the COP26 climate talks. New York Magazine columnist David Wallace-Wells has an Intelligencer article on the parallels between the slow pace of global alarm about Covid-19 and climate change. He writes: “As I’ve written before about climate change, when the news is alarming, the only responsible response is to be alarmed – and raise alarm. And like runaway climate change, the threat of a global pandemic, which graybeards have been warning about for years, is a reminder that we should always build public policy around the precautionary principle, rather than waiting until uncontestable and inarguable evidence arrives that action is necessary.” Christina Figueres – executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2016 – has an article in Time picking out “five lessons from coronavirus that will help us tackle climate change”. And, finally, writer Jeremy Deaton says the virus “shows how to fight disinformation about climate change” in a piece for Fast Company and philosopher Bruno Latour has a piece in France’s Le Monde on how the health crisis should be a prompt for dealing with climate change.
In a special cover issue, Rolling Stone magazine’s Stephen Rodrick has an in-depth feature on Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. He writes: “Greta’s rise was the activist version of a perfect storm. Her ascension from bullied Swedish student to global climate icon has been driven by both a loss and a regaining of hope. It is not a coincidence that her ascent happened immediately in the aftermath of the election of Trump. It’s impossible to see a Greta-like phenomena emerging during the Obama-driven run up to the Paris climate talks, when it actually looked like nations of the world were getting their shit together to deal with global warming. It became obvious after Trump and the Paris implosion that 30 years of rhetoric and meetings had created very little except more talk.” The irony of “the Greta Age” is that “we now have options, but refuse to take them”, says Rodrick: “Clean-energy technology has evolved to a point where old arguments that fossil fuels remain the cheapest way to create energy are now obviously nonsense. The cost of clean energy is no longer a barrier to change. Over the past decade, it became an obvious truth: Burning fossil fuels no longer made economic sense anywhere, anytime. What remains is the power and influence of the energy conglomerate superpowers to maintain the status quo. No politician has the courage to face them down. By 2018, it became even clearer that politicians could not be trusted. Talk was wasted. Companies would continue to put profits before nature. We were on our own.”
Warming of the global oceans is causing a shift in marine species towards the Earth’s poles, a new study says. The researchers reviewed 540 published records of more than 300 species – including mammals, plankton, fish, plants and seabirds – spanning more than 100 years. The findings show that “abundance increases have been most prominent where sampling has taken place at the poleward side of species ranges, and abundance declines have been most prominent where sampling has taken place at the equatorward side of species ranges”. The study provides evidence of “omnipresent large-scale changes in abundance of marine species consistent with warming over the last century” and suggests that “adaptation has not provided a buffer against the negative effects of warmer conditions at the equatorward extent of species ranges”.
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