Today's climate and energy headlines:
- 'We must use this time well': climate experts hopeful after COP26 delay
- Oil falls on scepticism over Trump's Saudi-Russia output deal
- Coronavirus could trigger biggest fall in carbon emissions since WW2
- Climate change: Our future depends on what happens to the ocean
- Will heat stress take its toll on milk production in China?
- Global rangeland production systems and livelihoods at threat under climate change and variability
- Multi-method evidence for when and how climate-related disasters contribute to armed conflict risk
There is continued reaction to the decision to delay the COP26 UN climate summit in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “Green campaigners and climate leaders have vowed to keep up the pressure on governments around the world to make stringent new commitments on the climate crisis,” the Guardian reports. Economist Nicholas Stern tells the paper that “there is an opportunity in the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis to create a new approach to [economic] growth that is a sustainable and resilient economy in closer harmony with the natural world”. Norway’s Marianne Karlsen, chair of UN Climate Change’s implementation body and a member of the bureau that took the decision to postpone COP26 from its planned date in November in Glasgow, tells Climate Home News that the delay “doesn’t take away the pressure” for countries to submit increased climate plans, also known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), this year. “The postponement does not mean that momentum will stop,” Karlsen says. “It doesn’t take away the importance of 2020 – this year is still an important climate year. We just need to find new ways of working.” Elsewhere, Cassie Flynn, head of climate strategy at the United Nations Development Programme, tells the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the postponement is “an opportunity to help governments develop more ambitious climate policies that protect vulnerable communities”. She adds: “By spring next year, we can hope that a world that has come together to beat the coronavirus will be in much better shape to beat the climate crisis.” Prof Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, tells the Press Association that the delay was a “blessing in disguise” as the UK government was nowhere near ready to lead such important international negotiations: “Now we have time to prepare properly and learn lessons from the unprecedented global response to Covid-19 to how best to deal with climate change.”
Politico also focuses on the benefits of the delay, noting that it “would allow world leaders to recalibrate their plans in light of the coronavirus pandemic and avoid the uncertainty surrounding the next presidential election in the US”. Sue Biniaz, a former US State Department climate official who left the government in 2017, tells the outlet that “it was never ideal that the [conference] was going to start a couple days after the US election…It might actually be better for the Paris agreement to give countries a little more time”. New Scientist posits that “if [prospective Democrat candidates] Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders were to win the US presidential election in November, it could turbocharge the entire international climate negotiations process”. It adds: “With a Democrat in the White House, the US would not leave the Paris deal as Trump intends to, and instead could create a stronger plan and use its diplomatic muscle to cajole other countries to take action, as it did under Barack Obama.” Similarly, Andrew Light, who was a senior climate aide in Obama’s state department, tells Axios that “the current situation is awful, but it unintentionally creates some needed distance between the US election and the [UN conference], which had been scheduled to start six days later”.
In his blog, BusinessGreen editor James Murray picks up on a couple of other potential opportunities. One is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “is due to publish its next major report last year and – although the timetable for this critical research may also be forced to slip a little – judging by the huge impact its analysis of the risks that come with just 1.5C of warming had it could yet play a major role in galvanising global action”. In addition, Murray says: “Given the UK is set to host the G7 Summit next summer and COP26 co-host Italy is to host the G20, that diplomatic choreography should push climate change up the agenda.” But the Financial Times strikes a cautionary tone in an article about why “the virus threatens to derail EU’s bid to accelerate transition to carbon neutrality”. It adds: “The COP has now been postponed and the EU robbed of a milestone that was being used to strong-arm some of its climate laggards to get their act together this year.” Finally, in a blog post for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), its director Richard Black says: “It doesn’t really allow ministers to take their feet off the national policymaking accelerator. The [UK] government was already behind schedule in areas such as transport, land-use and above all home heating. If ministers stick to their original schedules they now have a chance to land all of this – all of it – before COP26, and so ensure that the UK is demonstrably on track to its net zero target. When Covid-19 clears, this will still be the single most important benchmark of whether the UK is credibly able to play its ‘global leadership’ card at the summit.”
Reuters reports that oil prices fell again this morning, following yesterday’s gains, “after US President Donald Trump said he had brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia to cut output, but made no offer to reduce US production”. The outlet continues: “Friday’s drop reflected market scepticism over whether a deal to call off the Saudi-Russian price war would go ahead if the US does not scales back output, and whether such a cut would be sufficient to balance the market in face of a deep economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic and draconian containment measures.” Trump had said on Thursday that global oil production could drop by 10-15m barrels in light of talks between Russia and Saudi Arabia, notes the Hill, but Russia “is reportedly denying those talks took place”. (Although Reuters reports that Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said yesterday that Moscow may return to oil talks with Saudi Arabia.) The Financial Times reports that “American shale producers have launched an aggressive lobbying campaign in support of new sanctions against Saudi Arabia and Russia, urging the White House to compel the oil producing nations to cut output in order to prop up crude prices”. (DeSmog reports that fossil fuels interests have unleashed a “lobbing frenzy” in response to the pandemic.) But Reuters reports that the chief executive of Brazil’s Petrobras says the negotiations involving OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) nations and the US will prove irrelevant for oil prices, which are low because of depressed demand. (Although another Reuters piece notes that oil refiners in China are expected to increase output in April by 10% over March as “domestic fuel demand is recovering from the coronavirus outbreak”.) Reuters also reports that the US “plans to lease space in the country’s emergency petroleum reserve for an initial 30m barrels of oil in a bid to help struggling crude drillers, after a previous effort to buy oil for the stockpile was ditched over a lack of funding”. Total US stocks of crude and petroleum products, excluding the government’s strategic petroleum reserve, jumped by 21m barrels last week, says Reuters market analyst John Kemp, adding: “It was the third-largest increase in the last 30 years, a rise that has been exceeded on average only once in every 800 weeks.” The rock-bottom oil prices have “proven a share price boon” for natural gas drillers in the US, notes the Financial Times. At the same time, the world’s oil companies – including Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total – have between them raised more than $10bn in bond sales in order to “weather one of the worst downturns in the sector’s history while faced with high fixed costs and looming dividend payments”, reports Reuters. And, finally, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said yesterday that oil companies are eligible for aid from new lending programmes the Federal Reserve is setting up, but not direct loans from his department, reports Axios.
Rob Jackson, who chairs the Global Carbon Project, says the coronavirus could cause the biggest drop in global CO2 emissions since the second world war, Reuters reports. Jackson tells the outlet: “I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 5% or more drop in carbon dioxide emissions this year, something not seen since the end of World War Two…Neither the fall of the Soviet Union nor the various oil or savings and loan crises of the past 50 years are likely to have affected emissions the way this crisis is.” However, climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré notes that the emissions drop “is not due to structural changes so as soon as confinement ends, I expect the emissions will go back close to where they were”. Quoting recent Carbon Brief analysis, Reuters reports that a “pattern of a swift rebound has already begun to play out in China, where emissions fell by an estimated 25% as the country closed factories…but have since returned to a normal range”.
Meanwhile, the president of the AA, the British motoring association, tells BBC News that the pandemic will transform the way people live, work and travel in the UK. Edmund King said: “It really is extraordinary. Every day is like Christmas Day since the lockdown…People travelling up and down motorways just to hold meetings is inefficient, expensive and not good for the environment. I think use of roads and rail and indeed bus will be reduced after this crisis.“ He added: “Arguably in future, we should invest more in broadband because what this current crisis has shown is that the majority of companies can continue working from home, and it can be more efficient.” A piece in the Conversation explores what the pandemic could mean for how we travel in the future.
Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell has an in-depth feature on how it is the “ocean that will have the biggest impact on our future” as the Earth warms. “The ocean is heating up fast,” he writes: “The past five years have been the five warmest ever measured in the ocean, with 2019 the hottest ever.” At the moment, the ocean is “the hero of the climate crisis”, says Goodell, “about 90% of the additional heat we’ve trapped from burning fossil fuels has been absorbed by it”. However, “the heat the ocean absorbed has not magically vanished – it’s just stored in the depths and radiated out later”, he says. “It also means the heat will continue to seep out for centuries to come, slowing any human efforts to cool the planet.” Goodell speaks to authors of last year’s special report on the oceans and cryosphere from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see Carbon Brief’s summary Q&A for more details). He notes that “there is a lot of nuance in the report, but the basic message is clear: In the coming decades, the ocean will get hotter, more acidic, with less oxygen and less biodiversity. Seas will rise, flooding coastal cities. Ocean circulation patterns will shift, driving big and unpredictable changes in the weather, with scary implications for the global food supply”. The report’s summary “was blunt”, says Goodell: “Over the 21st century, the ocean is projected to transition to unprecedented conditions.”
There are clear signs that milk production growth is levelling off in China, and recently has even been declining, says a new paper, and heat stress is one of the main reasons for the recent reduction in milk production. The study computes the change in milk production as a result of heat stress in major milk production areas in China. They documented specific areas in northern China where cattle were at high risk to heat stress in specific months. Climate-based milk yield losses were between 0.7 to 4 kg per cow per day in July 2016. These losses are projected to increase from 1.5 to 6.5 kg in 2050 and 2 to 7.2 kg in 2070 (representing production losses between 15 and 50%). These results suggest that climate change will have significant consequences for the dairy sector in major milk-producing areas in China, the authors conclude.
Rangelands are one of the Earth’s major ice-free land cover types. They provide food and support livelihoods for millions of people in addition to delivering important ecosystems services. This new study uses a global rangeland model in combination with livestock and socio-economic datasets to identify where and to what extent rangeland systems may be at climatic risk. Overall, mean herbaceous biomass is projected to decrease by 4.7% across global rangelands between 2000 and 2050 under a worst-case RCP 8.5 scenario, the researchers find. Half of global rangeland areas are projected to experience simultaneously a decrease in mean biomass and an increase in inter-annual variability-vegetation trends both potentially harmful for livestock production. These regions include notably the Sahel, Australia, Mongolia, China, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and support 376 million people and 174 million ruminants, the authors note.
Climate-related disasters increase the risk of armed conflict onset – “but only in certain contexts”, a new study suggests. The researchers aimed to combine insights on climate-conflict-disaster links from different analysis methods and include “relevant context factors and especially causal pathways”. Climate-conflict links are “highly context-dependent and we find that countries with large populations, political exclusion of ethnic groups, and a low level of human development are particularly vulnerable”, the study notes. It adds: “For such countries, almost one third of all conflict onsets over the 1980-2016 period have been preceded by a disaster within seven days. The robustness of the effect is reduced for longer time spans.”
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