Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/3/2020

Politics and Policy

The ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has forced the UNFCCC and the UK to postpone COP26 scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland.  A main focus of COP26 was to have been on new pledges for greenhouse reductions by the participating countries.  Unfortunately, as Bloomberg Green warned, postponing COP26 may reduce political pressure for nations to stiffen their goals to cut greenhouse gases.  However, others thought that the delay would allow world leaders to recalibrate their plans in light of the coronavirus pandemic and avoid the uncertainty surrounding the next U.S. presidential election.  On Monday, Japan became the first industrialized nation to submit an updated Nationally Determined Contribution in preparation for COP26.  It merely reaffirmed its existing plan, drawing criticism from architects of the Paris Climate Agreement for failing to set tougher targets.

Inside Climate News published a retrospective on the stimulus bill entitled “Polluting Industries Cash-In on COVID, Harming Climate in the Process.”  House Democrats have not given up on using green infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy, despite Republican pushback.  On the other hand, a paper published Thursday in the journal Science, suggests that governments and investors around the world should prioritize small-scale, low carbon technologies — such as solar panels, smart appliances, and electric bicycles — in policy design in order to reduce emissions responsible for climate change in a more efficient and just way.  Barclays has pledged to align all of its financing activities with the goals and timelines of the Paris Climate Agreement, starting with the energy and power sectors.  At Gizmodo, Yessenia Funes examined whether the climate movement could successfully reimagine itself in a time of pandemic.  The city council of Takoma Park, MD, would like for the community to be fossil fuel-free by 2045.  How it will achieve that may serve as a case study for the rest of the nation.

The Trump administration on Tuesday weakened one of the nation’s most aggressive efforts to combat climate change, releasing new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks that handed a victory to the oil industry.  Inside Climate News called the action the “largest anti-climate rollback ever” and former President Obama urged voters to “demand better” of the government.  David Roberts provided some history on the change at Vox.  California announced it would sign a deal with yet another automaker (the fifth) to produce cars meeting stricter standards.  Reuters reported on the expected court challenge to the announcement, saying it “could delay implementation until after the 3 November election”.  In fact, lawsuits over the new standards have already been occurring.  On Wednesday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA was wrong to withhold information about how it devised the new fuel efficiency standards. 

Rob Jackson, chair of the Global Carbon Project, said CO2 emissions could fall by more than 5% year-on-year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, although others warned that without structural change, the emissions declines could be short-lived and have little impact on the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.  The COVID-19 outbreak came at a particularly critical time for the EU, which had just started its push toward net-zero by 2050.  This raises the question of whether their green transition will survive the pandemic.  Here in the U.S., Dan Gearino provided answers to seven questions about how the pandemic will influence the clean energy transition.  Carbon Brief asked scientists, analysts, and policy experts from a range of disciplines for their thoughts on how the lifestyle changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic could affect global CO2 emissions in the short and long term.  At E&E News, Adam Aton sought to answer the question “Does climate change still matter in the election?”.

Climate and Climate Science

A review article published Wednesday in the journal Nature concluded that despite the damage that has been done to Earth’s oceans, they are sufficiently resilient to recover by 2050 provided certain actions are taken, particularly on climate change.  Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell also published a comprehensive piece on the oceans.  Rising ocean temperatures could have pushed the world’s tropical coral reefs over a tipping point where they are hit by bleaching on a “near-annual” basis, according to Mark Eakin, coordinator of Coral Reef Watch at NOAA.  The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season could see a greater than average number of major hurricanes because of warmer seas and favorable weather patterns, forecasters from Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project said on Thursday.

A research paper published Tuesday in Global Change Biology reported on the biological impacts of the first recorded heat wave in East Antarctica, which occurred January 23-26, 2020 at Casey Research Station.  A study published in Nature Geoscience found that melting sea ice in Antarctica is influencing weather patterns as far away as the equatorial Pacific, warming ocean surface temperatures, delivering more rain, and potentially creating El Niño-like effects.

At Yale Environment 360, Gabriel Popkin addressed the question “Can ‘Carbon Smart’ Farming Play a Key Role in the Climate Fight?”.

Researchers in Spain have discovered that over the past 20 years the wingspan of nightingales has shortened.  They believe this is related to changes in temperatures seen in the Mediterranean region.

A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reports the widespread existence of methanotrophic bacteria in upland Arctic soils.  Methanotrophic bacteria use methane as a food source, destroying it in the process.  The finding suggests that net methane emissions in the Arctic may be much less than predicted because of the presence of these bacteria.


According to Reuters, crude oil futures jumped 10% on Thursday after President Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to reach a deal soon to end their oil price war.  Reuters also reported that the oil refining industry will need to cut output by 30% or more in response to declining demand as the world reacts to the coronavirus pandemic.  The International Energy Agency said the oil industry is facing “a shock like no other in its history” as a result of the combined effects of the oil price war and the pandemic.  Texas oil regulators are likely to hold a hearing in April on whether to take the historic step of curbing the state’s oil production amid the global market collapse fueled by the coronavirus.

A TC Energy spokesman told The Hill in an email that pre-construction activities on the Keystone XL pipeline have been ongoing for several weeks and that the company expects to begin building the pipeline this spring.  Seven Texas oil and gas industry associations and approximately 40 Texas-based producing companies announced Tuesday the formation of a new coalition to address flaring and methane emissions.

BloombergNEF issued a new report entitled “Hydrogen Economy Outlook.”  It concluded that a move toward a H2 economy using clean H2 could reduce up to 34% of industrial and fossil fuel-caused greenhouse gas emissions.  The report found that governments need to provide $150 billion of subsidies over the next decade to scale up the technology.  Also, a new report from Rocky Mountain Institute concluded that industrial H2 applications to replace fossil fuels will be essential for reaching net-zero carbon emissions targets for 2050.  Five companies from Singapore and two from Japan have entered into an agreement to explore H2 as a low-carbon alternative to power Singapore’s energy future, the companies said in a statement on Monday.

Offshore wind in the U.S. will exceed 1 GW of capacity by 2024 and add more than 1 GW annually by 2027, according to a report released last week by Navigant Research.  It all depends on approvals from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.  Scotland’s first floating tidal turbine farm is set to be built off Orkney.  The first of two turbines is expected to be connected to the grid by the end of this year.

One improvement that would advance the sale of electric vehicles is a reduction in charging time.  Several battery manufacturers are developing technologies to do just that.  An article in Wired explains how they are going about it.  California-based startup Ubiquitous Energy has developed transparent solar cells to create its ClearView Power windows, a kind of “solar glass” that can turn sunlight into energy without blocking the view.


Systems-thinker John Harte provided a roadmap on how we can use the same interconnectedness that is spurring catastrophe to instead promote health and sustainability.  Providence, RI, issued a climate change resilience plan that melds carbon neutrality by 2050 with specific targets to cut direct emissions in the most polluted communities and slash child asthma, a model that other cities should follow as they seek environmental justice.  The April issue of Wired magazine is devoted to the climate crisis and how we will solve it.  The editor’s introduction to the issue can be found here.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda presented 12 books to help you get through the coronavirus pandemic.  The plastics industry advocated for recycling despite knowing the process was not effective in order to sell more plastic products, a new investigative partnership between NPR and Frontline has found.  A paper in the journal Nature Food revealed that textured soy protein can provide scaffolding for bovine skeletal muscle cells to adhere to and form meat-like 3D cell cultures, thus advancing the generation of cultured meat without the reliance on animal agriculture.  The BBC’s Justin Rowlatt wrote an introspective essay accompanied by amazing photos after his visit to Antarctica.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.