Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/17/2020

Politics and Policy

According to a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, if all countries followed their current emissions targets, by 2100 the global economy would lose as much as $600 trillion compared with its likely growth if all countries met the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  The coronavirus has caused Europe’s carbon market to crash.  IHS Markit notes the market is currently down by around 40% since early March and roughly 66% from 2019’s high point.

Conservative groups aligned with the oil industry hope to block any aid for the solar and wind industries, which have been decimated by the pandemic.  As energy secretary, Rick Perry regularly said that he favored an all-encompassing energy policy, but during his tenure, the Energy Department repeatedly hamstrung bipartisan efforts to boost spending on clean energy technology.  As the Federal Reserve weighs how to structure its bond-buying program as part of the corporate relief strategy, everyone is watching to see whether it will consider long-term climate risks in determining which companies to help.  Members of the EU are being asked to look ahead to the type of economy they would like to have in the future as they determine how to reopen theirs.  South Korea is on track to set a 2050 carbon neutrality goal and end coal financing after its ruling Democratic Party won an absolute majority in the country’s parliamentary elections on Wednesday.  Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group said on Thursday it would no longer lend to build new coal-fired power plants from May 1, a day after Mizuho Financial Group said it would stop financing new coal power projects.

Former staffers from Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign have formed a new group to promote Inslee’s climate plan to Democrats.  They have also released a roadmap for a green post-coronavirus recovery.  Whether former Vice President Joe Biden listens to that group, or some of the others touting tough climate stances, may determine whether he gets the support of climate action voters in the fall.  There was more interesting information about climate concerns out this week from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, this time involving differences among ethnic/racial groups.

Thirteen states and several environmental groups filed separate lawsuits against the Trump administration on Tuesday seeking to block a rule they say will impede efforts to make a number of products more energy-efficient.  On Tuesday, the administration rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for small particulate matter.  In addition, on Thursday it changed the way the federal government calculates the costs and benefits of regulating dangerous air pollutants, including mercury, a shift that could restrict the ability of regulators to control toxins in the future.  A vocal set of conservative critics has upped its attacks recently on the modeling behind the coronavirus response, and they claim that the flaws also prove the limits of climate change models.  A bill, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed on Sunday, makes Virginia the latest state to require a transition to 100% carbon-free or renewable energy, and the first in the South.  Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents hope the project will be stopped by a new Virginia law requiring regulators to consider whether gas pipeline capacity is needed for reliability before approving projects.

Climate and Climate Science

NOAA scientists announced Thursday that 2020 has nearly a 75% chance of being the warmest year on record and a 99.9% chance that it will end up among the top five.  National Geographic has an interactive program that allows one to examine what the climate in a given city will look like in 2070 if greenhouse gas emissions follow the worst case scenario set up by the IPCC.  Carbon Brief has updated its map showing climate attribution studies around the world.  The article includes all relevant research published up to the end of 2019, finding that “69% of the 355 extreme weather events and trends included in the map were found to be made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change”.

A vast region of the western U.S., extending from California, Arizona and New Mexico north to Oregon and Idaho, is in the grips of the first climate change-induced megadrought observed in the past 1,200 years.  Climate change could result in a more abrupt collapse of many animal species than previously thought, starting in the next decade if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, according to a study published this month in Nature.  The island of Anjouan, part of the nation of the Comoros off the East African coast, receives more annual rainfall than most of Europe, but a combination of deforestation and climate change has caused at least half of its permanent rivers to stop flowing in the dry season.

A new paper in the journal The Cryosphere has confirmed that melting of Greenland’s ice sheet occurred at near record amounts in the summer of 2019.  The study also found that the melting was driven by a record number of high-pressure days with clear blue skies, an occurrence not considered in models of ice sheet melt.  A paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters revealed that ambient melting, in which a glacier melts directly into the sea, is a much greater contributor to the melting of the LeConte Glacier in southeast Alaska than had been thought. 

According to a paper in the journal Scientific Reports, parts of the U.S. coastline could suffer “once in a lifetime” flooding every five years before 2050, and it could become a daily occurrence by the end of the century.

A second wave of desert locusts is threatening east Africa, with estimates that it will be 20 times worse than the plague of two months ago.


On Sunday, OPEC, Russia, and other oil-producing nations finalized a production cut of nearly 10 million barrels, or a tenth of global supply, in hopes of boosting prices amid the coronavirus pandemic and a price war.  Nevertheless, oil prices dropped sharply on Tuesday, with U.S. prices sliding back toward $20 a barrel.  At, Sharon Kelly wrote: “The oil, gas, and petrochemical industries have taken a massive financial blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from the Center for International Environmental Law concludes, but its financial troubles preexisted the emergence of the novel coronavirus and are likely to extend far into the future….”  Carbon Brief gathered the latest evidence on how the coronavirus crisis is affecting energy use and CO2 emissions around the world.  Analysis of the data suggests the pandemic could cause a drop in emissions this year of around 5.5% of the global total in 2019.  After four years of continuous decline, the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by about 3% in 2018, according to a new report from the EPA.  Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday announced plans to become a net zero-carbon company by 2050 by selling more green energy to help reduce the carbon intensity of its business.

The operators of the UK’s gas network have set the ambitious target of delivering the world’s first zero carbon gas grid by transitioning away from natural gas to hydrogen (H2).  Things are going another way in the U.S. where the “electrify everything” movement is working to outlaw natural gas connections in communities across the country.  Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group has produced a free e-book about H2 as a powerful ally for renewable energy and tool for decarbonization.  The book provides the Group’s market insight into the technologies that will support hydrogen’s growth. 

A U.S. court on Wednesday ruled against the Corps of Engineers’ use of a permit that allows new energy pipelines to cross water bodies, in the latest setback to plans to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline.  A group of 29 House Democrats is asking the FERC to stop approving new natural gas pipeline projects and new liquefied natural gas export facilities amid the coronavirus outbreak.  A preliminary estimate from NOAA finds that levels of methane in the atmosphere have hit an all-time high.  A new study in the journal Environmental Research Communications finds that by bringing already available technologies and techniques into wider use, we could avoid nearly 40% of the projected methane emissions by 2050. 

Globally, cheap fossil fuels and the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus risk are hampering a shift to renewable energies.  In the U.S., more than 106,000 jobs in the clean energy sector were lost in March amid the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Rivian, Lordstown Motors, Lucid, Bollinger Motors, Faraday Future, and Fisker are among startups that see a future of battery-powered sedans and trucks, but the pandemic threatens the capital flows and customer base they need to survive.  Despite COVID-19, an economic slowdown, and low gas prices, Volvo is pushing forward with its electrification plans


The annual Earth Day event has been extended throughout the week of April 20th so as to deliver a series of online broadcasts and interactive digital events.  The organizers promise to deliver the world’s largest online climate conference.  In the U.S., digital events are being concentrated on the three days beginning April 22.  In recent months, the notion of family planning as a means of fighting climate change has emerged from the eco-warrior fringe and entered mainstream public conversation.  Peter Sinclair’s latest video compares the progression of climate change and the coronavirus and concludes “The broad shape of the story is the same.”  Business reporter and author Christopher Leonard, has a new book that chronicles the rise of Koch Industries and shows how it has shaped American society.  The Washington Post featured photographer Jonathan Blaustein and his new book Extinction Party.  S. Fred Singer, a physicist whose efforts to refute established climate science earned him the enmity of experts, died on April 6 at a nursing facility in Rockville, Md. He was 95.  Sir John Houghton, an eminent British physicist and climate researcher who served as lead editor for the first three landmark reports from the IPCC, died Wednesday from COVID-19 at the age of 88.  This week I’m closing with the musings of Heather Hansman on “Lessons from Wendell Berry, Wallace Stegner, and my neighborhood trees.”

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.