Claude Monet, “Hôtel des roches noires. Trouville” (1870)

Claude Monet and his wife Camille were married on 28 June 1870, just before the onset of the Franco Prussian War on 19 July of the same year.

Their wedding trip (paid for by Édouard Manet and Frédéric Bazille) took them to the seaside resort town of Trouville, along the Normandy coast of the English Channel.

Claude Monet (1840-1926), “Hôtel des roches noires. Trouville” (1870, oil on canvas), Musée d’Orsay, Paris

“Hôtel des roches noires. Trouville” (1870, oil on canvas) depicts the fashionable beachfront hotel, built in 1866 in the Second Empire Style (architects: Alphonse-Nicolas Crépinet and Robert Mallet-Stevens).

Monet and his family stayed further from the beach, at the Hotel Tivoli.

“Hôtel des roches noires. Trouville” was acquired by Jean Henry Laroche, Paris, in 1924.

By decree of 7 July 1947 the painting was accepted by the State of France from Jacques Laroches, a donation with life interest reserved.

In 1986 “Hôtel des roches noires. Trouville” was assigned to the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Harald Sohlberg, “Winter Night in the Mountains”

A critical and public success upon completion, Harald Sohlberg’s “Winter Night in the Mountains” (Norwegian: “Vinternatt i fjellene”) was acquired by shipowner and collector Jørgen Breder Stang who donated the painting to Oslo’s National Museum (Norwegian: Nasjonalmuseet) in 1918.

Harald Sohlberg, “Winter Night in the Mountains” (1914, oil on canvas) in the collection of the National Museum, Oslo

Engaging the viewer in the captivating bluish moonlight over the mountains of Rondane, the painting is also known as “Winter Night in Rondane” (“Vinternatt i Rondane”).

Sohlberg (1869, Oslo – 1935, Oslo) began work on this painting in 1911. He completed it in 1914 in time for the Jubilee Exhibition of that year.

Note the cross shoveled out of the snow atop the peak to the right.

100 degrees in Siberia? 5 ways the extreme Arctic heat wave follows a disturbing pattern

Mark Serreze

Research Professor of Geography and Director, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder

June 25, 2020 3.17pm EDT • Updated June 26, 2020 2.17pm EDT

***

This Arctic heat wave has been unusually long-lived. The darkest reds on this map of the Arctic are areas that were more than 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in the spring of 2020 compared to the recent 15-year average. Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

The Arctic heat wave that sent Siberian temperatures soaring to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the first day of summer put an exclamation point on an astonishing transformation of the Arctic environment that’s been underway for about 30 years.

As long ago as the 1890s, scientists predicted that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to a warming planet, particularly in the Arctic, where the loss of reflective snow and sea ice would further warm the region. Climate models have consistently pointed to “Arctic amplification” emerging as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

Well, Arctic amplification is now here in a big way. The Arctic is warming at roughly twice the rate of the globe as a whole. When extreme heat waves like this one strike, it stands out to everyone. Scientists are generally reluctant to say “We told you so,” but the record shows that we did.

As director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center and an Arctic climate scientist who first set foot in the far North in 1982, I’ve had a front-row seat to watch the transformation.

Arctic heat waves are happening more often – and getting stuck

Arctic heat waves now arrive on top of an already warmer planet, so they’re more frequent than they used to be.

Western Siberia recorded its hottest spring on record this year, according the EU’s Copernicus Earth Observation Program, and that unusual heat isn’t expected to end soon. The Arctic Climate Forum has forecast above-average temperatures across the majority of the Arctic through at least August.

Arctic temperatures have been rising faster than the global average. This map shows the average change in degrees Celsius from 1960 to 2019. NASA-GISS

Why is this heat wave sticking around? No one has a full answer yet, but we can look at the weather patterns around it.

As a rule, heat waves are related to unusual jet stream patterns, and the Siberian heat wave is no different. A persistent northward swing of the jet stream has placed the area under what meteorologists call a “ridge.” When the jet stream swings northward like this, it allows warmer air into the region, raising the surface temperature.

Some scientists expect rising global temperatures to influence the jet stream. The jet stream is driven by temperature contrasts. As the Arctic warms more quickly, these contrasts shrink, and the jet stream can slow.

Is that what we’re seeing right now? We don’t yet know.

Swiss cheese sea ice and feedback loops

We do know that we’re seeing significant effects from this heat wave, particularly in the early loss of sea ice.

The ice along the shores of Siberia has the appearance of Swiss cheese right now in satellite images, with big areas of open water that would normally still be covered. The sea ice extent in the Laptev Sea, north of Russia, is the lowest recorded for this time of year since satellite observations began.

The loss of sea ice also affects the temperature, creating a feedback loop. Earth’s ice and snow cover reflect the Sun’s incoming energy, helping to keep the region cool. When that reflective cover is gone, the dark ocean and land absorb the heat, further raising the surface temperature.

Sea surface temperatures are already unusually high along parts of the Siberian Coast, and the warm ocean waters will lead to more melting.

The risks of thawing permafrost

On land, a big concern is warming permafrost – the perennially frozen ground that underlies most Arctic terrain.

When permafrost thaws under homes and bridges, infrastructure can sink, tilt and collapse. Alaskans have been contending with this for several years. Near Norilsk, Russia, thawing permafrost was blamed for an oil tank collapse in late May that spilled thousands of tons of oil into a river.

Thawing permafrost also creates a less obvious but even more damaging problem. When the ground thaws, microbes in the soil begin turning its organic matter into carbon dioxide and methane. Both are greenhouse gases that further warm the planet.

In a study published last year, researchers found that permafrost test sites around the world had warmed by nearly half a degree Fahrenheit on average over the decade from 2007 to 2016. The greatest increase was in Siberia, where some areas had warmed by 1.6 degrees. The current Siberian heat wave, especially if it continues, will regionally exacerbate that permafrost warming and thawing.

A satellite image shows the Norilsk oil spill flowing into neighboring rivers. The collapse of a giant fuel tank was blamed on thawing permafrost. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2020CC BY

Wildfires are back again

The extreme warmth also raises the risk of wildfires, which radically change the landscape in other ways.

Drier forests are more prone to fires, often from lightning strikes. When forests burn, the dark, exposed soil left behind can absorb more heat and hasten warming.

We’ve seen a few years now of extreme forest fires across the Arctic. This year, some scientists have speculated that some of the Siberian fires that broke out last year may have continued to burn through the winter in peat bogs and reemerged.

A satellite images shows thinning sea ice in parts of the East Siberian and Laptev Seas and wildfire smoke pouring across Russia. The town of Verkhoyansk, normally known for being one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth, reported hitting 100 degrees on June 20. Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

A disturbing pattern

The Siberian heat wave and its impacts will doubtless be widely studied. There will certainly be those eager to dismiss the event as just the result of an unusual persistent weather pattern.

Caution must always be exercised about reading too much into a single event – heat waves happen. But this is part of a disturbing pattern.

What is happening in the Arctic is very real and should serve as a warning to everyone who cares about the future of the planet as we know it.

***

Mark Serreze

100 degrees in Siberia? 5 ways the extreme Arctic heat wave follows a disturbing pattern

first published in “The Conversation” under a Creative Commons license

‘Construction fever’ responsible for one fifth of China’s CO2 emissions

‘Construction fever’ responsible for one fifth of China’s CO2 emissions

Carbon Brief, Josh Gabbatiss

***

The construction and demolition of buildings in China was responsible for nearly a fifth of the nation’s annual CO2 emissions in 2015, according to a new study.

The world’s largest emitter has seen building rates soar as existing structures are torn down and replaced with skyscrapers to house the nation’s rapidly urbanising population.

All of this comes with a significant carbon footprint, both to produce the cement, steel and other materials required and from the emissions produced once the project is underway.

The researchers behind the new study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, say this has not received enough attention in China, despite being an “unignorable and critical” component of the nation’s emissions.

However, other academics Carbon Brief talked to said that while China’s construction “boom” is undoubtedly carbon-intensive, there are “issues” with the methods used in this analysis.

‘Construction fever’

A growing urban population and land scarcity have contributed to significant growth in construction – particularly of high-rise buildings – across China.

Since 2010, China has been responsible for around half of the world’s growth in construction, with many buildings only standing for around 30 years before being demolished. 

Their construction, maintenance and demolition all come with a carbon cost. Previous studies have estimated that the energy consumption of China’s building sector has more than tripled since 2001.

Xinyi Shen from Greenpeace East Asia tells Carbon Brief that, given this, it is not surprising that China’s “construction fever” is a primary driver of its emissions.

However, in the new study, a team led by PhD candidate Weina Zhu of Tsinghua University, make the distinction between “operational” and “embodied” CO2 emissions, emphasizing the need to focus on the latter.

Embodied CO2 is defined in the paper as total emissions from “building materials manufacturing and transportation, building construction, maintenance and demolition”. Operational emissions are those arising from day-to-day energy use – for example, lighting, heating and cooling.

The authors say that operational carbon is generally assumed to be the primary contributor to the sector’s emissions, meaning strategies have focused on improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

However, they say that if China is to hit its climate target of peaking emissions in 2030, it will need to make embodied emissions a priority.

Time lapse showing the development that has taken place in Shanghai between 1984-2018. Source: Google Earth Engine

Bottom-up and top-down

The researchers looked at building activity throughout 2015, a year when Chinese economic stimulus – and the construction it helps drive – was reportedly at relatively low levels.

To estimate the embodied CO2 for construction that year – excluding civil engineering projects, such as bridges and roads – the researchers used two different approaches.

First, they used a process-based assessment. This was a “bottom-up” method that involved working out the total emissions of all the processes feeding into Chinese construction, from chemical reactions in cement factories to machinery used on building sites.

For the second assessment they used an input-output model. This was a “top-down” approach for which the team took national data and isolated the relevant components.

One of the paper’s co-authors, Dr Wei Feng, tells Carbon Brief this is “the first systematic analysis” of China’s embodied CO2 emissions using both of these methods.

Results based on the process approach showed that the embodied carbon in the Chinese building sector for that year was 1,422m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), while the input-output method settled on 1,600MtCO2.

Based on the upper estimate, they note this was approximately 18% of total Chinese emissions reported in 2015.

Residential buildings had around twice the emissions cost of non-residential buildings. The study notes how China’s housing has shifted from brick and wood to reinforced concrete and steel high-rise structures.

Crucially, the researchers say their estimate puts embodied CO2 roughly on a par with past estimates of operational CO2.

Dr Francesco Pomponi, an engineer at Edinburgh Napier University who was not involved in the study, tells Carbon Brief this seems more plausible than many other comparisons between operational and embodied CO2:

“Previous assessments we have had suggested 20% embodied, 80% operational or less than that, whereas this study is pointing towards a more realistic picture – about half and half.”

As a comparison, a report from last year by the World Green Building Council concluded 11% of annual global emissions were from carbon embodied in building construction processes. Nearly three times as much came from operational building emissions.

While around 10% of European states’ annual emissions can be traced to embodied building carbon, Pomponi says a value of roughly double this seems accurate for an economy such as China.

“I go every year so I see the difference year after year in how much built stock was added in 12 months,” he says.

‘Red flags’

However, Dr Jannik Giesekam, an industrial climate policy researcher at the University of Leeds who has worked extensively in this area but was not involved in the study, tells Carbon Brief he identified numerous “red flags” in the research.

While he thinks the researchers probably arrived at the right “ballpark figure”, he has “major” issues with the paper that he thinks compromise the results.

One of the key points he identified was that the paper overlooked a lot of pre-existing work on embodied carbon, including databases prepared by industry “in favour of a selective set of case studies”.

He also says the paper does not make a comparison with previous estimates for China or to previous systematic reviews prepared by the likes of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

While acknowledging some of these points as valid, Feng says they chose case studies that reflect current Chinese common practices and that they could not retrieve the relevant emissions data from the industry databases Giesekam suggests. 

“Overall, it would be different and unrealistic to use international emission data and best practices to represent China’s emission in 2015,” he tells Carbon Brief.

For his part, Pomponi says that while Giesekam’s criticism is valid, he sees things “slightly differently”. He says: “I think it’s impossible that a study incorporates everything that’s out there.”

Giesekam also notes what he sees as some unusual choices in the way the researchers carried out the study, including a lack of detail in both their “bottom-up” and “top down” calculations – for example, giving all steel the same “carbon factor”.

Feng says that while they would “love this study to go deeper” and describes his team’s work in this area as on-going, he notes they used a “simple approach” that involved taking averages of steel and cement data:

“That is why we also employ a top-down method to cross-validate the bottom-up method calculation to make sure the total emission results match with each other.”

To this point, Pomponi tells Carbon Brief it is “inevitable to sacrifice depth for breadth in academic research” and says that, while there are certainly issues with the paper, he thinks it is valuable to see different methods being used to assess embodied carbon:

“It’s really good they used two [approaches] and compared them. They are extremely different methods so it’s good that they seem to point to the same number.”

Construction workers on a residential building site in Huaian city, China. Credit: Imaginechina Limited / Alamy Stock Photo.

Cutting embodied CO2

The researchers say that on a global scale, the relatively limited attention paid to embodied carbon is preventing an accurate assessment of the building sector’s environmental impacts.

Dr Danielle Densley Tingley, an architectural engineer at the University of Sheffield who was not involved in the work, says these emissions are generally not given sufficient attention by nations setting climate targets. She tells Carbon Brief this is partly due to the way they are reported:

“They’re often lumped into ‘industrial emissions’. This focuses on the production of the materials – where there are only small efficiencies left to gain – but doesn’t really look at how the materials are then used, what is driving their consumption etc.”

She says better design and a focus on “deep retrofits” instead of demolition would help cut embodied emissions in buildings. Pomponi agrees that design lies at the heart of this issue:

“At the moment we are inefficient in the sense that we put more material than is actually needed into buildings … Firms tend to go with ‘rules of thumb’ or things that worked in the past rather than starting from scratch.”

Measures have been proposed to cut these emissions in some countries. The World Green Building Council has set a target of 40% less embodied carbon in all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations by 2030.

The authors of the new study estimate that, despite a focus on operational carbon emissions in China, the annual potential for reductions in the building sector could actually be larger for embodied than operational CO2.

Greenpeace East Asia’s Shen says that after years of intensive construction the situation is shifting and, going forward, the Chinese authorities are going to have to be “extremely careful” about what they build:

“The country has entered into a new stage of development in that blindly putting up more infrastructure is not only environmentally unsustainable but also will not keep the same investment return the country yielded in the last decades.”

Zhu, W. et al. (2020) Analysis of the embodied carbon dioxide in the building sector: A case of China, Journal of Cleaner Production, doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.122438

***

‘Construction fever’ responsible for one fifth of China’s CO2 emissions

Josh Gabbatiss

Originally published under a CC license by Carbon Brief on 9 June 2020

Published under a CC license. You are welcome to reproduce unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article.

IEA: Coronavirus ‘accelerating closure’ of ageing fossil-fuelled power plants

IEA: Coronavirus ‘accelerating closure’ of ageing fossil-fuelled power plants

Josh Gabbatiss, Carbon Brief, 27 May 2020

***

This year will see the largest ever drop globally in both investment and consumer spending on energy as the coronavirus pandemic hits every major sector, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The crisis is accelerating the shutdown of older fossil-fuelled power plants and refineries, with the agency saying it could provide an opportunity to push the global energy sector onto a “more resilient, secure and sustainable path”.

In the latest edition of the World Energy Investment report, which Carbon Brief has covered in previous years, the IEA has gone beyond its usual remit of reviewing annual trends. 

Its analysis looks ahead to the coming year and estimates the impact of this year’s economic turmoil on energy investment, which was expected to grow by around 2% prior to Covid-19. It is now expected to drop by 20%, or almost $400bn.

Meanwhile, as demand and prices collapse, consumer spending on oil is expected to drop by more than $1tn, prompting a “historic switch” as spending on electricity exceeds oil for the first time.

Here, Carbon Brief has picked out some key charts to illustrate the economic repercussions of the pandemic across the energy sector.

Energy investment will drop by a fifth

The “baseline expectation” for 2020 is a global recession resulting from widespread lockdowns, according to the IEA. Last month, the agency estimated this will also lead to CO2 emissions dropping by 8% this year in the largest decline ever recorded.

Based on the latest investment data and project information, announcements from companies and governments, interviews with industry figures and its own analysis, the IEA concludes such a recession will see energy investment drop by a fifth. This can be seen in the chart below.

Energy investment is set to fall by a fifth in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fuel supply (red) includes all investments associated with the production and provision of fuels to consumers, consisting mainly of oil, gas and coal investments. Power sector (blue) includes spending on power-generation technologies, grids and storage. Energy end use and efficiency (yellow) includes the investment in efficiency improvements across all end-use sectors. Source: IEA
Energy investment is set to fall by a fifth in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fuel supply (red) includes all investments associated with the production and provision of fuels to consumers, consisting mainly of oil, gas and coal investments. Power sector (blue) includes spending on power-generation technologies, grids and storage. Energy end use and efficiency (yellow) includes the investment in efficiency improvements across all end-use sectors. Source: IEA

These estimates are based on assumptions about the duration of lockdowns and coronavirus recovery trajectories.

The IEA notes that “almost all” investment activity has been disrupted by these measures, as a result of restrictions to the movement of people, goods and equipment. 

However, the largest impacts are the result of declines in revenues due to falling demand and prices, with the clearest example coming from the oil sector. Analysis of daily data until mid-April suggests countries in full lockdown have seen energy demand drop by a quarter.

As a result, the agency also estimates that these factors, combined with a rise in cases of people not paying their energy bills, will see revenues going to both governments and industry fall by over $1tn this year.

Crisis ‘accelerating’ shift from low-efficiency technologies

Every year energy infrastructure is retired and replaced with new equipment. Typically, the replacement technologies will be cleaner and more efficient, although this is not always the case. 

The coronavirus crisis is expected to have an impact on this rate of turnover and, indeed, it is already contributing to the retirement of some older power plants and facilities, as the chart below illustrates.

The Covid-19 crisis is hastening the retirement (light blue) of some older plants and facilities, but also impacting consumer spending on new and more efficient technologies (dark blue), with the potential for a net decrease (yellow dot) in upstream oil-and-gas facilities. Source: IEA.
The Covid-19 crisis is hastening the retirement (light blue) of some older plants and facilities, but also impacting consumer spending on new and more efficient technologies (dark blue), with the potential for a net decrease (yellow dot) in upstream oil-and-gas facilities. Source: IEA.

The economic downturn and “surfeit of productive capacity in some areas” as overall demand plummets is already “accelerating” the closure and idling or inefficient technologies, including refineries and some coal-fired power plants.

However, the IEA warns that equally governments might respond to the pandemic by underinvesting in new technologies and remaining reliant on inefficient, older technology. The agency estimates efficiency investment could drop by 10-15% as spending is cut back.

The report warns that policymakers should keep these elements in mind and “combine economic recovery with energy and climate goals”. Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a statement that while the pandemic has brought lower emissions it has been “for all the wrong reasons”:

“The response of policymakers – and the extent to which energy and sustainability concerns are integrated into their recovery strategies – will be critical.”

Clean energy spending ‘relatively resilient’

The share of global energy spending going towards clean energy, including renewables as well as nuclear and efficiency improvements, has been flat-lining at around one-third for the past few years.

As the chart below shows, this is likely to change this year as clean energy’s share edges closer to two-fifths of overall spending.

Breakdown of clean energy investment by sector in USD (left x-axis), with the % overall share (right x-axis) of spending indicated by a grey line. Source: IEA.

Clean energy investment is expected to remain “relatively resilient” this year, with spending on renewable projects falling by a comparatively small 10%. 

However, according to the IEA, the main reason for clean energy increasing its share is that fossil fuels are set to take such a “heavy hit”. In absolute terms, spending on these technologies is “far below levels” required to accelerate energy transitions.

The agency notes that investment trends have long been “poorly aligned” with the world’s needs and are still set to fall short of the future it has outlined in its benchmark Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS).

Last year’s edition of the World Energy Investment report concluded that investment in low-carbon energy sources must more than double by 2030 if the world is to meet its Paris Agreement targets.

While the slowdown in clean energy spending is less significant, it still “risks undermining the much-needed transition to more resilient and sustainable energy systems,” according to Birol.

Power sector hit hard

International power investment is set to drop by 10% as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the agency. 

Virtually every component of the sector is expected to see a decline in investment, with hydro the only exception, as the chart below demonstrates.

Global investment in the power sector by technology, with figures from the previous three years and estimates for 2020 (yellow). Source: IEA.
Global investment in the power sector by technology, with figures from the previous three years and estimates for 2020 (yellow). Source: IEA.

Increases in residential electricity demand around the world during lockdown are being “far outweighed” by reductions in commercial and industrial operations, the agency reports. A 9% decline in spending on electricity networks this year is also expected.

The IEA says some parts of power investment are more exposed, specifically fossil fuel-based generation. 

Meanwhile, higher shares of renewables are being dispatched due to low operating costs and priority access to networks. Nevertheless, renewables are still taking a hit, particularly distributed solar photovoltaics (PV) as households and companies cut back on spending.

Technologies with a longer lead time, notably offshore wind and hydropower, are expected to do better despite some delays.

Electricity spending pulls ahead of oil

Oil accounts for most of the decline in revenues expected this year. Furthermore, in a “historic switch” consumer spending on electricity could exceed spending on oil for the first time ever. 

While power-sector revenues are expected to fall by $180bn, oil spending will likely drop by at least $1tn. This can be seen in the chart on the left below. Taken together, investment in oil and gas is expected to fall by almost a third in 2020. 

Both global end-use spending by consumers on energy (left) and estimated 2020 investment compared to 2019 show oil is expected to see the biggest decline in investment activity this year. Source: IEA.

The decline in aviation and road transport, which represent nearly 60% of oil demand, are responsible for this disproportionate decline.

Meanwhile, the impact on gas has so far been more moderate, but could fall further due to reduced demand in power and industry settings.

The report also highlights the global shale sector, which was already under pressure, as being particularly vulnerable. 

With investor confidence and access to capital in decline, the IEA predicts shale investment will halve in 2020 and notes the outlook for “highly leveraged shale players in the US” is now “bleak”.

Coal decline given a ‘floor’ by China

Coal is estimated to be the fuel hardest hit by the crisis after oil. Coal demand could drop by 8% this year, investment in coal supply is set to fall by a quarter and spending on new coal-fired plants is set to fall by around 11%.

However, any decline in coal’s fortunes may be curtailed by the recovery of demand for the fossil fuel in China. According to the IEA, investment activity there “may put a floor” under further reductions in coal-power investment this year.

The nation’s focus on coal is illustrated in the chart below, which shows final investment decisions (FIDs) dropping to their lowest levels in a decade, but China providing virtually all of them in the year so far.

Coal-fired power generation capacity (GW) subject to a final investment decision (FID), with China coloured in green. Source: IEA.
Coal-fired power generation capacity (GW) subject to a final investment decision (FID), with China coloured in green. Source: IEA.

Using data available so far, the IEA notes that approvals for new coal plants in the first quarter of 2020, were “running at twice the rate observed over 2019 as a whole”, primarily in China.

Electric vehicle sales rising as overall market contracts

Last year was a difficult time for the car industry, with total sales growth slowing in all major regions and turning negative in China and the US.

However, this “turbulent” period for the industry is “likely to appear mild” in comparison with 2020, according to the IEA. 

Lockdowns have already severely impacted sales and, across the year, the agency estimates a drop of around 15% – dramatic even compared to the 10% drop that followed the 2008 financial crisis. Negative trends in overall car sales can be seen in the right-hand chart below.

Global sales of electric passenger vehicles – cars, vans and small trucks – and market share, indicated by a red line (left chart). Total light-duty vehicle sales (right). Source: IEA.
Global sales of electric passenger vehicles – cars, vans and small trucks – and market share, indicated by a red line (left chart). Total light-duty vehicle sales (right). Source: IEA.

However, even though electric vehicle sales followed wider patterns and stalled in 2019 largely due to declining Chinese purchases, their overall market share continued to climb. 

This can be seen in the chart on the left, which shows that electric cars are expected to go against the broader trend in 2020. The IEA estimates that owing to policy support, particularly in Europe, electric vehicle sales will increase this year, as will their share of the market (indicated by the red line).

Battery storage spending fell as prices dropped

Investment in battery storage fell for the first time last year, as the chart below shows. Overall, spending on grid-scale and behind-the-meter batteries fell by 15%, with overall investment just above $4bn.

Investment in both grid-scale (left) and behind-the-meter battery storage (right). Source: IEA.
Investment in both grid-scale (left) and behind-the-meter battery storage (right). Source: IEA.

The IEA states this decline took place as costs for battery storage fell rapidly, a trend the agency attributes to maturing supply chains and markets, more efficient production and competition within the sector.

The report mentions fires at energy storage installations in South Korea and regulation uncertainty in China as some of the factors behind the decline in interest last year.

Declining behind-the-meter battery spending also reflects the distributed solar PV market, for which investment slowed last year in a trend expected to continue as consumer spending drops off due to coronavirus.

The agency notes that grid-scale battery investments are also expected to decline this year against the backdrop of a general decrease in power activity. 

However, it says this setback “is likely to be shortlived” due to the technology’s growing importance for system security and flexibility. 

***

IEA: Coronavirus ‘accelerating closure’ of ageing fossil-fuelled power plants

Josh Gabbatiss, Carbon Brief, 27 May 2020

Published under a CC license. Carbon Brief welcomes the reproduction of unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article.

Kehinde Wiley: “St. Andrew”

Kehinde Wiley’s “St. Andrew” (oil and enamel on canvas in an antiquated frame with gilded ornament) of 2006.

A young man in contemporary street-wear straddles the cross on which he will die. The unusual cross is associated with St. Andrew, a disciple of Christ who was executed for refusing to renounce his faith.

Kehinde Wiley, “St. Andrew” (2006, oil and enamel on canvas in antiquated frame with gilded ornaments; detail)

Kehinde Wiley poses his contemporary St. Andrew against rich brocade that comes to life as it winds over the figure.

Kehinde Wiley, “St. Andrew” (2006, oil and enamel on canvas in antiquated frame with gilded ornaments)

The subject is painted in a powerful and dramatic Baroque style in strong contrast to the flat background.

Born in Los Angeles in 1977, Kehinde Wiley now lives and works in New York. He earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale in 2001. He holds an honorary doctorate from the  Rhode Island School of Design.

Represented by New York gallerist Sean Kelly, Wiley

“has firmly situated himself within art history’s portrait painting tradition.

“As a contemporary descendent of a long line of portraitists, including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian, Ingres, among others,

“Wiley engages the signs and visual rhetoric of the heroic, majestic, and the sublime in his representation of urban, black and brown men found throughout the world.”

Kehinde Wiley, Sean Kelly

Kehinde Wiley’s “St. Andrew,” a museum purchase of 2014, is now in the collection of Norfolk, Virginia’s Chrysler Museum of Art.

See:

Kehinde Wiley, Sean Kelly

Kehinde  Wiley, Chrysler Museum of Art

Daily global CO2 emissions ‘cut to 2006 levels’ during height of coronavirus crisis

Daily global CO2 emissions ‘cut to 2006 levels’ during height of coronavirus crisis

Simon Evans, Carbon Brief, 19 May 2020

***

The amount of CO2 being released by human activity each day fell by as much as 17% during the height of the coronavirus crisis in early April, a new study shows.

This means daily emissions temporarily fell to levels last seen in 2006, the study says. In the first four months of the year, it estimates that global emissions from burning fossil fuels and cement production were cut by 1,048m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), or 8.6%, compared with 2019 levels.

The research projects a decline of up to 2,729MtCO2 (7.5%) in 2020 as a whole, depending on how the crisis plays out. It is the first to have been through the peer-review process and is broadly in line with an early estimate for China published by Carbon Brief in February, as well as separate global estimates published last month by Carbon Brief and the International Energy Agency.

Today’s study also marks the first-ever attempt to quantify CO2 emissions on a daily basis, for the world and for 69 individual countries, in close to real time. Until now, annual CO2 emissions data has typically been published months or even years later.

A publicly available daily estimate of global or national CO2 emissions would be “incredibly useful, particularly for motivating policy action and pressure”, another researcher tells Carbon Brief.

Coronavirus crisis

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world and seen the introduction of severe restrictions on movement in many countries.

These lockdowns have included “stay at home” orders, border closures and other measures that have had direct effects on the use of energy and, consequently, on the release of CO2 emissions.

As the crisis has unfolded, so too have attempts to quantify its impact on CO2 emissions. These efforts have been challenging, however, because real-time CO2 emissions data does not exist.

The annual emissions inventories that countries submit to the UN take years to compile – and even these are estimates rather than direct measurements.

Greenhouse gas emissions are estimated using a variety of methods, often based on “activity data”. This might be the number of miles being driven, the amount of electricity generated or even – in the case of nitrous oxide, which is used as a propellant  – via cream consumption.

Today’s study, published in Nature Climate Change, combines activity data for six sectors with a “confinement index” of lockdown measures in each country or region over time.

This allows for an estimate of changes in daily global CO2 emissions in January-April 2020, relative to the 100MtCO2 released on an average day in 2019.

During peak confinement in individual countries, daily CO2 emissions fell by 26% on average, the paper says. However, the size of this effect is reduced at a global level, because not all countries were under the most severe type of lockdown at the same time.

At the peak of the crisis in early April, regions responsible for 89% of daily CO2 emissions were under some form of lockdown, the paper says. Daily global CO2 emissions fell to 83MtCO2 (-17%, with a range of -11 to -25%) on 7 April, equivalent to levels last seen in 2006.

In a press release, lead author Prof Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre (who will be a panelist at Carbon Brief’s webinar on 21 May), says:

“Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions. These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary, however, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems.”

Daily data

In order to estimate daily global CO2 emissions, the researchers use a novel approach that combines sectoral activity data with a country-by-country confinement index.

The paper looks at six sectors, shown in the chart below according to their share of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement. These are electricity and heat (44%); industry (22%); surface transport (20%); homes (6%); public buildings and commerce (4%); and aviation (3%).

Share of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement due to each of six sectors of the economy. Source: Le Queré et al. (2020). Chart by Carbon Brief.
Share of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement due to each of six sectors of the economy. Source: Le Queré et al. (2020). Chart by Carbon Brief.

Notably, this split highlights the limited potential for individual actions to radically reduce global emissions, in contrast to the societal choices that govern CO2 from electricity and industry.

The split in global CO2 emissions, shown above, is then broken down further for each of 69 countries, 50 US states and 30 Chinese provinces, which account for 97% of the global total. This gives industrial CO2 emissions in Italy, for example, on an average day in 2019.

The paper then uses 669 datasets, covering each of these sectors over time, and classified according to the level of confinement in place at each point. For example, this might be daily reports on mobility, traffic and congestion to measure “activity” for surface transport.

This daily data is then adjusted to remove effects unrelated to coronavirus, such as the mild northern hemisphere winter or the day of the week.

Under the highest level of confinement, surface transport “activity” fell by 50% on average, the paper finds. This is shown in green in the chart, below, where each dot represents a single data point, open circles show the average and the horizontal lines show the variability between datasets. The chart also shows changes in activity for electricity, industry, homes and aviation.

Change in sectoral “activity” under the highest level of coronavirus confinement, percent, relative to an average day in 2019. Each dot represents a single datapoint and open circles show the average. Reading from left to right, the chart shows activity changes in the power sector (purple), industry (yellow), surface transport (green), homes (blue) and aviation (pink). Source: Le Queré et al. (2020).
Change in sectoral “activity” under the highest level of coronavirus confinement, percent, relative to an average day in 2019. Each dot represents a single datapoint and open circles show the average. Reading from left to right, the chart shows activity changes in the power sector (purple), industry (yellow), surface transport (green), homes (blue) and aviation (pink). Source: Le Queré et al. (2020).

For electricity, the paper looks at total daily demand in Europe, the US and India, finding an average 15% reduction in demand under strict lockdown. In industry, the paper looks at daily coal use in China reported by Carbon Brief and weekly reports on steel production in the US.

For homes, the paper draws on figures from UK smart meters. And for aviation – the most strongly affected sector – it uses data on domestic and international departures around the world.

As the chart above shows, the analysis relies on relatively sparse information for industry, whereas activity levels in transport draw on a wider range of datasets.

Emissions estimates

The team then uses the average change in activity, for each sector and level of confinement, to build up an estimate of daily CO2 emissions around the world.

For example, on days when Turkey is under the strictest lockdown, the analysis assumes that its power-sector CO2 emissions would fall by 15% compared with the average in 2019 – and those from surface transport by 50%.

When Turkey shifts from “confinement index three”, the strictest controls, down to level two, its power-sector emissions would be 5% below usual levels and transport 40% lower. For each confinement level, the same percentage reductions are assumed to apply to all countries.

This approach means that the team only needed to know when each country, state or province changed its coronavirus lockdown from one “confinement level” to another, as well as the daily average level of CO2 emissions from each sector in 2019.

Putting all of these countries and lockdown levels together, the paper finds that the cut in daily global CO2 emissions peaked at -17% on 7 April, shown in the figure, below. Across the first four months of 2020, emissions fell by 1,048MtCO2 (8.6%), compared with 2019 levels.

Estimated daily global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement, million tonnes (MtCO2 per day). The left panel shows emissions from 1970-2020 and the right panel shows the first four months of 2020. Source: Le Queré et al. (2020).
Estimated daily global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement, million tonnes (MtCO2 per day). The left panel shows emissions from 1970-2020 and the right panel shows the first four months of 2020. Source: Le Queré et al. (2020).

Within this global total, the largest impacts were in China, where emissions fell by an estimated 242MtCO2 in the first four months of the year, followed by the US (-207MtCO2), Europe (-123MtCO2) and India (-98MtCO2).

Dr Glen Peters, research director at Norwegian climate institute Cicero and one of the study authors, tells Carbon Brief that while the approach was designed around the current crisis, the team has gathered the “raw material” to make daily CO2 estimates on an ongoing basis. He says:

“We have discussed more ‘real-time’ estimates for sometime and there are many advantages. We are illustrating one advantage with our paper to see the consequences of particular policy interventions in near real time.”

But Peters notes that some of the daily data they used – the urban congestion index series from satnav maker TomTom, for example – is only being made publicly available during the current crisis and might be made private again in the future. He also asks whether daily data is truly needed, or whether weekly or even monthly estimates might be sufficient for scientists and policymakers.

Dr Hannah Ritchie, head of research at website Our World in Data and one of the reviewers of the new study, tells Carbon Brief:

“I think daily CO2 estimates would be incredibly useful, particularly for motivating policy action and pressure…Climate change already has the classic long-termism problem, but this is exacerbated by the fact that we get a figure on CO2 emissions published once a year, as a marker of how each country is doing.”

If daily CO2 estimates were publicly available for all countries, it would become possible to actively track progress, she says, adding: “You can have a counter on the news, or an app or dashboard on your phone – just like we do with other metrics like stock markets.”

Alternative analyses

Today’s research is not the first to analyse the CO2 impacts of the coronavirus crisis, although it is the first to have completed its passage through peer review.

Another paper, which is currently in review, also attempts to estimate daily global CO2 emissions in close to real time. This work finds the coronavirus crisis cut global emissions by -542MtCO2 below 2019 levels in the first quarter of 2020, similar to the -530MtCO2 figure from today’s paper.

In mid-February, Carbon Brief published an analysis showing that emissions in China were temporarily cut by 200MtCO2 (25%) over a four-week period, during the height of the restrictions. The new study finds that the cut in Chinese emissions peaked at 24%.

Today’s research also includes estimates of the emissions impact in 2020 as a whole, based on three scenarios for the length of lockdowns around the world. These entail CO2 emissions falling by between -4% and -8%, depending on how the crisis plays out. This range is consistent with estimates published in April byCarbon Brief (-6%) and the International Energy Agency (-8%).

***

Daily global CO2 emissions ‘cut to 2006 levels’ during height of coronavirus crisis

Simon Evans, Carbon Brief, 19 May 2020

Published under a CC license. You are welcome to reproduce unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article. 

Q&A: Could climate change and biodiversity loss raise the risk of pandemics?

Q&A: Could climate change and biodiversity loss raise the risk of pandemics?

Daisy Dunne, Carbon Brief, 15 May 2020

***

Across the world, millions of people have tested positive for Covid-19 – and countless more have seen their lifestyles completely transformed as a result of the virus.

It is not yet known exactly what triggered the current outbreak, but researchers suspect that the virus passed from bats to humans through an unknown intermediary animal, possibly a pangolin.

Politicians in the UK have called this pandemic a “once-in-a-century” crisis. But scientists have warned that the ongoing disturbance of species through human activities and climate change could be raising the risk of potentially pandemic-causing diseases passing from animals to humans.

The study of the “spillover” of disease from animals to humans has received renewed focus in light of the pandemic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a major international collaboration of climate scientists – is now looking into how the influence of warming on such events could be included in its next major climate report due next year.

In this explainer, Carbon Brief examines what is known about how climate change and biodiversity disturbance, including habitat loss and human-animal conflict, could influence the risk of diseases being transmitted from animals to humans.

How does an animal-to-human disease spillover turn to a pandemic?

When humans come into contact with other animals, they can pass harmful pathogens between one another. The passing of an infection or disease from a vertebrate animal to a human is known as a “zoonosis”, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). (Vertebrate animals include mammals, birds and reptiles, but not insects, such as mosquitoes.)

Such diseases have a major impact on health, accounting for two-thirds of all human infectious diseases and three out of four newly emerging diseases.

Serious diseases that have spilled over from animals to humans include Ebola in Africa, Marburg in Europe (and subsequently in Africa),  Hendra virus in Australia and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and Nipah virus in east Asia. Some have gone on to have a lasting, global impact, such as HIV/AIDS and swine flu (H1N1). The current Covid-19 pandemic was also most likely caused by a spillover.

The number of potentially harmful viruses circulating in mammal and bird populations that have not yet spilled over to humans is estimated to be up to 1.7m, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). (IPBES is an independent group of international researchers monitoring biodiversity issues).

The spillover of disease from animals to people can happen in many ways, including directly through animal bites, the consumption of raw or undercooked animal meat or products such as milk, or through contaminated water. Diseases can also spread indirectly if humans come into contact with a surface that has been contaminated by an infected animal. Both wild animals and livestock can pass on disease.

A mouse opossum (Marmosa sp.) raids the trash in Peru. Credit: Anton Sorokin / Alamy Stock Photo
A mouse opossum (Marmosa sp.) raids the trash in Peru. Credit: Anton Sorokin / Alamy Stock Photo

(Sometimes, transmission occurs through an intermediary species that can carry the disease without getting sick. Scientists suspect this is how the Covid-19 pandemic started.)

Out in the wild and in settings where humans and animals come into contact, these kinds of interactions happen regularly – and it is rare for one to end with a human being infected by a new disease, explains Dr David Redding, a research fellow at the Zoological Society of London. He tells Carbon Brief:

“There are lots of different factors that need to all overlap at the same time for there to be a contact that is both effective in terms of transferring a live pathogenic organism and then also for that very rare situation where that pathogen has an adaptation that allows it to invade our immune system.”

Even if a disease is effectively transmitted from an animal to a person, it is unlikely that they will then pass it on to someone else, he adds:

“I would say most – possibly 99% – of all diseases that are caused in that way can’t then be passed on. So we’ve got another ‘filter’ that dictates that people have to be infected in a particular way that allows them to shed viruses effectively to other people.”

This “virus shedding” can happen in various ways. Like other respiratory diseases, Covid-19 can be transmitted when a carrier coughs or sneezes in close proximity to another person. (Scientists are still debating whether the virus can also be passed on in other ways.)

The ability of the new pathogen to spread directly from person to person is a key ingredient for a disease to take hold in a population, Redding says. (Some animal-borne diseases require a vector to spread from person to person, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease.)

An illness outbreak is said to become an “epidemic” when its impact on people in a single community or region is “clearly in excess of normal expectancy”, according to the WHO. The term “pandemic” describes the worldwide spread of a new disease. (When a disease is “endemic” it has a continuous presence in a population or area.) 

Since 1900, there have been pandemics at “intervals of several decades”, according to the WHO. The worst in this time period was Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 50 million people from 1918-19.

A group of people standing outdoors wearing masks over their mouths, probably taken during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Credit: Niday Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
A group of people standing outdoors wearing masks over their mouths, probably taken during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Credit: Niday Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Prior to Covid-19, every outbreak considered to be a pandemic by the WHO since 1900 has been caused by influenza, a virus that transmits from person to person. Some new strains of flu originate in animals, such as bird flu, but most new strains arise in human populations – and so would not be considered animal-borne.

There are many factors that can determine whether an outbreak reaches epidemic or pandemic status. These include human factors, such as preparedness and early action to prevent the illness from spreading, and also the traits of the pathogen itself, says Redding:

“The characteristics of the pathogen and its ability to spread are two key components in causing these rare events.”

For instance, if the pathogen causes very severe illness, the sufferer is less likely to be able to travel to a new place to pass on the disease, Redding says. This is also the case if the mortality rate is particularly high.

In contrast, if the disease causes mild to undetectable symptoms for at least some sufferers – as is the case with Covid-19 – it is more likely that people will inadvertently spread it to new places, he says.

This may go some way to explaining why previous serious animal-borne disease outbreaks have not reached pandemic status, Redding explains.

Members of a burial team prepare for a burial in Komende Luyama village. Eastern Sierra Leone was a hot spot for Ebola for several months, but eventually authorities managed to bring down infection rates to just a few cases per week. 17 October 2014 Credit: Tommy E Trenchard / Alamy Stock Photo
Members of a burial team prepare for a burial in Komende Luyama village. Eastern Sierra Leone was a hot spot for Ebola for several months, but eventually authorities managed to bring down infection rates to just a few cases per week. 17 October 2014 Credit: Tommy E Trenchard / Alamy Stock Photo

For example, Ebola – a disease initially spread to humans by fruit bats – has caused several serious epidemics in West Africa, but has not established itself on a worldwide scale. It has a mortality rate of around 50%. The mortality rate of Covid-19 is not yet known, though it is likely to be below 10%.

It is also worth noting that the likelihood of a disease turning to a pandemic has been heightened in recent decades by increased global connectivity, particularly through frequent air travel, Redding says:

“Plagues in the medieval times took years to spread across Asia. Whereas we look at today’s outbreaks and we can see that they can spread in hours.”

Overall, for a spillover event to turn into a pandemic, there must be a “perfect storm” of several complex factors all occurring at the same time – which, at present, does not happen very often, says Redding: “I think history shows us that these sort of large outbreaks happen a couple of times a century.”

Could climate change and biodiversity disturbance affect the risk of spillover?

Every new animal-borne disease starts with humans coming into contact with wildlife. And it is likely that climate change and the disturbance of biodiversity could play a role in shaping the frequency, timing and location of these meetings, says Prof Hans-Otto Poertner, head of biosciences at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and co-chair of the impacts chapter of the next major assessment report from the IPCC. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Climate change is clearly a factor that can influence these relationships. Climate change shapes the biogeographical distribution of species. If, in the future, we see species moving into areas where humans are prevalent, we could see new opportunities for pandemics to evolve.”

Research has shown that climate change is shifting where species live, both on land and in the ocean. This is because, as temperatures increase and rainfall levels change, some species are being forced to seek out new areas with climate conditions they are able to tolerate. (Species that are not able to adapt could face extinction.)

A review published in Science in 2017 looking into 40,000 species across the world found that around half are already on the move as a result of changing climate conditions.

In general, species are seeking cooler temperatures by moving towards the Earth’s poles. Land animals are moving polewards at an average rate of 10 miles per decade, whereas marine species are moving at a rate of 45 miles per decade, according to the review.

Dugong feeding in the seagrass bed, Dimakya Island, Palawan, Philippines. Credit: Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

However, the movement of animals is complicated by other factors, such as the changing availability of food, the shifting distribution of predators and changing patterns of human land-use, the review says. This makes it difficult to predict exactly where species will move to.

It is likely that the movement of species will have consequences for human health, says Prof Birgitta Evengard, a senior researcher of infectious diseases at Umea University in Sweden, who was one of the authors of the review. She tells Carbon Brief:

“When land-based animals move, they bring with them their [viruses] – and they will spread them.” 

So far, there has not been a great deal of research into how climate change-driven shifts to animal ranges could affect the chances of disease spillover on a global scale, says Poertner.

In one example, a research paper by Redding found that climate change could heighten the risk of new Ebola outbreaks in various parts of Africa by 2070.

This is because climate change could cause regions that are currently desert to become warmer and wetter, leading to the formation of the lush plants that bats use as a habitat. The movement of bats into these new areas could increase contact between them and humans, increasing the chances of disease spillover, the study found.

A fruit bat (flying fox) in Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka. Credit: paul kennedy / Alamy Stock Photo
A fruit bat (flying fox) in Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka. Credit: paul kennedy / Alamy Stock Photo

Another study found that climate change could enhance the risk of spillover of the Hendra virus, an animal-borne disease that can pass from flying foxes to humans through horses, which are also affected by the virus.

The virus was first identified when an outbreak broke out in Hendra, a suburb in Brisbane, Australia, in 1994. Since then, there have been at least eight separate outbreaks along the coast of northern Australia, according to the WHO. It has a mortality rate of 50-75%.

Recorded Hendra virus outbreaks in Australia. Source: WHO

The research found that climate change could cause the geographic range of flying foxes to expand southwards and further inland. “Spillover events could potentially increase farther south, and inland with climate change,” the authors say.

Elsewhere, a recent preprint – a preliminary study that has not yet completed peer review – suggests that climate change could drive substantial global increases in the passing of novel diseases from mammals to humans by 2070.

Using modelling, the study maps where around 4,000 mammals species and the diseases they carry are likely to move to by 2070. It finds mammals are “predicted to aggregate at high elevations, in biodiversity hotspots, and in areas of high human population density in Asia and Africa, sharing novel viruses between 3,000 and 13,000 times”.

The authors add: “Most projected viral sharing is driven by diverse hyper-reservoirs (rodents and bats) and large-bodied predators (carnivores).”

It will be important for the IPCC to include the emerging evidence of how climate change could affect the passing of diseases from animals to humans in its next major assessment report, currently due for release in 2021-22, says Poertner:

“We expect to include aspects as they become apparent from the literature.”

The scale of the impact of climate change on wildlife is currently second only to the damage caused by human land-use change, including deforestation, other types of habitat loss and human-animal conflict.

In its first major assessment on biodiversity published in May 2019, IPBES reported that humans have “significantly altered” 75% of the land surface and 66% of the global ocean. During 2010-15, 32m hectares of natural or recovering forest were cleared by humans. This area is roughly equal to the size of Italy.

As a result of ongoing pressures on biodiversity, around one million species are currently threatened by extinction within decades, the report concluded.

The report noted that ongoing pressures on wildlife are likely to increase contact between animals and humans, altering the chances of disease spillover. In chapter three of the full report, the authors say:

“Complex links between increased human disturbance, land-use change, habitat loss/degradation and biodiversity loss have all been linked to increases in the prevalence and risk of zoonotic [animal-borne] disease for a variety of pathogens.”

However, research into how biodiversity disturbance could affect animal-borne disease risk at a global level has so far been limited, it notes:

“Causal mechanisms are only well known for a handful of infectious diseases and it is sometimes hard to pick apart the drivers of disease to isolate the direct effects of environmental change from other human actions.”

Research has shown that bushmeat huntingdeforestation and the trade of wildlife at markets can heighten the risk of diseases passing between animals and humans.

In 2018, a study warned of a possible link between deforestation in southeast Asia and a heightened risk of spillover of novel coronaviruses from bats to humans. The authors say:

“Owing to evolving land-use, bat populations are setting up in areas closer to human dwellings…This increases the risk of transmission of viruses through direct contact, domestic animal infection, or contamination by urine or faeces.”

***

Q&A: Could climate change and biodiversity loss raise the risk of pandemics?

Daisy Dunne, Carbon Brief, 15 May 2020

Published under a CC license. You are welcome to reproduce unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article. 

inflection point? · oil major tears up the industry’s financial playbook

In August 2014 Simon Evans of Carbon Brief, reporting on a white paper, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” published days earlier by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted that “‘fossil fuels are investor favourites for a reason’….fossil fuel investments have a history of strong performance.

BNEF looked at seven alternative trillion-dollar sectors and found that only shares in real estate firms have paid higher dividends in recent years than fossil fuel firms.”

(Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014)

Fast forward to today. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, global energy demand in the first quarter of 2020 was 3.8% lower than in the same quarter of 2019. The IEA expects global energy demand for 2020 to decline by 6% year-on-year, a decline not seen for decades.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020; IEA Global Energy Review

The fossil fuel sector, consistently a source of large dividends over the years, is suddenly under market stress and scrutiny from investors.

While “most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors … to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors” (Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020), Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, shocked the investing world.

Shell both reduced its dividend, the first time it has done so since World War II, for Q1 2020 and, observing that it would be neither “wise” nor “prudent” nor “responsible” to do so, announced it will not follow industry practice of borrowing against its balance sheet to finance the dividend payment.

The Board of Royal Dutch Shell plc (“RDS” or the “Company”) today announced an interim dividend in respect of the first quarter of 2020 of US$ 0.16 per A ordinary share (“A Share”) and B ordinary share (“B Share”), reduced from the US$ 0.47 dividend for the same quarter last year.

The pace and scale of the societal impact of COVID 19 and the resulting deterioration in the macroeconomic and commodity price outlook is unprecedented. The duration of these impacts remains unclear with the expectation that the weaker conditions will likely extend beyond 2020.

“In response, Shell has taken decisive actions to reduce our spending and position our businesses to compete in the current lower commodity price environment and uncertain demand outlook.

“The Board of Royal Dutch Shell has taken the decision to reset its dividend to provide financial resilience and further flexibility to manage the uncertainty. Shell is taking the steps necessary to ensure that we are well-positioned for the eventual economic recovery.

(“Royal Dutch Shell plc first quarter 2020 interim dividend,” 30 April 2020)

Not only did the dividend reduction, coupled with CEO Ben van Beurden’s further announcement that Shell would not take on debt to fund its dividend payment, shock investors, it also “tore up the industry’s playbook.”

When the boss of Royal Dutch Shell Plc slashed his dividend on Thursday, he didn’t just shock investors,” Laura Hurst of Bloomberg commented, “he tore up the industry’s financial playbook.

For decades Big Oil has used the strength of a large balance sheet to borrow money when the going gets tough and keeps investors sweet until the next upward cycle.

As the coronavirus pandemic potentially causes lasting damage to energy demand, Europe’s largest oil company asked whether this strategy is sustainable.

“’I would say no,’ said Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden. ‘It’s also not wise and prudent, nor even responsible, to pay out a dividend if you know for sure you have to borrow for it.‘”

(Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil,” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020)

Norwegian multinational energy company Equinor (OSE:EQNR,NYSE:EQNR; formerly Statoil) announced on 23 April a cash dividend of US$ 0.09 per share for the first quarter 2020, a reduction of 67% compared to the dividend proposed for the fourth quarter 2019.  

On 28 April, BP announced an interim dividend of 10.50 cents per ordinary share for the first quarter of 2020.

Gaurav Sharma, Senior Contributor at Forbes, observing that whilst first quarter profits at BP have decreased by 67% on lack of oil demand and the crude oil price crash, the company “sprung a surprise for the market by maintaining the company’s 10.5 U.S. cents per share dividend payment, hiked by 2.4% as recently as February.”

The move,” Mr. Sharma noted, “will come as a relief to beleaguered U.K. income funds that have seen over $18.6 billion in payouts cancelled or suspended over the last six weeks.

Collectively, HSBC, GSK, Royal Dutch Shell, British American Tobacco and BP accounted for 40% of FTSE 100 dividend payouts in 2019. With BP promising to payout, HSBC holding back following regulatory pressure, GSK, BAT and Shell, which hasn’t failed to pay a dividend since the Second World War II, appear to be in the bag.”

(Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains Dividend Despite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020)

On 29 April, Exxon Mobil Corp., based in Irving, Texas and the largest oil company in the Western Hemisphere, announced that for the second quarter 2020 it will pay a dividend of 87 cents per share. This is the same amount that was paid per share for the first quarter of 2020.

For the first time in 13 years, ExxonMobil “froze” its second quarter dividend to the amount paid in the first quarter.

Kevin Crowley of Bloomberg notes “Before now, Exxon had an uninterrupted streak of April increases going back to 2007.”

Most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors, including Exxon, to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors. Before today, Exxon was the third-largest dividend payer in the S&P 500 Index behind Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

The freeze may not derail Exxon’s multi decade streak of annual increases,” Mr. Crowley continues. “Even if the company maintains quarterly payouts at the current level for the rest of 2020, the annual outlay will be $3.48 a share, or 1.5% above 2019.

“’It’s definitely a sign of the times and to be expected given the price environment,’ said Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward D. Jones &Co. The payout is “secure” because the company has capacity to take on debt to fund it, she said. On an annualized basis, the dividend will cost Exxon almost $15 billion this year.”

(Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020)

See:

Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020

First Quarter 2020 Interim Dividend,” Royal Dutch Shell Plc, 30 April 2020

Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil, ” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020

Dividend Information, ExxonMobil dividends per common share,” Exxon Mobil, 29 April 2020

Kevin Crowley, “Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash,” Bloomberg, 29 April 2020

BPp.l.c. Group results, First quarter 2020“, 28 April 2020

Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains DividendDespite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020

Equinor reducing quarterly cash dividend for first quarter 2020 by 67%,” Equinor, 23 April 2020

Mikael Holter, “Norway Oil Giant Slashes Dividend to Weather Oil-Market Crash,” Bloomberg, 23 April 2020

Financial Times, “Shell dividend cut puts Big Oil investment case in focus” 

Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014

Nathaniel Bullard, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” White Paper, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 25 August 2014

IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis

IEA: Corona virus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis

Written by Josh Gabbatiss. Published on Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020.

The world’s CO2 emissions are expected to fall by 8% this year as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down much of the global economy, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Such a drop would be the largest ever recorded in terms of tonnes of CO2, some six times greater than the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.

The agency’s new Global Energy Review is based on extensive data from the year so far and is intended to provide close to a real-time estimate of energy usage and emissions.

Its projections for the whole of 2020 are based on a series of assumptions including that the lockdowns, curfews and closure of schools and businesses currently in place are gradually eased over the coming months.

However, as the pandemic spreads and its devastating impacts continue to unfold, the agency makes clear that there are still “major uncertainties” about how it will play out.

The IEA’s central figure of 8% is even higher than previous estimates, including analysis conducted by Carbon Brief and published earlier this month, which was based on a less comprehensive dataset and less recent data.

An 8% cut is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions reductions needed to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. However, the stretch target laid out in the Paris Agreement would require similar reductions every year this decade.

The agency is clear that the expected decline in emissions due to a pandemic is “absolutely nothing to cheer”. Moreover, it emphasises the importance of prioritising clean energy in economic recovery plans in order to avoid a sharp rebound in emissions.

Unprecedented shock

Describing the pandemic as a “a macroeconomic shock that is unprecedented in peacetime”, the IEA draws comparisons with the impact that wars and other recent crises have had on the global energy system. Some of these events can be seen in the figure below.

The report compares the covid-19 pandemic with the last financial crisis, when growth in China and India “was able to largely offset reductions elsewhere”. This time around, both nations are also feeling the effects of the disease and such an offset is unlikely.

Global energy-related emissions (top) and annual change (bottom) in GtCO2, with projected 2020 levels highlighted in red. Other major events are indicated to a give a sense of scale. Source: IEA Global Energy Review.

As it spreads to virtually every nation on the planet, the impact of coronavirus is being felt in all walks of life, but different sectors are being affected in very different ways.

Energy use for residential gas heating or electricity use for server farms and digital equipment may even show a significant increase in the coming months, the IEA says, whereas other sectors such as aviation have collapsed.

Global energy demand was 3.8% lower in the first quarter of 2020 than last year, the IEA says, and it expects the annual total to drop by 6% year-on-year in 2020. 

Such a decline has not been seen for decades, as the chart below shows, and will effectively wipe out five years of demand growth.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: IEA Global Energy Review.

CO2 emissions are expected to fall to 30.6bn tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) this year, an 8% drop from last year, with declining coal use the most significant factor.

The drop in coal combustion is being driven mainly by the power sector, the IEA says, together with competition from cheap natural gas and industrial slowdown. Coal demand is expected to fall 8%, but as China’s industrial sector starts up again, it is expected to go some way to offsetting larger declines.

Demand (left) and annual change in demand (right) for the total quantity of coal used globally (dark) and coal in the power sector alone (light), measured in million tonnes of coal equivalent (Mtce). The change in demand for the first quarter of 2020 (Q1) is shown in red while the projection for the full year is shown in pink. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

Due to the global lockdown’s impact on transport, illustrated in the charts below, demand for oil has fallen at an “unprecedented scale” in the first four months of the year.

Change in road transport activity and flight numbers as a % in 2020 so far compared to the previous year, for selected countries (solid lines) and the whole world (dashed line). Source: IEA Global Energy Review

This is particularly true for fuels used in passenger transport, namely petrol and kerosene. Meanwhile demand for diesel, a substantial portion of which is used to power vehicles that transport goods, is expected to remain stronger. Overall, oil demand is expected to drop by 9% across the year after a 29% drop in the month of April.

As a side-effect of declining transport activity, car sales are expected to decline. In March, EU sales were 55% lower than 2019 levels, and if this trend plays out in nations with fuel economy standards in place, improvements in energy efficiency will be slower, the IEA notes.

Gas demand is expected to fall less than oil or coal as it is less vulnerable to changes in transportation demand, although the IEA says it could still fall by 5%. Gas will be particularly susceptible if countries in the Middle East and North Africa enter long lockdowns, the agency says, due to their reliance on the fuel for power.

In general, nuclear power is expected to fare better than fossil fuels, with lockdowns expected to reduce global output by 3% due to falling demand and disrupted construction. Already, delays have been announced to projects in China and Finland, and more are expected in the UK, US and France.

As the figure below shows, lockdowns in recent months have pushed down electricity demand significantly, with the strongest impacts found in nations with service-based economies and the strictest lockdowns, such as Italy.

Weather-corrected change in electricity demand, %, in selected countries implementing full (solid lines) or partial lockdowns (dashed lines), by number of days since their lockdowns began. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

It is worth noting that as pointed out in Carbon Brief’s recent analysis, it is difficult to assign effects specifically to coronavirus as many other factors will influence energy demand and emissions over the course of the year.

As an example, the IEA points to “milder than average” weather throughout most of the northern hemisphere in the first quarter of the year, which played a part in pushing down energy demand due to less gas being used for heating.

Renewables ascend

As fossil fuel use sank in the first few months of 2020, renewables remained stable, as in general they are given priority access to electricity grids and are not required to adjust their output based on demand. 

Combined with rising capacity as new wind and solar facilities are built, this means that renewable electricity generation rose by almost 3% in the first quarter of the year.

As a result, renewables achieved record-high hourly shares in Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hungary and parts of the US. Analysis just published by Carbon Brief shows a similar trend, with wind and solar reaching a record-high share of generation across Europe over the past 30 days.

These records reflect a rising renewable share of the electricity mix of countries around the world – where demand has declined during lockdowns – as shown in the chart, below.

Changes in the electricity mixes of key emitters in 2020 so far, with the implementation of lockdown strategies indicated by grey shading. Source: IEAGlobal Energy Review

In fact, renewables are also the only energy sources expected to grow this year “regardless of the length of lockdown or strength of recovery”, the report states. This can be seen in the figure below.

Projected % change in primary energy demand by fuel type in 2020 compared to the previous year, with renewables (green) showing the only positive change. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

The chart below shows how a pandemic recovery, in which restrictions are gradually loosened over the course of the year, is expected to push low-carbon electricity sources to 40% of power generation in 2020, extending the slight lead on coal achieved last year. This would be the highest level on record, albeit due in part to a 5% dip in total electricity demand.

Global generation % shares from coal (red line) and low-carbon sources (shaded area), including nuclear (yellow) and all renewables (different shades of green). Source: IEA Global Energy Review

New projects coming online this year are expected to increase wind and solar’s share of global electricity generation up to 9%, twice as high as levels seen just five years ago.

The IEA estimates total renewable energy use, including for heat and transport, will rise by about 1% in 2020, and there will still be an increase even if economic recovery is slow. 

However, despite being more resilient than other industries, the renewable sector has still faced challenges. The end of 2020 marks an important deadline for new wind projects in the US and China to receive tax credits and subsidies, but progress on these projects is now highly uncertain.

In a recent blog post, IEA analyst Heymi Bahar writes that what was meant to be “an outstanding year for renewables” has been hindered by supply chain and labour disruptions linked to the pandemic.

Wind turbine manufacture has been hit particularly hard due to a very global supply chain compared with solar panels, which are largely manufactured in China.

Methods and discrepancies

When Carbon Brief attempted to calculate a figure for total CO2 emissions decline this year due to coronavirus, it reached a slightly more modest figure of  5.5%, compared to the IEA’s 8%.

This analysis was based on five key datasets that cover roughly three-quarters of the world’s annual CO2 emissions, with the expectation that the elements not covered would have added to the final total.

The IEA has access to a much larger array of detailed information, and its analysis was based on data available up until mid-April including country submissions to the IEA, other statistical releases from national administrations and estimates by the agency itself when official data was missing.

Published on Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020, under a CC license. Unadapted material may be reproduced in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article.