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.

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,


‘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.

art, the built environment, & the Bizot Green Protocol

Works of art. History. Cultural heritage. The market. Galleries. Art fairs. Museums. Private museums. Institutional and private collections. Fiduciary care. Value.

Let’s consider a pressing issue:

How collections are housed, managed, and cared for and the protection of works of art and tangible assets in an age of increasingly erratic weather, increasing sea-level rise, floods, fires, storms, … and pandemics – which in themselves and the response to which can be devastating.

Does one barricade the art behind flood walls and barriers? Insure the works of art? (Insurance is a good idea. Insurance does not, however, mitigate or prevent future damage. Insurance is used to protect the “value” of the art, not the work of art itself. It is used after damage occurs to recover value.)

Can we protect works of art while mitigating possible future damage?

Atmospheric CO2 is a key factor leading towards the storms, floods, and fires that can be so damaging to art and tangible assets. Is it possible to care for our collections while reducing emissions of CO2 into the air?

The Bizot Group of museum directors, or the International Group of Organizers of Large-scale Exhibitions, thinks so.

Max Hollein, now the Director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, was Chairman of the Bizot Group in 2014. Richard Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Gugenheim Museum, and Glen Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art, are members.

Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born Nairobi, 1972), “The Seated II” (bronze, 2019) situated in one of four niches in the facade of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Courtesy of the the artist, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born Nairobi, 1972), “The Seated II” (bronze, 2019). Courtesy of the the artist, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Axel Rüger, Director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from 2006 until June of 2019 when he left the Van Gogh Museum to take up a new appointment as Chief Executive of London’s Royal Academy of Arts, is a member.

So are many others.

The Bizot Group agreed the Bizot Green Protocol in 2015:

The directors agree that museums can reduce the amount of CO2 emissions they are responsible for while recognizing their duty of care to collections:

1.  Guiding Principles
Museums should review policy and practice, particularly regarding loan requirements, storage and display conditions, and building design and air conditioning systems, with a view to reducing carbon footprints.

Museums need to find ways to reconcile the desirability of long-term preservation of collections with the need to reduce energy use.

Museums should apply whatever methodology or strategies best suit their collections, building and needs, and innovative approaches should be encouraged.

The care of objects is paramount. Subject to this,

environmental standards should become more intelligent and better tailored to specific needs. Blanket conditions should no longer apply. Instead conditions should be determined by the requirements of individual objects or groups of objects and the climate in the part of the world in which the museum is located;

where appropriate, care of collections should be achieved in a way that does not assume air conditioning or other high energy cost solutions. Passive methods, simple technology that is easy to maintain, and lower energy solutions should be considered;

natural and sustainable environmental controls should be explored and exploited fully;

when designing and constructing new buildings or renovating old ones, architects and engineers should be guided significantly to reduce the building’s carbon footprint as a key objective;

the design and build of exhibitions should be managed to mimimise waste and recycle where possible.

2.  Guidelines
For many classes of object containing hygroscopic material (such as canvas paintings, textiles, ethnographic objects or animal glue) a stable relative humidity (RH) is required in the range of 40 – 60% and a stable temperature in the range 16-25°C with fluctuations of no more than ±10% RH per 24 hours within this range. More sensitive objects will require specific and tighter RH control, depending on the materials, condition, and history of the work of art. A conservators evaluation is essential in establishing the appropriate environmental conditions for works of art requested for loan.

Environmental Sustainability – reducing museums’ carbon footprint,”National Museum Directors Council


Environmental sustainability – reducing museums’ carbon footprint,” National Museum Directors Council

Wangechi Mutu: The NewOnes, will free us,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Facade Commission, 9 September 2019 – 9 June 2020

Wangechi Mutu, Gladstone Gallery

Axel Rϋger Appointed Chief Executive of London’s Royal Academy of Arts,” Artforum, 13 February 2019

Axel Rüger,” 40 Under 40 Europe 2018, Apollo Magazine, 3 September 2018

Groupe Bizot, Letter of 26 February 2014 to Mr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

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. 

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.

your money, your life, your choice | California, cars, CO2

California, in so many ways, could learn from the US Northeast. 

To reduce CO2 and and greenhouse gas emissions from cars, a continuing and increasing issue in California and elsewhere, cities need data—ways to accurately measure emissions, pinpoint sources, and monitor change over time; cities need to know how much CO2 they are producing and reducing.

A tool called ACES (Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions System) was developed in response to the requirement for data by researchers at Boston University and Harvard. ACES offers finely-grained maps of CO2 emissions, with a resolution of 1km2, totaled hourly.

As we know, per our atmosphere – the air, its particular mix of gaseous elements, and its temperatures, together vital to life, inclusive of human, animal, and plant – CO2 and other greenhouse gases are an issue, in many ways.

California has “targets” to meet by the year 2020 for limiting the greenhouse gases associated with the driving that people do on a daily basis. The approach to greenhouse gases associated with the driving that people do on a daily basis has a heightened level of complexity in California. Driving a car, rather than availing oneself of public transportation such as a subway, metro, or bus, is a norm that people are highly unwilling and actually afraid to examine and rethink. The many localities within the state have made limited investment in public transportation in significant part because taking such modes of transportation is largely considered to be beneath the dignity – whether personal, social, or professional – of and compromising to anybody with a sense of self esteem.

While the “hope” has been that climate emissions might be curbed largely by promoting regional planning of denser development along transit lines ( S.B. 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, a landmark 2008 deal, with the California legislature recognizing the critical role of integrated transportation, land use, and housing decisions to meet state climate goals), the California Air Resources Board 2018 Progress Report released in November documents that driving of cars has skyrocketed statewide during the years following the recession of 2008 – 2009 through 2016.

A “key finding of this report is that California is not on track to meet the greenhouse gas reductions expected under SB 375 for 2020, with emissions from statewide passenger vehicle travel per capita increasing and going in the wrong direction” (page 4) and “emissions from the transportation sector continuing to rise despite increases in fuel efficiency and decreases in the carbon content of fuel” (page 5).

Top air quality officials in California state they currently have no way to fully assess whether regions from San Diego to Sacramento are on track to meet 2020 targets for reigning in greenhouse gases associated with daily driving. While “greenhouse gas emissions considered under the SB 375 program reflect carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions only from light-duty passenger vehicles” (page 21, footnote 22), the California Air Resources Board 2018 Progress Report states, “SB 375 passenger vehicle greenhouse gas emissions reductions cannot be directly measured because greenhouse gas emissions come from many sources” (page 21).

Air board officials said that while they tracked the key metric of vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, available statewide through fuel sales, that same information wasn’t available regionally. Without that, officials say there is no consistent way to extrapolate greenhouse gas emissions from driving for each region.

There’s no unifying way to bring it all together and say ‘You’re at this particular performance metric,’” said Nicole Dolney, chief of the air board’s transportation planning branch. “Our hope was that we would have VMT data that we could rely on, but it wasn’t there.”

So what might California learn from ACES?

For cities to cut down CO2, they need to know how much they are producing and reducing. Most cities get rough estimates with “carbon calculators” that account for the size and population of a city, electricity used, and an estimate of how many cars zip (or crawl) through the city streets.

“The calculation would be fine except for all those cars. Cars are the hardest part of the emissions equation to quantify. They are moving all the time at different speeds, and there are different cars on the road at different times of day.”

“There are other factors to consider. There’s the make of the car, of course: a Toyota Prius gives off less CO2 than a Chevy Silverado. There’s also the speed; most cars give off the least CO2 when cruising in a “sweet spot” between 40 and 60 miles per hour.”

(Conor Gately, co-developer of ACES; PhD, Geography and Environment, Boston University, 2016; lead author on a study examining cities, traffic, and CO2, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in April 2015.)

ACES (Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions System) has been developed by Lucy Hutyra of Boston University and Conor Gately, now a postdoctoral associate working jointly at Boston University and Harvard. A tool for measuring and mapping CO2 emissions, ACES offers finely-grained maps of CO2 emissions, with a resolution of 1km2, totaled hourly, is relevant and could be helpful to the cities and the state of California.

Cities have the political will to change emissions, and they have policy levers to pull,” says Lucy Hutyra, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) associate professor of Earth and environment. And because cities are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the United Nations, their actions matter. But to take effective action, cities need data—ways to accurately measure emissions, pinpoint sources, and monitor change over time. And so Hutyra and her colleague Conor Gately have developed a tool called ACES, for Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions System, that offers the finest-grained maps of CO2 emissions in the Northeastern US to date, with a resolution of 1km2, totaled hourly. The tool, funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System and detailed in the October 12, 2017, issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research—Atmospheres, could provide valuable data to cities nationwide.

‘The goal was to take the finest grained, most local data possible and build a ‘bottom-up’ inventory,” says Gately. The research team started by divvying up the sources of emissions on a giant whiteboard. “We did every sector of emissions of CO2,” he says. “Roads, residential buildings, commercial buildings, industrial facilities, power plants, airports, marine ports, shipping, and railway.” The group searched for data from 2011, scouring every source they could find: city and country records, household fuel estimates, EPA databases, hundreds of traffic sensors located around New England. All of these data, when combined with the amount of fossil fuels consumed in the region (gasoline, diesel, home heating oil, coal and natural gas for power generation), allowed the team to calculate CO2 emissions for all of the major sources. The team then calculated emissions for every hour of the year.

Gately, working with a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is now expanding ACES to cover the entire continental United States and meeting with government, scientific, and policy stakeholders to help create a core set of methods and data products.”

DARTE might also be helpful. DARTE, the Database of Road Transportation Emissions (Conor Gately, Lucy Hutyra, Ian Sue Wing) is available for free download from the Harvard Dataverse

Funded by grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE), Gately has developed a more precise way to tally CO2 emissions from vehicles. He used 33 years of traffic data to build the Database of Road Transportation Emissions (DARTE), which displays CO2 data for the contiguous US on a finer scale than ever before—a one-kilometer grid. (He hopes to add Alaska and Hawaii later.) Available for free download, DARTE could change the way cities and states measure greenhouse gas emissions.

The science is coming together to bring us very fine measurements in a way never possible before,” says Lucy Hutyra, an assistant professor of earth and environment and a coauthor on the PNAS study. Hutyra says that DARTE complements NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, which is collecting global data on atmospheric carbon dioxide. “We need good bottom-up data to match what we’re measuring looking down from space. That’s what we need to really advance greenhouse gas policies.”


2018 Progress Report: California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act,” California Air Resources Board, November 2018

Regions across California likely off the hook for 2020 caps on greenhouse-gas emissions from driving,” Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 27 November 2018

Poor forest management: Trump oversimplifies state’s fire problem,” Readers React, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 November 2018

A Fine-Tuned Map for CO2,” Barbara Moran, Boston University Research, 26 October 2017

A New Map for Greenhouse Gas,” Barbara Moran, Boston University Research, 10 April 2015

Gately, Conor, K.; Hutyra, Lucy, R.; Sue Wing, Ian, 2015, “Cities, traffic, and CO2: A multi-decadal assessment of trends, drivers, and scaling relationships“,, Harvard Dataverse, V6


the compounding costs of California’s year-after-year wildfires

The compounding costs of California’s year-after-year wildfires are making it increasingly difficult for any party to absorb the expenses.

So observes Mark Cooper, Yale PhD, former Yale University and Fulbright Fellow, and Senior Research Fellow for Economic Analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment of Vermont Law School currently working on Energy Assessment.

PG&E electrical equipment, including power lines and poles, has been found to be responsible for at least 17 of 21 major Northern California fires of autumn 2017.

While the cause of California’s Camp Fire has not yet been determined, PG&E, one of California’s largest utilities, disclosed to the SEC on 9 November that an outage and damage to a transmission tower were reported in the area shortly before the fire started.

In the SEC Form 8-K of 9 November, PG&E declared that it may face billions of dollars in potential liabilities, far more than its insurance would cover, for the wildfires of 2018.

The Form 8-K reads, in pertinent part:

On November 8, 2018, a wildfire began near the city of Paradise, Butte County, California (the “Camp Fire”), located in the service territory of the Utility.  The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (“Cal Fire”) Camp Fire Incident Report dated November 13, 2018, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time (the “incident report”), indicated that the Camp Fire had consumed 125,000 acres and was 30% contained.  Cal Fire estimates in the incident report that the Camp Fire will be fully contained on November 30, 2018.  In the incident report, Cal Fire reported 42 fatalities.  The incident report also indicates the following: structures threatened, 15,500; single residences destroyed, 6,522; single residences damaged, 75; multiple residences destroyed, 85; commercial structures destroyed, 260; commercial structures damaged, 32; and other minor structures destroyed, 772.

The cause of the Camp Fire is under investigation. On November 8, 2018, the Utility submitted an electric incident report to the California Public Utilities Commission (the “CPUC”) indicating that “on November 8, 2018 at approximately 0615 hours, PG&E experienced an outage on the Caribou-Palermo 115 kV Transmission line in Butte County. In the afternoon of November 8, PG&E observed by aerial patrol damage to a transmission tower on the Caribou-Palermo 115 kV Transmission line, approximately one mile north-east of the town of Pulga, in the area of the Camp Fire. This information is preliminary.” Also on November 8, 2018, acting governor Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation for Butte County, due to the effect of the Camp Fire.

As previously reported, during the third quarter of 2018, PG&E Corporation and the Utility renewed their liability insurance coverage for wildfire events in an aggregate amount of approximately $1.4 billion for the period from August 1, 2018 through July 31, 2019. For more information about wildfire insurance and risks associated with wildfires, see PG&E Corporation and the Utility’s quarterly report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended September 30, 2018.

While the cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation, if the Utility’s equipment is determined to be the cause, the Utility could be subject to significant liability in excess of insurance coverage that would be expected to have a material impact on PG&E Corporation’s and the Utility’s financial condition, results of operations, liquidity, and cash flows.

United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Form 8-K, filed by PG&E on 9 November 2018

Citigroup estimates that PG&E’s exposure to liability for at least 17 of 21 major Norther California fires that took place in autumn 2017 is $15 billion. Citigroup estimates further that if it is found responsible for the Camp Fire, PG&E could face another $15 billion in claims. This number could rise, the fire is as yet only partially contained.

PG&E’s customers, both business and residential, may find themselves responsible for covering the bill for the company’s liabilities through higher costs.

California state  legislators took steps this year to shield PG&E and the state’s other investor-owned utilities from overwhelming legal claims, allowing them to pass the expense on to ratepayers.

California Senate Bill 901, signed into law on 21 September 2018, applies to fires beginning in 2019, and to some that occurred in 2017.

The bill enables utilities to sell bonds to cover liability costs and pay them off over time through higher rates.

(14) The existing restructuring of the electrical services industry provides for the issuance of rate reduction bonds by the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank for the recovery of transition costs, as defined, by electrical corporations. Existing law authorizes the PUC to issue financing orders, to support the issuance of recovery bonds, as defined, by the recovery corporation, as defined, secured by a dedicated rate component, to finance the unamortized balance of the regulatory asset awarded Pacific Gas and Electric Company in PUC Decision 03-12-035.

This bill would, under specific circumstances, authorize the PUC, upon application by an electrical corporation, to issue financing orders to support the issuance of recovery bonds to finance costs, in excess of insurance proceeds, incurred, or that are expected to be incurred, by an electrical corporation, excluding fines and penalties, related to wildfires, as provided.

SB 901, Dodd. Wildfires.

PG&E’s company shares dropped by more than 20 percent yesterday (Wednesday). More than half of its market value has been lost since late last week as the fires have spread.

Shares of other investor-owned utilities in California, Edison International (operated Southern California Edison) and Sempra Energy (owns San Diego Gas and Electric), dropped earlier this week.

California’s power supply is likely not to be at risk. PG&E could face bankruptcy if it cannot cover the liabilities it faces. Such a bankruptcy would eliminate shareholders’ equity and affect bondholder investments.


California Utility Customers May Be on the Hook for Billions in Wildfire Damage,” Ivan Penn and Peter Eavis, The New York Times, 14 November 2018

SEC Form 8-K filed by PG&E, dated 9 November 2018

California Senate Bill No. 901

Amazon selects New York & Arlington, VA for HQ2 ・people, mass transit, sustainability

Amazon has selected New York City (the Long Island City neighborhood of the borough of Queens) and Arlington,Virginia (the Crystal City neighborhood, across the Potomac from Washington, DC) for its HQ2.

In agreements with the local and state governments, Amazon stipulates that the two locations will house at least 25,000 employees each. The new sites will require $5 billion in construction and other investments.

Direct access to rail, train, subway/metro, bus routes (mass transit) at site has been a core preference of Amazon, stipulated in the Amazon HQ2 RFP.

Significantly, Amazon’s HQ2 RFP stipulates that it will develop HQ2 with a dedication to sustainability:

Sustainability: Amazon is committed to sustainability efforts. Amazon’s buildings in its current Seattle campus are sustainable and energy efficient. The buildings’ interiors feature salvaged and locally sourced woods, energy efficient lighting, composting and recycling alternatives as well as public plazas and pockets of green space. Twenty of the buildings in our Seattle campus were built using LEED standards. Additionally, Amazon’s newest buildings use a ‘District Energy’ system that utilizes recycled heat from a nearby non-Amazon data center to heat millions of square feet of office space – a system that is about 4x more efficient than traditional heating. This system is designed to allow Amazon to warm just over 4 million square feet of office space on Amazon’s four-block campus, saving 80 million kilowatt hours over 20 years, or about 4 million kilowatt-hours a year. We also invest in large solar and wind operations and were the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the U.S. in 2016.

Amazon will develop HQ2 with a dedication to sustainability.

Of the cities selected, Emily Badger of The New York Times observes:

Tech companies feed on highly educated and specialized workers, specifically dense clusters of them where workers and companies interacting with one another are more likely to produce new ideas. Washington and New York, as it turns out, are two of the most highly educated regions in the country, with already large pools of tech workers.

Drop a big Amazon headquarters into Washington or New York, and economists expect the 50,000 workers there to be more productive than if the same 50,000 jobs were dropped into Indianapolis. Simply putting them in New York, near so many other tech workers, increases the likelihood that Amazon invents more services, connects to more markets, makes more money.

Those added benefits are so strong, economists say, that it’s worth it to companies like Amazon to pay more — a lot more — for office space and employee salaries in New York City.

‘If you are in the business of making new things — whether it’s a new product, or a new way of delivering things, or a new service — and it’s something that is unique, and it keeps changing and it needs updating, the most important factor of all is human capital,” said Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s not like making soap, or like making textiles.’”


Amazon HQ2 RFP

Amazon Announces New York and Virginia as HQ2 Picks,” Karen Weise, Technology | The New York Times, 13 November 2018

In Superstar Cities, the Rich Get Richer, and They Get Amazon,” Emily Badger, The New York Times, 7 November 2018