Economic shock waves from the coronavirus outbreak have curbed carbon pollution from China and beyond, but hopes for climate benefits from the slowdown are likely to be dashed quickly, experts say. As governments prepare to spend their way out of the crisis, including with large infrastructure projects, global warming concerns will be little more than an afterthought, dwarfed by a drive to prop up a stuttering world economy, they say. Preparations for a make-or-break climate summit in November are already off track, with host Britain focused on its Brexit transition, and the challenge to its health system of the gathering epidemic. —AFP, 8 March 2020
1) Coronavirus May Neutralise Climate Hysteria For Now As Pandemic Threat Looms
AFP, 8 March 2020
Paris (AFP) – Economic shock waves from the coronavirus outbreak have curbed carbon pollution from China and beyond, but hopes for climate benefits from the slowdown are likely to be dashed quickly, experts say.
As governments prepare to spend their way out of the crisis, including with large infrastructure projects, global warming concerns will be little more than an afterthought, dwarfed by a drive to prop up a stuttering world economy, they say.
Preparations for a make-or-break climate summit in November are already off track, with host Britain focused on its Brexit transition, and the challenge to its health system of the gathering epidemic.
Like an unintended lab experiment, the global health emergency demonstrates the cause-and-effect relationship that drives global warming.
In the four weeks up to March 1, China’s discharge of CO2 fell 200 million tonnes, or 25 percent, compared to the same period last year, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) — equivalent to annual CO2 emissions from Argentina, Egypt or Vietnam.
As the country’s economy slowed to a crawl, coal consumption at power plants in China declined by 36 percent, and the use of oil at refineries by nearly as much.
Other major economies are bound to sputter too.
The outbreak has already drained stock markets of $9 trillion in value, and could end up costing the global economy up to $2.7 trillion, according to Bloomberg Economics.
“When you turn off the global fossil fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions go down, air quality improves,” said Jon Erickson, a professor of sustainability science and policy at the University of Vermont.
But any climate silver lining will be short-lived, experts warn.
“The emissions reductions we see now because of the epidemic are temporary, not structural,” said Imperial College London’s Joeri Rogelj, a lead scientist on the UN’s climate science advisory panel, the IPCC.
– Lock-step –
“If anything, it makes mitigation efforts harder, because it reduces our resources to invest in the transformations needed for climate change protection.”
There are already signs that Beijing — impatient to reboot China’s economy — will rain down cash on carbon-intensive infrastructure projects, as happened after the global recession in 2008, and again in 2015.
“Initial announcements of stimulus have had no environmental emphasis whatsoever,” noted Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA.
2) Tories’ £100 Billion Climate Crisis Infrastructure Plan Delayed
The Mirror, 6 March 2020
The National Infrastructure Strategy was expected to outline plans to work towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 – but it will no longer be published alongside the budget
The Government’s £100 billion plan to boost the economy and tackle climate change has been delayed.
The National Infrastructure Strategy was supposed to be published “alongside” the Budget on Wednesday.
But Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who took over at the Treasury last month, is now not expected to unveil the plans seen as being crucial to the Government’s “levelling up” agenda until a later date.
Whitehall sources were unable to say when it would now be published.
3) Climate Change Lawsuits Collapsing Like Dominoes
Inside Sources, 5 March 2020
Climate change activists went to court in California recently trying to halt a long losing streak in their quest to punish energy companies for aiding and abetting the world’s consumption of fossil fuels.
A handful of California cities — big consumers of fossil fuels themselves — asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse the predictable dismissal of their public nuisance lawsuit seeking to pin the entire blame for global warming on five energy producers: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell.
The cities hope to soak the companies for billions of dollars of damages, which they claim they’ll use to build sea walls, better sewer systems and the like in anticipation of rising seas and extreme weather that might result from climate change.
But no plaintiff has ever succeeded in bringing a public nuisance lawsuit based on climate change.
To the contrary, these lawsuits are beginning to collapse like dominoes as courts remind the plaintiffs that it is the legislative and executive branches — not the judicial branch — that have the authority and expertise to determine climate policy.
Climate change activists should have gotten the message in 2011 when the Supreme Court ruled against eight states and other plaintiffs who brought nuisance claims for the greenhouse gas emissions produced by electric power plants.
The Court ruled unanimously in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that the federal Clean Air Act, under which such emissions are subject to EPA regulation, preempts such lawsuits.
The Justices emphasized that “Congress designated an expert agency, here, EPA … [that] is surely better equipped to do the job than individual district judges issuing ad hoc, case-by-case injunctions” and better able to weigh “the environmental benefit potentially achievable [against] our Nation’s energy needs and the possibility of economic disruption.”
The Court noted that this was true of “questions of national or international policy” in general, reminding us why the larger trend of misusing public nuisance lawsuits is a problem.
The California cities, led by Oakland and San Francisco, tried to get around this Supreme Court precedent by focusing on the international nature of the emissions at issue.
But that approach backfired in 2018 when federal district judge William Alsup concluded that a worldwide problem “deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.” Alsup, a liberal Clinton appointee, noted that “Without [fossil] fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible.”
In July 2018, a federal judge in Manhattan tossed out a nearly identical lawsuit by New York City on the same grounds. The city is appealing.
Meanwhile, climate lawfare is also being waged against energy companies by Rhode Island and a number of municipal governments, including Baltimore. Like the other failed cases, these governments seek billions of dollars.
Adding to the string of defeats was the Ninth Circuit’s rejection last month of the so-called “children’s” climate suit, which took a somewhat different approach by pitting a bunch of child plaintiffs against the federal government.
4) Oil Prices Crash 25% As Oil War Begins
OilPrice.com, 9 March 2020
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Sunday that present oil prices were sustainable for the Russian economy. Adding that Russia had the tools to react to any adverse results of the spread of the coronavirus on the global financial climate.
“I want to stress that for the Russian budget, for our economy, the current oil prices level is acceptable,” Putin explained in a meeting with Russian energy officials.
Now some oil analysts are anticipating barrel prices as low as $20 within the year. Some experts have suggested that Russia’s move is intended to counter U.S. shale producers and hit back against the U.S. for targeting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany.
Saudi Arabia blasted back, in kind. Sunday morning, Saudi Arabia dropped its own oil weapon. Its latest plans will not only reduce its unrefined price to Chinese consumers by as much as $6 or $7 per barrel, but it is also reportedly looking to increase its daily unrefined output by as much of as 2 million barrels per day into an increasingly oversupplied international market.
The shocking move by the Saudis is both a market share grab as well as a loud signal to Moscow that it is finished playing games.
Within seconds of the market opening on Sunday night, oil prices plummeted as much as 30 percent, driving crude to its lowest level in four years. The Brent crude benchmark fell from $45 a barrel to $36.44 at the time of writing, while WTI plummeted from $40.45 to $32.97, in one of the single worst drops in recent history.
5) Coronavirus Crisis: Putin Dumps Saudi Arabia To Start War on America’s Shale Oil Industry
Bloomberg, 7 March 2020
The coronavirus’s impact on the global economy is still unclear and with millions more barrels poised to flood the market, Wall Street analysts are warning oil could test recent lows of $26 a barrel.
Vladimir Putin meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 14, 2019. Photographer: Alexey Nikolsky/AFP via Getty Images
At 10:16 a.m. on a wet and dreary Friday morning, Russia’s energy minister walked into OPEC’s headquarters in central Vienna knowing his boss was ready to turn the global oil market upside down.
Alexander Novak told his Saudi Arabian counterpart Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman that Russia was unwilling to cut oil production further. The Kremlin had decided that propping up prices as the coronavirus ravaged energy demand would be a gift to the U.S. shale industry. The frackers had added millions of barrels of oil to the global market while Russian companies kept wells idle. Now it was time to squeeze the Americans.
After five hours of polite but fruitless negotiation, in which Russia clearly laid out its strategy, the talks broke down. Oil prices fell more than 10%. It wasn’t just traders who were caught out: Ministers were so shocked, they didn’t know what to say, according to a person in the room. The gathering suddenly had the atmosphere of a wake, said another.
For over three years, President Vladimir Putin had kept Russia inside the OPEC+ coalition, allying with Saudi Arabia and the other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to curb oil production and support prices. On top of helping Russia’s treasury – energy exports are the largest source of state revenue – the alliance brought foreign policy gains, creating a bond with Saudi Arabia’s new leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But the OPEC+ deal also aided America’s shale industry and Russia was increasingly angry with the Trump administration’s willingness to employ energy as a political and economic tool. It was especially irked by the U.S.’s use of sanctions to prevent the completion of a pipeline linking Siberia’s gas fields with Germany, known as Nord Stream 2. The White House has also targeted the Venezuelan businessof Russia’s state-oil producer Rosneft.
“The Kremlin has decided to sacrifice OPEC+ to stop U.S. shale producers and punish the U.S. for messing with Nord Stream 2,” said Alexander Dynkin, president of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow, a state-run think tank. “Of course, to upset Saudi Arabia could be a risky thing, but this is Russia’s strategy at the moment – flexible geometry of interests.”
The First No
The OPEC+ deal had never been popular with many in the Russian oil industry, who resented having to hold back investments in new and potentially profitable projects. In particular, Igor Sechin, the powerful boss of Rosneft and a long-time Putin ally, lobbied against the curbs, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private conversations.
The Kremlin was also disappointed the alliance with Riyadh hadn’t yielded major Saudi investments in Russia.
For several months, Novak and his team had been telling Saudi officials they liked being in the OPEC+ alliance but were reluctant to deepen production cuts, according to people familiar with the relationship. At the last OPEC meeting in December, Russia negotiated a position that allowed it to keep production fairly steady while Saudi Arabia shouldered big reductions.
When the coronavirus started devastating Chinese economic activity in early February – cutting oil demand in Saudi Arabia’s biggest customer by 20% — Prince Abdulaziz tried to convince Novak that they should call an early OPEC+ meeting in response to cutback supply. Novak said no. The Saudi king and Putin spoke by phone – it didn’t help.
As the virus spread and analysts forecast the worst year for oil demand since the global financial crisis, the Saudi camp was hopeful Moscow could be won round at the next scheduled OPEC meeting in early March. The Russians didn’t rule out deepening cuts, but kept making the point that shale producers should be made to share the pain.
Putin, who has been the final arbiter of Russia’s OPEC+ policy since the alliance started in 2016, met oil Russian producers and key ministers last Sunday. Russia’s approach was that shale producers should share the pain caused by the drop in demand, cutting U.S. oil production, according to someone who attended.
6) The Oil War’s Real Target Is The U.S.
Tim Treadgold, Forbes, 9 March 2020
Officially, the oil war which has cut the price of crude by 30% in the past 24 hours, is a fight between Saudi Arabia and Russia, but the real target of both is the U.S.
In what could prove to be one of the world’s greatest ever foot-shooting exercises, a stand-off in an Austrian boardroom has the hallmarks of a personality clash which could trigger an economic crisis for both Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Cheap Oil Is A Win For The U.S.
The U.S., which is the cause of the dispute courtesy of its born-again oil industry, might suffer a modest buffeting, but could also emerge as a winner because cheap oil benefits its deeper and more diverse economy.
The catalyst for what’s happening in oil, as well as in a number of other sectors of the global economy, is the coronavirus outbreak or, to be more accurate, fear of the virus and how it appears to be slowing production and investment.
Oil demand, which had been falling over much of 2019 as China and the U.S. waged a trade war, took a fresh tumble when China took drastic action to stem the spread of the virus, cutting demand for most commodities as it quarantined sections of its economy.
China’s apparent success with its tough quarantine regime is now being copied in Italy and might become a template for other countries, leading to a steeper decline in oil demand.
It was with this background of demand uncertainty and a falling oil price that Russia and members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) met in Vienna late last week to discuss how to handle the problem.
In the past, Saudi Arabia’s preferred solution to a falling oil price has been to impose production cuts on itself and other OPEC members, a tactic which trims oil supply and boosts the price.
OPEC Cuts Help U.S. Oil Producers
This time it was different: with Russian delegates to what is called OPEC+ arguing that the biggest beneficiary of past price-boosting production cuts had been U.S. oil producers, especially those extracting oil from high-cost deposits in shale and other tight rocks which require artificial stimulation to release their oil and gas.
Saudi demands over the weekend for a fresh round of production cuts were opposed by Russia, largely on the grounds that they only aided the U.S.
At that point the Saudi’s reached for the oil world’s nuclear option, opening the spigots to dramatically increase production, backed up with discounts to major customers which led to the inevitable oil-price crash.
A Gift To The World
For the rest of the world, including the U.S., what’s just happened is a gift from two belligerent countries which rely heavily on oil income to balance their budgets.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Russia can fight an oil war for long before it causes financial stress.
The irony is that Saudi Arabia has tried the market flooding technique before in an attempt to crush U.S. shale production, and failed.
Russia must also know that the result of this latest oil flood will be to dry up U.S. shale output, but it will come back as soon as the oil price recovers.
In the meantime, both the Russian and Saudi economies are likely to be damaged, as will the economies of other oil-dependent countries—but not the U.S.
7) Coronavirus Going To Hit Its Peak And Start Falling Sooner Than You Think
Michael Fumento, New York Post 9 March 2020
Nations are closing borders, stocks are plummeting and a New York Times headline reads: “The Coronavirus Has Put the World’s Economy in Survival Mode.” Both political parties have realized the crisis could severely impact the November elections — House, Senate, presidency. And sacré bleu, they’ve even shuttered the Louvre!
Some of these reactions are understandable, much of it pure hysteria. Meanwhile, the spread of the virus continues to slow.
More than 18,000 Americans have died from this season’s generic flu so far, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2018, the CDC estimated, there were 80,000 flu deaths. That’s against 19 coronavirus deaths so far, from about 470 cases.
Worldwide, there have been about 3,400 coronavirus deaths, out of about 100,000 identified cases. Flu, by comparison, grimly reaps about 291,000 to 646,000 annually.
China is the origin of the virus and still accounts for over 80 percent of cases and deaths. But its cases peaked and began declining more than a month ago, according to data presented by the Canadian epidemiologist who spearheaded the World Health Organization’s coronavirus mission to China. Fewer than 200 new cases are reported daily, down from a peak of 4,000.
Subsequent countries will follow this same pattern, in what’s called Farr’s Law. First formulated in 1840 and ignored in every epidemic hysteria since, the law states that epidemics tend to rise and fall in a roughly symmetrical pattern or bell-shaped curve. AIDS, SARS, Ebola — they all followed that pattern. So does seasonal flu each year.
Clearly, flu is vastly more contagious than the new coronavirus, as the WHO has noted. Consider that the first known coronavirus cases date back to early December, and since then, the virus has afflicted fewer people in total than flu does in a few days. Oh, and why are there no flu quarantines? Because it’s so contagious, it would be impossible.
As for death rates, as I first noted in these pages on Jan. 24, you can’t employ simple math — as everyone is doing — and look at deaths versus cases because those are reported cases. With both flu and assuredly with coronavirus, the great majority of those infected have symptoms so mild — if any — that they don’t seek medical attention and don’t get counted in the caseload.
Furthermore, those calculating rates ignore the importance of good health care. Given that the vast majority of cases have occurred in a country with poor health care, that’s going to dramatically exaggerate the death rate.
The rate also varies tremendously according to age, with a Chinese government analysis showing 0.2 percent deaths below age 40 but 14.8 percent above 80. A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association found zero deaths worldwide among children 9 and under. Zero.
Like the flu, the coronavirus is afflicting high-risk groups: the elderly, those with underlying health conditions like diabetes or heart disease and those with compromised immune systems. Are there exceptions? Sure. But that’s the case with almost every complex biological phenomenon of the kind.
More good news. This month, the Northern Hemisphere, which includes the countries with the most cases, starts heating up. Almost all respiratory viruses hate warm and moist weather. That’s why flu dies out in America every year by May at the latest and probably why Latin America has reported only 25 coronavirus cases. The Philippines, where I live, has about a third of the US population, but it’s so damned hot and humid here, so far we have had no confirmed cases of internal transmission.
8) Matt Ridley: The Government’s Green Energy Policy Could Cripple Global Britain
Global Vision, 8 March 2020
Matt Ridley is an award-winning author and sits in the House of Lords as Viscount Ridley. He is a member of the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council
As Britain relaunches itself as an independent trading nation, its fate will depend on how competitive it is. We have lots going for us, but we also have a heavily regulated economy, high labour costs and low productivity, so we may be in for a shock. And there is one slug of self-inflicted burdens that we are in the process of making much worse, perhaps crippling: our energy policy.
Britain has uniquely legislated to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions in 2050, which means going cold turkey on the 85% of our energy that currently comes from gas, oil and coal. That means finding ways to run not just the electricity grid, which is about 20% of our energy, without net emissions, but all our heating, transport and industrial processes too. Surprisingly, the Committee on Climate Change failed to produce a detailed costing of this ambition before recommending it, but reputable estimates put the cost at around £3 trillion in the absence of any breakthrough in nuclear fusion or carbon capture.
The cost of some existing policies is already being passed on to consumers at the rate of £10 billion a year. Subsidies for wind, solar and biomass electricity have made household electricity prices about 35% higher than they would otherwise have been, according to the government’s own estimates. The prices paid by businesses – which are also passed on to consumers in the prices of products and services – are more like 60% higher. Industrial electricity prices here are among the highest in the world. That is a big drag on competitiveness, and is a large part of the explanation of our falling within-country emissions. Carbon dioxide has been one of the most successful exports of the last decade.
The main beneficiaries from these policies are the renewable energy industry, and the government itself, which charges VAT on top of these subsidies. Fortunately for politicians the pain of these increases has been dulled by two factors: first, a fall in gas and oil prices during the past decade; and second, a decline in the quantity of electricity consumed. Had this not happened, as Professor Dieter Helm of Oxford University wrote in 2017, “there would then have been a serious capacity crunch and much higher prices.”
The world, and Asia in particular, is electrifying more and more processes, because it is such a versatile and efficient source of power, but we and the EU seem to be moving in the other direction. One of the reasons for the fall in electricity consumption is the emigration of industry to cheaper locations. An EU study published last year showed that industrial electricity in the EU28 is not only 50% more expensive than in the G20, it is actually more expensive than domestic retail electricity in the G20. No wonder factories are moving. We have already lost our aluminium industry and much of our steel industry. We still need these materials but we import them from countries with higher emissions, which makes no sense. Even our successful digital economy is not immune to energy costs: server farms are huge users of power. High energy costs are a non-tariff barrier against our own exports.
Energy is not just another raw material, like paper or cement. It’s the very source of wealth. An economy is a thermodynamic engine, creating useful structures and patterns by harnessing energy to undo entropy. High energy costs are extremely dangerous for an economy over time. They become embedded in the costs of the capital they create and they deter experimental innovation. The Germans are now recognising that their extremely expensive Energiewende has poisoned their export economy, and only an undervalued exchange rate is keeping the show on the road.
In the past few weeks, the government has made a string of announcements relating to energy, all attempting to appease the green lobby. Every single one will raise costs to consumers but reward special-interest lobbies of crony capitalists: building HS2 at public expense, complete with its own trackside wind farms; backing off Heathrow’s privately funded third runway; bringing forward the date of banning diesel and electric cars; banning coal and wet-wood stoves used by the less well off in rural areas; mandating the use of subsidised ethanol from wheat; reopening subsidy schemes to wind and solar power. In that last case, ministers argue that onshore wind power is now cheaper than fossil-fuel power and no longer needs subsidies, so they have reopened the subsidies for it. Eh?
The falling cost of offshore wind power is a big myth, by the way. The system cost, connections and back-up required to stabilise a grid relying heavily on intermittent energy is huge, growing and not included in the headline figure for wind subsidy. On top of that, two studies have now confirmed that capital expenditure per megawatt of new capacity in the wind industry has not fallen significantly. Gordon Hughes, Capell Aris and John Constable presented public-domain data suggesting that capex in offshore wind was falling only slightly due to technical progress, and that this was completely offset by moving into deeper water. And economists at the University of Aberdeen used a different data set to come to almost the same conclusion, that it will still cost £100 per MWh to get electricity from UK offshore wind farms.
9) Harry Wilkinson: Conservatives Need To Start Being Rational About Climate Change
Free Market Conservatives, 9 March 2020
When it comes to climate change, this Government has put aside any notional attachment to free markets, or indeed to reason.
With the rushed introduction of a target to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions, it appears there is no policy too expensive or poorly thought through if it is done in the name of stopping the so-called ‘climate crisis’.
This is so tragic because it is precisely the free market that leads to the more efficient use of resources. This means we can look forward to having a smaller footprint on the environment in the future, without a major need for government intervention.
Radical attempts to decarbonise the economy threaten to affect almost every aspect of our lives, and yet there are almost no questioning voices in Parliament, only hysterical demands to go further and faster. Given that no-one can be certain that such a target is even feasible by 2050, such an attitude is particularly concerning.
In their zeal to appease Greta and the green religion, MPs are taking a casual attitude about the harm they may do to the economy and society, and in particular to the poorest people. There is a glaring need for more scrutiny of climate policies – both of their costs, but also of their purported benefits.
Take the new policy to ban the sale of all petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles by 2035, which threatens to make driving the preserve of the rich and destroy the car industry at the same time. EU regulations, as well as a prospective ban on diesel and petrol vehicles, have been forced on a public that simply isn’t ready (or wealthy enough). The result is that the car industry is in freefall, and despite all of the relentless advertising, only 3% of new car sales are fully electric. This is to say nothing of the considerable charging infrastructure or additional electricity generation that will be required. The lesson to avoid picking losers may never be learned by Government.
The shift to electric vehicles could actually damage the environment too, and may not even reduce CO2 emissions by all that much. Electric vehicles still contribute significantly to fine particulate matter pollution and are more emissions-intensive to build. EV batteries contain significant quantities of cobalt, the mining of which has been linked to human rights abuses (including the use of child labour) in the DRC and elsewhere. It is particularly galling to see all of this presented as a clean, moral new technology by the government and car manufacturers, and for this to be believed by the public.
The banning of petrol and diesel vehicles would only be the start. As significant would be the decarbonisation of heat. The mind boggles at why anyone would want to replace clean, ultra-efficient, cheap gas boilers with alternatives that are many times more expensive to install and run and do not work as well. No-one given a free choice. And so, it is those living in council houses who are forced to have such alternatives by the state and are now shivering in the cold because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Estimates for the cost of rolling out such a policy nationwide range from £450bn to more than £2 trillion.