Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity: 1,213 words, 4.5 minutes.
Situational awareness: "International climate talks scheduled for Glasgow in November have been thrown into doubt as the global clampdown on travel intensifies because of the coronavirus pandemic." (FT)
🎵 Tomorrow marks the birthday of Mason Jennings, so I thought this would make a nice intro tune for these harrowing times...
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
The coronavirus isn’t just wreaking havoc on our health, livelihoods and economies, it’s now poised to feed Middle East unrest, Axios' Amy Harder reports.
The big picture: The oil-rich region is being ravaged by the novel coronavirus and low oil prices that have dropped even more due to the pandemic cutting off global demand and a related price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
How it works: Nations in the Middle East depend heavily on oil revenue for a large portion of their economies, so persistently low oil prices sap government money for a vast array of public services, including health care and education.
What they’re saying: Experts generally agree the one-two punch of COVID-19 itself and resulting lower oil prices will significantly exacerbate problems in the region, particularly Iran and Iraq, both which are already dealing with a host of other problems.
By the numbers: If current oil-market conditions continue — oil prices hovering at or below $30 a barrel — some oil-rich nations could see their oil and gas income fall by 50% to 85% this year, the International Energy Agency and OPEC said this week in a joint statement.
Between the lines: “The lower the prices go, the greater chance of Middle East upheaval,” said Peter Atwater, a behavioral economist and adjunct lecturer at William & Mary.
Yes, but: Civil unrest has declined in key oil-rich Middle East nations since 2011 protests, largely because some governments have become more repressive since then, said Niamh McBurney, who leads Middle East and North Africa analysis for global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
What we’re watching: How low oil prices go and how long they stay there.
This morning is bringing fresh and stark signs of how economic contraction from COVID-19 is crushing the oil market and forcing companies to cut back.
The big picture: West Texas Intermediate is trading in the $25-per-barrel range, which Bloomberg points out is the lowest level since 2003.
Threat level: "An OPEC+ supply surge and crumbling oil demand are leading to concerns about a surplus that could overwhelm global storage," BofA Global Research said in a note this morning (emphasis added).
Driving the news: The number of companies announcing spending and workforce cutbacks keeps growing.
What's next: Analysts are racing to update their estimates of how much global oil demand is cratering. Rystad Energy this morning sharply revised their projections from a week ago.
One complicated dimension of the unfolding coronavirus tragedy is what it ultimately means for carbon emissions in China, by far the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter.
Driving the news: A Rhodium Group analysis shows China's emissions grew by another 2.6% last year.
What's next: Analysts are keeping their eyes peeled for signs of what the Chinese government's economic stimulus measures will look like.
A separate new analysis of China's energy sector and economy by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies similarly finds: "[T]he focus on COVID-19 has slowed progress on other policy priorities including environmental policies and liberalisation, and a strong fossil-fuel heavy stimulus would further delay them."
By the numbers: "Coal consumption by the six largest power plants in China has fallen over 40% since the last quarter of 2019," Rhodium notes.
Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environment Research says the economic upheaval means "it is becoming increasingly likely that global carbon dioxide emissions will drop in 2020."
Where it stands: The decline could be significant, he notes. But Peters, writing in The Conversation, notes that emissions declines that followed past economic crises "suggest a rapid recovery of emissions when the pandemic is over."
Climate: "Exxon Mobil Corp. suffered a setback in a climate change case when a federal judge ruled that a consumer protection lawsuit filed by Massachusetts should go back to state court." (Bloomberg)
Renewables: "The spreading coronavirus is threatening project schedules in the booming U.S. solar industry following a year in which the sector topped natural gas as the nation’s top new power source, according to a report published on Tuesday." (Reuters)
EVs: "State lawmakers took significant steps last week to bolster adoption of emissions-free transportation, in moves that could result in millions of dollars in charging infrastructure investment and more electric vehicles on the road." (Utility Dive)