Climate Action Alliance of the Valley climate, energy news roundup: April 25
The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News. Forward the Roundup to anyone who might be interested. For an archive of prior posts, visit the CAAV website.
Politics and Policy
At Biden’s climate summit:
- He pledged to slash US greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% by the end of the decade, while urging world leaders to go big.
- He promised to double US international climate finance by 2024 and triple funding for adaptation.
- The UK confirmed it will slash emissions by 78% by 2035.
- The EU reached a provisional agreement to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
- China will start phasing down coal use from 2026.
- Prime Minister Morrison said Australia is on a path to net zero emissions but stopped short of setting a timeline.
- Canada’s goal is to exceed a 40% reduction by 2030.
- Japan will cut its emissions by 46% from 2013 levels by 2030, up from its earlier goal of 26%.
- South Korean will end all new financing for overseas coal projects and soon set a more ambitious schedule for slashing carbon emissions.
- Russian President Putin said he wants Russia’s net greenhouse gas emissions to be less than the EU’s over the next 30 years.
- Brazil’s president Bolsonaro announced his country would reach emissions neutrality by 2050.
The New York Times provided video highlights of the first day’s speeches; The Hill presented five takeaways; Inside Climate News offered summaries of both Thursday’s and Friday’s activities. A new Energy Innovation report examined the policies required to meet Biden’s goals. Carbon Brief’s profile of the US, released to coincide with the summit, provides perspective.
Republican House Minority Leader McCarthy announced a week-long campaign promoting the Republican “alternative” climate agenda; according to DeSmog, “Rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions, all of the Republican bills aim to protect and expand gas drilling.” Republicans raised several lines of attack on Biden’s American Jobs Plan at Senate Appropriations and Banking Committee hearings, subsequently proposing a $568Bn, five-year counteroffer to Biden’s plan focused on traditional infrastructure projects and broadband access.
101 Nobel laureates called for governments to commit to a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels and a “transformational plan” to ensure everyone, worldwide, has access to renewable energy. Greta Thunberg explained why world leaders must move beyond vague, hypothetical targets, urging the US House Oversight Environment Subcommittee to end tax breaks for fossil fuel producers, saying their existence was a “disgrace.” UN secretary general Guterres wrote: “Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5°C goal.” Data revealed wealthy countries continue to pour money into fossil fuel projects in Africa and the Middle East. To make intact forests more economically valuable than if the land were cleared for timber and agriculture, the UK, US, and Norway are joining forces with some of the world’s biggest companies to raise more than $1Bn for countries that can show they are protecting tropical forests.
Politico provided a summary of all Biden administration people working on climate policy. Coral Davenport profiled Climate Czar Gina McCarthy. Biden picked Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer with decades of science and policy experience, to run NOAA, and Tracy Stone-Manning, National Wildlife Federation senior adviser, to lead the Bureau for Land Management. He announced new heads of the Energy Department’s Office of Science and the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Science Affairs. The US Treasury named climate change financial adviser John Morton to head the department’s new “climate hub.”
The Biden administration is moving to end a legal battle with California over the state’s authority to regulate motor-vehicle emissions. Governors from a dozen states are asking Biden to ban the sale by 2035 of cars and light trucks that emit greenhouse gases. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland revoked a series of Trump administration orders promoting fossil fuel development on public lands and waters; she issued a separate directive prioritizing climate change in agency decisions.
The social cost of methane is higher than CO2. Leading environmental advocacy groups wrote Biden calling for a 40% or more cut in methane emissions by 2030. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) co-sponsored legislation to roll back the Trump-era methane rule by using the Congressional Review Act.
Several US electricity companies wrote Biden saying they will work with him and Congress to design a broad set of policies to reach a near-term goal of slashing the sector’s carbon emissions 80% by 2030. Most encouragement for developing wind and solar facilities is through incentives in the federal tax code; some electric utilities don’t pay federal taxes so another mechanism is needed to help them achieve net‑zero emissions by 2035. Senate Democrats introduced legislation to overhaul “overly complex” energy tax incentives to encourage clean energy development. Another question is whether incentives can help build the transmission lines needed to “green” the US grid. The US will join an international effort to achieve zero emissions by 2050 in the global shipping industry. Major banks and financial institutions announced two UN-backed coalitions to advance the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals.
Climate and Climate Science
2020 saw a “relentless” intensification of the climate crisis, said the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. Climate change has several “tipping points”; UK scientists said they can be “temporarily exceeded” without causing irreversible damage, provided swift action is taken. Climate change effects can be expected to shave 11%-14% off global economic output by 2050, per a Swiss Re report, amounting to as much as $23Tn reduced annual global economic output.
Three climate scientists discussed the concept of “net-zero” CO2 emissions, writing: “We have arrived at the painful realization that the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier ‘burn now, pay later’ approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar.” “The Science of Climate Change Explained: Facts, Evidence and Proof” provided definitive answers to the big questions.
Swirling and meandering ocean currents that help shape the world’s climate have undergone a “global-scale reorganization” over the past three decades. Typhoon Surigae’s rate of intensification was unprecedented for an April storm, with wind speed leaping ~105 mph in 36 hours, from Category 2 to 5. Sea meadows store more carbon per acre than forests; little is known about them. Scientists are racing to understand why they are shrinking.
Two prominent climate scientists argued against the implementation of solar geoengineering; a biologist wrote “there aren’t enough trees to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be.”
New research found lake heatwaves could become 3-12 times longer by 2100 and 0.3°C-1.7°C hotter, risking catastrophic damage to some lake ecosystems.
After a pandemic-year retreat, 2021 demand for coal is set to rise by 4.5%, mainly to meet soaring electricity demand. 2021 CO2 emissions are forecast to jump by the second biggest annual rise in history. Exxon announced establishment of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, a new business arm focusing on capturing CO2 emissions from various industries; it wants federal assistance to use Houston’s Ship Channel as a pilot project.
Toyota debuted its bZ4X SUV, one of 15 EVs it plans to make by 2025. Volvo Trucks will launch three all-electric heavy-duty models for intercity transport and the construction industry by the second half of 2022, followed by hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered vehicles after 2024.
The World Bank pointed to green hydrogen and ammonia as key fuels for decarbonizing maritime transport. Pacific Northwest industry and government officials are looking closely at hydrogen as an alternative to diesel fuel and gasoline. Southern California Gas Co. and H2U Technologies are partnering to conduct demonstration testing on a new form of electrolyzer to make green hydrogen production less costly.
This article by a natural gas proponent does a good job evaluating whether natural gas can be part of a low-carbon future. A major use of natural gas (methane) is for home heating, with resulting CO2 emissions going directly to the atmosphere, creating a major challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions.
Eric Wesoff addressed whether solid-state battery company QuantumScape can live up to the hype. David Roberts explored the many varieties of lithium-ion batteries battling for a share in a trillion-dollar market. A new Wood Mackenzie analysis suggests the Americas are on track to leapfrog the Asia-Pacific region in deploying energy storage by 2025, achieving more than half of global capacity by 2029. Gravitricity is one of a few gravity‑based energy storage companies attempting to improve on an old idea.
On Twitter, climate scientists widely criticized Reuters’ series of features, dubbed “the hot list,” which profiled the world’s “most influential among them.” The Race to Save the World documentary makes the case for the urgency of climate action by burrowing deep into the lives of frontline activists who “… have no choice but to do whatever they can ….” teen Vogue examined some moments that made young people realize the climate crisis will define their lives. Experts say religious leaders, knowing how to relate to communities on an emotional level, may be best positioned to convince people to support climate activism. Gizmodo’s deputy editor said “It’s time to kill Earth Day.”
Washington Post climate reporter Sarah Kaplan wrote poetically about humanity’s greatest ally in the fight against climate change, the Earth itself, and our need to protect its ecosystems.
Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee