Climate Action Alliance of the Valley climate, energy news roundup: March 7
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley produces The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News. Excerpts from a recent Roundup follow; full Roundup is here.
Politics and Policy
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 11-9 to advance to the full chamber Rep. Haaland’s (D-NM) nomination to head the Interior Department. Interior is moving to lock in key parts of Biden’s climate agenda, particularly on oil and gas restrictions. Energy Secretary Granholm is ready to reactivate her department’s loan program that went mostly unused in the last four years, with $40+Bn to boost the clean energy transition. The tens of billions of funding dollars the agency plans to pour into the clean energy sector will likely require companies to create the high‑paying jobs Biden promised. Vox’s Ella Nilson spoke with National Climate Adviser McCarthy about how to achieve a clean energy economy, put forgotten coal communities back to work, and boost unionization rates to ensure new energy jobs pay high wages. Policies and proposals in some states acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry while working for a just transition; other states are denying and fighting against it, the difference largely due to the absence of a cohesive national energy transition policy.
The American Petroleum Institute is closer to endorsing a carbon tax, as an alternative to federal regulation and policies aimed at slowing climate change. The US Trade Representative’s office said a carbon border adjustment would be considered part of an effort to develop market and regulatory approaches to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. US climate envoy Kerry urged oil and gas companies to do more to diversify and adopt low-carbon technologies to tackle climate change. Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell discussed with Kerry whether the US will finally lead on climate. Senior House Energy and Commerce Democrats unveiled a template of their plan to combat climate change this Congress — an expanded version of last year’s “CLEAN Future Act” — to take a sector‑by‑sector approach to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) will reintroduce the “Clean Energy Future through Innovation Act of 2020” as an alternative.
Bloomberg NEF forecast that solar, wind, and batteries will attract $10Tn in investments through 2050; US manufacturing of clean energy equipment is gaining traction. Several states will likely follow California and adopt stricter vehicle emissions standards if the Biden administration greenlights those efforts. The consortium overseeing the model building codes for much of the US has stripped local governments of their right to vote on future codes, thereby establishing a major roadblock to decarbonizing the US economy.
UN secretary-general Guterres said all planned coal projects around the world must be cancelled to end the “deadly addiction” to fossil fuels. China succeeded in lowering its “carbon intensity” (the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP) by 18.8% in the five years through 2020, and plans to cut it by another 13.5% during the 2021-2025 period. China’s coal consumption is expected to continue rising in 2021. Two reports criticize the British government’s performance on climate change — one saying it has “no plan” to meet climate change targets two years after adopting them and the other that the UN climate conference scheduled for November will fail unless its goals are made clear. Hungary announced its last coal-fired power plant will shut down in 2025.
Climate and Climate Science
This New York Times (NYT) article included excellent graphics explaining current research to better understand the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and the impact of climate change on it.
Officials in Miami-Dade County, where climate models predict two feet or more of sea-level rise by 2060, have released an upbeat strategy for living with more water. Climate experts warned the plan downplays the magnitude of the threat. Climate change is causing heavier rain storms and more flooding; it is a significant concern that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US’s flood control infrastructure a D grade, estimating the cost of rehabilitating all US dams at $93.6Bn.
The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), the up-and-down cycle of Atlantic Ocean hurricane activity, is very likely an artifact of climate change. Because of the relationship between the AMO and hurricane activity, this discovery, if true, means humans — not natural variability — have been the main driving force. 1991 to 2020 saw an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity.
While the US was experiencing some of the coldest weather in a century during February, large areas worldwide were basking in the warmest winter weather ever observed. Almost 80% of the Western US is in drought, with nearly 42% of the region in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. Hundreds of butterfly species across the American West are vanishing as the region becomes hotter, drier, and more vulnerable to climate change effects.
Climate models with a high “climate sensitivity” overstate the cooling effect that arises from interactions between clouds and aerosols, projecting that clouds will moderate GHG-induced warming much more than climate records show actually happens. An international team of scientists discovered a new mechanism of cloud formation, not currently included in climate models, which could be important over the poles and affect sea ice melting.
Volvo says it intends to feature an all EV fleet by the year 2030. The NYT has a guide to some of the environmental factors to consider when buying an EV. Fossil fuel cars waste hundreds of times more raw material than their battery electric equivalents. Six major utilities unveiled a plan to add EV fast chargers to connect major highway systems across the US. The goal of the Electric Highway Coalition, made up of six major electric companies in the Southeast and Midwest, is to build enough direct-current, fast-charging, EV charging stations to connect the Atlantic coast, the Midwest, and the South, as well as the Gulf Coast and Central Plains regions. To supply its expanding EV fleet, GM says it’s looking for a site to build a second US battery factory with a joint venture partner.
Exxon Mobil’s CEO said improving economics and government policies are creating opportunities for carbon capture and storage. He also said that Exxon Mobil would try to set a goal for not emitting more GHGs than it removed from the atmosphere, though he was uncertain when that might happen. Chevron and partners Microsoft, Schlumberger, and Clean Energy Systems will build a carbon capture plant in California. FedEx is investing at least $2Bn toward sustainable energy initiatives, including EVs and carbon capture research, as part of a new pledge to become carbon neutral by 2040.
Lockdowns around the world led to an unprecedented fall in CO2 emissions of about 7% in 2020, or about 2.6Bn metric tons; reductions of between 1 and 2Bn metric tons are needed annually for the next ten years to have a good chance of limiting the global temperature rise to within 1.5°C or 2°C. CO2 emissions climbed steadily over the second half of 2020; by December, emissions were 2% higher than in the same month in 2019.
The US could cut emissions from its electricity grid in half within the next decade through investments in renewables and transmission lines. A national approach to transmission planning could supposedly deliver large benefits at the speed necessary to meet the challenges of climate change. Berkshire Hathaway Energy is spending billions to build transmission lines to carry electricity from remote areas where renewable energy is generated to population centers where it is needed. FERC’s chairman is focused on enabling the construction of long-distance power transmission lines to help bring more renewable power onto the grid.
Governments and energy companies are placing large bets on clean hydrogen playing a leading role in lowering GHG emissions, although its future uses and costs are highly uncertain. Shell is moving toward renewable aviation fuel production at its refinery in Rhineland, Germany. Siemens Energy announced a US Energy Department grant to study how its electrolyzers could be combined with hydrogen compression and storage, and power plant control technology, to provide long-term energy storage at renewable energy facilities. By using its tar-sands bitumen as a feedstock for carbon fiber production and by turning its natural gas into blue hydrogen via carbon capture, Alberta hopes to transform its oil and gas industry.
Duke Energy’s and Xcel Energy’s CEOs have said natural gas will remain part of their power mix for years to come as they transition to cleaner forms of energy. A furious industry backlash has greeted cities’ moves to ban natural gas in new homes and businesses.
Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe is joining the Nature Conservancy as its next chief scientist. The Washington Post Magazine published an interview with her. The NYT reviewed Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky. Joel Makower discussed the concept of “net-zero” and why it can be an instrument for greenwashing. A UN report revealed people waste a billion+ tons of food yearly, placing food waste right behind China and the US as a contributor of GHG emissions. An important series of four articles, Fractured, documented Environmental Health News’ investigation of fracking chemicals in the air, water, and people of western Pennsylvania. Of the ~55,000 Indigenous households located on Navajo Nation lands, ~15,000 don’t have electricity. UN human rights officials issued a report condemning environmental racism in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” where the mostly Black population breathes air heavily polluted by an ever-widening corridor of petrochemical plants. Climate scientist Michael Mann talked with The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts about his new book, The New Climate War, and why he thinks the tide may finally be turning in a hopeful direction.
Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee