Climate Action Alliance of the Valley News Roundup: Dec. 19

Climate Action Alliance of the ValleyClimate 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

President-elect Biden picked his leadership team to begin U.S. transition to a low carbon economy.  He will nominate:

Eliminating CO2 emissions by 2050 will require a massive effort, outlined in major reports from Princeton University and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The U.S. Federal Reserve joined an international group of central banks focused on climate change risk, signaling the Fed could move to incorporate the impacts of global warming into its regulatory actions.  A bipartisan package to boost funding for renewable energy, energy storage, electric vehicles (EVs), carbon capture, and other low-carbon and electric technologies is being considered for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill Congress was to vote on by December 18.

Progressive organizations outlined 25 executive actions Biden “must take” to tackle fossil fuels.  The Center for American Progress issued a blueprint for protecting climate researchers and restoring scientific integrity in the federal government.  Virginia utility regulators are about to release their final version of a program allowing Dominion Energy customers to buy solar power via subscription from a third-party‑owned “community” solar facility.  The Southeast’s biggest utilities have filed plans for a Southeast Energy Exchange Market, to better integrate the region’s growing share of clean power.  Avangrid Renewables submitted a plan to BOEM for the first 800MW phase of its Kitty Hawk offshore wind project, the first move in a plan to build 2.5GW of wind power off Virginia’s and North Carolina’s coasts.  An MIT study found that expanding transmission lines and implementing a national process for coordinating regional grids could cut the cost of obtaining carbon-free power by 46% compared to state-by-state decarbonization.

At the Climate Ambition Summit, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced updated national 2030 climate targets.  The British government said it will establish a domestic emissions trading scheme beginning January 1st to replace the current EU regime.  Canadian P.M. Justin Trudeau released the government’s strategy to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; its centerpiece is a gradual hike in the federal carbon tax on fuels to $170 a metric ton, increasing the cost of gasoline by $1.11 per gallon.

Climate and Climate Science

At the end of November, NOAA data showed 2020 is the second-warmest year at 0.02°F behind 2016 at the same point.

In the Pacific, Tonga and Fiji were bracing for potentially catastrophic damage as tropical cyclones Zazu and Yasa intensified off their respective coastlines.  Yasa made landfall Thursday evening.  Frequency of Bangladeshi natural disasters is making life in rural areas increasingly difficult, pushing inhabitants into city slums.

Some sea level rise unexpected consequences:

  • Fragmentation of salt marshes from expanded burrowing of purple marsh crabs.
  • Rising groundwater levels in coastal areas, coming into contact with ancient subsurface contaminants, mobilizing and moving them upward where humans and other life can come into contact with them.
  • Saltwater intrusion, which is impacting farmland along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where salt is arriving from underground.

A report for the Environmental Defense Fund says global warming, rising sea levels, and other climate change effects will bring billions of dollars in short‑term costs to North Carolina’s economy and public health in the years ahead.  A report measured states’ vulnerability to public health impacts from climate change and their levels of readiness for such impacts; six of the ten most vulnerable states were in the southeast.

A record-breaking 2020 wildfire season in the western U.S. cost insurers $7 to $13Bn, illustrating the growing price tag of natural disasters linked to climate change.  Globally, 2020’s natural disasters caused $76Bn in insured losses.

Energy

2021 global demand for coal is set to jump 2.6% after a record 2020 pandemic‑led drop; recovering economic activity will increase use for electricity and industrial output.  The new conservative provincial government of Alberta, Canada, will increase coal production for export, possibly industrializing up to 400 sq. miles of forests, waterways, and grasslands.  Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, has set a market‑wide policy to stop new insurance coverage for coal, oil sands, and Arctic energy projects by January 2022, and pull out altogether by 2030.

Ten years ago, an EV lithium-ion battery pack cost ~$1,110/kW·hr.  The 2020 cost had fallen 89%, to $137/kW·hr; by 2023, car companies will likely make and sell mass-market EVs at the same cost as conventional cars.  The number of US EV models is expected to more than triple in the next three years, from ~40 to 127, as battery prices fall, charging infrastructure spreads, and adoption rises.  Mercedes-Benz will begin production of six all-electric models by the end of 2022; two will be assembled at its plant in Tuscaloosa, AL.  Toyota said it will have a prototype with a solid-state battery ready by 2021.

Utility interest in hydrogen is “beyond staggering” and may soon begin showing up in long-term integrated resource plans.  Canada unveiled its hydrogen strategy, calling on investors to spur growth in a clean fuel sector to help the country achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.  Clean Technica had an article entitled “Is Hydrogen the Best Option to Replace Natural Gas in the Home? Looking at the Numbers.”  A Clean Energy Group team cautioned that hydrogen combustion (rather than its use in fuel cells) can lead to significant air polluting nitrogen oxide production.  Southern California Gas Company will test a technology to allow hydrogen to be transported with natural gas via the natural gas pipeline system, then extracted and compressed at fueling stations to provide hydrogen for fuel cell EVs.

The Hill examined ExxonMobil’s new “emission reduction plan” relative to other oil and gas companies and their critics’ expectations.  A report found that 27 of the 30 largest listed oil and gas companies still financially reward executives for producing more fossil fuels, despite the companies’ climate goals.

Potpourri

New York Times (NYT) reporter John Branch reflected on his reporting of the California fires that burned a million Joshua trees and charred countless giant sequoias and redwoods.  To follow David Roberts’ new blog, read his first entry and subscribe.  In 2020 the NYT brought together some of the best reporting from its Climate Desk; the Washington Post presented the top five climate stories of the year.  Brianna Baker of Grist presented her favorite climate podcasts.

Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee


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