Climate Action Alliance of the Valley news roundup for Nov. 22

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 Joe Biden, eager to elevate climate change issues throughout his administration, is drafting orders to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and seeking nominees who will embed climate policy across the government.  Biden’s team will likely focus on five Trump rollbacks on: clean cars, clean power, climate super-pollutants, oil and gas operations’ methane leaks, and landfill gas.  Biden discussed climate change in 12 of his first 14 calls with world leaders.  Biden’s transition teams include Obama administration veterans and others with significant prior experience in domestic and international climate policy battles.  Arun Majumdar heads the DOE transition team; many think he’s a prime candidate for Department head.  Biden’s ambitious agenda will expose fault lines in the Democratic Party, between renewable energy advocates who see natural gas as no better than coal and establishment figures who say the fuel still has a role to play in reducing pollution.  Biden will face several legal and political hurdles if he seeks to halt new oil and gas permits on federal land and waters.  The financial sector is moving ahead with plans to begin the transition to a carbon-free economy and acknowledge a new administration eager to tackle the climate crisis.

Over 24 automakers, electric utilities, EV-charging firms, and lithium companies are forming a new advocacy group (Zero Emission Transportation Association, ZETA) pushing for EVs.  A U.S. Court of International Trade ruling reinstated tariffs on two‑sided solar panels.  The American Farm Bureau Federation joined an alliance of food, forest, farming, and environmental groups to work with Congress and the incoming administration to reduce the food system’s climate change role.

2020 GHGs generated by the U.S. economy will slide 9.2%, the lowest level in at least three decades.  The Bureau of Land Management finalized the Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve‑Alaska, allowing ConocoPhillips to produce up to 590Mn barrels of oil over the next 30 years; a coalition of six environmental groups is suing to stop it.  The Trump administration announced it would begin the formal process of selling leases to oil companies, allowing them to drill for oil and gas in the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; legal experts said the leases may never be issued.

Over three-quarters of countries have indicated they will make stronger commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement by 2020’s end.  The EU unveiled plans to transform its electricity system to rely mostly on renewables by 2030 and increase its offshore wind energy capacity 25-fold by 2050.  Russia has no plans to achieve carbon neutrality before the century’s end, betting on Asian demand to support a huge expansion of its Arctic gas industry.  China’s plan to build more coal-fired power plants “contradicts” its pledge to go carbon neutral by 2060 and risks creating $303.6Bn in stranded assets.  World‑wide, governments are asking what a green recovery looks like as they decide how to align their $12Tn coronavirus economic rescue packages with their obligations under the Paris Climate Accord.

Climate and Climate Science

The 2020 hurricane season will go down in history for the dominance of rapidly intensifying storms in the Atlantic, raising the question of whether this is the new normal.  Climate scientists said 2020’s record-breaking hurricane season and the “unprecedented” double blow for Central America have a clear link to the climate crisis.  Extreme weather disasters affected one in five people world‑wide in the past decade. 2020 saw $40Bn weather disasters through October, among other records.

Greenland’s largest glaciers are currently melting at levels close to a previously‑predicted future “worst-case scenario”.  The sea level rise rate has accelerated to 4.8 millimeters per year, according to a 10-year average compiled by a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory ocean scientist.

A coalition of 25 research and conservation organizations said mines and dams, plus tens of thousands of roads and railways miles are planned in the forests of South America, Southeast Asia, and Central Africa, thereby potentially pushing the world’s remaining forests past a “dangerous tipping point” and making climate targets unachievable. Demand for certain mined minerals is projected to increase exponentially as the world shifts to renewable energy.  Experts warn: responsible practices must exist to reduce environmental and social impacts.

Public Health England data showed the three summer heatwaves there caused an estimated 2,556 excess deaths; people aged 65 and over made up the vast majority of them.

Energy

Scottish energy company SSE plans to triple its renewable energy generation by 2030, preparing to build the world’s largest offshore windfarm off England’s northeast coast.  Danish renewable energy group Ørsted and North America’s Building Trades Unions announced a deal to train an offshore wind construction workforce to build the firm’s projects along the U.S. East Coast.  Over 12 technology developers are pushing the idea of using floating wind turbine platforms for a variety of generation assets—e.g., wind and wave, solar and ocean thermal energy, arguing that using a single platform for multiple technologies can help improve the energy yield/unit of area, thus reducing overall electricity cost.  A new recyclable material for wind turbine blades could render renewable energy more sustainable than previously while also lowering costs.

A senior engineer in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean transportation program said environmental concerns about EVs raised in a new paper are “…a grab bag of old and misleading claims about EVs.”  Determining “total cost of electrification” for a particular fleet will be a critical step in pushing EV trucks and buses from the margins to the mainstream, according to the Environmental Defense Fund and partners.  David Roberts summarized major lessons from that study and another one.  GM CEO Mary Barra said her company is accelerating an “all out pursuit of global EV leadership,” with increased spending and sped-up EV production targets.  Volkswagen’s CEO said his company is paring back the variety of combustion-engine cars and investing $86Bn to retool more factories to build EVs.  An aggressive China‑led shift to EVs is expected to slash growth in global oil demand by 70% by 2030, helping bring an end to the “oil era”.

The Swedish steel industry developed a new steelmaking technology using hydrogen fuel to reduce the need for fossil fuels, thereby reducing the CO2 emitted from ~3,600 lbs/ton of produced steel to ~55 lbs.

Potpourri

Jeff Bezos is giving $791 million to 16 groups fighting climate change, the first grants from his Earth Fund, saying the money is “just the beginning of my $10 billion commitment to fund scientists, activists, NGOs, and others.”  Unilever announced plans to dramatically increase sales of plant‑based meat and dairy alternatives over the next seven years.  Michael Svoboda compiled a list of books providing advice for how a new administration might proceed on tackling climate change.  The Hill presented the ten countries most at risk from climate change impacts.

Closing Thought

Dan Gearino devoted the bulk of his “Inside Clean Energy” column this week to Arizona’s net-zero plan: “Arizona is showing the rest of the country how to set the terms for a transition to clean energy that is substantial and nonpartisan.”

Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee 


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