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Climate Action Alliance of the Valley News Roundup: Jan. 24

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 Joe Biden returned the US to the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA), ordering federal agencies to review climate and environmental policies enacted during the Trump years and, if possible, quickly reverse them.  (Free article is here.)  He revoked the Keystone XL oil pipeline construction permit, prompting indigenous leaders to call for the Dakota Access Pipeline shut down.  The new administration also reestablished an interagency working group, ordering it to update the social cost of carbon within 30 days.  Here’s a compilation of the major actions on Day One; legal experts warned it could take two-three years to restore many prior rules.  Biden is expected to announce a second round of executive orders focused on combating climate change this week and to convene an international climate summit in April to help accelerate emissions cuts.  The Washington Post tracks the Biden administration’s unwinding of Trump’s climate change “legacy.”

The US DC Court of Appeals struck down the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule, paving the way for enacting stronger power plant restrictions.  Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen plans to start a new Treasury “hub” to examine financial system risks arising from climate change.  The new administration will likely use the Congressional Review Act to reverse some Trump administrations rules.  President Biden wants an infrastructure bill to simultaneously boost the economy and act on climate; there will be obstacles.  The Interior Department took swift action to block public land oil and gas drilling, freezing such leases for the next 60 days.

Politico sought to determine what the world wants from John Kerry on climate.  Kerry vow at an Italian climate conference: the Biden administration will make up for the past four years’ climate inaction.  China’s coal output rose last year to its highest since 2015, despite Beijing’s climate change pledge to reduce coal consumption.  The European Investment Bank president announced the bank intends to end all funding for fossil fuels before the end of 2021.

On January 19, among other actions, the Trump administration finalized Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lease sales for drilling.  The US Supreme Court heard arguments on whether a city of Baltimore lawsuit against oil and gas companies belongs in state courts (what plaintiffs want) or in federal courts (what oil companies want).  Amy Coney Barrett was among the justices hearing the arguments, despite her father’s longstanding ties to Shell Oil Company, a defendant.  The US Chamber of Commerce now says Congress should pass laws pushing companies to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, endorsing a market-based approach.  The US clean energy sector lost 429,000 jobs last year due to COVID-19 economic impacts; 70% have not been recovered.

Climate and Climate Science

An integrated approach accounts for uncertainties in estimating the remaining carbon budget associated with a given temperature rise.  For a 1.5°C rise above preindustrial temperatures, the estimated remaining budget is 230Gt CO2 for a 66% chance of staying below a 1.5°C rise, 440Gt CO2 for a 33% chance.  An attribution study found human GHG emissions accounted for most global temperature rise observed from pre‑industrial times to today; natural factors?—“negligible” effect.

The World Economic Forum published a surprisingly frank essay saying humans are playing a game of Jenga with Earth’s climate system.  Because of modeling’s importance in charting a course through the climate crisis, East and West US coast climatologists, oceanographers, and computer scientists launched a bold effort to develop a new generation of climate models.  RealClimate updated its model‑observation comparison page for 2020.

Heat-related illnesses are soaring in Arizona and Florida; poor communities are bearing the brunt.  Climate change will dramatically shift the globe’s tropical rain belt, threatening the food security of billions.

Beneath the surface layer of waters circling Antarctica, seas are warming much more rapidly than previously known; this relatively warm water is rising toward the surface at a rate 3-10 times previous estimates, endangering Antarctic Ice Sheet stability.

Energy

In a 9% increase over 2019, the world spent a record $501.3Bn in 2020 on renewable power, electric vehicles (EVs), and other technologies.  Global EV sales accelerated in 2020, rising by 43% to 3Mn+.  The associated reduction in CO2 emissions was more than cancelled out by increased SUV sales.  An MIT team calculated the CO2 emissions and full lifetime cost for nearly every new car model on the market:  EVs were easily more climate friendly than gas-burners and often cheaper.  Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been manufactured on a factory production line, marking a significant step toward EVs becoming as fast to charge as refueling gasoline or diesel vehicles.

A Toyota Motor Corp./Air Liquide SA venture plans to persuade 10,000 Paris taxi drivers to switch to hydrogen fuel cell powered cars by 2024’s Olympic Games there.  MIT’s Startup Exchange showcased five startups developing emerging hydrogen production technologies.  Hydrogen will be the key energy source for Europe’s heavy-duty and long‑route medium-duty freight vehicles; battery electrification will be the most economic and environmental solution for smaller delivery vehicles.

A growing number of corporations is pouring money into direct air CO2 capture to offset emissions they can’t otherwise cut.  Elon Musk promised a $100Mn prize for developing the “best” technology to capture CO2 emissions.

China added 71.67GW of wind power capacity in 2020, and 48.2 GW of solar power.  It also added 56.37GW of new thermal power capacity.  Germany increased its North Sea offshore wind capacity.  US Energy Information Agency data revealed natural gas will supply 16% of new power capacity this year in the US as cheaper wind and solar power take over the market.

Energy company Total and solar-plus-storage developer 174 Power Global have a joint venture to develop utility-scale solar and storage projects in Texas, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, and Virginia with a total capacity of 1.6GW.  Hawaiian Electric won regulatory approval for a $25Mn plan to harness solar and batteries at 6,000 homes across the islands of Hawaii, Maui, and Oahu to form a virtual power plant.

Potpourri

Michael Svoboda described twelve new books exploring scientific, economic, and political avenues for climate action.  The Biden administration assembled the largest-ever team of White House climate change experts; there will be pressure from multiple directions by coalition members that got Biden elected.  Robinson Meyer laid out a primer for watching the Biden administration’s first 100 days; Bill McKibben argued humans need to stop burning thingsThe Washington Post ran a feature article about regenerative agriculture and the controversy around its long‑term ability to sequester carbon.  Grist examined the latest research on how to lessen public opposition to the placement of wind farms.  Ivy Main summarized all the climate- and energy‑related bills filed in the Virginia General Assembly.  At FERC’s meeting on Tuesday, a request from Mountain Valley Pipeline developers to bore under streams in West Virginia failed to get a majority vote, causing the matter to die.

Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee


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