Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/29/2020

Politics and Policy

The UN announced on Thursday that COP26, originally scheduled for November of this year, will be postponed until 1-12 November of next year.  The summit will take place in Glasgow as previously planned.  The European Commission announced its green recovery plan on Thursday and Damian Carrington of The Guardian wrote that “It sets a high standard for other nations.”  Reuters provided a list of its spending proposals.  Some were not excited about the plan because it relies heavily on borrowing.  Major European electricity groups issued a joint call urging the European Commission to prioritize renewable hydrogen in its pandemic recovery plan.  New research in the journal Environmental Science and Policy by European modelers and social scientists found that President Trump’s reelection would likely cause a significant delay in meeting global carbon emission reductions.  At the New York Times, Somini Sengupta sought to clarify what all of these changes mean for climate change.

At Vox, David Roberts argued that there is a broad alignment forming within the Democratic Party around a climate policy platform that is both ambitious enough to address the problem and politically potent enough to unite all the left’s various interest groups.  In a subsequent post, Roberts said that if former Vice President Joe Biden embraces a bold climate policy he has a good chance of turning out the voters he needs to win.  Two conservative clean energy advocates have said that Congress “should seize this opportunity to modernize the nation’s power system with investments that will pay dividends for the economy and the environment for generations.”  If Biden wins, he may have difficulty persuading Congress to adopt his climate program.  Timothy Cama examined his options in that case.  Twenty-three states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its reversal of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.  Furthermore, states have challenged virtually every effort by the EPA and other agencies to walk back Obama-era rules and have won 80% of the cases so far.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT), former Federal Reserve governor and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Sarah Bloom Raskin argued that the Fed should not be directing money to further entrench the carbon economy.  The U.S. Treasury Department released guidance Wednesday that offers onshore wind and solar projects more time to meet tax credit deadlines, an acknowledgment of the challenges brought by the coronavirus lockdown.  On Wednesday, the oil and gas industry lost appeals in two major climate damages cases brought by cities and counties in California.  The Bureau of Land Management abruptly postponed a scheduled auction of the right to drill for oil and gas on 45,000 acres in New Mexico scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of last week.  The Rocky Mountain Institute published a translation of an op-ed that appeared in Caijing Magazine, an influential Chinese publication that covers social, political, and economic topics.  The op-ed reviewed China’s leadership in clean energy and urged the government to allocate sufficient COVID-19 recovery resources to support China’s transition to clean energy, just as the EU is planning.

The Ohio Power Siting Board ruled Thursday that the Icebreaker windfarm project in Lake Eire could move forward, but only if blades on the demonstration project’s six turbines are turned off every night for eight months of the year, a stipulation that “may well be fatal to the entire project.”  A federal appeals court on Thursday turned down the Trump administration’s request to revive a permit program for new oil and gas pipelines.

Climate and Climate Science

The human fingerprint on the climate is now unmistakable and will become increasingly evident over the coming decades, the UK Met Office has confirmed after 30 years of study.  Planting a trillion trees as a climate change mitigation strategy has gotten a lot of attention, but climate scientists say it’s not that simpleMongabay published an article about how indigenous people in the Amazon are experiencing and responding to climate change.  New research published in the journal Science found that rising temperatures, deforestation, development, and climate-induced disasters are causing bigger trees to be lost at alarming rates, making the planet’s forests shorter and younger.

According to new research in Nature Climate Change, the deep ocean will be warming rapidly by 2050 even if dramatic reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions were to happen today.  On May 19th a Russian liquefied natural gas tanker became the earliest east-bound shipment on the Northern Sea Route ever for this kind of vessel.  Research using autonomous underwater vehicles with high-resolution mapping capability has revealed that around 12,000 years ago some glaciers in Antarctica were retreating at a rate around ten times higher than even the most rapid retreat seen today.

Contrary to previous research, a new paper in Science Advances has concluded that marshes in the Mississippi River Delta have hit a tipping point and will likely drown this century due to sea level rise.

Research, published in journal The Lancet Planetary Health, revealed that over the past 11 years, the number of deaths attributed to excessive natural heat in Australia is at least 50 times greater than is recorded on death certificates there.

With the Siberian Arctic seeing record warm conditions in recent weeks and months, scientists monitoring wildfire trends are becoming more convinced that some of the blazes erupting in the Arctic this spring are actually left over from last summer, having survived by burning in dry underground peat formations.  A study in Nature Communications suggests that rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are causing plants to lose less water throughout the Northern Hemisphere, which in turn causes temperatures there to warm even more than they would from climate change alone.  Atmospheric circulation patterns then transport that heat to the Arctic, warming it faster than it would otherwise.


Japanese scientists have designed a photocatalyst capable of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen gases with almost 100% efficiency when exposed to ultraviolet light.  Their work suggests that it should be possible to design a photocatalyst capable of doing the same thing with visible light, thereby paving the way for much more efficient systems than electrolysis for producing hydrogen from sunlight.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration announced on Thursday that in 2019 the U.S. consumed more energy from renewable sources like solar and wind than from coal.  

A Cessna Caravan, retrofitted with an electric engine, flew for 30 minutes over Washington state on Thursday, in a flawless maiden flight of the largest all-electric commuter aircraft yet.  On the ground, registrations of electric vehicles in Europe doubled during the first months of 2020, while overall passenger car registrations fell by 25.6% compared to the same period last year, according to data by the European Alternative Fuels Observatory.

Power companies have announced plans to close 13 coal-fired power plants this year, according to an E&E News review of federal data and companies’ closure plans.  Two others will be converted to natural gas.  Southern Company, which owns a number of utilities across the South, has joined other major utilities in setting a net-zero carbon target for 2050. 

The Botetourt County (VA) Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the request by Apex Clean Energy to amend its permit for the Rocky Forge Windfarm to allow the construction of fewer, taller wind turbines.  Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has announced that the 2.64 GW Dominion Energy Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project will utilize its SG 14-222 DD turbine, which has a capacity of 14 MW.  As a result, Siemens Gamesa said that it is considering establishing the first global factory for that turbine somewhere in the U.S.  Atlantic Wind Transfers will provide offshore marine support services for the offshore wind turbines.  The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded that the best way to maintain maritime safety and ease of navigation in the offshore wind development areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket is to install turbines in a uniform layout to create predictable navigation corridors.  In Europe, as locations for wind energy fill up onshore and near-shore, companies are deploying floating turbines that can be sited in deep waters, out of view from the coast.  Offshore wind market leader Ørsted will work in and around Copenhagen to decarbonize transport on land, at sea, and in the air by producing hydrogen, from which other fuels can be generated.

Improvements in energy efficiency have slashed carbon emissions from operations at the Empire State Building about 40% in the past 10 years and the owners aim to cut an additional 40% in the decade to come.  Now the owners of the other buildings in the city face the challenge of cutting their energy use.


Are you feeling “Cassandrafreude”?  John Schwartz defined it in the second article of the NYT’s “Climate Fwd:” newsletter.  Heather Grady, Vice President, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, wrote “…2020 can be a super year, not just for nature, but also for people.”  The latest Peter Sinclair video focused on the Florida Keys and whether the communities there can be saved.  Ironically, Sinclair lives in Midland, MI, and wrote about last week’s dam breach there.  On May 5, I included a review of Lydia Millet’s new novel A Children’s Bible.  This week Amy Brady interviewed Millet for “The Chicago Review of Books.”  YouTube has taken down the controversial Michael Moore-produced documentary Planet of the Humans because of a copyright infringement claim by a British environmental photographer.

Closing Thought

Treat yourself to 4½ minutes of stunning photography about “The Beauty of Pollination.”

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.