Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/20/2020

Politics and Policy

President-elect Joe Biden, eager to elevate climate change issues throughout his administration, is already drafting orders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and seeking nominees who will embed climate policy across the government.  Climate policy experts say they expect Biden’s team to focus on five Trump rollbacks in particular: on clean cars, clean power, climate super-pollutants, methane leaks from oil and gas operations, and gas from landfills.  Biden discussed climate change in 12 of his first 14 calls with world leaders, an unprecedented diplomatic focus from a new U.S. president.  Biden’s transition teams include veterans from the Obama administration and others with significant prior experience in domestic and international climate policy battles.  Arun Majumdar is heading the transition team for DOE and many think he is a prime candidate to head the Department.  Biden’s ambitious agenda is sure to 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.  Furthermore, Biden will face several legal and political hurdles if he seeks to halt new oil and gas permits on federal land and waters, given existing laws and the enormous sums that drilling royalties generate for the federal and state governments.  The financial sector is moving ahead with plans to begin the transition to a carbon-free economy and acknowledge a new administration that’s eager to tackle the climate crisis.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted on Wednesday to advance the nominations of Allison Clements and Mark Christie to be FERC commissioners, although it is unclear whether they will get a floor vote before the session ends.  More than two dozen automakers, electric utilities, EV-charging firms, and lithium companies are forming a new advocacy group devoted to pushing for electric vehicles (EVs) on Capitol Hill.  It’s called the Zero Emission Transportation Association, or ZETA.  After months of legal back-and-forth, a ruling in the U.S. Court of International Trade has reinstated tariffs on two-sided solar panels.  The American Farm Bureau Federation has joined an alliance of food, forest, farming, and environmental groups that intends to work with Congress and the incoming Biden administration to reduce the food system’s role in climate change. 

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

More than three-quarters of countries have indicated they will make stronger commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement by the end of 2020.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the EU to lead global efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions by setting a new climate change target next month, while the EU unveiled plans to transform its electricity system to rely mostly on renewables within a decade and increase its offshore wind energy capacity 25-fold by 2050.  Russia has no plans to achieve carbon neutrality before the end of the century and is betting on Asian demand to support a huge expansion of its Arctic gas industry.  Furthermore, China’s plan to build more coal-fired power plants “contradicts” its pledge to go carbon neutral by 2060 and risks creating $303.60 billion in stranded assets.  Governments around the world are asking what a green recovery looks like as they decide how to align their $12 trillion worth of coronavirus economic rescue packages with their obligations under the Paris Climate Accord.

Climate and Climate Science

Iota struck the coast of Nicaragua late on Monday, bringing winds of nearly 155 miles per hour and flooding villages still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Eta two weeks ago.  As of Thursday, the death toll had reached more than 40.  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 say that this year’s record-breaking hurricane season and the “unprecedented” double blow for Central America has a clear link to the climate crisis.  One in five people across the world were affected by extreme weather disasters in the past decade, according to a report from the International Federation of the Red Cross.  Also, Jeff Masters reported that 2020 experienced 40 billion-dollar weather disasters through October, among other records.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications found that Greenland’s largest glaciers are currently melting at levels close to what scientists had previously expected under a future “worst-case scenario”.  As a result, the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to 4.8 millimeters per year, according to a 10-year average compiled for Science by Benjamin Hamlington, an ocean scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

According to a report by a coalition of 25 research and conservation organizations, mines and dams, along with tens of thousands of miles of roads and railways 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.  Furthermore, the construction or upgrading of some 7,456 miles of Amazon roads in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador over the next five years could lead to 5.9 million acres of deforestation in the two decades after, according to the report by Climate Focus.  Demand for certain mined minerals is projected to increase exponentially in the coming decades as the world shifts to renewable energy.  Experts warn that responsible practices must be in place to reduce environmental and social impacts.

Data from Public Health England showed that the three heatwaves in late June, late July, and August in England caused an estimated 2,556 excess deaths, with people aged 65 and over making up the vast majority of those who died.

As the world’s climate warms, parasite-carried wildlife diseases will move north, with animals in cold far-north and high-altitude regions expected to suffer the most dramatic increases, warns a study published on Friday in the journal Science.


Scottish energy company SSE plans to triple its renewable energy generation by 2030 as it prepares to build the world’s largest offshore windfarm off the northeast coast of England.  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 up and down the U.S. East Coast.  More than a dozen technology developers are pushing the idea of using floating wind turbine platforms for a variety of generation assets, from wind and wave to solar and ocean thermal energy, arguing that using a single platform for multiple technologies can help improve the energy yield per unit of area and thus reduce the overall cost of electricity.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has announced that a new material for wind turbine blades that can be recycled could render renewable energy more sustainable than ever before while also lowering costs.

David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the clean transportation program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, has said that the environmental concerns about EVs raised in a new paper from the Competitive Enterprise Institute are “…a grab bag of old and misleading claims about EVs.”  Determining the “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 a report released Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund and its partners.  David Roberts summarized the major lessons from that study along with one by the Electrification Coalition.  Navistar International Corp. and Cummins Inc. have announced that they have partnered to develop an integrated fuel cell electric powertrain that can be used in heavy-duty vehicles such as Class 8 trucks.  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.  Likewise, Volkswagen’s CEO said his company is paring back the variety of combustion-engined cars and investing $86 billion 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 and help bring an end to the “oil era”, according to research by Carbon Tracker published on Friday.

The Swedish steel industry has developed a new steelmaking technology that uses hydrogen fuel to reduce the need for fossil fuel, thereby reducing the CO2 emitted from about 3,600 lbs per ton of steel produced to around 55 lbs.

Stocks of oil and gas companies that are investing heavily in renewables are being punished by the markets.

Launched on Tuesday, the Western Green Hydrogen Initiative, is a group representing 11 Western states, two Canadian provinces and key green hydrogen industry players including Mitsubishi and utilities Dominion Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.


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 has 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.  In a feature article, The Hill presented the ten countries most at risk from the impacts of climate change. 

Closing Thought

Dan Gearino devoted the bulk of his “Inside Clean Energy” column this week to Arizona’s net-zero plan, writing “Arizona is showing the rest of the country how to set the terms for a transition to clean energy that is substantial and nonpartisan.”  Even though there is one more hoop to jump through, I take hope from this and look forward to seeing more states join the fold.

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.