Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/4/2020

Politics and Policy

A new report details how to position climate change as a central organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy.  The Alliance for Automotive Innovation vowed to work with President-elect Joe Biden to reduce vehicle emissions, while Ford encouraged other automakers to drop out of the Trump administration’s suit challenging California’s right to set its own emissions standards.  A letter signed by 42 major companies urged Biden to re-enter the U.S. into the Paris Climate Agreement and to enact “ambitious” solutions to tackle climate change.  Unfortunately, Biden’s promise to end U.S. fossil fuel subsidies could be hard to keep due to resistance from lawmakers in a narrowly divided Congress.  At Yale Environment 360, Michael Gerrard maintained that even without strong action by Congress, Biden will have a wide array of tools that could put the U.S. on a trajectory to decarbonizing its electricity sector by 2035.  At Vox, David Roberts wrote: “The only thing Biden will have real control over is his administration and what it does. And his North Star, his organizing principle, should be doing as much good on as many fronts as fast as possible. Blitz.”  Biden named Brian Deese to head the National Economic Council, highlighting plans to use economic policy initiatives to drive climate policy.  Some are pushing Biden to proclaim climate change a national emergency, giving him more power to tackle it, but whether he should do so is complicated.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that he wants to put tackling climate change at the heart of the UN’s global mission and that its central objective next year will be to build a global coalition around the need to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.  A new analysis by Carbon Action Tracker suggests that the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are getting “within reach.”  Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 68% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.  Denmark’s government agreed to put an end to all oil and gas exploration and extraction in the North Sea by 2050.  A recent report from international consulting group Wärtsilä demonstrates how using energy-related stimulus investments to support clean energy could speed decarbonization in five key countries: the U.S., the UK, Brazil, Germany, and Australia.  EU nations’ greenhouse gas emissions for 2019 were down 24% compared to their 1990 emissions.

The Bureau of Land Management announced on Thursday that the Trump administration plans to hold an oil leasing sale for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 6.  The governors of Mississippi, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Arkansas said they would challenge any new federal policies mandating emissions cuts by the power sector.  While the EPA’s career scientists are more openly challenging the Trump administration’s rules and rollbacks, Andrew Wheeler is working to ensure his legacy.  At Slate, two legal scholars examined the impacts of a revitalization of the “non-delegation doctrine” (the constitutional principle that Congress can’t delegate too much lawmaking power to the executive branch) by the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

The New York Times introduced the contenders for positions on Biden’s environment and energy team.  The U.S. Senate voted Monday to confirm the nominations of Mark Christie and Allison Clements to FERC, approving a bipartisan pairing that will bring the agency to a full five members.  At Yale Climate Connections, Dana Nuccitelli argued that moving now to combat climate change is cheaper and better for the economy than postponing action.  During the summer, FERC affirmed that net metering policies should be made by the states, so E&E News examined four states where the status quo on net metering is currently under review.  Recent changes to Virginia law concerning distributed solar are having an impact on the state’s power grid and its solar industry, as well as its land use.  The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority has created a $1 million Renewable Energy Fund to attract businesses and train residents to find jobs in the expanding field.

Climate and Climate Science

In spite of being a La Niña year, 2020 is on track to be the second hottest on record, behind 2016.  Millions of Australians are sweltering through a record-shattering heat wave that has set off hundreds of wildfires in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland.  A new report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies found that natural disasters have been rising in number since the 1960s and that a sharp increase of 35% has been recorded since the 1990s.  Thanks mostly to a combination of human-caused climate change and urbanization, winters in Washington, D.C., are rapidly warming and taking on an entirely new character.  However, the way NOAA reports climate averages can inadvertently conceal long-term changes in temperature.  The Conversation presented a retrospective on the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

A report, published in The Lancet, presents climate change as a public health risk now, rather than a hazard faced by future generations.  It points to the immediate dangers of extreme heat, wildfires, and air pollution, and makes the case for rapidly shifting to a green economy as a way to improve public health.  Bob Henson did a deep dive into the subject of heat-related deaths at Yale Climate Connections.

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from warmer sands are weaker and slower, meaning they are more likely to be eaten by ghost crabs as they crawl towards the sea.  Europe’s breeding bird populations have shifted on average 0.62 mile north every year for the past three decades, likely driven by climate change.

The amount of affordable housing in the U.S. vulnerable to coastal flooding is set to triple over the next 30 years, according to research conducted by Climate Central, a New Jersey-based science organization.

Forest management, when implemented correctly, can not only reduce the number of devastating wildfires that rage every year but also the billions of tons of CO2 emissions that result from them as well.  Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has surged to its highest level since 2008, the country’s space agency reported.  Climate change is increasingly damaging the UN’s most cherished heritage sites.


A new report from the UN Environment Program found that the top producing nations were set to produce twice as much oil, gas, and coal by 2030 as would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.  However, the world’s top energy companies have slashed the value of their oil and gas assets by around $80 billion in recent months.  As the oil and gas industry contracts, one result may well be more abandoned wells; in three states, nonprofits are beginning to plug them.  Bank of America has joined other major U.S. banks in saying that it won’t finance oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

Most of the U.S.’s existing fossil fuel power plant capacity will reach the end of its typical lifespan by 2035, suggesting that a deadline to decarbonize electricity by then will cost less than previously expected.  Pollinator-friendly solar can boost crop yields, increase the recharging of groundwater, reduce soil erosion, increase solar panel efficiency during summer, and provide long-term cost savings in operations and maintenance.

In an in-depth Q&A, Carbon Brief examined the big questions around the “hydrogen economy” and looked at the extent to which it could help the world avoid dangerous climate change.  One proposal is use the natural gas pipeline network to carry hydrogen, although there are many unanswered engineering questions that must be answered before that becomes a reality.

A new report suggests that solar-plus-storage is already competitive with open cycle gas turbines and could soon be more financially attractive than combined-cycle gas turbines in some markets.  The U.S. energy storage industry had just broken records in the 2nd quarter, but in the 3rd quarter it beat that period’s performance by 240%, according to the “Energy Storage Monitor” from Wood Mackenzie and the Energy Storage Association.  At the Virginia Mercury, Sarah Volgelsong has an in-depth analysis of the role of storage, including pumped hydro, in Virginia’s clean energy future.

The cost of battery cells used for electric vehicles (EVs) has fallen to an average of $110 per kilowatt hour, making EVs competitive with cars using internal combustion engines.  The debunked report casting doubt on the green credentials of EVs was actually written by the companies that commissioned it.  Newly constructed single-family homes and townhouses with garages in Boise, Idaho will be required to have high-voltage circuits to accommodate EV charging.  Carmakers have sold more than 500,000 EVs in Europe during 2020, a milestone in the automotive industry’s move away from fossil fuels.  Volvo Trucks North America’s plant in Pulaski County, VA, will manufacture its new battery-powered class 8 VNR Electric truck model.


Just in time for the holidays, Yale Climate Connection’s Michael Svoboda presented twelve books, both fiction and nonfiction, that address climate change, reassess the challenges, offer hope and guidance for action, and envision very different, climate-changed futures.  In his column in The New Yorker this week, Bill McKibben spotlighted “The U.S. Climate Fair Share” by which we would contribute financially to the greenhouse gas reductions of developing countries because of our large contribution to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  The European Court of Human Rights has told the governments of 33 industrialized countries to promptly respond to a climate lawsuit lodged by six youth campaigners, giving it priority status because of the “importance and urgency of the issues raised.”  People worried about the climate crisis are deciding not to have children because of fears that their offspring would have to struggle through a climate apocalypse.

Closing Thought

EcoTok, a collective of 17 U.S.-based TikTok influencers, stays away from partisan drama and embraces environmental action.

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.