The Roundup is a little longer this week, due to an extra paragraph about the Climate Summit.
Politics and Policy
At his climate summit, President Joe Biden pledged to slash US greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% by the end of the decade, while urging world leaders to go big. He also promised to double US international climate finance by 2024 and triple funding for adaptation. The UK confirmed that it will slash emissions by 78% by 2035. The EU reached a provisional agreement to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. China will start phasing down coal use from 2026. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was on a path to net zero emissions but stopped short of setting a timeline. Canada’s goal is to exceed a 40% reduction by 2030, although probably less than a 45% reduction. Japan will cut its emissions by 46% from 2013 levels by 2030, up from its earlier goal of 26%. South Korean will end all new financing for overseas coal projects and soon set a more ambitious schedule for slashing carbon emissions. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted Russia’s net greenhouse gas emissions to be less than the EU’s over the next 30 years. Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro announced that his country would reach emissions neutrality by 2050. The New York Times provided video highlights of the first day’s speeches, The Hill presented five takeaways, and Inside Climate News offered summaries of both Thursday’s and Friday’s activities. A new report from Energy Innovation examined the policies required to meet Biden’s goals. If you need some perspective on all of this, you might look at Carbon Brief’s profile of the US, released to coincide with the summit.
European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans told a US congressional subcommittee that Europe will protect its industries against competition from countries with lax climate rules by setting a levy on high carbon imports, also known as a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced the beginning of a week-long campaign to promote the Republican “alternative” climate agenda, but, according to Nick Cunningham at DeSmog, “Rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions, all of the Republican bills aim to protect and expand gas drilling.” Republicans raised several lines of attack on Biden’s American Jobs Plan at a hearing of the US Senate Committee on Appropriations, as well as at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. They subsequently proposed a $568 billion, five-year counteroffer to Biden’s plan, focusing narrowly on traditional infrastructure projects and broadband access.
A hundred and one Nobel laureates called for governments to commit to a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels and a “transformational plan” to ensure everyone around the world has access to renewable energy. In a letter in Vogue to mark Earth Day, Greta Thunberg explained why world leaders must move beyond vague, hypothetical targets. She also urged the US House Oversight Environment Subcommittee to end tax breaks for fossil fuel producers, saying their existence was a “disgrace.” In The Sydney Morning Herald, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres wrote “Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5°C goal.” Nevertheless, data revealed that wealthy countries continue to pour money into fossil fuel projects in Africa and the Middle East. To make intact forests more economically valuable than they would be if the land were cleared for timber and agriculture, the UK, Norway, and the US are joining forces with some of the world’s biggest companies to raise more than $1 billion for countries that can show they are protecting tropical forests.
Most of us are not aware of all the people working on climate policy in the Biden administration, so Politico provided a summary. Coral Davenport had a profile of Climate Czar Gina McCarthy. Biden has picked Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer with decades of science and policy experience, to run NOAA and has tapped Tracy Stone-Manning, a senior adviser for the National Wildlife Federation, to lead the Bureau for Land Management. He also announced new heads of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Science Affairs. The US Treasury named climate change financial adviser John Morton to head the department’s new “climate hub.” The Biden administration is moving to end a legal battle with California over the state’s authority to regulate motor-vehicle emissions. Governors from a dozen states are asking Biden to ban the sale by 2035 of cars and light trucks that emit greenhouse gases.
A new study looked at the social cost of methane and found that it is higher than CO2. Leading environmental advocacy groups sent a letter to Biden calling for a 40% or more cut in methane emissions by 2030. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is a co-sponsor of legislation that would roll back the Trump methane rule by using the Congressional Review Act. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland revoked a series of Trump administration orders that promoted fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and issued a separate directive that prioritizes climate change in agency decisions. A group of US electricity companies wrote to Biden saying it will work with his administration and Congress to design a broad set of policies to reach a near-term goal of slashing the sector’s carbon emissions 80% by 2030. Most encouragement for development of wind and solar facilities is through incentives in the federal tax code, but some electric utilities don’t pay federal taxes and thus some other mechanism is needed to help them achieve net-zero emissions by 2035. Senate Democrats introduced legislation that would overhaul “overly complex” energy tax incentives to encourage clean energy development. On the subject of federal tax incentives, another question is whether they can help build the transmission lines needed to green the US grid? The US will join an international effort to achieve zero emissions by 2050 in the global shipping industry. Major banks and financial institutions announced two UN-backed coalitions aimed at advancing the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals.
Climate and Climate Science
There was a “relentless” intensification of the climate crisis in 2020, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. Climate change has several “tipping points”, but UK scientists said they can be “temporarily exceeded” without causing irreversible damage, provided swift action is taken. The effects of climate change can be expected to shave 11% to 14% off global economic output by 2050, according to a report from Swiss Re; that amounts to as much as $23 trillion in reduced annual global economic output.
In an essay at The Conversation, three climate scientists discussed the concept of “net-zero” CO2 emissions, writing: “We have arrived at the painful realization that the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier ‘burn now, pay later’ approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar.” In a piece entitled “The Science of Climate Change Explained: Facts, Evidence and Proof”, Julia Rosen provided definitive answers to the big questions at The New York Times. Groups tied to the fossil fuel industry are launching a preemptive attack on attribution scientists’ findings before they can be used in the courtroom.
Swirling and meandering ocean currents that help shape the world’s climate have gone through a “global-scale reorganization” over the past three decades. Typhoon Surigae’s rate of intensification was unprecedented for an April storm, with its wind speed leaping some 105 mph in just 36 hours, from Category 2 to Category 5. Sea meadows store more carbon per acre than forests, but little is known about them, including why they are shrinking; scientists are racing to understand why. Bottom trawling, a fishing practice where large nets are dragged along the sea floor, is exacerbating the climate crisis by resuspending carbon-rich sediments.
Two prominent climate scientists argued against the implementation of solar geoengineering in The Guardian, while at The Conversation, a biologist wrote that “there aren’t enough trees to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be.”
New research has found that lake heatwaves could become between three and 12 times longer by the end of this century and between 0.3°C and 1.7°C hotter, risking catastrophic damage to some lake ecosystems.
After a pandemic-year retreat, demand for coal is set to rise by 4.5% this year, mainly to meet soaring electricity demand. As a consequence, CO2 emissions are forecast to jump this year by the second biggest annual rise in history. Exxon announced in February it was establishing ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, a new business arm focusing on capturing CO2 emissions from various industries, and now it wants federal assistance to use the Houston Ship Channel as a pilot project.
Toyota debuted its bZ4X SUV, one of 15 fully electric cars the company plans to make by 2025. Volvo Trucks will launch three all-electric heavy-duty models for intercity transport and the construction industry by the second half of 2022, to be followed by vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells during the latter half of the decade. Arrival is creating highly automated “microfactories” where its electric delivery vans and buses will be assembled by multitasking robots, rather than on a traditional assembly line.
The World Bank has pointed to green hydrogen and ammonia as key fuels for decarbonizing maritime transport. Pacific Northwest industry and government officials are taking a closer look at hydrogen as an alternative for diesel fuel and gasoline. Southern California Gas Co. and H2U Technologies are partnering to conduct demonstration testing on a new form of electrolyzer meant to make green hydrogen production less costly.
Although it is a couple of weeks old, this article by a natural gas proponent is worth reading because he does a good job of evaluating the question of whether natural gas can be part of a low-carbon future. A major use of natural gas (methane) is for home heating, with the resulting CO2 emissions going directly to the atmosphere, creating a major challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions. Proponents of a proposed 55 MW natural gas “peaker” power plant argue that it will free them up to add more renewable energy to their portfolios; opponents aren’t so sure.
Recently I included an article about solid-state battery company QuantumScape. This week, Eric Wesoff addressed the question of whether they can live up to the hype about them. In the third article in Canary Media’s series on batteries, David Roberts explored the many varieties of lithium-ion batteries battling for a share in a trillion-dollar market. A new analysis from Wood Mackenzie suggests that the Americas are on track to leapfrog the Asia-Pacific region in terms of deployed energy storage by 2025, achieving more than half of global capacity by the end of the decade. Gravitricity is one of a handful of gravity-based energy storage companies attempting to improve on an old idea.
Reuters has a series of features dubbed “the hot list” profiling the world’s “most influential” climate scientists; it has been widely criticized on Twitter by climate scientists. The documentary, The Race to Save the World, makes the case for the urgency of climate action by burrowing deep into the lives of activists on the frontline who “… have no choice but to do whatever they can … .” teen Vogue examined some of the moments that made young people realize the climate crisis will define their lives. Experts say that religious leaders, who know how to relate to communities on an emotional level, may be best positioned to convince people to support climate activism. Andrew Couts, deputy editor of Gizmodo, says “It’s time to kill Earth Day.”
For Earth Day, Washington Post climate reporter Sarah Kaplan wrote poetically about humanity’s greatest ally in the fight against climate change, the Earth itself, and our need to protect its ecosystems.
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.