Today's climate and energy headlines:
- General Motors to stop making diesel and gas vehicles by 2035
- International climate summit in Glasgow could be postponed again due to Covid
- Republican bill seeks to block Biden's federal lands oil leasing halt
- End of plans for new nuclear power station
- Green homes grant: UK standards body calls on government to pay up
- Every country has its own climate risks. What’s yours?
- Ending zero-sum green energy politics is key. And it’s local
- Aerosol-cloud-climate cooling overestimated by ship-track data
General Motors (GM) has announced that it plans to end production of all diesel and gasoline powered cars, light trucks and SUVs by 2035, reports the Independent. The paper continues: “The company also aims to shift its entire fleet to electric vehicles by that date, as part of a plan to be carbon neutral by 2040. To achieve that goal, GM is aiming to use 100% renewable energy to power its US facilities by 2030 and its global areas by 2035.” GM chief executive Mary Barra said: “Our most significant carbon impact comes from tailpipe emissions of the vehicles that we sell – in our case, it’s 75%,” reports the Financial Times. She added: “That is why it is so important that we accelerate toward a future in which every vehicle we sell is a zero-emissions vehicle.” The company plans to offer 30 all-electric models by the mid-2020s, reports Axios, and says it’s investing $27bn over the next five years on electric and autonomous vehicle development. The Times says the task “will be a gargantuan one”, noting that “only about 20,000 of the 2.55m vehicles the company sold in its home market last year were electric”. The Hill notes that “medium- and heavy-duty vehicles would still use gas [petrol] under the current plan, but the company plans to look for ways to offset any emissions from those vehicles by 2040”. The New York Times describes the move as “a seismic shift by one of the world’s largest automakers that makes billions of dollars today from gas-guzzling pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles”. The paper adds: “The announcement could put pressure on automakers around the world to make similar commitments. It could also embolden President Biden and other elected officials to push for even more aggressive policies to fight climate change.” Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman says the news is “truly extraordinary”. He continues: “The GM news shows how real change is going to have to happen. It’s when market incentives push in the same direction as the current political environment, as excruciating as it may have been for both to get where they are.” MailOnline also has the story.
The upcoming United Nations annual climate summit, COP26, due to take place in Glasgow this November, could be postponed for the second time depending on the global levels of coronavirus, reports the Scotsman. It says: “Current travel restrictions in Scotland and the potential introduction of border controls to prevent the import of new Covid strains into the country could force organisers to cancel or downsize the event.” At the Scottish Government’s daily Covid briefing on Wednesday, national clinical director Prof Jason Leitch said that public health advice was at the heart of planning for the summit, the paper reports. Leitch said: “It’s a UK government-led process, but Scottish public health leaders are in those conversations and there are plans for everything, from cancellation to holding a full COP26 with everything in between, perhaps just the negotiators, perhaps just a virtual event…all of that will depend on where the UK is, but also where the rest of the world is [in terms of coronavirus cases], because in terms of travel it’s about where people are coming from.” Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was not within her “gift” to cancel COP26 as it was a United Nations summit, reports the paper. She added: “I very much hope COP26 can go ahead, but clearly we will all need to consider the position.”
Republican senators from oil-producing states introduced legislation yesterday that would block the Biden administration’s order pausing new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, reports Reuters. The bill, introduced by Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy and 24 other senators, would require congressional approval for any suspension of fossil-fuel leasing or permitting on public lands and waters, the newswire explains. In a statement, Cassidy said: “Federal lands and water don’t belong to President Biden; they belong to the people of the United States…This bill installs needed safeguards to ensure that no president can unilaterally pull the plug on American energy production and put thousands out of work the way this president is trying to do.” At the same time, the Hill reports that the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, yesterday “vowed to fight President Biden’s climate agenda that seeks to transition away from the oil and gas industry”. Speaking to industry leaders during a roundtable meeting, Abbott said he will “protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack launched from Washington, DC”. The outlet notes that suing the federal government over environmental legislation was “a tactic [Abbott] practiced extensively during the Obama administration”. Reuters also has the story. The Financial Times‘ “Energy Source” column looks at the implications of Biden’s federal leasing pause, noting that “behind the scenes there was a collective sigh of relief at an edict that was far less severe and far less extensive than many had feared”. It explains: “Despite the fanfare, what emerged yesterday was neither a ban on new drilling nor on new permits. Instead, the president mandated a ‘pause’ on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands ‘to the extent possible’ and a ‘rigorous review’ of how leasing and permitting is carried out going forward.” One analyst tells the paper that “I would say it’s a best-case scenario for the oil industry under a Biden administration…Leases are already plentiful – it’s the permitting that matters”. The New York Times “Debatable” newsletter makes a similar point, noting: “Even if the halt on new leases became permanent, Morgan Stanley expects that large, diversified companies could simply move their drilling elsewhere.” And Axios says that “onshore and offshore, the oil and gas industry is sitting on approximately 7,700 unused, approved permits to drill”. Lastly on US oil, DeSmog reports on how “US crude oil exports are hastening the demise of the oil industry”.
Meanwhile, E&E News looks at “five things in Biden’s Climate Day orders that flew under the radar”. These include taking “a step” towards US membership of the Kigali Amendment, which phases down a class of greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). (See Carbon Brief‘s explainer.) Inside Climate News notes that “since regulatory measures requiring a phase-down of HFCs recently passed Congress overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, the Kigali Amendment is expected to be ratified”. Among the other moves picked out by E&E News is an order that directs National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to study how the government can “expand and improve climate forecast capabilities and information products for the public”, and a move to end international financing of fossil fuel projects abroad while boosting sustainable development and green initiatives. Climate Home News also reports on this part of the plans, saying that the “order stated the secretary of state together with the treasury and energy secretaries would work with the US Export–Import Bank and the head of the Development Finance Corporation to achieve this”. Finally, the New York Times “On Politics” column summarises Biden’s executive orders on climate change, Bloomberg explains why the “Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is poised to play a pivotal role fulfilling Biden’s clean-energy ambitions”. The outlet also says that Biden’s order for the federal government to buy electric vehicles made in America with union labour faces a problem – “no such vehicles exist”.
The nuclear industry has expressed disappointment after developers behind a planned new multi-billion pound nuclear power station in Wales officially pulled the plug on the project, reports the Press Association. It continues: “Horizon Nuclear Power has withdrawn its application for a development consent order (DCO) at the Wylfa Newydd site on Anglesey in north Wales after Japanese backer Hitachi announced last September that it was pulling out of the scheme.” In a letter to the Planning Inspectorate, Horizon’s chief executive officer said: “In light of [Hitachi’s withdrawal] and in the absence of a new funding policy from HM Government, Hitachi Ltd has taken the decision to wind up Horizon as an active development entity by March 31 2021.“ Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Today’s announcement is disappointing news which underscores the clear need for a new financing model and clear pathway to progress nuclear projects,” the PA reports. Greatrex added: “We call on the UK government and Welsh government to work together as a matter of urgency to identify a way forward for zero carbon nuclear development on the site.”
In other nuclear news, Reuters reports that China has objected to an agreement among Czech political party leaders not to allow Chinese firms to take part in a tender to build a new nuclear power plant on national security grounds.
The industry standards body for renewable energy installers is calling on the UK government to immediately rectify the failure to pay businesses for work on the green homes grant, the Guardian reports. Following up on its reporting earlier this week, the paper says: “Ian Rippin, who leads the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), said he had since spoken to the government about the ‘numerous issues’ that have come to light relating to the flagship £2bn green homes grant.” Rippin said: “We welcomed the green homes grant, and remain committed to it, though we are firm in our demand that the ongoing issues around payments need rectifying immediately. As the standards organisation for domestic renewables, we fully understand the cost – in both time and money – of domestic renewable installations and feel the extreme frustration that the industry is experiencing at this time.” Meanwhile, one installer tells the paper that despite speaking every day to the grant call centre he had still not been paid for the work. He said: “They are ruining my business. I am technically insolvent now, and I have had to lay people off and shut one of my branches.”
In an interactive feature, New York Times writer and graphics editor Yaryna Serkez has produced a global map for climate risks, such as wildfires, heat stress and sea level rise. Readers can select their country to see the risks for their area. Serkez writes: “In the US for instance, roughly 80% of population, GDP and agriculture might be exposed to at least one climate hazard in the future. Worldwide, roughly 90% of the population will be exposed to one or more threats.” The article also illustrates “climate inequality”. Serkez explains: “Most people at greatest risk from climate change live in low- and mid-income regions…In densely populated lower-income countries close to the equator, with weak economies, inadequate roads and power supplies and other infrastructure deficiencies, climate risks could lead to food shortages, mass migrations and other social challenges.”
If “Biden can convince Americans that there are only winners, opposition to his green energy plan should shrivel”, writes Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin. “President Biden seems determined to sidestep zero-sum thinking when it comes to climate change,” she says. Citing examples of the Biden team’s “win-win messaging”, Rubin notes: “That’s the vision. But workers, policy mavens, unions and private sector leaders will need convincing.” This will require the administration “bringing its pitch down to the state and local level and giving concrete data to reassure workers about their future job prospects”. She notes: “The administration is facing millions of workers who remain fearful about their own place in the new economy. Meeting that genuine concern will take considerable effort.”
Also in the Washington Post, columnist Eugene Robinson writes: “The executive orders President Biden signed Wednesday will not, by themselves, solve the climate crisis…But we now have a better chance of avoiding worst-case environmental ruin, and we have a better chance of seeing the US economy thrive in the inevitable shift toward clean energy.” Biden’s vision is “that the next breakthroughs in solar, wind, batteries and other clean-energy technologies should be made in the US – and that the jobs that flow from those advances should go to US workers”, Robinson says. This idea “should be uncontroversial”, he says, “even for Republicans who spend more time trying to revitalise America’s industrial past than imagining its future”.
In other reaction to Biden’s moves on climate action, Reuters reporters Timothy Gardner and Jessica Resnick-Ault write that “Biden made quick work signing a slew of sweeping executive orders targeting climate change”, but “making these moves permanent and powerful enough to help his administration achieve its goal of a zero-emissions economy by 2050 will be tough, grinding work, requiring big battles with Congress and industry”. Writing in the Guardian, Nick Estes – a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico – says that “Biden scrapping the Keystone XL permit is a huge win for the Indigenous-led climate movement”. However, “there is also good reason to be wary of the Biden administration and its parallels with the Obama administration”, Estes warns: “Obama’s record is mixed. While opposing the northern leg of Keystone XL in 2015, Obama had already fast-tracked the construction of the pipeline’s southern leg in 2012, despite massive opposition from Indigenous and environmental groups.” And, finally, Washington Post factchecker Glenn Kessler says that John Kerry’s comments on potential wind and solar jobs in the US had a “misleading” framing because “according to the government statistics he relied on, the actual number of jobs is relatively small”.
Human emissions of aerosols is thought to have a significant effects on the reflectivity of stratocumulus cloud decks over the oceans. How big an effect this has on the climate has long been a matter of debate. A new paper in Science finds that estimates of the ship track–derived radiative effect of nonprecipitating stratocumulus to aerosols is overestimated by up to 200%. The offsetting warming effect of decreasing stratocumulus amount needs to be taken into account if scientists are to constrain the cloud-mediated radiative forcing of anthropogenic aerosols, the authors say.
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