Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Stimulus deal includes raft of provisions to fight climate change
- A plan by eastern states to cap tailpipe emissions gets off to a slow start
- Japan to mull bolder emissions target, carbon pricing scheme next year – minister
- China's wind, solar power will not need state subsidies – top energy official
- Exclusive: Apple targets car production by 2024 and eyes next level battery technology – sources
- How Joe Biden can act boldly to address the climate crisis
- Climate warming prolongs the time interval between leaf‐out and flowering in temperate trees: Effects of chilling, forcing and photoperiod
- Echo chamber effects in the climate change blogosphere
In what the Washington Post describes as “one of the biggest victories for US climate action in a decade”, Congress has moved to phase out planet-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and provide billions of dollars for clean power as part of its $900bn coronavirus relief package. In a rare bipartisan move backed by leading Republicans, senators approved $35bn of new funding for renewable technology and energy efficiency, including tax credit extensions and research into wind, solar and carbon capture and storage (CCS), the newspaper notes. The legislation provides “a much-needed boost to federal energy programs that haven’t been updated since 2007,” it adds. It includes measures to cut the production and use of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years, which could save as much as half a degree C of warming by the end of the century, the article continues. It would also be in line with the international Kigali Amendment, which the US under Donald Trump has yet to ratify, it adds. (Carbon Brief has an explainer on HFCs.) The bill, which is expected to head to president Trump’s desk to be signed into law early this week, is effectively “the first significant climate change law since at least 2009” in the US, the New York Times reports. The newspaper describes the package as a “rare party rebuke” to Trump on global warming, “after he spent the past four years mocking and systematically rolling back every major climate change rule”. It says the successful passage of the bill so far is an indication that Democratic president-elect Joe Biden’s climate agenda may see some bipartisan support, although one of the sources quoted in the article is still hesitant to use the word “climate” when describing the legislation due to its associations with Biden’s agenda. “We didn’t want to give [Trump] any excuse to not sign it,” the source told the New York Times.
Reuters has more detail about the clean energy measures in the spending package, noting that the bill directs the Department of Interior to set a goal of producing at least 25 gigawatts (GW) of solar, wind and geothermal energy on public lands by 2025. Current capacity on public lands is closer to 5GW, it notes. The Hill reports that the bill also “seeks to further the availability of nuclear fuel” by supporting the availability of uranium that can be used in advanced reactors. The Financial Times highlights the extension of solar and wind tax credits by one and two years respectively as particularly important. “Both were due to expire at the end of this year and are seen by analysts as vital to underpinning investment in the sector,” it notes.
Separately, Reuters reports that in “a last-minute change”, the Trump administration has cut about 30% of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge territory that it intends to auction off for oil exploration. The piece notes that according to the government this move was in response to “comments from drilling opponents worried about the herd of caribou that uses the coastal plain, and drilling supporters who made suggestions about sites most likely to hold oil”.
A plan for a regional cap-and-trade programme covering road transport emissions in eastern US states has only seen Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington DC sign up, the New York Times reports. Last year, 11 states signed on to a draft version of the plan, which would set a cap to be lowered over time on the emissions released by fossil fuel-powered cars and trucks, the newspaper continues. However, on Monday only a handful committed to implementing the policy, with the remainder saying they would leave the possibility open for a future date, the article says. According to the newspaper, the initiative would see fuel companies buy emissions allowances from participating states, which “would then invest the proceeds into efforts to reduce emissions from transportation”. The plans backers say it would “increase gasoline prices by around 5 to 9 cents per gallon, while raising roughly $300m per year in revenue over the next decade for Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington DC”. Reuters reports that the plan has drawn “industry ire”, with gasoline-related trade groups writing a letter opposing the measures, seen by the news outlet, to a Massachusetts state official.
Japan will look at reducing emissions beyond its current target for 2030 and consider both a carbon tax and the creation of an emissions-trading system next year, according to an interview by Reuters with vice environment minister Tokutaro Nakai. In March the nation drew criticism for a lack of ambition after its updated climate plan submitted to the UN kept its original target of cutting emissions by 26% from 2013 levels, the news wire notes. It notes that since then, the Japanese government has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. A separate Reuters story reports that Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga said he wanted to meet with US president-elect Joe Biden “as soon as possible”, in part to discuss global warming. (Carbon Brief has previously published a climate and energy profile of Japan.)
A “top energy official” has said that future development of renewables in China will not need state subsidies thanks to sharply falling cost brought by technological advances, reports Reuters. Zhang Jianhua, director of China’s National Energy Administration, told reporters yesterday that “there is generally no need for the government to subsidise wind, solar and other new energies. They will primarily be driven by the market”. Zhang added: “The biggest issue is how to best utilise these new energies.“ Nikkei Asia says that wind and solar “lie at the heart of Beijing’s plan for energy security and self-sufficiency”. China currently relies on imports of liquefied natural gas from the US and coal from Australia, but is currently engaged in “growing diplomatic feuds with Canberra and Washington [that] could disrupt the flow of these fuels, the news website reports. It adds that China’s energy white paper – published yesterday – “committed to the creation of a national trading mechanism for carbon emissions, and utilities and other businesses will be encouraged to sign up”.
Apple is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include “its own breakthrough battery technology,” according to sources speaking to Reuters. The company’s car-making venture – dubbed “Project Titan” – has been in the works for several years but has “progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers”. Central to its strategy is “a new battery design that could ‘radically’ reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range,” a source told Reuters. The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of Reuters’ story notes that “better batteries continue to be seen as the main obstacle to electric cars becoming mainstream, accounting for most of the higher cost of grid-powered vehicles”.
A piece for the Washington Post by Democratic senator for Oregon Jeff Merkley reflects on the “record-setting fires” that struck Oregon in September as “just one example of the climate emergency”. He says president-elect Joe Biden is “absolutely right” to consider every tool available to him to tackle climate change “including declaring a national climate emergency and using emergency powers to take unilateral executive action”. He notes the difficulties Biden may face when attempting to get climate legislation through the Senate, even if Democrats win it by “a razor-thin margin”, and looks at options available for action. “The National Emergencies Act (NEA) and the Defense Production Act (DPA) give the president broad powers to act in the national interest during grave national emergencies. While president Barack Obama used the DPA to purchase green transportation fuels, neither of these acts has been fully used to address the climate emergency,” he writes. Merkley continues: “Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency under the NEA would…would unlock powers that allow our nation to take significant, concrete actions regardless of congressional gridlock”.
Separately, a piece in the Boston Globe by scientists and NGO representatives looks at how the “ocean’s heroic potential could be realised under Biden”. They write that the newly introduced Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act of 2020 provides a roadmap to “harness the power of the ocean to reduce carbon emissions, protect front-line communities, restore coastal and ocean ecosystems, and create new jobs in the ‘blue economy’”. The continue: “Congress should pass this bill, and the Biden administration should take inspiration from it to immediately use executive authorities to advance ocean climate solutions”.
New research finds that the warming climate is increasing the time between the “leaf-out” and “flowering” stages in plants. Researchers used records of four different tree species in Europe to explore the effects of “winter chilling”, “spring forcing”, and “photoperiod” on these two events between 1950-2013. They found that regardless whether flowering or leaf-out took place first, “the first event advanced more than the second”. This could alter species fitness and further affect ecosystem structure and function, the researchers say.
A new study investigates consumption patterns of climate change blogs and finds evidence of “echo chambers” among audiences. Using self-administered surveys, the researchers gathered information on the “climate change risk perception” of readers, along with whether they visit climate mainstream and/or sceptical blogs and how frequently. They find that, “consistent with expectations”, readers “with high risk perceptions primarily consume climate mainstream blogs and audience members with low risk perceptions primarily consume climate sceptical blogs”.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.