Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US court strikes down Trump’s pro-coal power sector rules
- Chamber of Commerce says it is open to carbon pricing, in change of climate stance
- Business secretary admits ‘tension’ between UK’s climate commitments and plans for coal mine
- Climate change: Global spending on energy transition hits record $500bn
- The US should lead the world on climate change
- The impacts of REDD+ on the social-ecological resilience of community forests
As president-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, there is a flurry of coverage of attempts by the Trump administration to rush through last-minute roadblocks to action on climate change. The Financial Times reports that federal judges “tossed out” one of Donald Trump’s “signature efforts to roll back environmental regulations” just one day before he steps down, “giving the incoming Biden administration a clean slate to reinvent the policy”. The affordable clean energy rule was meant to prop up the coal sector, by requiring coal-fired power plants to become more efficient and potentially making them run longer, the newspaper explains. The court concluded that the position of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was “based on a ‘tortured’ reading of the law that misread well-understood conventions of grammar”, the piece adds. The New York Times reports that the case marked the end of a “dismal string of failures in which courts threw out one deregulation after another”, adding that experts have described the EPA’s “losing streak as one of the worst legal records of the agency in modern history”. The Wall Street Journal says that the development could make it easier for Biden to fulfil his campaign promise of decarbonising the power sector by 2035, noting that he can now do so “without first trying to repeal or overhaul a set of rules put in place by conservatives”.
However, there is optimism from the outgoing administration that some of Trump’s innovations will have staying power, with interior secretary David Bernhardt telling Bloomberg in an interview that he expects both political and legal constraints to get in the way of Biden’s pledges to block new oil and gas permitting on federal land. The website adds that this follows efforts during Bernhardt’s tenure to open up more public lands for energy development. “You can write a lot of executive orders, but an executive order doesn’t get you past go,” he tells Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, the Hill reports that on its final full day in office the Trump administration finalised lease sales to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, at a speed critics say is “absolutely unprecedented” after sales that took place less than two weeks ago. Separately, according to Bloomberg, in another “last-minute move” the administration granted three oil refineries exemptions from biofuel-blending requirements, adding pressure on the Biden White House to show “how it will proceed in the fight for share of US gasoline tanks”.
Many publications are also covering preparations for the significant shift on climate that a Biden presidency marks. The Washington Examiner reports that the Chamber of Commerce, a business group, has announced that it is open to a carbon tax, a “significant shift” in its strategy “as it moves to get ahead of aggressive action favoured by the incoming Biden administration”. According to Bloomberg, the important lobbying group has updated its position statement to say it supports “durable climate policy” made by Congress, including “a market-based approach to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions reductions across the US economy”. It also supports federal regulations to directly limit oil and gas methane emissions, the website adds. Reuters notes that prior to this the organisation has “long been an opponent of policies to put a price on carbon or mandate emission reduction cuts”.
Separately, the Washington Post reports that after four years of trade clashes and “unpredictable foreign policy”, Biden’s plan to cancel Keystone pipeline had brought frustration among Canadian officials and signals “the return of more familiar bilateral irritants”.
There is also speculation around Biden’s plans to rejoin the Paris Agreement as soon as he becomes president, with the Press Association noting that this raises “hopes of renewed momentum on tackling global warming”. Bloomberg has a “quick take” looking at what the agreement is and the significance of US re-entry, stating that the new president is expected to “ultimately develop a more stringent carbon-cutting pledge for the US, as the nation seeks to restore trust with other signatories after the Trump-led exodus from the pact”. A piece by Guardian US environment reporter Oliver Milman reports that Biden’s “aggressive opening salvo to help address the climate crisis” is also set to include “various executive orders to resurrect a host of pollution rules either knocked down or weakened by the Trump administration”. The New York Times has a piece on the “nerve centre” for climate in the Biden White House, stating that it will see its “largest team of climate change experts ever assembled” by a US administration. The piece includes some of the expected executive orders in the coming days, including one “aimed at re-establishing scientific integrity in federal decision-making”.
Speaking at a parliamentary committee hearing, new UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng admitted that there was “a slight tension” between the government’s net-zero climate commitments and its decision not to block plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria. Kwarteng made the distinction between coal used for power generation and coal used to produce steel, but also acknowledged that curbing coal use in both would be necessary to meet the government’s climate goals, according to the news website. The development comes after it emerged that government had decided not to overrule the decision made by by Cumbria County Council, preferring it to be made at a local level, BBC News reports. DeSmog UK says that lawyers acting on behalf of environmental campaigners have written to housing secretary Robert Jenrick arguing the coal mine would “blow a hole” in the UK’s expected sixth carbon budget and a decision on the project should be made at the national level. The Independent also has an analysis piece by climate correspondent Daisy Dunne looking at how “decisions made at the regional level will become increasingly important” on the UK’s path to net-zero emissions. The BBC News article notes that during the same committee hearing Alok Sharma, who is leading the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, was asked by the Commons business select committee whether the mine approval was “an embarrassment” and replied: “I take your point”. Sharma also told MPs that the imminent Biden presidency is “good news” for tackling climate change, according to the Press Association. Reuters focuses on a statement from UK prime minister Boris Johnson highlighting “our fight against COVID and across climate change” as an area of future collaboration with the new US president.
Separately, the Independent reports that the government is facing criticism for including “big polluters over green voices” in its “Build Back Better Council”, which has been established to “fuel Covid-19 economic recovery and future growth plans”. There are 30 industry representatives on the council from the likes of BP, Heathrow and Jaguar Land Rover, but no green business leaders, the piece notes. This comes “despite repeated warnings from experts that a green recovery from coronavirus will be needed to tackle the world’s worsening environmental crises”. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Shell has pulled out of a joint venture to build a flagship sustainable jet fuels plant in the UK “in a blow to Boris Johnson’s claims that Britain could deliver the world’s first zero-emission long-haul flight”.
Last year the world spent a record $501.3bn on renewable power, electric vehicles and other technologies to cut dependence on fossil fuels, Bloomberg reports. Despite disruptions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, the developments marked a 9% increase in spending compared to 2019, with a particularly large increase in Europe, the news website notes. The piece adds that one of the biggest drivers of new energy transition in 2020 was clean transportation, with European nations spending $64.7bn on electric transport, overtaking Asia for the first time.
A separate piece in the Guardian reports that global sales of electric cars accelerated in 2020, rising by 43% to more than 3m as overall car sales dropped by a fifth. The article notes that the trend comes as many governments set end dates for the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars. Another Guardian piece reports that, according to the boss of carmaker Stellantis, the future of Vauxhall’s UK car production will depend on government support after the “brutal” decision to bring forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030.
As Joe Biden prepares to take on the US presidency, the world’s press is beginning to look at the role his nation should play in tackling climate change without a climate sceptic at the helm. An editorial in Bloomberg says that Biden is right to prioritise climate change, stating that “the turmoil in the country’s politics can’t be allowed to sideline prompt, bold action to confront the existential threat of global warming”. The article welcomes his appointees to key positions and the “whole-of-government approach” he has been championing in his plans for addressing these issues. It also calls for specific policies including strengthened incentives for clean power production, new standards for energy efficiency and help for businesses and households to replace appliances and systems that waste energy and pollute. The piece adds that addressing climate change also requires new thinking in “countless other areas of policy”: “For instance, many questions should be seen afresh through the lens of environmental justice — to ensure that communities that have suffered most from pollution get redress, especially in the form of affordable clean energy and good-paying jobs. Climate resilience ought to be another focus.” It concludes by acknowledging that this is an agenda of “intimidating breadth…but it can’t be shirked any longer”.
A opinion piece in the Guardian by former UK prime minister Gordon Brown also touches on the need for the new president to focus on climate change. “Given the intertwined triple threats of the pandemic, economic collapse and climate catastrophe, his presidency will be defined not by the previous benchmarks of 100 days, but rather by its first 10 or 20 days,” Brown writes. He also says that as Biden rejoins the Paris Agreement, he should also announce a plan to attend the upcoming COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. “The transition to a net-zero carbon economy is the greatest international endeavour of our times, and the US and Europe must now lead,” he says. A Times editorial ahead of Biden’s inauguration highlights climate change, alongside China, as one of the “most pressing challenges facing western democracies”. It also notes that these two issues are linked as “securing [Biden’s] goal of a new global climate agreement will entail a more co-operative relationship with Beijing”.
Efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) has a mixed impact on forest communities, new research finds. By reviewing 59 case studies from 14 countries, the authors find that REDD+ policies increase “network ties”, connectivity across scales, and participation in decision-making. However, they also find that “through restrictions on local forest practices, rigidity in rules, and communities’ natural capital being locked into carbon contracts, REDD+ has limited communities’ ability to manage for uncertainty”. The authors conclude: “Reconciling REDD+ goals with the need for forest communities to retain adaptive capacity will be a challenge moving forward.”
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