Last year, the EPA repealed the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy aimed at reducing carbon pollution from power plants.
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By Jessica Corbett
Despite mounting pressure on the party to craft a 2020 platform that includes ambitious climate policies, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez on Monday announced a drafting committee that, in the words of journalist Emily Atkin, "snubs progressive climate activists again."
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By Johnny Wood
What does COVID-19 mean for the energy transition? While lockdowns have caused a temporary fall in CO2 emissions, the pandemic risks derailing recent progress in addressing the world's energy challenges.
Unprecedented Change<p>The past decade has seen rapid transformations as countries move towards clean energy generation, supply and consumption. Coal-fired power plants have been retired, as reliance on natural gas and emissions-free renewable energy sources increases. Incremental gains have been made from carbon pricing initiatives.</p><p>Since 2015, 94 of 115 countries have improved their combined score on the Energy Translation Index (ETI), which analyzes each country's readiness to adopt clean energy using three criteria: energy access and security; environmental sustainability; and economic development and growth.<br><br>But the degree of change and the timetable for reaching net-zero emissions differ greatly between countries, and taken as a whole, today's advances are insufficient to meet the climate targets set by the Paris Agreement.</p>
The 10 Countries Most Prepared for the Energy Transition<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI3OTU4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDQ0NjQ4MX0.SumXaqZnlWq6pBIoqAggmvg9LDqI_Vqn984i3YL1yhU/img.png?width=980" id="53351" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0d6767a8b912d7699fb087ecff33ce3f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Sweden is the nation most ready to transition to sustainable energy. WEF Fostering Effective Energy Transition 2020 edition
Powerful Shocks<p>Outside the top 10, progress has been modest in Germany. Ranked 20th, the country has committed to phasing out coal-fired power plants and moving industrial output to cleaner fuels such as hydrogen, but making energy services affordable remains a struggle.</p><p>China, ranked 78th, has made strong advances in controlling CO2 emissions by switching to electric vehicles and investing heavily in solar and wind energy - it currently has the world's largest solar PV and onshore wind capacity. Alongside China, countries including Argentina, India and Italy have shown consistent strong improvements every year. Gains over time have also been recorded by Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Kenya and Oman, among others.</p><p>But high energy-consuming countries including the US, Canada and Brazil show little, if any, progress towards an energy transition.</p><p>In the US (ranked 32nd), moves to establish a more sustainable energy sector have been hampered by policy decisions. Neighboring Canada grapples with the conflicting demands of a growing economy and the need to decarbonize the energy sector.</p><p>The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a reminder of the impact of external shocks on the global economy. As climate change increases the likelihood of weather extremes such as floods, droughts and violent storms, the need for more sustainable energy practices is intensified.</p>
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The states that do the most to discourage climate action and encourage dirty energy are the states whose residents are suffering the most from climate impacts, a Mother Jones and Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.
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By Jeremy Deaton
The coronavirus is a case study in the limits of federalism. Where the federal government has declined to gather and distribute masks, gloves and ventilators, states and cities have been forced to compete for medical supplies, paying exorbitant prices to secure needed equipment. Where the federal government has been slow to ramp up testing, states and cities are struggling to conduct tests at the scale required to reopen business.
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While the nation struggles to find ways to put money in peoples' pockets and to ramp up the economy so people can get back to work, over $43 billion in low-interest loans earmarked for clean energy projects sits undistributed by the Trump administration, according to The New York Times.
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The birthplace of coal power is changing its ways. For the first time since the industrial revolution, the United Kingdom will generate more electricity from clean energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear power rather than from fossil fuel plants, the country's National Grid said Friday, as the BBC reported.
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Former coal lobbyist and Trump-appointed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a rule Wednesday that officially replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a new regulation that Wheeler said could lead to the opening of more coal plants, the Associated Press reported.
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Changing your stove from gas to clean electric power is not only better for the environment, but much better for your health. nikamata / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Changing your stove from gas to clean electric power is not only better for the environment, but much better for your health, according to a new study that found gas stoves add pollution that makes indoor air up to two to five times dirtier than outdoor air.
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By Steve Horn
The huge bipartisan energy bill currently stalled in the Senate would fast-track exports of fracked gas, offer over a billion dollars in subsidies to "clean coal" efforts and make available hundreds of millions in tax dollars for a geoengineering pilot project.
Bipartisan Uptake, Industry Praise<p>The legislation has thus far received bipartisan support because it contains subsidies for renewable energy sources including <a href="https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/whats-in-the-senate-energy-bill-for-clean-energy-smart-grid-and-energy-storage" target="_blank">wind, solar</a>, and geothermal. It also creates federal financial incentives for creating energy-efficient buildings and boosts funding for energy storage. For that, it has garnered lobbying support from the likes of the <a href="https://acore.org/acore-statement-on-the-american-energy-innovation-act/" target="_blank">American Council on Renewable Energy</a>, the <a href="https://www.nature.org/en-us/newsroom/statement-supporting-senate-energy-bill/" target="_blank">Nature Conservancy</a>, and the <a href="https://www.edf.org/media/bipartisan-senate-innovation-package-takes-useful-steps-towards-smart-climate-policy" target="_blank">Environmental Defense Fund</a>.</p><p>Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for support of the bill during March 2 remarks on the Senate floor.</p>
Dirty Details<p>Outside of the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage clauses, the energy bill contains provisions aiming to ease the way for exports of so-called<a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/09/07/trump-small-scale-lng-exports-without-environmental-review" target="_blank"> "small scale" LNG export terminals</a>, which rely on slightly smaller tankers and keep the <span style="background-color: initial;">LNG</span> in liquid form instead of re-gasifying it.</p><p>The Senate bill also offers over $367.8 million in federal funding through 2024 to test out a geoengineering pilot project for a technique called <a href="http://www.geoengineeringmonitor.org/2018/05/direct-air-capture/" target="_blank">direct air capture</a>, which involves vacuuming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Geoengineering is a proposal to use various technologies with goals of either removing greenhouse gases already emitted or reversing global warming. </p>
Bakken Petrochemical Hub<p>Senators have also introduced <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2657/amendments?searchResultViewType=expanded&KWICView=false&pageSize=250" target="_blank">220 different amendments</a> to the bill, which include the one calling for a phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons from cooling and refrigeration devices. Three of the amendments, if passed, would greatly expand drilling in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.</p><p>Two of them received an introduction by U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who <a href="http://v/" target="_blank">served as an energy policy aide</a> for President <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/donald-trump" target="_blank">Donald Trump</a>'s 2016 presidential campaign. One of these amendments, <a href="https://www.kirkland.com/publications/kirkland-alert/2020/03/senate-energy-legislation" target="_blank">successfully inserted</a> into the bill, calls for the U.S. Department of Energy to do a "Bakken and Three Forks Natural Gas Liquids Report" to study the potential for a petrochemical storage hub in the Bakken. The other, titled "Bakken Energy for National Security," calls for the Energy Department to do a similar study with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Treasury Department to "assess … the potential national and economic security impacts of building ethane and other natural-gas-liquids-related petrochemical infrastructure in the geographical vicinity of the Bakken."</p>
Energy.Senate.Gov<p>The third amendment, introduced by <span style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> Sen. John Hoeven (R-<span style="background-color: initial;">ND</span>), calls for expedited permitting for drilling on <span style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> public lands located within the Bakken. The provision is known as the Bureau of Land Management (<span style="background-color: initial;">BLM</span>) Spacing Act.</p>
Congress.gov<p>The North Dakota Pipeline Authority is <a href="https://news.prairiepublic.org/post/study-bakken-and-three-forks-natural-gas-liquids-approved" target="_blank">currently teaming up</a> with the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center to study the potential for a petrochemical hub in the region, as well. That study is set for release on May 1, the publication Prairie Public Broadcasting reported.</p><p>"The petrochemical industry is the number one consumer of those natural gas liquids," Justin Kringstad, Executive Director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, <a href="https://news.prairiepublic.org/post/pipeline-authority-director-wants-study-chemical-make-natural-gas-liquids-over-time" target="_blank">told Prairie Public Broadcasting in October</a>. "As investors and companies look at North Dakota for opportunities, we need to have good, solid scientific data we can point to, and have a good understanding of this resource potential."</p><p>The oil and gas industry sees the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/fracking-plastics" target="_blank">growth of plastics manufacturing</a>, as well as <a href="https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/rpt_1905_fracking-2019-web_2.pdf" target="_blank">exporting LNG and building gas power plants</a> in the U.S., as a profitable lifeline to continue fracking in places like the Bakken Shale and the Marcellus. For climate advocates, pointing to the threat of potent methane emissions from the supply chain, this presents a major problem. </p><p><span style="background-color: initial;">"</span>From petrochemical facilities to gas-fired power plants and liquefied natural gas export terminals, these new projects would commit America to another generation of dependence on fossil fuels," the advocacy group Food and Water Watch wrote in a <a href="https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/rpt_1905_fracking-2019-web_2.pdf" target="_blank">March 2019 report</a>. "These projects aren't just associated with health and safety risks: if even a fraction of them come to fruition, they will condemn the planet to a future of climate chaos."</p>
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By Rachael Meyer, Basten Gokkon
It had rained all morning across Jakarta on the first Tuesday in February. The rivers in the Indonesian capital quickly filled up, carrying all kinds of debris toward the Java Sea. In one of the city's largest waterways, a Dutch-made device was trapping some of the trash to prevent it from washing out into the ocean.
Competing Designs?<p>The river-cleaning project is part of The Ocean Cleanup's overall goal to reduce the amount of trash in the ocean. CEO Boyan Slat founded the organization in 2013 to create an open-ocean device that would remove all plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years. After many iterations and much media attention and criticism from scientists, a 160-meter (525-foot) test design <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/10/the-ocean-cleanup-successfully-collects-ocean-plastic-aims-to-scale-design/" target="_blank">collected and retained ocean plastic for the first time</a> in October last year.</p><p>Over the course of the project, many scientists encouraged the organization to focus its efforts on rivers, where they said a cleanup device would be more effective. TOC took heed in 2015, when it began developing the Interceptor.</p><p>The Interceptor is powered by solar panels atop its white exterior shell. Each device's unique number is painted on one of its long sleek sides, facing to the banks of the river. At water level, a long waste barrier protrudes upstream, allowing the force of the current to push trash toward the device's mouth. There, a conveyor belt lifts debris out of the water and deposits it onto a platform inside the device that shuttles trash to one of six dumpsters. Once the containers are full, a local team takes them to shore to be emptied.</p><p>The latest Interceptor design can extract 50,000 kilograms (110,000 pounds) of plastic per day — double that under "optimal conditions" — and can hold 50 cubic meters (1,770 cubic feet) of garbage, according to TOC's website. The prototype in Jakarta has about one-fourth to one-fifth that capacity, and holds the trash in small crates instead of dumpsters. As a result, it needs to be maintained and emptied more frequently.</p>
Getting the Public Involved in Trash<p>For both organizations, finding a solution to river pollution goes beyond the cleanup devices.</p><p>"They're providing an opportunity to educate the public and inspire people to become part of the solution," Kellett said of the three devices his company deployed in Baltimore, which have spurred countless local environmental activities and educational programs.</p><p>According to Worp, several school groups have visited the Interceptor prototype in Jakarta. Community engagement is important to The Ocean Cleanup because it ultimately relies on local organizations to operate and maintain the devices.</p><p>Some scientists are skeptical about TOC's goal of targeting so many rivers in vastly different parts of the world. Andrew Gray, a hydrologist at the University of California, Riverside, studies small mountainous watersheds that expel a large amount of sediment to the ocean during strong storms. These storms can be destructive to any man-made device, he said.</p><p>"[These storms] that are probably discharging most of the plastics, are the kinds of events that you're not going to have a trash boom up because the hydrodynamics are far too aggressive," he said.</p><p>Gray also said the Interceptor would need to be incredibly versatile to accommodate a variety of river sizes.</p><p>Win Cowger, a graduate student in Gray's lab, pointed out the unpredictability of natural systems.</p><p>"Whenever you apply one solution — one device — to a broad range of ecosystems and a broad range of circumstances, it tends to have some implications that you might not have expected," he said.</p>
Rainy Days in Jakarta<p>Early this year, Jakarta experienced one of its worst flooding disasters in recent years. Torrential rain, with a record-breaking intensity, showered Greater Jakarta for almost 16 hours through New Year's Eve and into New Year's Day. Most of the city's rivers flooded their surroundings. The Interceptor was found damaged after its waste barrier broke loose.</p><p>The water volume in the Cengkareng drain increased significantly, but never overflowed its banks, according to Muhammad Khusen, the leader of a waste-collecting worker group in the subdistrict where the Interceptor is located. He said it was the river's strong current that damaged the device's waste barrier, but TOC engineers were able to repair it the following day.</p><p>When Mongabay visited the device a few weeks later, in February, the rains were constant, albeit less intense than at the start of the year. While the Interceptor was undamaged, waste had piled up on the barrier and clogged up the device's opening.</p><p>Workers were using long poles to try to break up the clog, which included a lot of large organic material like branches, bamboo and banana tree trunks, and feed the debris bit by bit into the Interceptor.</p><p>A team of three workers has been assigned to collect the trash and maintain the device every day, Khusen said. But on the day of Mongabay's visit, he had to call in reinforcements. As many as 10 workers were on hand throughout the afternoon to help clean up the collected debris after an earlier attempt failed to get much done. When the workers went home at 3 p.m., only about 20 percent of the trapped debris had been taken out.</p>
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By Oscar Schwartz
Microsoft drew widespread praise in January this year after Brad Smith, the company's president, announced their climate "moonshot."
While other corporate giants, such as Amazon and Walmart, were pledging to go carbon neutral, Microsoft vowed to go carbon negative by 2030, meaning they would be removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they produced.
Protecting forests<p>To begin, Microsoft will focus on protecting forests and planting trees to capture carbon. This strategy has long been used to offset emissions, but Microsoft is hoping to improve their outcomes by <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/02/success-of-microsofts-moonshot-climate-pledge-hinges-on-forest-conservation/" target="_blank">using</a> remote-sensing technology to accurately estimate the carbon storage potential of forests to ensure no major deforestation is occurring in their allotments. To achieve these goals, Microsoft will be partnering with Pachama, a Silicon Valley startup that will survey 60,000 hectares of rainforest in the Amazon, plus an additional 20,000 hectares across north-eastern states of the US for the company.</p><p>According to Kesley Perlman, a climate campaigner at the forest conservation NGO Fern, Microsoft's commitment to hi-tech reforestation is encouraging, but she stressed that conservation is a complex, multifaceted process that goes beyond technical issues. "It's not only about how much carbon a forest can hold but also who traditionally uses the forest, how they might be kept out, and how biodiversity will be prioritized," she said.</p>
Biomass energy carbon capture storage<p>Microsoft will initially focus on nature-based solutions to reduce their carbon footprint over the next five or so years. But in order to start drawing more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit by 2030, it will need to shift to technology-based solutions that can scale up and accelerate carbon removal.</p><p>To this end, Microsoft is betting on biomass energy carbon capture storage, otherwise known as BECCS, to transform how energy is generated. Instead of burning coal, a BECCS power plant burns biomass, like wood chips. The carbon produced when burning the biomass is captured before it is released into the atmosphere and then injected at a very high pressure into rock formations deep underground. Not only does this remove carbon from the natural cycle, the biomass absorbs CO2 as it grows.</p><p>A world powered by biofuel, however, raises two looming questions. First, scientists are not yet certain if biomass energy will be carbon neutral.</p><p>The second concern is that the transition from coal to biofuel would require setting aside vast tracts of arable land – some <a href="https://www.fern.org/fileadmin/uploads/fern/Documents/Fern%20BECCS%20briefing_0.pdf" target="_blank">estimates</a> say one to two times the size of India. According to climate campaigner Perlman this would mean that the energy industry would probably have to compete with food production in a world where 10 billion people will need to be fed, while vastly enlarging industrialized plantations and reducing biodiversity. "We would likely see massive land use change and massive private purchases of land, the knock on impacts of which could be quite dangerous," she said.</p>
Direct air capture<p>Perhaps the most futuristic of the technologies outlined in Microsoft's carbon negative plan is <a href="https://carbonengineering.com/our-technology/" target="_blank">direct </a><a href="https://carbonengineering.com/our-technology/" target="_blank">air </a><a href="https://carbonengineering.com/our-technology/" target="_blank">capture</a> (DAC). This involves machines that essentially function like highly efficient artificial trees, drawing existing carbon out of the air and transforming it into non-harmful carbon-based solids or gasses.</p><p>While the image of air-conditioner-like machines sucking carbon out of the air is captivating, capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere <a href="https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/6/14/17445622/direct-air-capture-air-to-fuels-carbon-dioxide-engineering" target="_blank">requires</a> a lot of energy and is very expensive. In 2011, extracting carbon from the air cost $600 a ton of CO2. In 2018, estimates <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611369/maybe-we-can-afford-to-suck-cosub2sub-out-of-the-sky-after-all/" target="_blank">brought</a> this down to anywhere between $94 to $232 a ton. But given that Microsoft expects to emit 16m metric tons of carbon this year, if they were to reach carbon zero using only DAC, their bill might cost as much as $3.5bn.</p><p>According to Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft, a large part of the reason why carbon removal remains so expensive is because the markets around these technologies are still immature. The company's strategy over the coming decades is maturing these markets through intensive and directed investment. "We're making a bet on certain technologies that don't exist at the scale or price point we need them to," he said. "But if we want to get them, we need to start investing."<span></span></p><p>The company, he said, already has a model for raising funds internally to support climate innovation. In July 2012, Microsoft became one of the first companies to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/microsoft-internal-carbon-fee" target="_blank">institute</a> an internal carbon price, charging different divisions in the business $15 a metric ton of carbon emitted. The funds raised were then used to pay for sustainability improvements, which helped the company achieve their goal of going carbon neutral.</p><p>Previously, this carbon price only extended over emissions Microsoft was directly responsible for. According to their new plan, in July this year Microsoft will extend this internal carbon price over emissions produced across direct and indirect emissions. The increased revenue raised from the expanded internal carbon tax, along with a $1bn climate innovation fund, will be used to invest in capture and removal technology. "What we're going to do is put this money in the market in a way that is highly additional," Joppa said. "This is how we're going to get nature-based solutions and tech solutions at a price point and scale we need."</p><p>Microsoft's plan for intensive investment in this industry is exciting for those working in the field. Klaus Lackner, a theoretical physicist working on DAC, has been arguing since the 1990s that carbon removal is the only feasible way to stop significant temperature rises. "We've shown that this method is technologically feasible, but nobody has wanted them," he said. "Microsoft have said 'we get it.' It will cost them money, but it will allow the technologies to come online and for the next company to follow their footsteps."</p><p>While the technologies that Microsoft are betting on are still in their nascent stages, in the past few years there has been some encouraging progress in the negative emissions industry. Lackner and Arizona State University recently signed a deal with Silicon Kingdom, an Irish-based company, to manufacture his carbon-suck machines. The plan is to install them on wind and solar farms, and then sell the captured carbon to beverage companies to make carbonated drinks. In the UK, Drax power plant, which was once among Europe's most polluting, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/feb/27/drax-power-plant-to-stop-burning-coal-with-loss-of-230-jobs" target="_blank">transitioned from coal to biofuel</a> this year.</p><p>But many attempts at scaling carbon negative projects have also failed. The Kemper Project in Mississippi, which was billed as America's flagship carbon capture project, was <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/02/clean-coal-america-kemper-power-plant" target="_blank">abandoned</a> in 2017 – it was $5bn over budget, three years late and still not operational.</p>
Moral hazard<p>Given the not insignificant risk of failure, some <a href="http://smartstones.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Kevin-Anderson-2016.10.13-the-Trouble-with-Negative-Emissions-Science-2016.pdf" target="_blank">propose</a> that relying on nascent or future technology as a solution to the climate crisis represents a moral hazard – the promise of carbon removal functions as an incentive for governments and major polluters to not change their behavior now.</p><p>According to Chris Adams, a tech worker who organizes an <a href="http://climateaction.tech/" target="_blank">online community</a> of technology professionals agitating for climate action from within the industry, the fact that Microsoft is still partnering with big oil companies demonstrates the moral hazard in action. "They are protecting the fossil fuel industry from changing while the rest of the world will pay most from this gamble if it fails in the long term," he said.</p><p>Adams added that many of the encouraging ideas around carbon reduction in Microsoft's plan have come from internal organizing from concerned employees, but that this mostly goes unacknowledged in Microsoft's official vision. Emphasizing future technology while overlooking activism in the present, Adams said, represents a certain way of approaching problems that is typical of technology companies. "If you have spent the last 10 years amassing influence by approaching most problems with technology it's understandable you see all problems through this lens, particularly if you don't have to have conversations about power," he said.</p><p>When asked about this concern by the Guardian, Microsoft's Joppa responded that in the short term, the energy demands of a growing global population will probably still need a mix of renewable and traditional energy sources. By remaining in discourse with these industries, he said, Microsoft hopes to help them change and transition to a better model in the future. "It's extremely hard to lead if there's no one there to follow," he added.</p><p>As to whether the technology outlined in their plan will scale, he said there is inherent risk, but this is why they call it a "moonshot." "When it comes to our plan it's not like we've got it all figured out," he said. "We're just trying to do what the science says the whole world needs to do. There's really no other choice."</p>
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