Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that Japan will become country carbon neutral by 2050, Bloomberg reported.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a rule change on Friday that will allow some coal power plants to ignore a court order to clean up coal ash ponds, which leech toxic materials into soil and groundwater. The rule change will allow some coal ash ponds to stay open for years while others that have no barrier to protect surrounding areas are allowed to stay open indefinitely, according to the AP.
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A three judge panel in the Court of Appeals in Washington, DC listened to arguments Thursday on a Trump administration rollback of regulations that limit the emissions that power plants are allowed to spew into the atmosphere, as The New York Times reported.
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By Hao Tan, Elizabeth Thurbon, John Mathews, Sung-Young Kim
China's President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by 2060. Prior to this announcement, the prospect of becoming "carbon neutral" barely rated a mention in China's national policies.
Goodbye, Fossil Fuels<p>Coal is currently used to generate <a href="https://ieefa.org/coals-share-of-china-electricity-generation-dropped-below-60-in-2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">about 60%</a> of China's electricity. Coal must be phased out for China to meet its climate target, unless technologies such as carbon-capture and storage become commercially viable.</p><p>Natural gas is <a href="https://chineseclimatepolicy.energypolicy.columbia.edu/en/natural-gas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasingly used</a> in China for heating and transport, as an alternative to coal and petrol. To achieve carbon neutrality, China must dramatically reduce its gas use.</p><p>Electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles must also come to dominate road transport - currently they account for <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2020-01/08/c_1125433202.htm" target="_blank">less than 2%</a> of the total fleet.</p><p>China must also slash the production of carbon-intensive steel, cement and chemicals, unless they can be powered by renewable electricity or zero-emissions hydrogen. One <a href="https://www.energy-transitions.org/publications/china-2050-a-fully-developed-rich-zero-carbon-economy/" target="_blank">report</a> suggests meeting the target will mean most of China's steel is produced using recycled steel, in a process powered by renewable electricity.</p><p><a href="https://www.energy-transitions.org/publications/china-2050-a-fully-developed-rich-zero-carbon-economy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Modeling</a> in that report suggests China's use of iron ore – and the coking coal required to process it into steel – will decrease by 75%. The implications for Australia's mining industry would be huge; around <a href="https://minerals.org.au/minerals/ironore" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">80%</a> of our iron ore is exported to China.</p><p>It is critically important for Australian industries and policymakers to assess the seriousness of China's pledge and the likelihood it will be delivered. Investment plans for large mining projects should then be reconsidered accordingly.</p><p><span></span>Conversely, China's path towards a carbon neutral economy may open up new export opportunities for Australia, such as "green" hydrogen.</p>
A Renewables Revolution<p>Solar and wind currently account for <a href="https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html" target="_blank">10% of China's total power generation</a>. For China to meet the net-zero goal, renewable energy generation would have to ramp up dramatically. This is needed for two reasons: to replace the lost coal-fired power capacity, and to provide the larger electricity needs of transport and heavy industry.</p><p>Two factors are likely to reduce energy demand in China in coming years. First, energy efficiency in the building, transport and manufacturing sectors is likely to improve. Second, the economy is moving <a href="https://apjjf.org/2018/10/Tan.html" target="_blank">away</a> from energy- and pollution-intensive production, towards an economy based on services and digital technologies.</p><p>It's in China's interests to take greater action on climate change. Developing renewable energy helps China build new "green" export industries, secure its energy supplies and improve air and water quality.</p>
The Global Picture<p>It's worth considering what factors may have motivated China's announcement, beyond the desire to do good for the climate.</p><p>In recent years, China has been viewed with increasing hostility on the world stage, especially by Western nations. Some <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/09/23/asia-pacific/china-carbon-neutral-2060/" target="_blank">commentators</a> have suggested China's climate pledge is a bid to improve its global image.</p><p>The pledge also gives China the high ground over a major antagonist, the US, which under President Donald Trump has walked away from its international obligations on climate action. China's pledge follows similar ones by the European Union, New Zealand, California and others. It sets an example for other developing nations to follow, and puts pressure on Australia to do the same.</p><p>The European Union has also been <a href="https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/europe-urges-china-to-match-its-climate-ambitions/" target="_blank">urging China</a> to take stronger climate action. The fact Xi made the net-zero pledge at a United Nations meeting suggests it was largely targeted at an international, rather than Chinese, audience.</p><p>However, the international community will judge China's pledge on how quickly it can implement specific, measurable short- and mid-term targets for net-zero emissions, and whether it has the policies in place to ensure the goal is delivered by 2060.</p><p>Much is resting on China's next <a href="https://chinadialogue.net/en/climate/11434-the-14th-five-year-plan-what-ideas-are-on-the-table/" target="_blank">Five Year Plan</a> – a policy blueprint created every five years to steer the economy towards various priorities. The latest plan, covering 2021–25, is being developed. It will be examined closely for measures such as phasing out coal and more ambitious targets for renewables.</p><p>Also key is whether the recent <a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-why-chinas-co2-emissions-grew-4-during-first-half-of-2019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rebound</a> of China's carbon emissions – following a fall from 2013 to 2016 – can be reversed.</p>
Wriggle Room<p>The 2060 commitment is bold, but China may look to leave itself wriggle room in several ways.</p><p>First, Xi declared in his speech that China will "aim to" achieve carbon neutrality, leaving open the option his nation may not meet the target.</p><p>Second, the Paris Agreement states that developed nations should provide financial <a href="https://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/convention/application/pdf/english_paris_agreement.pdf" target="_blank">resources and technological support</a> to help developing countries reduce their emissions. China may make its delivery of the pledge conditional on this support.</p><p>Third, China may seek to game the way carbon neutrality is measured – for example, by insisting it excludes carbon emissions "embodied" in imports and exports. This move is quite likely, given exports account for a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140988316302432" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">significant share</a> of China's total greenhouse gas emissions.</p><p>So for the time being, the world is holding its applause for China's commitment to carbon neutrality. Like every nation, China will be judged not on its climate promises, but on its delivery.</p>
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By Oliver Milman
Art Sullivan is considered something of a political heretic by other coal miners in south-western Pennsylvania, where a wave of support for Donald Trump based upon his flamboyant promises of a resurgence in coal helped propel the Republican to the U.S. presidency.
"Many of my coal miner friends voted for him," said Sullivan, who has spent 54 years as a coal miner and, more latterly, consultant to a struggling industry. "They were deceived. Trump had no plan, no concept of how to resurrect the coal industry. My friends were lied to."
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By Jo Harper
Only 10% of global energy utility companies are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas or coal-fired capacity. That is the main finding of a study by Galina Alova from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford.
The Matter of Gas<p>The report found that 10% of utilities favored growth in gas-fired power plants, dominated by the US utilities exploiting the country's shale gas reserves, followed by Russia and Germany.</p><p>"Renewables and natural gas often go hand in hand," Alova said, adding that companies often choose both in parallel. "So, it might be just in media reports we are getting this image of investing in renewables, but less coverage on continued investment in gas." </p><p>It might also be the case that gas is viewed as a transition fuel, relatively less carbon emitting and providing load-balancing services to intermittent renewables generation, Alova said.</p><p>Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst for independent climate think tank Ember, agrees with Alova that utilities have hindered the transition by "misunderstanding the future of gas." Utilities have a mindset to build big centralized power plants, replacing a coal power plant with a gas power plant, he said. "Fortunately, most of the gas hype across the world is now dying down, as wind and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/cheap-solar-energy-prices-explained/a-53590607" target="_blank">solar now provide cheaper options</a> for generating electricity," Jones said.</p>
Green Movement Taking Place<p>Over a fifth of Europe's energy was generated by solar panels and wind turbines in the first half of 2020, according to a report by Ember. Denmark came out on top, generating 64% of its energy from these renewable sources, followed by Ireland (49%) and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/renewables-make-up-over-half-of-germanys-power-mix/a-52986924" target="_blank">Germany</a> (42%).</p><p>In Ember's half-year review released in July, renewables exceeded fossil fuel generation for the first time ever, producing 40% of the EU's power, with fossil fuels contributing 34%. However, globally only a tenth of all energy was generated by these sources during the first half of 2020. </p><p>Last year saw the use of coal to generate electricity around the world fall by a record 3%. In part due to COVID-19, coal generation in the first half of 2020 again broke records with a drop of 8.3%. In the EU, the drop was higher, as coal energy generation fell by nearly a third.</p>
Slowly Getting There?<p>Utilities have been slow to understand how quickly wind and solar would drop in price, and also how quickly governments would want to move away from coal. "Many utilities have been caught off guard by the speed of the transition, and have suffered financially ever since," said Jones.</p><p>The world this year has generated one-tenth of its electricity from wind and solar, double from the 5% in 2015, and that increase has led to a fall in market share of coal generation, Jones added. </p><p>Valentina Kretzschmar from consultancy Wood Mackenzie says BP's recently announced strategy has created a new industry benchmark. BP plans to increase investment in its low-emission businesses, including renewable energy, by tenfold in the next decade to $5 billion (€4.5 billion) a year, while cutting back oil and gas production by 40%.</p><p>In July, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands, while France's Total has agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain. Shell has said it will <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mexico-sells-rights-to-19-offshore-oil-fields-for-over-500-million/a-42393559" target="_blank">delay offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico</a> and in the North Sea.</p><p>US giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, however, have been slower than their European counterparts to commit to climate goals.</p><p>"I have seen a substantial shift between companies in the fossil fuel clusters toward renewables," Alova said. "This signals that the companies that have been growing fossil fuel portfolios in the earlier time periods might be switching to renewables more recently."</p>
The Trump administration announced that it would roll back a rule from 2015 that was put in place to limit the amount of toxic chemicals that are in the wastewater of coal plants, according to The Washington Post.
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The Huntley coal plant in Tonawanda, New York, was once the area's biggest polluter. But it was also the town's biggest taxpayer.
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The Bundestag and Bundesrat — Germany's lower and upper houses of parliament — passed legislation on Friday that would phase out coal use in the country in less than two decades as part of a road map to reduce carbon emissions.
Preparing for the Future<p>Coal-producing regions in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg will have access to €40 billion ($45 billion) to help absorb the impact. Those funds are also expected to go towards restructuring regional economies, re-skilling workers and expanding local infrastructure.</p><p>Financial compensation is also be available to coal plant operators who face losses as a result of the early phaseout. However, compensation is contingent on operators announcing plans by 2026 to shutter plants and cease other emissions-intensive activity.</p><p>Michael Vassiliadis, who heads the IG BCE trade union, called the measures a "historic landmark." He said the package has provided a safety net for workers affected by the phase out and would provide them with the necessary support to transition to future sectors.</p>
'Historic Error'<p>However, not everyone agrees that the measures are enough to mitigate climate change.</p><p>Environmentalist activists say the legislation falls short of its ultimate aim, with Greenpeace managing director Martin Kaiser describing it as a "historic error."</p><p>German Green party chief Annalena Baerbock said the legislation was "oblivious to the future" and instead called on the government to complete Germany's coal phase out by 2030 the latest.</p><p>Earlier this year, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germans-most-worried-about-refugees-climate-change/a-51947417" target="_blank">a DeutschlandTrend survey</a> found that 27 percent of Germans believe climate change is the most pressing issue facing the country, just slightly behind refugees and immigration policy.</p><p>Germany is seeking to establish a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. The European Commission has also pushed forward with similar plans for the EU.</p>
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Human activity has pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide to higher levels today than they have been at any other point in the last 23-million-years, potentially posing unprecedented disruptions in ecosystems across the planet, new research suggests.
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Around 500 climate activists on Saturday gathered outside the new Datteln 4 coal power plant in Germany's Ruhr region, to protest against its opening.
Climate Activists Speak Out<p>Speaking at the protest, German Fridays for Futures climate activist Luisa Neubauer said: "It's a post-factual power plant. The facts speak for themselves." She said it was a "provocation," to mark the planned coal phaseout with a new coal power plant.</p><p>"We're going to stop this power plant, we're going to bring it to a standstill, we will win this conflict," Neubauer added.</p><p>Former miners also attended the protest. "We condemn the fact that coal mining in Germany was halted and jobs were lost, only for coal now to be imported from other countries to power Datteln 4," said Sebastian Suszka, a former workers' council member.</p><p>Greta Thunberg, founder of climate activist movement Fridays for Futures tweeted that Saturday was "a shameful day for Europe.</p>
Germany's Coal Phaseout<p>Earlier this year, Germany announced a roadmap to see coal phased out, at the latest by 2038. It laid out plans for eight coal-fired power plants to be taken off the grid in 2020.</p><p>It was an important step for the largest contributor of carbon emissions in the EU — accounting for more than 22 percent of the bloc's CO2 emissions. Over a third of the electricity generated in Germany comes from burning coal.</p><p>Germany's coal commission has recommended that solutions be found for coal plants that are already built but not-yet-in-use to keep them from operating.<br></p><p>The state of North-Rhine Westphalia insisted that the additional carbon dioxide emissions from the new plant would be compensated by the closure of four other power plants.</p>
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