The POW Dispatch: Our Take on Climate News, December 11, 2020
WORDS & FEATURED IMAGE: DONNY O’NEILL
Welcome to The Dispatch, Protect Our Winters’ weekly wrap-up of climate news, complete with our take on each topic and how that impacts our ongoing efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.
This Saturday, December 12, is the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement, signed way back in 2015. While the United States officially backed out of the Paris Agreement last month, President-Elect Joe Biden has repeatedly stated his intention to rejoin immediately upon taking office. Paris may be a broad subject, but, in reality, each of the various steps made to reduce carbon emissions—removing fossil fuel production from public lands, pivoting to renewables, switching to electric transit and putting a price tag on carbon—are all major contributors to the goals laid out in Paris five years ago. As such, much of the news in this week’s Dispatch ties back to making progress toward the ambitions of Paris. Remember, like ski touring toward a big objective, you’ve got to take it one step at a time to reach the summit.
The dirtiest fossil fuel is on the back foot
“Now the world’s capacity to generate electricity from coal, too, has begun to drop. It is a significant milestone in the fight against climate change. For the world to meet the ambitions it set itself at the Paris climate summit five years ago, that milestone needs to quickly vanish in the rear-view mirror: coal’s decline needs to be made both steep and terminal.”
Coal is on the decline and it makes perfect sense. During the COVID-19 pandemic alone, Britain shut down a third of its remaining coal-fired generating capacity, Spain halved its coal capacity and India, where coal dominates electricity production, retired 300 megawatts of its coal-fired power. Zero new coal plants were built. Overall, the world’s capacity to generate coal has declined, and it needs to drop off a cliff if we’re to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Coal produces about twice the amount of carbon dioxide than a natural gas plant per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, proving just how dirty it actually is.
The decline in coal is particularly prevalent in the western world, as government policy has been shaped to phase out coal, in large part due to the availability and support of renewable energy sources. Those policies have allowed renewable production to increase in scale, making it cheaper, too. This commitment to renewables leads to lessened investment in coal from banks, keenly aware of growing restrictions and the trend toward cleaner resources. However, Asia still has a long way to go in tossing coal to the curb. The continent is responsible for almost 80% of global coal consumption, with over half of that taking place in China, which also has coal investments in other Asian countries.
This makes the re-evaluation of targets associated with the Paris Agreement that much more crucial in the coming months. China President Xi Jinping declared in September that China’s 2030 climate target (NDC) would be strengthened to hit peak emissions prior to 2030, with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060. Making renewable alternatives more attractive to countries dependent on coal, and thus making them the norm, is a surefire way to crush coal fast, and therefore make progress toward the goals required by the Paris Agreement.
“The electric vehicle revolution is underway, led by the un-sexiest of plug-in models: the commercial truck.” – Joanne Mueller, Axios transportation correspondent
The transportation sector is the biggest culprit of global greenhouse gas emissions, spurring governments and corporations to hone in on electric alternatives. This summer, fifteen states as well as Washington D.C. announced new initiatives to require all new trucks, vans and buses in their particular states to be electrified by 2050.
In turn, momentum for electric commercial vehicles has grown tremendously with manufacturers such as Volvo, Freightliner, Tesla and Ford introducing new electric models that include delivery, beverage, garbage and long-haul semi-trucks. More electric truck start-ups have also emerged like Rivian, Arrival and Nikola. Lion Electric, a Canadian based electric vehicle company, has flown under the radar until now, but just announced plans to go public, giving it access to $500 million in new capital and a net worth of $1.9 billion. The company has deals in place for up to 2,500 electric trucks between now and 2025, with orders coming in from Amazon, Waste Connections, Canadian National Railway and more. Speaking of Amazon, with the uptick in e-commerce demand during the pandemic, the company’s carbon footprint has been increasing, leading to a new climate change strategy that includes the deployment of 100,000 electric delivery trucks by 2030.
The emergence and momentum of electric commercial vehicles is a positive sign of a growing electric infrastructure that can greatly assist in plummeting gas emissions now and in the future. If the commercial sector can lead the way in electrifying transit, it can spark similar momentum with passenger vehicles, leading to more affordable electric options moving forward.
While we all rely on vehicles to travel to and from ski areas, trailheads and local crags, doing so in a carbon-neutral fashion is an attainable solution to accessing the outdoor playgrounds we love while wiping out our carbon footprint and lessening total emissions, a surefire strategy to achieving the individual goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.
President-Elect, Joe Biden, and Vice President-Elect, Kamala Harris
Photo: Adam Schultz/Biden for President
“Climate change is poised to receive a much bigger spotlight in 2021 as President-elect Joe Biden‘s incoming administration puts a renewed focus on tackling various environmental and energy issues.” – Rachel Frazin, staff writer, The Hill
The article outlines what to watch for when it comes to environmental policy in 2021, focusing on emissions reductions, intertwining climate with diplomacy and public lands conservation, among additional strategies.
On the topic of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Biden has promised to sign executive orders upon taking office to get the United States back on the road to net-zero emissions by 2050. In addition, he’s expected to revive regulations for fuel economy standards rolled back under the current administration, require strict methane pollution limits for oil and gas producers and end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, helping to shift toward a clean energy economy. These projected actions all align with POW’s policy agenda for renewable energy, and it will be imperative to hold the incoming administration accountable for achieving these goals.
Global cooperation will be key in achieving the ambitions set by the Paris Agreement, and Biden has tapped former Secretary of State John Kerry to be the special climate envoy in his new administration, along with a pledge to rejoin the agreement on day one of his presidency. In his agenda for his first 100 days in office, Biden plans to meet with leaders of countries most responsible for global greenhouse emissions to discuss setting more ambitious goals, which will be key toward making progress on Paris.
Biden has vowed to ban new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters but hasn’t indicated plans to end existing permits on federal lands. Additionally, the President-elected intends to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling, a fight that’s heating up with the recent news that a lease sale will take place on January 6. Biden plans to conserve 30 percent of America’s lands by 2030; as of 2018, the country was conserving about 12 percent of its lands. The incoming administration is also looking for ways to increase renewable energy production on public lands and waters, especially doubling offshore wind production by 2030.
Protect Our Winters believes in greatly reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuel emissions from public lands. Eliminating fossil fuel extraction from public lands is crucial in moving toward carbon neutrality, as 20 percent of the country’s emissions come from public lands.
Shift to a Not-So-Frozen North Is Well Underway, Scientists Warn
The New York Times
POW Alliance member Hilaree Nelson skis in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo: Chris Figenshau / The North Face
“[The] Arctic region… continues along a path that is warmer, less frozen and biologically changed in ways that were scarcely imaginable even a generation ago.” – Rick Thoman, climate specialist at the University of Alaska
The annual scientific assessment of the Arctic, dubbed the Arctic Report Card, was released on Tuesday, and the findings suggest a new climate paradigm in which scientists interact with the northern reaches of the planet.
The minimum extent of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean was the second-lowest on record, and the trend continued on land, with the Greenland ice sheet and Alaska’s glaciers receding at above-average rates. In the Eurasian Arctic, snow cover reached a record low in June, and the dried conditions contributed to wildfires that raged through millions of acres of boreal forest in Siberia.
Since 2007, when the Arctic saw its largest decline in sea ice in history, a loss it’s been unable to recoup since the region known for ice and snow sees more open water and rain upon reveal. This new state has caused a decline in the age of sea ice, with ice less than four years old making up the majority of pack ice in the region. Thirty years ago, ice older than four years old comprised a third of the Arctic Ocean pack ice, and the current dominance of thinner, younger ice makes it difficult for the Arctic to recover its sea ice extent, as thinner ice sheets are less likely to make it through a whole season.
The health of the Arctic is an indicator of the health of the planet as a whole, as warming in the region has widespread effects globally, like rising sea levels, ocean ecosystem influence and a role in extreme weather. The Arctic acts as the refrigerator for the entire planet, helping to cool it down, but is currently warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The sweltering Arctic is a direct result of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the only way to stabilize a climate that’s in a severe funk is to work toward solutions that cap these emissions. At POW, we believe in four main pillars that can make progress toward that solution: A move to renewable energy, elimination of fossil fuel extraction from public lands, a shift to electrified transit and putting a price on carbon. Read more, here.
“The Paris agreement has proven to be inclusive and at scale, with the participation of countries representing 97% of global emissions, as well as that of non-state actors such as businesses, local government and financial institutions – and very resilient, precisely because it is inclusive. The Paris agreement is a powerful signal of hope in the face of the climate emergency.” – Remy Rioux, chief executive of the French Development Agency
Five years removed from the Paris agreement there is still massive work to be done to cut global emissions, such as greater reductions in the production of fossil fuels, preservation of large carbon sinks like forests and oceans and greater systemic changes, in order to even come close to the targets outlined in 2015. However, the huge strides the world has made in five years are still to be celebrated, as progress is an achievable goal over perfection. Renewable energy will make up near 90% of newly installed energy generation capacity in the world in 2020, oil prices have taken a nosedive this year with plans grounded and transportation limited and this has opened the door for an electric vehicle revolution. Most notably, there is more momentum than ever before to rally around the idea of going “carbon neutral” based on the goals of the Paris Agreement, although not stated explicitly within it.
The United Kingdom, European Union, Norway, Chile, China, Japan and South Korea have all announced net-zero emissions goals within the next half-century. And the United States, despite having officially left the Paris Agreement this year, is ushering in the presidency of Joe Biden, who has pledged to adopt a net-zero emissions target by 2050.
While the United States, a global leader, left the Paris Agreement, the departure didn’t deter other countries from making progress toward climate goals. With progress continually being made, it opens the door for an easy return to the Agreement by the United States, and one that simply makes sense.
CORE lands act left out of defense bill language
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
The San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, are an integral part of the protections offered by the CORE Act.
Photo: Donny O’Neill
“We are really proud of the great progress we made on the legislation this Congress … and believe that we can carry that forward and pass it early in the new year.” Jim Ramey, Colorado state director for The Wilderness Society
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy (CORE) Act is crucial step in reducing emissions from public lands in the state of Colorado. It would permanently withdraw 200,00 acres in the Thompson Divide area from future federal oil and gas leasing, set aside nearly 100,000 acres of land in the White River National Forest and 61,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains for wilderness and similar designations and create the first-ever National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale, famous training grounds of the 10th Mountain Division ski troops in World War II. In addition, the CORE Act also offers a methane waste prevention pilot program, helping to deal with existing emissions in the state on top of protecting lands from new leases.
POW has been a huge advocate of the CORE Act, as it would protect hundreds of thousands of acres of public land from being used for fossil fuel extraction and therefore carbon emissions, and safeguard awe-inspiring outdoor playgrounds for recreational use in the state of Colorado. The House attached the CORE Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order to give it one last opportunity to be be passed this year, however, it wasn’t included in the final NDAA which the House passed this week. Although the bill was not included in the NDAA , it’s last chance to be passed in the 116th Congress, we look forward to jumpstarting the conversation again at the beginning of the 117th Congress, and working toward protecting public lands in Colorado and beyond in 2021.