China poised to take lead on climate after Trump’s move to undo policies

The New York Times reports: For years, the Obama administration prodded, cajoled and beseeched China to make commitments to limit the use of fossil fuels to try to slow the global effects of climate change.

President Obama and other American officials saw the pledges from both Beijing and Washington as crucial: China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the United States.

In the coming years, the opposite dynamic is poised to play out. President Trump’s signing of an executive order on Tuesday aimed at undoing many of the Obama administration’s climate change policies flips the roles of the two powers.

Now, it is far likelier that the world will see China pushing the United States to meet its commitments and try to live up to the letter and spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement, even if Mr. Trump has signaled he has no intention of doing so.

“They’ve set the direction they intend to go in the next five years,” Barbara Finamore, a senior lawyer and Asia director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York, said of China. “It’s clear they intend to double down on bringing down their reliance on coal and increasing their use of renewable energy.”

“China wants to take over the role of the U.S. as a climate leader, and they’ve baked it into their five-year plans,” she added, referring to the economic development blueprints drawn up by the Chinese government. [Continue reading…]

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Trump signs executive order unwinding Obama climate policies

The New York Times reports: President Trump, flanked by company executives and miners, signed a long-promised executive order on Tuesday to nullify President Barack Obama’s climate change efforts and revive the coal industry, effectively ceding American leadership in the international campaign to curb the dangerous heating of the planet.

Mr. Trump made clear that the United States had no intention of meeting the commitments that his predecessor had made to curb planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution, turning denials of climate change into national policy.

At a ceremony, Mr. Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to start the complex and lengthy legal process of withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms.

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?” Mr. Trump said to the miners. “You’re going back to work.” [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: While the action may give a reprieve to some coal-fired plants facing extinction, large utilities say they will continue long-term investments to generate more power from gas, wind and solar, which are being driven by economic as well as regulatory forces. The White House official said Monday that the order is part of the president’s promise to restore the coal sector, but the official acknowledged that merely repealing the regulations wouldn’t bring back jobs.

Cheap U.S. natural gas unlocked by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has prompted many companies to scrap older coal plants in favor of gas-fired plants, which require fewer workers to operate. Companies are also taking advantage of tax credits for renewable power to build out solar and wind farms, which are becoming more cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generation thanks to economies of scale and advances in technology.

Duke Energy Corp. says it plans to invest $11 billion in natural gas and renewable power generation over the next 10 years, as the company aims by 2026 to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 35% from 2005 levels.

That represents a long-term company strategy and isn’t likely to change, Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good said in a February interview. The utility’s power generating mix is now 34% coal and 28% natural gas, compared with 61% coal and 5% gas in 2005. By 2026, it estimates gas will be the dominant fuel, followed by coal, nuclear and renewable power.

“Because of the competitive price of natural gas and the declining price of renewables, continuing to drive carbon out makes sense for us,” said Ms. Good. “Administrations will change during the life of our business and our assets, and we’ll continue to move forward in a way that makes sense for our investors and our customers.”

Southern Co. plans to invest at least $1 billion a year over the next five years in new wind farms. It now uses natural gas to generate 47% of its power, with coal providing 31%, nuclear 15%, and hydropower, wind, solar and other renewable sources 7%.

“Going forward, we anticipate an increase in renewable generation capacity and declining utilization of coal,” said Terrell McCollum, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based utility.

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California upholds auto emissions standards, setting up face-off with Trump

The New York Times reports: California’s clean-air agency voted on Friday to push ahead with stricter emissions standards for cars and trucks, setting up a potential legal battle with the Trump administration over the state’s plan to reduce planet-warming gases.

The vote, by the California Air Resources Board, is the boldest indication yet of California’s plan to stand up to President Trump’s agenda. Leading politicians in the state, from the governor down to many mayors, have promised to lead the resistance to Mr. Trump’s policies.

Mr. Trump, backing industry over environmental concerns, said easing emissions rules would help stimulate auto manufacturing. He vowed last week to loosen the regulations. Automakers are aggressively pursuing those changes after years of supporting stricter standards.

But California can write its own standards because of a longstanding waiver granted under the Clean Air Act, giving the state — the country’s biggest auto market — major sway over the auto industry. Twelve other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C., follow California’s standards, a coalition that covers more than 130 million residents and more than a third of the vehicle market in the United States.

“All of the evidence — call it science, call it economics — shows that if anything, these standards should be even more aggressive,” said the board member Daniel Sperling, a transportation expert at the University of California, Davis. [Continue reading…]

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In the battle for the planet’s climate future, Australia’s Adani mine is the line in the sand

Bill McKibben writes: There is nowhere else on the planet right now where the dichotomy between two potential futures – one where we address the climate change crisis, one where we ignore this momentous threat and continue with business as usual – is playing out in such a dramatic and explosive way as Australia.

In the US, Donald Trump is decimating decades of hard-fought environmental and climate standards – it’s all 18th century all the time. But the ageing fossil fuel assets and recent “market failure” of the Australian electricity grid is pushing political leaders to all-out brawling, pitting conservative inaction against the demand for solution-focused action.

A recent wave of blackouts and near misses and the proposal of the biggest coalmine in the world – the Adani Carmichael mine in Queensland – has created tinder-dry conditions that only needed one spark to go up in flames.

The spark finally came recently, via Twitter, from renewable energy entrepreneur Elon Musk who offered to sell the batteries that would remove the last argument against renewable power.

It turned the deadlocked debate over how to fix Australia’s fossil fuel-ladenand often failing energy “market” into an open war between those backing the dying coal industry with those set on using the moment to transition to renewable energy. [Continue reading…]

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Almost 90% of new power in Europe from renewable sources in 2016

The Guardian reports: Renewable energy sources made up nearly nine-tenths of new power added to Europe’s electricity grids last year, in a sign of the continent’s rapid shift away from fossil fuels.

But industry leaders said they were worried about the lack of political support beyond 2020, when binding EU renewable energy targets end.

Of the 24.5GW of new capacity built across the EU in 2016, 21.1GW – or 86% – was from wind, solar, biomass and hydro, eclipsing the previous high-water mark of 79% in 2014.

For the first time windfarms accounted for more than half of the capacity installed, the data from trade body WindEurope showed. Wind power overtook coal to become the EU’s second largest form of power capacity after gas, though due to the technology’s intermittent nature, coal still meets more of the bloc’s electricity demand.

Germany installed the most new wind capacity in 2016, while France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland and Lithuania all set new records for windfarm installations. [Continue reading…]

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China is eager to fill the vacuum in climate change leadership that is being left by the U.S.

Larry Buhl writes: Earlier this month China halted more than 100 coal-fired power projects. Scrapping these projects, with combined installed capacity of more than 100 gigawatts, may have more to do with China’s current overcapacity in coal production than its commitment to mitigating climate change. Nevertheless, Chinese leaders are likely happy that the move is framing their nation as a green energy leader, according to experts in Chinese and environmental policy.

That’s because, they say, the Chinese government is now eager to fill the vacuum in climate change leadership that is being left by the U.S. And, they say, China is poised to eat America’s lunch in the renewable energy sector.

Saying that China is doing nothing on climate change has long been a right wing talking point used to stop U.S. regulations such as carbon taxes. While that may have been true a decade ago, it certainly isn’t true now.

Already, China is both the world’s leading producer of renewable energy technologies and its biggest consumer. [Continue reading…]

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China builds world’s biggest solar farm in journey to become green superpower

The Guardian reports: High on the Tibetan plateau, a giant poster of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, guards the entrance to one of the greatest monuments to Beijing’s quest to become a clean energy colossus.

To Xi’s right, on the road leading to what is reputedly the biggest solar farm on earth, a billboard greets visitors with the slogan: “Promote green development! Develop clean energy!”

Behind him, a sea of nearly 4m deep blue panels flows towards a spectacular horizon of snow-capped mountains – mile after mile of silicon cells tilting skywards from what was once a barren, wind-swept cattle ranch.

“It’s big! Yeah! Big!” Gu Bin, one of the engineers responsible for building the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in the western province of Qinghai, enthused with a heavy dose of understatement during a rare tour of the mega-project.

The remote, 27-square-kilometre solar farm tops an ever-expanding roll call of supersized symbols that underline China’s determination to transform itself from climate villain to green superpower.

Built at a cost of about 6bn yuan (£721.3m) and in almost constant expansion since construction began in 2013, Longyangxia now has the capacity to produce a massive 850MW of power – enough to supply up to 200,000 households – and stands on the front line of a global photovoltaic revolution being spearheaded by a country that is also the world’s greatest polluter. [Continue reading…]

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China aims to spend at least $360 billion on renewable energy by 2020

The New York Times reports: China intends to spend more than $360 billion through 2020 on renewable power sources like solar and wind, the government’s energy agency said on Thursday.

The country’s National Energy Administration laid out a plan to dominate one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, just at a time when the United States is set to take the opposite tack as Donald J. Trump, a climate-change doubter, prepares to assume the presidency.

The agency said in a statement that China would create more than 13 million jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2020, curb the growth of greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming and reduce the amount of soot that in recent days has blanketed Beijing and other Chinese cities in a noxious cloud of smog.

China surpassed the United States a decade ago as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, and now discharges about twice as much. For years, its oil and coal industries prospered under powerful political patrons and the growth-above-anything mantra of the ruling Communist Party.

The result was choking pollution and the growing recognition that China, many of whose biggest cities are on the coast, will be threatened by rising sea levels.

But even disregarding the threat of climate change, China’s announcement was a bold claim on leadership in the renewable energy industry, where Chinese companies, buoyed by a huge domestic market, are already among the world’s dominant players. Thanks in part to Chinese manufacturing, costs in the wind and solar industries are plummeting, making them increasingly competitive with power generation from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. [Continue reading…]

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Bill Gates and investors worth $170 billion are launching a fund to fight climate change through energy innovation

Quartz reports: Bill Gates is leading a more than $1 billion fund focused on fighting climate change by investing in clean energy innovation.

The Microsoft co-founder and his all-star line-up of fellow investors plan to announce tomorrow the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, which will begin making investments next year. The BEV fund, which has a 20-year duration, aims to invest in the commercialization of new technologies that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in areas including electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial processes, agriculture, and energy-system efficiency.

“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to,” says Gates, who is serving as chairman of BEV and anticipates being actively involved.

The directors of BEV include Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, former energy hedge fund manager John Arnold, and SAP cofounder Hasso Plattner. The combined net worth of the directors is nearly $170 billion, based on estimates of their individual wealth by Bloomberg and Forbes. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: President-elect Donald Trump said Sunday that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real and that he is “studying” whether the United States should withdraw from the global warming agreement struck in Paris a year ago.

In an interview with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, Trump said he’s “very open-minded” on whether climate change is underway but has serious concerns about how President Obama’s efforts to cut carbon emissions have undercut America’s global competitiveness.

“I’m still open-minded. Nobody really knows,” Trump said. “Look, I’m somebody that gets it, and nobody really knows. It’s not something that’s so hard and fast. I do know this: Other countries are eating our lunch.”[Continue reading…]

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Trump just proposed ending all federal clean energy development

Joe Romm writes: In the last week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to zero out all federal spending on clean energy research and development. And the plan he released would also zero out all other spending on anything to do with climate change, including the government’s entire climate science effort.

You may have missed this bombshell because team Trump did not spell out these cuts overtly. In a campaign where the media has “utterly failed to convey the policy stakes in the election,” as Vox’s Matt Yglesias explained recently, it appears only Bloomberg BNA bothered to follow up with the campaign to get at the truth of Trump’s radical proposal.

Polling guru Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com fame gives Trump a one in three chance of becoming president. So I agree with Yglesias that we ought to seriously look at the implications of Trump’s proposals  — especially since if Trump wins, he’s all but certain to have a GOP-controlled Congress to back him. [Continue reading…]

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The Sixth Extinction: Two-thirds of global wildlife population expected to be lost by the end of this decade

tufted-capuchin-monkey

Marco Lambertini, Director General,WWF International, writes [PDF]: The evidence has never been stronger and our understanding never been clearer. Not only are we able to track the exponential increase in human pressure over the last 60 years — the so-called “Great Acceleration” and the consequent degradation of natural systems, but we also now better understand the interdependencies of Earth’s life support systems and the limits that our planet can cope with.

Take biodiversity. The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex life systems that underpin it. Life supports life itself. We are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse. We completely depend on nature, for the quality of the air we breathe, water we drink, climate stability, the food and materials we use and the economy we rely on, and not least, for our health, inspiration and happiness.

For decades scientists have been warning that human actions are pushing life on our shared planet toward a sixth mass extinction. Evidence in this year’s Living Planet Report supports this. Wildlife populations have already shown a concerning decline, on average by 58 per cent since 1970 and are likely to reach 67 per cent by the end of the decade. [Continue reading…[PDF]]

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The extraordinary decoupling between economic growth and carbon pollution is happening

Quartz reports: Producing more stuff takes more energy. Using more energy means more pollution. That statement would once have seemed like common sense.

Because most of our energy has historically come from fossil fuels, rising economic growth has gone hand in hand with higher carbon emissions. But in 2014, something extraordinary happened. Globally, carbon emissions decoupled from GDP growth.

According to the International Energy Agency, energy-related CO2 emissions were flat that year, despite an increase of around 3% in global GDP. “This is the first time in at least 40 years that a halt or reduction in emissions has not been tied to an economic crisis,” the IEA said at the time. [Continue reading…]

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The price of solar is declining to unprecedented lows

Scientific American reports: The installed price of solar energy has declined significantly in recent years as policy and market forces have driven more and more solar installations.

Now, the latest data show that the continued decrease in solar prices is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, with total installed prices dropping by 5 percent for rooftop residential systems, and 12 percent for larger utility-scale solar farms. With solar already achieving record-low prices, the cost decline observed in 2015 indicates that the coming years will likely see utility-scale solar become cost competitive with conventional forms of electricity generation.

A full analysis of the ongoing decline in solar prices can be found in two separate Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Reports: Tracking the Sun IX focuses on installed pricing trends in the distributed rooftop solar market while Utility-Scale Solar 2015 focuses on large-scale solar farms that sell bulk power to the grid.

Put together, the reports show that all categories of solar have seen significantly declining costs since 2010. Furthermore, larger solar installations consistently beat out their smaller counterparts when it comes to the installed cost per rated Watt of solar generating capacity (or $/WDC). [Continue reading…]

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Study finds biofuels worse for climate than gasoline

Climate Central reports: Years of number crunching that had seemed to corroborate the climate benefits of American biofuels were starkly challenged in a science journal on Thursday, with a team of scientists using a new approach to conclude that the climate would be better off without them.

Based largely on comparisons of tailpipe pollution and crop growth linked to biofuels, University of Michigan Energy Institute scientists estimated that powering an American vehicle with ethanol made from corn would have caused more carbon pollution than using gasoline during the eight years studied.

Most gasoline sold in the U.S. contains some ethanol, and the findings, published in Climatic Change, were controversial. They rejected years of work by other scientists who have relied on a more traditional approach to judging climate impacts from bioenergy — an approach called life-cycle analysis. [Continue reading…]

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Why has offshore wind technology been so slow to catch on in the United States?

Madeleine Thomas writes: The first offshore wind farm in the country, a $300 million project more than seven years in the making, will open this fall off the coast of Rhode Island.

Deepwater Wind, an offshore wind developer, is spearheading the five-turbine farm near Block Island, less than 20 miles south off the mainland. The facility will power most of the island, cut local electric rates by 40 percent, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40,000 tons a year. The wind farm — — the first of its kind in United States waters — — could power as many as 17,000 homes.

“I look at Block Island as sort of the key to unlocking the code of how to do offshore wind in the U.S.,” Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski told the Associated Press.

There may be merit to Grybowski’s claim, but, overall, offshore wind in the U.S. is slow-going. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has already approved 11 commercial wind leases throughout the Atlantic, but as the Associated Press reports, projects off the coasts of Cape Cod (which actually would have been the first in the country, if successful) and Long Island both stalled due to legal hurdles or delayed state votes. In Europe, offshore wind is a thriving industry, with more than 3,000 wind turbines installed across 11 countries. [Continue reading…]

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Nuclear power is losing money at an astonishing rate

Joe Romm writes: Half of existing nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. The New York Times and others have tried to blame renewable energy for this, but the admittedly astounding price drops of renewables aren’t the primary cause of the industry’s woes — cheap fracked gas is.

The point of blaming renewables, which currently receive significant government subsidies, is apparently to argue that existing nukes deserve some sort of additional subsidy to keep running — beyond the staggering $100+ billion in subsidies the nuclear industry has received over the decades. But a major reason solar and wind energy receive federal subsidies — which are being phased out over the next few years — is because they are emerging technologies whose prices are still rapidly coming down the learning curve, whereas nuclear is an incumbent technology with a negative learning curve.

The renewable red herring aside, existing nukes can make a reasonable case for a modest subsidy on the basis of climate change — though only because they are often replaced by carbon-spewing gas plants. That said, the “$7.6 billion bailout” New York state just decided to give its nuclear plants appears to be way too large, as we’ll see. [Continue reading…]

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