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FEB 9, 2022

Hello! We have our second Voices contribution today, and thanks again to everyone expressing an interest in that. We’ll be in touch as soon as we can!

I joined Cheddar News on Tuesday to talk about the role oil companies play in our clean-energy transition. Check out the video here.


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Send your energy photos, ideas and more to news@ciphernews.com or me directly at amy@breakthroughenergy.org.

VOICES
Five ways to make net zero happen
BY: SAM FANKHAUSER

Fankhauser is professor of climate change economics and policy at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, and research director of Oxford Net Zero. You can reach him at sam.fankhauser@smithschool.ox.ac.uk.

Governments increasingly understand the urgency of climate change. Ahead of and during COP26, the 2021 Glasgow climate summit, many have committed to zero carbon emissions by mid-century.

In most countries, though, including leading ones like the United Kingdom, a sharp disconnect persists between net-zero pledges and the measures in place to meet them.

We have a wealth of information explaining what to do, thanks to organizations like the International Energy Agency and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Yet, we still haven’t done it.

A recent article I co-wrote proposes five strategic interventions that would accelerate the path to net zero. Here are the highlights.

Making polluters pay: Putting a price on carbon is a long-standing recommendation of climate policy. It makes polluters face the environmental cost of their actions. Yet the potential for carbon pricing is still largely untapped. Just over a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions are currently subject to a carbon price, either through a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.

Promoting zero-carbon investment: Zero-carbon solutions are capital intensive. Over their economic life, technologies like renewable energy and electric cars are increasingly competitive with conventional alternatives. However, they have higher upfront costs, counterbalanced by lower operating costs. This upfront capital needs to be provided at the same time as capital flows are redirected wholesale toward net zero.

Building zero-carbon skills: There is no evidence that a net-zero economy is detrimental to job numbers, but it will require different skills. Studies suggest that green jobs make more use of non-routine cognitive skills and require higher levels of formal education, work experience and training. Addressing emerging skill gaps proactively removes potential delivery bottlenecks, opens up new opportunities and ensures a smooth transition for workers.

Regulating carbon offsets: Most organizations expect to meet their net-zero targets in part through carbon offsets, and this is reviving concerns over the integrity and effectiveness of these schemes. Net zero adds further complications. Net-zero-aligned carbon offsetting requires carbon offsets to derive from carbon removals (e.g., through afforestation) rather than emissions avoidance (e.g., renewable energy projects). This increases complexity, as removal credits tend to be more difficult to measure, monitor and verify than carbon avoidance credits. Regulatory scrutiny must be scaled up if carbon offsets are to play their intended role.

Ramping up removals: Most modelled pathways to meet the Paris Climate Agreement involve a significant role for carbon removals, which might reach 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year in the second half of the century. The strategic importance that carbon removal plays in models is yet to be reflected in investment and policy decisions. Outside the realm of forest management, most removal technologies are still in their infancy. Carbon removal is a last resort, but it is a last resort for which we need to prepare.

It is encouraging to see the rise in net-zero commitments by governments, companies and other organizations. But these pledges now need to be implemented.
Amy’s Lunchtime Reads
and Hot Takes

Climate change: Top companies exaggerating their progress – studyBBC News
My take: Today’s Data Dive and our recent column on overpromising and underdelivering are unfortunately two more data points suggesting climate goals are a lot less than rhetoric suggests.

Projects to Capture Carbon Emissions Get New Boost Despite Dismal RecordThe Wall Street Journal (paywall)
My take: Key line: “Many face a fundamental problem: there is no economic use for the carbon they capture.” That’s why we need to reframe the whole conversation. Carbon is trash we need to handle.

Startup to Build Seaweed Plant to Fight Methane-Belching CowsBloomberg (paywall)
My take: It’s great to see innovation happening across the meat spectrum: from cleaning up beef to lab-grown meat to artificially created meat.

Apocalypse When? Global Warming’s Endless Scroll The New York Times
My take: I hear folks on climate anxiety, and that’s real. But you can counteract that. My inbox is filled with innovators and others racing to find solutions, and that’s the type of scrolling I do (except when I’m on Instagram, I scroll animal videos).

California urged to keep nuclear plant open to meet climate goalsReuters
My take: The response to this letter from scientists is a collective “meh.” It’s the real-world version of the public and politicians ignoring the warnings of a comet hitting the Earth in “Don’t Look Up.”

Microtransit Programs Promise On-Demand Transportation For All Bloomberg | Quint
My take: This appears to be Uber/Lyft except with hugely inefficient vehicles and free. Rural areas will probably need other climate-friendly transportation solutions.

Biden officials push to hold up $11.3 billion USPS truck contract, citing climate damageThe Washington Post
My take: It’s striking to see the difference with a government fleet (Postal Service) versus a private tech company’s fleet (Amazon).

Green bust or green flush: Figuring out the impact of the EU’s new investment rules POLITICO
My take: This is a good take on the actual impacts of the EU’s taxonomy for sustainable activities. It could be a lot more bark than bite.

Revealed: The 11 slides that finally convinced Boris Johnson about global warmingCarbon Brief
My take: Paging U.S. Republicans!

More of what I'm reading:
  • How Manchin used politics to protect his coal company — POLITICO
  • The Rise of Greenflation — The Atlantic
  • Bill Gates Invests in Carbon Capture Startup After Tech Breakthrough — Bloomberg (paywall)
  • China inks $8 bln nuclear power plant deal in Argentina — Reuters
DATA DIVE
Utilities’ climate goals have little impact on emissions
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 12% lower by 2050 if electric utility companies achieve their climate goals compared to a business as usual scenario, according to a new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Utilities have been at the forefront of a corporate-wide move in pledging new goals to slash carbon emissions. But many of these goals lack integrity, according to a new study by the NewClimate Institute.

Although 12% isn’t nothing, it’s also a far cry from zero emissions, which is where the entire U.S. economy needs to be by 2050 if the world is to meet goals in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

That limited emissions reduction reflects the fact that although corporate goals are important, more systemic change is needed, likely prodded by government policy.

Overall CO2 emissions from the energy sector would be just 3% lower by 2050 with these corporate goals achieved.

Such a small reduction reflects the fact that the electricity sector accounts for just a quarter of U.S. emissions.

A primary factor driving the 12% reduction in electricity emissions is utilities’ plans to keep operating nuclear power plants.

“This outcome occurs in part because our model identifies existing nuclear generation as being among the lowest-cost options for meeting clean energy or carbon-reduction goals. Existing nuclear plants typically have operation and maintenance costs that are less than the cost of building new low-carbon capacity.”
                                                                 
— U.S. Energy Information Administration

The reference case EIA is comparing the corporate goals against reflects current laws and regulations, including state-level mandates for renewable and zero-emitting electricity.

AND FINALLY...
Inside a wind turbine
Davin Feliciano, Portland General Electric senior wind turbine technician, snapped this photo inside a wind turbine tower at a wind farm in northern Oregon. This is the ladder technicians like Davin climb, which takes about three to four minutes to ascend.
Each week, we feature a photo that is somehow related to energy, the thing we all need but don’t notice until it’s expensive or gone. Email your ideas and photos to news@ciphernews.com.
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