Plus: When we make easy things hard.
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NOV 3, 2021

Good day!

Are you in Glasgow, Scotland, for the United Nations climate conference (COP26)? Send me a photo somehow related to energy to feature next week! Email:

I’m interviewing Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on all things climate change tomorrow for an event hosted by the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. You can register here for the 5:30pm Central Time event and watch the livestream here.

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Developments from COP26
  • Financial System Makes Big Promises on Climate Change at COP26 Summit The Wall Street Journal
  • With Leaders Gone, Focus Turns to Money at Climate Summit The New York Times
  • U.S. backs new effort to issue green bonds -Treasury chief Yellen Reuters
  • China Says It Won’t Abandon Climate Goals By Moving Back to Coal Bloomberg News
Climate talks reveal big progress, but it’s not coming fast enough
When gauging progress, it's important not just to look ahead to where you need to go but also to look back to see where you've been.

Comparing expectations today to 2015, when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed, the progress transitioning to cleaner energy has been remarkable.

Yet looking forward from the United Nations climate conference underway now in Glasgow, Scotland, the progress we need to make is even more remarkable.

Given that climate change is a cumulative problem, meaning it gets worse the longer we wait to address it, those two seemingly contradictory statements can, in fact, be simultaneously true.

Indeed, the world is in the beginning of a massive shift in our energy supply. But the path we’re currently on will still fail to achieve the goals of the Paris deal, according to a new report by DNV, a risk management consulting firm based in Norway.

Under the 2015 voluntary accord, virtually all nations agreed to cut their emissions and strive to reach a goal of limiting Earth’s temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius over the next century compared to pre-industrial levels.

Despite success that the world has had since 2015, it still risks failure on a time scale only trees can holistically judge. Therefore, humans—living far shorter lives than our forested counterparts—should keep up ambition and action indefinitely, as tiring as that may sound.

This conference is perhaps the most important conference looking backward, but it probably won’t be looking forward.

"There is not a point where everything is lost," said Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg in an interview with the BBC this week. "We can always prevent things from getting worse. It is never too late to do as much as we can."
A snapshot of the past six years:

Nearly 90% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions are now covered by targets aiming for net-zero emissions in the next 50 years, thanks to announcements this week from India and Nigeria.

Net-zero goals were almost unheard of in 2015 when the Paris deal was inked. In recent years, such commitments have at least doubled.

The global pipeline of proposed coal plants has collapsed by 76% over the last six years, according to a September report by E3G, an environmental think tank. China pledged to stop funding overseas coal plants a week later.

Once-obscure debates about sustainable aviation fuel, green steel and more have been catapulted into everyday conversations across companies, politicians and the media.

Such conversations are leading to concrete action, like the news earlier this week that the U.S. and European Union have hatched a plan to support trade of steel and aluminum made in cleaner ways with new technologies.

"If you had said all these different things were going to be possible--not in the late 2020’s but that this would all be happening in the year 2021, right after a global pandemic--the mood as the dust was settling on the Paris Agreement in 2015 would have been ecstatic," said David Livingston, senior adviser to John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate, on a recent podcast. "Folks would have said, ‘That’s much more progress than we would have thought possible.'"

But these milestones still fall far short of what we need going forward to effectively combat climate change.

Global greenhouse gas emissions continue their march upward, only knocked temporarily down by the pandemic.

Net-zero goals risk becoming meaningless if everyone is making them and no one is passing laws to make them reality.

The fact that one lawmaker is holding up big climate policy in the United States is a stark reminder that most countries have complicated domestic dynamics that make aggressive climate laws difficult.

Leaders of the world’s largest and wealthiest economies agreed to cut funding for coal plants in poorer nations, but they resisted putting an end to coal use in their own countries.

The mass commercialization of new technologies cleaning up sectors like aviation and steel faces the unparalleled challenge of attracting customers with no tangible benefit other than cleanliness. After all, flights must still be safe and steel still strong.

It’s for these reasons and more that DNV predicts global energy-related carbon emissions will be 45% less in 2050 than in 2019. That’s a far cry from a net-zero future most world leaders are now calling for, but it’s still a striking change from today.

See the chart below for more about the report.

Just like no one in Paris six years ago knew what today in Glasgow would hold, this forecast isn’t reality—yet.

The report includes the following quote from economist Rudiger Dornbusch, whose relevance transcends economics.

"In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could."

How our energy mix is set to change over the next 30 years
Source: DNV. Units are exajoules per year. Bioenergy includes wood, charcoal, waste, biogases and biofuels.
The world’s energy mix will be transformed over the next 30 years, but current laws and pledges still would result in a global temperature rise of 2.3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, according to the DNV report.

That would far exceed the Paris ambitions and enters territory scientists have warned could be catastrophic for humans and nature.

The report considers commitments to the Paris deal, current laws and pledges to reach net-zero emissions. It then compares those positions to track records of successful implementation in the past to determine likelihood of future follow-through, according to Mats Rinaldo, senior principal researcher at DNV.

Progress toward reductions vary significantly around the world, though the story remains largely the same: reductions aren’t coming fast enough.
Amy’s Lunchtime Reads and Hot Takes
Maine renewable-energy power line likely loses key public referendum Portland Press Herald
My take: An earlier version of this story quoted a voter saying the 150-mile hydropower transmission line from Canada wasn't perfect but is needed to meet clean-energy goals. Yes, that! We all know net-zero goals are hard. Approving this should have been easy. But our society makes easy things hard, too. When we make easy things hard, hard things become impossible.

‘Nothing else here’: Why it’s so hard for world to quit coal
My take: This is a powerful story about coal miners working in places like India whose jobs in the industry are often the difference between life and death. This isn't an argument to keep coal around, but it's a reminder of the need for a transition that includes people like this.

Life at 50C: Surviving in Kuwait’s ‘unbearable’ heatBBC News
My take: I can almost feel the heat watching this video. For our Fahrenheit friends, 50 degrees Celsius is 122 degrees. This is just one of the many deadly ways climate change manifests itself.

European Investment Bank to end all loans to oil and gas firmsThe Guardian
My take: The bank won’t finance clean-energy projects of fossil-fuel companies that "continue to operate or invest in activities that are not aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement." Critics called this a loophole the bank is rightly closing, though it raises the question of whether the enemy here should be fossil-fuel companies—or just fossil fuels (a subtle but important distinction).

How Russia Is Cashing In on Climate ChangeThe New York Times
My take: The irony is too much. Global warming is melting the Arctic ice and paving a way for what this article calls the "Arctic version of the Suez Canal." Although Russia, like most of us, will also face devastating impacts from a warming world, these outlier benefits will indeed occur and could last for decades (a blip on the climate scale).

More of what I'm reading:
  • South Africa has one of the most coal-intensive economies in the world. Can it change? The Washington Post
  • Steep cuts to Carbon Emissions Gain Stronger Economic Backing – The Wall Street Journal
  • Could the US lead the world in floating offshore wind? – Canary Media
Sailing into the wind
Amateur photographer Stuart Ramsay, who lives in Scotland, took this photo on the outskirts of Glasgow, where the U.N. climate talks are underway. Scotland gets the majority of its electricity from wind energy, mostly onshore turbines but also offshore.
Each week, I 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
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