“2050 is an extremely weak goal for the federal government to free itself from climate-heating pollution. It ignores existing technology and adds decades to GSA’s own commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2025.”
Progressive climate campaigners on Wednesday overwhelmingly called U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan for the federal government to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 an inadequate attempt to address the worsening climate emergency.
The White House said an executive order signed by Biden “demonstrates how the United States will leverage its scale and procurement power to lead by example in tackling the climate crisis,” and will “reduce emissions across federal operations, invest in American clean energy industries and manufacturing, and create clean, healthy, and resilient communities.”
Biden’s order aims for the federal government to run on carbon-free electricity by the end of the decade, a step toward realizing a 65% reduction in emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
To help achieve this, the government would end purchases of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, transition to a “net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, including a 50% emissions reduction by 2032,” as well as implement a “Buy Clean” policy “to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions.”
Mitch Jones, managing director of advocacy programs at Food & Water Watch, said in a statement that “while this executive order lays out noteworthy investments in solar energy and important changes in transportation and energy efficiency, their effectiveness is undermined by the White House’s failures to address the root cause of the climate crisis: Fossil fuel development.”
Today, @POTUS signed an executive order directing the federal government to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030, and to ensure 100% zero-emission vehicle acquisitions by 2035.
“The focus on ‘net-zero’ and zero-emissions goals leaves the door open for expensive and dirty energy infrastructure including nuclear and fossil fuel-based hydrogen,” Jones added. “We need President Biden to stop pushing policies that will keep us hooked on dirty energy.”
Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that “2050 is an extremely weak goal for the federal government to free itself from climate-heating pollution.”
“It ignores existing technology and adds decades to GSA’s own commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2025,” he said, a reference to the U.S. General Service Administration’s April 2021 decarbonization plan.
“This is like a teenager promising to clean their room in 30 years,” Snape added. “We need action now.”
.@POTUS has always said he wants the U.S. economy to decarbonize by 2050. That’s only possible if we put in the work.
We can’t get there by allowing fossil fuel extraction on public lands & adding pipelines. Anything less than sweeping executive actions & BBB won’t get it done. https://t.co/lMIZMUsK7e
Brooke Harper, U.S. campaign manager at 350.org, said in a statement that “we recognize and appreciate President Biden’s effort; it is imperative that the federal government set an example for a clean energy future and transitioning federal vehicles, buildings, and energy sources is an important step.”
US declined to join promise to end coal mining and to compensate poor countries for climate damage. Critics ask, is that leadership?
“However, we need to see consistency in Biden’s climate efforts on all fronts if he is to be a ‘climate president,'” she argued. “Biden cannot make an announcement like this and also reopen oil and gas leasing, nor approve more oil and gas permits on federal lands. That’s taking one step forward and two steps back.”
Despite campaign pledges to halt fossil fuel extraction from public lands and waters, Biden’s administration has approved drilling permits at a faster rate than either former presidents Donald Trump or Barack Obama.
Common Dreamsreported Monday that the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management has approved an average of 333 oil and gas drilling permits per month this year—40% more than the agency did during the first three years of Trump’s tenure.
“If Biden wants to be the climate president, it’s time to stand up against the fossil fuel industry, pass executive actions that actually meet the moment of the climate crisis, whip support from every elected official in his own party, and seize this narrow window of opportunity to pass climate legislation while Democrats still have a governing coalition,” Sunrise Movement campaign director Deirdre Shelly said in a statement. “Anything less is a failure.”
Portugal shut down its last remaining coal plant over the weekend, ending the use of the polluting material for electricity generation and becoming the fourth country in the European Union to do so.
Environmental group Zero said in a statement the Pego plant in central Portugal had been the country’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, adding that “freeing ourselves from the biggest source of greenhouse gases was a momentous day for Portugal”.
The move comes nine years before Portugal’s targeted end of the use of the fossil fuel by 2030.
Belgium, Austria and Sweden are the other three European countries to have already stopped using coal for power generation.
Although a hefty 60%-70% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, Portugal still relies heavily on imported fossil fuels to meet overall energy needs.
There are concerns the Pego plant, run by the privately held group Tejo Energia, might now be converted to burn wood pellets.
“The challenge now is to ensure utilities do not make the mistake of replacing coal with fossil gas, or unsustainable biomass,” said Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director at Europe Beyond Coal.
“Ditching coal only to switch to the next worst fuel is clearly not an answer,” said Zero’s president Francisco Ferreira. “Instead, the focus should be on rapidly upscaling our renewable energy capacity in wind and solar.”
A draft document seen by Reuters in June showed the EU was considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy could be classified as renewable. read more
“These are large emissions, and we see quite a lot of them on the global scale, much more than we had expected.”
Huge amounts of uncounted emissions of highly warming greenhouse gas methane are being released by “super-emitters” all over the world, satellite observations reveal.
Scientists have only recently worked out how to detect methane emissions from space, but what they have seen since has taken them by surprise. The greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is leaking from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants and landfills all over the world. It is frequently released through negligence and improper operations; the emissions, in many cases, are not accounted for in mandatory greenhouse gas inventories.
“We see quite a lot of those super-emitters,” Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) told Space.com. “These are large emissions, and we see a lot of them on the global scale — much more than we had expected.”
Aben heads a team of experts working with data from an instrument called Tropomi (for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that flies on the European Sentinel 5P satellite, which is part of the Earth-observing constellation Copernicus.
Sentinel 5P launched in October 2017, and Tropomi started providing data a few months later. In the years since, scientists have slowly learned how to reliably interpret its measurements.
“We measure methane concentrations in the total column from the top of the atmosphere down to the surface,” Aben said. “What we are looking for is the little bit of extra signal that suggests something is being released on the ground.”
Tropomi pinpoints emission sources with a rather crude resolution of 3.4 by 4.3 miles (5.5 by 7 kilometers), an area about the size of a smaller city. But the Tropomi team collaborates with Canadian company GHGSat, which currently flies three methane-detecting satellites, the first of which launched in 2016. GHGSat provides a much more detailed resolution of 66 feet (20 meters), which enables the company to do finer detective work.
“With Tropomi, we look for these hotspots on a global scale,” said Aben. “We measure methane across the globe every day, and then we provide these locations to GHGSat and they can zoom in and pinpoint the exact facility that is leaking those emissions.”
The oil industry’s dirty secrets
The collaboration has proved fruitful. In data gathered over the first two years of Tropomi’s operations, scientists discovered major leaks of methane in the oil and gas fields of Turkmenistan, most of which were completely preventable.
Oil and gas fields must build flare installations that prevent methane from leaking into the atmosphere, and Aben said that these leaks suggest those installations are not being used properly.
“These emissions actually relate to flare installations that are not being flared in the oil and gas industry,” said Aben. “Flaring is meant to get rid of the methane gases by burning them. It would obviously be better to capture the gas, but they are not even burning it. It’s just methane pouring out, and that is not normal operations.”
The Tropomi measurements revealed thousands of kilograms (in some cases even tens of thousands of kilograms) of methane leaking from 29 plants every hour.
And the problem is not limited to Turkmenistan. A separate analysis of Sentinel 5P data released by French analytics company Kayrros in March this year found frequent methane leaks on three major pipelines supplying natural gas from Russia to Europe. Most of these events happened during maintenance work. Surprisingly, Kayrros detected 40% more leaks in the pandemic year 2020 compared to 2019, in spite of the overall reduction in gas imports from Russia to Europe, which was reported by the International Energy Agency.
Yasjka Meijer, the mission scientist of Europe’s planned greenhouse gas monitoring mission CO2M, told Space.com that combined, all these leaks might account for much more than the emissions that natural gas companies report. These hidden emissions could, in fact, undermine the effectiveness of the shift away from the burning of coal toward the burning of gas for electricity generation, Meijer said. Many countries rely on gas as a temporary measure to decrease greenhouse gas emissions while developing fully renewable energy resources.
“A lot of oil and gas producers say that their average leakage is about 3 to 4%,” said Meijer. “It turns out to be much more. But burning gas in a power plant outperforms coal in terms of the carbon footprint only if the leakage is not more than about 8%. With the numbers now, we actually have doubts, because it might be perhaps 10 or 15% and then the global climate impact would be much larger.”
“Before we saw the first one, I had never thought we would be able to see landfill emissions from space,” said Aben. “That certainly gave us a ‘wow’ moment when we saw it for the first time. And now there’s a whole bunch of them that we have detected.”
Thorsten Fehr, head of the atmospheric section at the European Space Agency (ESA), which is developing the CO2M mission and operating Sentinel 5P for Copernicus, cautions that monitoring greenhouse gas emissions from space is still in its early stages. But the space industry is ready to take the technology another step further and effectively start policing emitters from space. Such a capability will be crucial to keep the world on track to meeting its emission reductions targets in order to keep global warming close to the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) limit set out in the Paris Agreement negotiated at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.
Currently, nations self-report their emissions based on the amount of fossil fuels the various sectors of their economy burn. However, countries often release these numbers on a five-year delay, and experts question their accuracy.
“The Paris Agreement asks for a transparency framework,” Fehr told Space.com. “To basically show what people are doing, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do now.”
There are currently a plethora of space missions being readied to tackle methane emissions. In addition to GHGSat, Sentinel 5P and CO2M, a U.S. company called MethaneSAT, a spin-off from the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense Fund, plans to launch a new methane-monitoring spacecraft in October 2022. Earth-observation company Planet, together with a range of research institutions including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, are developing an entirely new constellation of methane-monitoring satellites as part of a public-private partnership.
This sneaky greenhouse gas is a focus of an international pledge that was introduced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on Nov. 3. Over 100 nations have signed the document, promising to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. According to a European Commission’s statement, this reduction alone could reduce the atmospheric warming projected by 2050 by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.28 degrees Celsius).
Scientists call methane emissions a “low-hanging fruit” and hope that the reductions should be relatively easy to achieve.
“It’s in nobody’s interest to release this methane,” said Meijer. “It should be easier to regulate than carbon dioxide, because for carbon dioxide, you would have to tell people to stop burning the fossil fuels.”
The carbon dioxide challenge
To similarly monitor carbon dioxide emissions is much more complicated. But Fehr says ESA is ready for the challenge, and with the CO2M mission plans to provide the first of its kind tool capable of distinguishing individual anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide from space.
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, launched in 2014, currently provides data on the regional distribution of carbon dioxide sources and natural sinks, reflecting global trends and seasonal changes. Its sister instrument, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, is attached to the International Space Station, taking measurements since 2019. But the resolution of these two instruments is nowhere near detailed enough to spot individual emitters.
“There’s a big difference between monitoring carbon dioxide and methane,” said Meijer. “The [natural] amount of methane in the air is much lower than the amount of carbon dioxide. Plus what is being emitted from sources is much higher than the background so it’s much easier to distinguish it from space. For carbon dioxide it’s the opposite. There’s already a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere naturally and the addition of individual sources is relatively small, you’re talking about a quarter of a percent.”
There are currently nearly 420 parts of carbon dioxide in a million parts of air, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the 1700s, before humankind started burning fossil fuels, the value was about 280, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The CO2M mission, expected to launch by 2026, hopes to measure the concentrations with an accuracy of 0.25%, which, according to Meijer, is still a technical challenge.
Making the world to cooperate
Aben hopes satellite observations will help keep the world on track to tackle climate change. The scale of the methane leaks surprised scientists, she said, but now that the previously hidden gas pipeline leaks and polluting landfills can finally be seen, fixing the problem is, at least, possible.
“I think that these satellite observations will certainly stir up and change the way we will be reporting emissions,” she said. “We are seeing things that I think are not visible at the moment in some of the reporting. Not all of the reporting is wrong, but this certainly adds a category of emissions that we might have missed.”
Meijer, however, cautions that it might still take a considerable effort to get the whole world on board. “This is the first time that you can actually put a finger on it,” he said. “But the problem is, how are you going to communicate with a country somewhere in Africa that there is too much methane leaking out of their facilities.”
At the recently concluded COP26 conference, nations strengthened their commitments to the goals of the Paris Agreement, agreeing to speed up the elimination of coal from the energy mix and increase their emission reduction efforts across the board.
With the new pledges, the world might be on track to keeping the global temperature rise within 3.2 degrees F (1.8 degrees C). That value is still above the preferred limit of 27 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), but considerably better than the 4.8 degrees F (2.7 degrees C) trajectory predicted under previous plans. The battle is by far not yet won.
The new investigation from the Washington Post reveals as much as 13.3 billion tons of under-reported emissions.
A major new investigation from the Washington Posthas found “a giant gap” between the greenhouse gas emissions nations are reporting to the United Nations and what their planet-heating emissions actually are.
The Post team assessed 196 countries’ emissions data for 2019, plugging in information for the 45 countries that submitted reports to the U.N. that year and making projections for the others.
Comparing that data with independent global emissions measurements, the Post found there was at least 8.4 billion tons and as much as 13.3 billion tons in underreported emissions. Carbon dioxide made up the majority of the gap, with methane following. Nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, sometimes known as f-gases, accounted for smaller portions of the gap.
Pointing to the ongoing COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the reporting notes that “the numbers they are using to help guide the world’s effort to curb greenhouse gases represent a flawed road map” and that the challenge of reigning in emissions “is even larger than world leaders have acknowledged.”
Flaws in the emissions reporting methods have been previously acknowledged, the Post noted, attributing the gap to “questionably drawn rules, incomplete reporting in some countries, and apparently willful mistakes in others—and the fact that in some cases, humanity’s full impacts on the planet are not even required to be reported.”
A key factor in the under-reporting, according to the investigation, are nations’ dodgy figures on CO2 emissions from land use, like doubtful numbers on how much carbon forests are able to absorb, and thus how much countries can subtract from their reported emissions.
As a prime example, the Post used the palm oil industry in Malaysia, a country that most recently submitted its emissions figures in 2016. In a likely exaggeration, the country claimed its forests were sinking over 243 million tons of carbon, “slashing 73 percent of emissions from its bottom line.”
In a Monday tweet sharing the Post‘s investigation, the Washington, D.C. branch of climate group Extinction Rebellion accused politicians of “fudg[ing] the numbers.”
“When will the lying, the deception, the false promises stop?” the group tweeted. “Only systemic change at a scale and speed unprecedented in human history can get us out of this mess.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Saturday to ban gas-powered lawn equipment as early as 2024.
The state plans to offer rebates to people who switch to zero-emission electronic lawn tools.
It’s set aside $30 million to help gardeners and landscapers make the switch, the bill’s author said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed a bill into law on Saturday that would ban gas-powered lawn equipment, such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers, as soon as 2024.
The bill, which adds a section to the air-pollution part of California’s health and safety code, offers some rebates for switching to zero-emission electronic lawn tools. The bill’s author told the Los Angeles Times the state was setting aside $30 million to help professional gardeners and landscapers switch to electric equipment.
The bill says small off-road engines, which it describes as those “used primarily in lawn and garden equipment,” emit lots of air pollution.
Gas-powered chain saws, weed trimmers, and golf carts are also affected by the new law, the Times said.
“This is a pretty modest approach to trying to limit the massive amounts of pollution that this equipment emits, not to mention the health impact on the workers who are using it constantly,” the author of the bill, Assemblyman Marc Berman, told the Times.
There are more than 16.7 million small engines in California, 3 million more than the number of passenger cars on the road in the state, the Associated Press reported.
The bill also stipulates that portable generators must be zero-emission by 2028.
The law is set to come into force on January 1, 2024, or as soon as is feasible, whichever is later.
A UN report says carbon capture technology is necessary if the world wants to be carbon neutral by 2050.
But many experts think the tech is too expensive and not scalable in the next few decades.
Framed by a backdrop of volcanoes, a semi-circle of gigantic fans in Iceland are sucking in air, super-heating it, then filtering out the carbon dioxide.
This carbon capture and storage facility, named Orca, turned on two weeks ago after more than 18 months of construction. The fans are embedded in shipping container-sized boxes, and once the carbon dioxide is separated, it gets mixed with water then travels through snaking, fat tubes deep underground, where the carbon cools and solidifies.
Through this process, Orca can trap and sequester 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year – making it the largest facility of its kind in the world (though there are currently only two running).
“Think of it like a vacuum cleaner for the atmosphere,” Julio Friedmann, an energy policy researcher at Columbia University who attended the plant’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, told Insider. “Nothing else can do what this tech does.”
According to the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon capture and storage is a necessary part of our best-case climate scenarios. But currently, facilities like Orca only negate a sliver of global emissions.
Climate scientist Peter Kalmus has done the math: “If it works, in one year it will capture three seconds worth of humanity’s CO2 emissions,” he wrote on Twitter.
Today the world's biggest carbon capture facility turned on. If it works, in one year it will capture three seconds worth of humanity's CO2 emissions… at incredible expense. I'm rooting for it, but only a fool would bet the planet on it. #EndFossilFuelpic.twitter.com/5ROJr4tPC9
Put another way, Kalmus told Insider, “at any given moment, it will capture one 10-millionth of humanity’s current emissions.”
“It’s remarkable to me it is being considered as part of those plans,” he said of the IPCC report.
‘Probably the most expensive solution’
The Orca facility works differently than the carbon-capture technologies built into some power plants, steel mills, and industrial facilities. Those collect the carbon produced in the manufacturing process before it enters the air. It can then be converted into materials like concrete or stored underground.
More than 20 facilities worldwide currently do this, most of which are in the US. But that simply prevents more carbon from accumulating in the atmosphere. Orca, by contrast, is an attempt to deal with the greenhouse gas that’s already up there.
This technology, known as direct air capture, is in its infancy. The Swiss company Climeworks, which built Orca, has the only operational game in town; its other plant is in Switzerland. Before that, the technology had only been used on a small scale in spacecraft and submarines.
But as with many emerging technologies, direct air capture is expensive. Christoph Gebald, Climeworks’ co-founder, told the Washington Post that it costs at least $600 to capture one metric ton of carbon dioxide, since super-heating the air takes a lot of energy.
That cost would need to drop to one-fourth its current level to bring it in line with technologies like wind and solar in terms of their carbon abatement – the degree to which they reduce emissions. To sell carbon commercially – like to beverage companies making fizzy drinks – the price would have to get even lower, probably between $65 and $110 per metric ton.
Friedmann thinks a drop to below $200 is likely by 2030, and a drop to $100 two decades after that. By that point, he said, the market for carbon removal market – companies paying to abate their emissions – will have grown significantly.
But even at that $100 price, removing all of humanity’s annual carbon emissions would cost more than $5 trillion per year, according to Gates’ book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.” That would require 50,000 Orca plants.
“It’s probably the most expensive solution,” Gates wrote.
There’s also the question of timing. The IPCC report says that without capturing significant amounts of carbon over the next 30 years, it will be impossible to get humanity to net-zero emissions by 2050 – and, consequently, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But Mathew Barlow, a climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, said three decades isn’t enough for the technology to be deployed widely.
“There’s no possible way for it to scale up on that timescale,” Barlow, who contributed to the IPCC report, told Insider. “We’re at the point where you need to get the tech off the shelves, not be building it out.”
‘Fossil-fuel companies love carbon capture’
Plants like Orca do, however, out-perform their natural counterparts – trees.
“The Orca facility does the work of 200,000 trees in 1,000 times less space,” Friedmann said.
Kalmus thinks carbon capture ultimately distracts the world from other solutions that would make a bigger dent in emissions, like investment in renewables and regulations targeting the fossil-fuel industry.
“Fossil-fuel companies love carbon capture because it really does let them off the hook,” he said.
Friedmann, though, thinks it’s possible to expand carbon-capture infrastructure enough to make a difference. If the Senate’s infrastructure bill passes in the House, it would allocate $3.5 billion toward direct air capture facilities in the US. Elon Musk also announced this year that he’s funding a $100 million carbon-capture contest.
“We now know that we can do it,” Friedmann said. “Now we’re just haggling over price and literally asking how much we’re willing to pay to save the Earth.”
Algeria halted sale of leaded gas last month, prompting the UN to declare ‘official end’ of its use in cars
Leaded gasoline has finally reached the end of the road, the UN environment office said Monday, after the last country in the world to use it stopped selling the highly toxic fuel.
Algeria halted the sale of leaded gas last month, prompting the UN Environment Programme to declare the “official end” of its use in cars, which has been blamed for a wide range of human health problems.
“The successful enforcement of the ban on leaded petrol is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,” UNEP’s executive director, Inger Andersen, said in a statement.
🚨The era of leaded petrol is over!🚨
This is a major victory for people and for planet, which will ✅ Prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths ✅ Save USD 2.45 trillion a year for the global economy
Petroleum containing tetraethyllead, a form of lead, was first sold almost 100 years ago to increase engine performance. It was widely used for decades until researchers discovered that it could cause heart disease, strokes and brain damage.
UNEP cited studies suggesting that leaded gas caused measurable intellectual impairment in children and millions of premature deaths.
Most rich nations started phasing out the fuel in the 1980s, but it was still widely used in low- and middle-income countries until 2002, when the UN launched a global campaign to abolish it.
Leaded gas is still used in aviation fuel for small planes.
Pollution from power plants, vehicles and other sources accounted for one in five of all deaths that year, more detailed analysis reveals
Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8.7m deaths globally in 2018, a staggering one in five of all people who died that year, new research has found.
Countries with the most prodigious consumption of fossil fuels to power factories, homes and vehicles are suffering the highest death tolls, with the study finding more than one in 10 deaths in both the US and Europe were caused by the resulting pollution, along with nearly a third of deaths in eastern Asia, which includes China. Death rates in South America and Africa were significantly lower.
The enormous death toll is higher than previous estimates and surprised even the study’s researchers. “We were initially very hesitant when we obtained the results because they are astounding, but we are discovering more and more about the impact of this pollution,” said Eloise Marais, a geographer at University College London and a study co-author. “It’s pervasive. The more we look for impacts, the more we find.”
The 8.7m deaths in 2018 represent a “key contributor to the global burden of mortality and disease”, states the study, which is the result of collaboration between scientists at Harvard University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London. The death toll exceeds the combined total of people who die globally each year from smoking tobacco plus those who die of malaria.