FtF News #146 – 6th April 2022
Canada’s climate plan, the rapid rise of renewables and the messy realities of plastic recycling
Hello, and welcome to Forge the Future, your weekly rundown of the latest climate news.
It’s not been long since the last one, but this week sees another massive IPCC report released – the third part of the 6th Assessment Report, focused on climate mitigation. The release was delayed from the original Monday deadline as negotiations over the summary text were unusually intense, stretching over 40 hours across the weekend. As such, I’ve not had much of a chance to look into its contents (which are substantial, if Carbon Brief’s 26,000 word dive is anything to go by!), but rest assured there’ll be plenty of coverage next week.
Given the oft gloomy tone of climate news, I thought I’d share this piece from the NYT, which discusses how there’s still plenty of room for optimism, with real progress being made in recent years (see the report on electricity generation from Ember below for an example). Whilst there’s still plenty to be done, we’re not too late to act. Indeed, recent research has shown that taking climate action, whatever the form, increases subjective well being no matter where you live!
Once again, this week’s issue was ably assisted by Syuan Ruei Chang, who contributed a number of the articles and stories featured this week.
State of the world
Climate research and findings, weather events and studies
This week has been relatively light on the climate science front for once (though the IPCC report will likely change that next week), so I’m covering a couple of excellent explainers from Grist instead.
First up, an article examining the benefits and drawbacks of tree planting. With trees hailed as one of the universally accepted climate solutions, mass plantings have been on the rise, but of course, it’s more complex than simply sticking trees in the ground – every area is different, and schemes can vary from beneficial to actively harmful.
Second is a look at the potential impacts of climate ‘overshoot’ – where we warm the world past 1.5°C, then bring temperatures back later. Increasingly, strategies incorporating overshoot have been hailed as a way to keep more aggressive warming targets on the table, but it’s not clear how easy it would be to bring temperatures back once they’ve reached higher levels. In addition, even briefly warming the world further could spell disaster for vulnerable ecosystems and areas, such as coral reefs and low-lying nations (see this week’s Long Reads for a couple of relevant explorations of exactly this!).
Moving towards a greener and more equitable world
Canada has unveiled a comprehensive emissions reduction roadmap for the first time – the C$9.1bn Emissions Reduction Plan. So far, the country has missed every emissions target it has set, but having a concrete plan is a big step forward, especially with interim emissions reduction targets now in place. The plan includes aggressive mandates for zero-emissions vehicle sales (60% by 2030, rising to 100% by 2035), as well as a hefty reduction in oil and gas emissions by 2030. Given the country’s major role in the fossil fuel business, oil and gas emissions reductions will be key to any plan, so it’s good to see moves on this front.
Elsewhere, Taiwan has pledged to spend $32bn on clean energy through to 2030, after officials admitted the country is unlikely to meet current goals for renewable generation. The country had pledged to generate 20% of all electricity from renewables by 2025, but the Minister of Economic Affairs admitted that this will likely slip to 2026 or 2027.
Finally, Wales has taken a big step on recycling by moving to charge producers for packaging littered in the country from 2024. It’s hoped that moving to a ‘polluter pays’ approach will encourage companies to produce more easily recycled packaging. The rules will also fine companies responsible for the most commonly-littered items, as well as pushing larger coffee shops to include coffee-cup recycling bins.
Climate energy think-tank Ember has produced a report on the state of global electricity generation in 2022, and it really drives home just how fast renewables are growing of late. Wind and solar generated 10% of all electricity in 2021, with ‘clean power’ (including nuclear, hydro and biomass) generating 38%, more than coal’s 36%. However, overall demand growth also rebounded last year, driving an increase in coal generation, and thus emissions. There are now 50 countries generating at least 10% of their electricity from wind and solar, and three are generating more than 40%. Solar generation rose 23%, and wind 14%, which is huge, although it is worth noting that we need sustained growth of around 20% annually to keep us on a pathway to 1.5°C of warming.
Events that move the needle in the wrong direction
Too Good to be True?
Like most major supermarkets in the UK, Tesco have been offering recycling of plastic bags for the past year or two. This encompasses everything from carrier bags to frozen food packets and more, and seems at first pass like a great measure. Indeed, the supermarket chain has been keen to emphasise its green credentials as a result. However, a Bloomberg investigation has shown that the truth is far messier. They tracked several pieces of plastic from the UK to Poland, where the waste was sorted, before discovering streams heading to incineration, landfill, or simply being shipped further on to Turkey. The various levels of obfuscation mean much of the waste falls off the radar, and it becomes impossible to trace what came from where, and what actually is recycled.
To top it off, Eurokey, the company running the facility in Poland, have been making huge sums from acting as a middleman for recycling, and were found to have sent a Tesco executive on an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas around the time the chain signed a deal with the company to handle its plastic waste. Tesco are now investigating the allegations, but the ‘recycling’ of plastic bags remains suspect for now.
Interesting deep-dives into climate-related topics
To start off this week’s long reads, here’s a couple of excellent pieces about climate change on a global scale. Firstly, Emily Atkin (of HEATED) wrote this excellent examination of how 8 different places around the globe will be massively impacted by the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming – something that will become more and more relevant as richer nations look to throw a 1.5°C pathway under the bus. Secondly, Grist did an awesome deep-dive into 7 major planetary tipping points, examining how they’re changing, what the risk is, and how it could affect us going forward.
Next, it’s over to New York, which is planning an emissions tax on large buildings from 2024, with those above a certain cap to face significant fines. Bloomberg took a look at the nuance of how that actually plays out, examining the Bank of America Tower, which was unveiled in 2010 as the crowning pinnacle of eco-friendly building techniques, but which faces significant fines under the new law. There’s strong feelings on both sides, with the building’s owners pointing out the green systems that are ignored by a flat emissions level, and regulators maintaining that despite all the tech, the building still needs to keep emissions down.
Keeping to the US theme, our last piece this week returns to good ol’ Joe Manchin III, the bane of major US climate legislation of late. The New York Times examines Manchin’s long and messy relationship with a coal power plant in West Virginia. Since its opening, it has consumed fuel from a supply owned by Manchin, and he has used his political positions to push back on emissions regulations and increase power charges for West Virginians. Given Manchin’s huge financial stake in the project, it’s hard to see this as anything more than a man using his political influence for personal gain, no matter the wider impact.
Some quick climate news nuggets to sate your appetite
The UK Met Office has raised the threshold it uses to register an official heatwave as temperatures continue to climb year after year.
Just 11 of the 30 biggest publicly traded financial companies have set reliable goals for cutting emissions by 2030.
On a similar note, of the 166 biggest corporate emitters (responsible for 80% of corporate emissions), just 17% have sufficient short-mid term emissions goals.