Regional climate promises pour in ahead of Paris talks

Regional leaders ramp up commitments

The cup of subnational climate commitments overfloweth ahead of next week’s Paris summit, although this handy visualization shows there’s much room for improvement beyond 2030. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will order half of the state’s power to be supplied renewably by 2030, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notely announced a plan to phase out coal power, tax carbon pollution, and invest much of the new revenue in renewables. At the local level, Washington’s King County pledged to cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, with 70 proposed actions to match. In Britain, leaders of over 50 Labour-Party-led municipal councils vowed their cities will run entirely on renewable energy by 2050. It all adds up: a new report finds that 228 cities, home to 436 million people, have made commitments to avert 13 gigatons of carbon pollution by 2050.

Republicans recalcitrant in advance of Paris talks

Congressional Republicans sought leverage last week over climate diplomacy, when the Senate voted to block President Obama’s Clean Power regulations, and 34 senators vowed to oppose U.S. Green Climate Fund appropriations unless Obama brings any Paris agreement to the Senate for ratification, which threatens to disrupt a key element of next week’s talks. The Republicans’ first EPA chief lamented his party’s stance on climate, and new polls suggested an emerging national consensus on clean energy is leaving the GOP behind—a point illustrated in this summertime CNN video. Ironically, GOP climate denial may have doomed carbon capture and storage, because coal’s Congressional backers can't advocate CCS without acknowledging that climate matters.

Britain to end use of coal power by 2025

The country where coal first stoked an Industrial Revolution will close the books on the solid fossil fuel, as the UK plans to shutter its fleet of coal power plants by 2025, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd announced last week. Coal supplied 29 percent of UK electricity last year. Climactivists’ enthusiasm was tempered by Rudd’s pronouncement that coal will be replaced mainly with natural gas, and by the UK’s plans to cut solar subsidies by 87 percent. Elsewhere, coal’s fortunes also declined: Ontario passed a permanent ban on coal power, and OECD nations agreed to halt financing for most new coal plants, eliminating 85 percent of the projects seeking export credits.

There’s gold in them thar clean energy sources

Large firms such as Dow Chemical and General Motors have announced new contracts to buy 2.1 GW of utility-scale wind and solar power this year, according to a tally released last week by Rocky Mountain Institute—75 percent more than the total for all of 2014. Gains from the clean energy transition aren’t restricted to wind and solar developers: a new report finds that decarbonizing the U.S. economy by 2050 would create about 2 million new jobs and increase disposable income. The pace of the transition will increase as wind and solar power reach parity with grid prices even without tax credits, a benchmark expected in Texas by 2020.

Fossil affiliations come under greater pressure

The fossil-fuel industry inched closer to pariah status last week, as Chicago’s Field Museum divested from fossil holdings, and the London Science Museum declined to renew its sponsorship agreement with Shell. A sit-in for divestment at MIT entered its fourth week, and a 400-strong Stanford rally demanded the university off-load its oil and gas holdings to complement its divestment from coal last year. Tax documents revealed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has drastically reduced its fossil holdings, though the foundation wouldn’t say why. A fossil-free index fund debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, and North Vancouver, BC became the first city to require gas-pump warning labels modeled on those that appear on cigarette packs.

Utilities, regulators grapple with new rates

Utilities are backing down from asking for high fixed charges—one of five current trends in utility rate restructuring, according to speakers at last week’s meeting of the National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissioners. Instead, Jim Lazar of the Regulatory Assistance Project suggested that fixed charges cover only the costs of connecting the customer to the grid, while customers also pay time-of-use rates that vary during the day and “inclining block rates,” which are higher per kilowatt-hour the more a customer consumes. A Montana utility last week abandoned a request to charge its solar customers for their peak demand, and the Massachusetts legislature failed to expand that state’s net metering cap.

Electricity storage about to take its place in the sun

Electricity storage is becoming more cost-effective thanks to progress in technology and manufacturing, according to a new analysis from financial advisers Lazard Ltd. At the utility scale, ever-cheaper solar and wind power drive greater demand for battery storage. For on-site applications, this analysis shows how rooftop solar and battery storage on a commercial building can provide greater benefits together than either technology can offer separately. Oregon is getting ready to determine the value of grid-connected storage mandated by newly passed legislation, and Toronto Hydro is testing a 600-kilowatt storage project that relies on air compressed in underwater bladders beneath Lake Ontario.   

Image: Calling for divestment at Stanford. Photo courtesy Fossilfreestanford.org

Seth Zuckerman's picture

Editor, ClimateCast

, Climate Solutions

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).