This week’s Current Climate, which every Saturday brings you a balanced view of sustainability news. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.
The U.S. House of Representatives finally passed the Build Back Better Act, a legislation containing key provisions to tackle climate change such as a fee on methane emissions, a harmful pollutant released from oil and gas wells, raising livestock, and other activities. It still faces an uncertain route through the Senate before it reaches President Joe Biden’s desk, but this is no time to delay crucial policy action.
Policy action is also the subject of this week’s Climate Talks, which features Chile’s Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet discussing the country’s plans to phase out coal power—and his reaction to the last-minute change in language in the Glasgow Climate Pact.
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Five Major Themes Of Climate Misinformation
Researchers looking at more than two decades’ worth of climate change denialism and misrepresentation, found five major themes, and an evolution in strategy: currently, most climate misinformation focuses on undermining climate research and proposals to moderate and prepare for climate change.
Breathing clean air was recently recognized as a human right, but it is not listed among children’s rights in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). A global campaign backed by more than 29,000 young people has gotten a step closer to changing that.
The White House plans to ban road-building and logging across 9 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, restoring a set of restrictions for the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest lifted by the previous administration.
The world has already experienced a rise in global temperatures of 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. British Columbia, which experienced a heat dome, wildfires and floods in the past six months, is witnessing the consequences of the ongoing global heating.
At COP26, Chile’s Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet formally committed his country to end use of coal power—which currently makes up about 40% of Chile’s energy mix—by 2040, with half of current coal plants scheduled for closure by 2025. Chile is also one of 22 countries (plus the European Union) that have signed up to Mission Innovation, a global initiative to leverage public and private sector investments in research, development and demonstration of clean energy technologies.
What was your reaction to the last-minute change in language in the COP26 final agreement, now calling for “phasing down” coal and fossil fuels subsidies?
I am a little bit disappointed. One leaves with mixed feelings. We made good progress on coal phaseout, on deforestation and methane. Article Six of the Paris Agreement was finally agreed. We saw a big commitment from financial institutions. But I think the final change in the wording of that agreement is bad news. Coal is the biggest source of emissions. We need to move faster there. But the developed world has also been unable to reach an agreement on the $100 billion [in climate finance towards developing countries] that was agreed several years ago. That tension between rich and developing countries is at the core of what we need to solve.
What do you make of those countries that have yet to commit to phasing out fossil fuel sources from their energy mix?
Chile has a lot of renewable resources to produce electricity to generate cheap and clean electricity, that is not the case for every other country. Each country is different, but we need to make more efforts. What we do or not do in the next five to 10 years is the bar by which our children and grandchildren will judge us. And that’s why I think we need to supercharge innovation, research, development, deployment of clean energy all over the world.
Some think that the markets will phase out coal without need for government intervention. Is that an overly optimistic view?
The cost of producing electricity with renewables today in several parts of the world is already cheaper than the cost of producing electricity with coal, but the problem is that we don’t have solar and wind electricity 24 hours a day. That is a challenge that will take some time to solve: we need batteries to get cheaper, we need concentrated solar power projects to work together with renewables. Those technologies, if they become cheaper, will allow us to replace coal, natural gas and other [fossil fuels]. Before that happens, we need regulation to increase the cost of producing electricity with coal. Carbon tax, or carbon pricing, are very good tools to do that. So in the long run, that could be true, but we don’t have time to wait.
Which steps did Chile take to prepare to move away from coal that other countries considering this transition should follow?
The first thing we did is we came to the conclusion that it was unfair to keep burning coal. That’s the first thing you need to realize! After that, my suggestion is to bring everybody on board. This is not something that a government can decide in a meeting room with five guys around the table. In early 2018, we organized a group of government officials, business associations, workers unions—because there are people that will lose their jobs—local communities, and so on. Make sure you take into consideration the concerns, the fears, and the interests of all parties. The outcome will not be perfect, but you need to have enough support to sustain these efforts over a long period of time. You also need a timetable that is based on good data and rigorous analysis. If you phase out coal too quickly and you increase [energy] prices to consumers, you could hurt consumers and face a backlash that could slow down the process.
Will coal be replaced entirely by solar and wind power or will there be a spike in oil and natural gas, and do you also see nuclear playing a role in the energy mix?
We think natural gas will play a relevant role during the transition, but by 2050, we will have almost no fossil fuels in the grid. We think that given the potential we have with solar and wind and concentrated solar power, we won’t require nuclear power, but each country is different.
Lessons We Should Learn From COP26
The 26th UN Climate Change Conference has seen little progress in preventing a rise in global temperatures above 2 degrees Celsius, but there’s at least four takeaways to keep in mind as attention turns to COP27 in Egypt.
On The Horizon
Even a very modest carbon price would offer most farmers and ranchers more revenue than raising animals for slaughterer, according to the scientist who founded Impossible Foods.