Biden moves to ease trade turmoil threatening his solar energy ambitions

“President Joe Biden won’t impose new tariffs on imports of solar power equipment for two years to help ease the fears that have slowed the growth in the renewable energy sector, and will invoke the Defense Production Act to spur domestic manufacturing of critical clean energy technologies, including solar panel parts.

The moves come as the solar energy industry has been roiled by a Commerce Department probe into whether companies in four Southeast Asian countries have circumvented the tariffs on Chinese shipments of solar equipment to the U.S. Those fears have slowed the development of large projects that are crucial to meeting the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating carbon emissions from the power sector by 2035.”

The air conditioning paradox

“The world is now 1.1 degrees Celsius — 2 degrees Fahrenheit — warmer on average than it was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. But baked into that seemingly small change in the average is a big increase in dangerous extreme temperatures. That’s made cooling, particularly air conditioning, vital for the survival of billions of people.”

“These searing temperatures are just the latest in a pattern of increasingly hot weather. A heat wave that would have been a once-in-a-decade event in the 1800s is now hotter and happens nearly three times as often. Heat waves that used to occur once every 50 years are now nearly five times as frequent and reach higher temperatures. Heat records are broken so often they barely register as news. In its latest review of climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it is “virtually certain” that heat waves have become more frequent and intense across most land areas since the 1950s.
Extreme heat events are also occurring over a wider region of the globe, from the depths of the ocean to the icy reaches of the Arctic. Heat waves are now such devastating events with long-lasting wounds that some countries say they should be named like hurricanes.

But the most severe risks from high temperatures are in places like India and Pakistan, regions closer to the equator that are already hot and have dense, growing populations. They also have less wealth, so fewer can afford cooling when thermometers reach triple digits.”

“The tactics for cooling can end up worsening the very problem they’re trying to solve if they draw on fossil fuels, or leak refrigerants that are potent heat-trapping gases. And the people who stand to experience the most extreme heat are often those least able to cool off.”

“There are many ways to curb the climate impacts of ACs. “The answer lies first and foremost in improving the efficiency of air conditioners, which can quickly slow down the growth in cooling-related electricity demand,” wrote Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, in a 2018 report. With greater energy efficiency, air conditioners do more with less. Also, homes and businesses need better insulation and sealing to prevent waste.

Another method is to manufacture more air conditioners that don’t use HFCs or other heat-trapping gases. Many countries, including the US, are phasing out HFCs. The US Senate will soon vote to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that commits to cutting HFCs 85 percent by 2050.

At the same time, there is going to be a massive market for sustainable cooling technologies. “There are billions of people that aspire to be wealthy, and as your income starts going up, you’re going to want to have access to cooling,” Kyte said.

The electricity that powers air conditioners needs to come from sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases, so dialing down coal, oil, and natural gas power on the grid and ramping up wind, solar, and nuclear energy is crucial.”

The Supreme Court just okayed Biden’s “social cost of carbon.” It’s still way too low.

“according to some top environmental economists, we have good reason to believe the true cost of emitting carbon is actually a lot higher than even a $51 price tag suggests.

There are a couple of reasons for that. First, until recently, the economists who calculated the SCC had barely factored in one of the biggest harms that climate change can cause: human mortality. Second, the way the SCC had been calculated rested on a problematic premise: that damage in the future counts for significantly less than damage in the present.”

Senate Committee Approves Climate Treaty

“Overall, the presence of these coolants in the atmosphere accounts for about 11 percent of the rise in global average temperatures attributed to man-made increases in greenhouse gases.

Negotiations for the Kigali Amendment phasing down the usage of these gases by 85 percent over the next 15 years were completed in 2016 in Rwanda, and it has, so far, been ratified by nearly 130 other countries.

Bipartisan comity over what is essentially a treaty addressing climate change has been largely achieved because American manufacturers are the leading developers and suppliers of replacement coolants with significantly lower GWPs.

“The business community applauds the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for its bipartisan vote approving the Kigali Amendment for consideration by the full Senate,” reads the joint industry press release. “This is an important step in ensuring the U.S. joins this global effort while accessing international markets that will grow American jobs. It is a win for the economy, the environment, and U.S. leadership.”

Ingesting the proverbial grain of salt, a 2018 industry analysis found that implementing the Kigali Amendment would slightly reduce U.S. consumer cooling costs. Since it is estimated that unabated HFCs would add 0.4 degrees C to projected man-made warming by 2100, ratification would be a relatively cheap way to address the problem of climate change.”

This is what we need to invent to fight climate change

“fossil fuels still fulfill about 80 percent of the world’s energy needs. Global greenhouse gas emissions appear to have been holding fairly steady for a decade now, but to keep the world from warming up more than 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit this century, those emissions have to fall by half from their current levels by 2030.

So despite the advances, the pace of deployment of clean energy is still far too slow to keep more dangerous levels of warming in check. Getting on course will likely require even cheaper, more efficient, and higher-performing versions of the tools we have now. But it will also demand advances in fledgling clean technologies, like capturing carbon dioxide straight from the air.

At the same time, money and political will to deal with climate change are in short supply around the world, given competing demands from the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation, and international conflicts. With limited time and money, it’s critical to figure out what research will yield the most impactful innovations to counter climate change.

It’s difficult to predict which investments will lead to breakthroughs, but some researchers say there are ways to improve the odds. It requires thinking carefully about how potential innovations would scale and draw investment, but also demands policies to create the conditions for an even bigger clean energy revolution.”

“Renewables have now become the cheapest source of new electricity production around the world. In half of the world, installing new wind or solar power is cheaper than running existing fossil fuel power plants.

These developments were spurred by large government investments and energy policies, with some private sector backing. Photovoltaic panels, for example, benefited from early research in the United States, Japanese companies developing applications for solar, an aggressive feed-in tariff incentive in Germany, and massive production scale-up in China. The development process spanned decades, with the first solar panels invented in the 1950s and foundational research beginning in the 1970s. Governments also helped create demand for clean energy, by setting targets for deployment and subsidizing their purchase prices.”

What’s really holding the world back from stopping climate change

“The world is on track to shoot far past climate change targets unless countries make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Fortunately, many of the tools to make these cuts are already here and are continuing to get cheaper. Yet the pledges to lower emissions that countries have made so far are nowhere near enough, and the world is drifting even further off course.”

“the difference between 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times and 2 degrees Celsius — could make global warming far more destructive. Governments have promised to keep us under these levels, but the world is far away from these targets, and moving farther away every year.”

“most of the world would need to start to abandon existing fossil fuel infrastructure in the next decade, and also nix any new and existing coal-fired power plants and plans to expand offshore oil drilling. And action must cut across sectors, addressing gas-guzzling transportation, heat-intensive manufacturing operations, and deforestation.”

How to fight the affordable housing and climate crises at once

“The nation’s affordable housing crisis has gotten some semblance of attention — with journalists writing stories on the rising cost of rent, the scarce supply of new housing, the looming threat of eviction — but one aspect of the crisis has gone consistently overlooked. On top of the severe housing shortage that currently exists, nearly 6 million homes nationwide have moderate to serious home health hazards. They require repairs that, if left ignored, will make them uninhabitable, and eventually they’ll disappear from the market altogether.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, a research and advocacy group, estimates a shortage of 7 million affordable housing units for low-income renters, but those figures don’t account for all the existing affordable units that stand at risk of demolition.

Issues like lead paint, leaky roofs, and knob-and-tube wiring don’t just leave tenants and homeowners in substandard, unsafe housing. They also leave families — mostly poor families — shut out from energy efficiency programs the federal government already funds to upgrade homes. Due to inflexible program restrictions, homes with outstanding repairs aren’t eligible for existing weatherization subsidies, despite those families arguably needing them the most. Addressing this problem could help solve both the affordable housing and the climate crisis at once.”

Climate change is already making parts of the world unlivable

“Global average temperatures have already risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius, roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving perilously little room for meeting the targets of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The accord set a goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius/3.6 degrees Farenheit compared to average temperatures before the industrial revolution in the 1800s. The agreement also set a more ambitious target of staying below 1.5°C/2.7°F.

Global warming has already raised global sea levels by 9 inches. It has left a distinct mark on extreme weather too, worsening heat waves, storm surges, and rainfall. Scientists can even quantify how much human-linked emissions of heat-trapping gases have made these events worse.”

“The natural world is passing some of the hard limits of what it can handle from climate change right now, leading to irreversible changes like extinction of species. “Ecosystems already reaching or surpassing hard adaptation limits include some warm water coral reefs, some coastal wetlands, some rainforests, and some polar and mountain ecosystems,” according to the report. Humans who are dependent on these ecosystems are deeply affected as well.”

“Sea level rise is forcing residents of small islands to permanently evacuate. At least five islands in the Pacific Ocean have been lost to higher water levels. Rising temperatures are changing rainfall patterns and melting snowpacks, limiting freshwater for drinking and agriculture. This is driving migrations around the world.”

“As bad as the situation is right now, climate change can still get much worse. Rising temperatures mean that many more areas of the world, spanning some of the most populated regions, will experience times when it’s too hot to survive.”

“More than 150 million people currently live on land that will be below the high-tide line by 2050.”

When It Comes to Climate Change, Wealth Equals Adaptation

“Adaptation and the development of low-carbon energy generation technologies will both be required to address and mitigate the challenges of man-made climate change. And yes, the world is slated to get warmer, but humanity is not running out of time to avert a harrowing climate future.

Again, when bad weather meets poverty, people die. The recipe for successfully adapting to climate change is continued economic growth and technological progress.”