Covid Hurdle Removed from COP26; Plus Biden Hits Out at China Solar Products

Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead has sunk to its lowest level yet amid the extreme drought in the western U.S. The reservoir supplies water to 25 million people from San Diego to Las Vegas and Phoenix. Earlier this month, the surface dropped to just 1,000 feet above sea level, breaking the previous low-water record set in 2016. The lake level has dropped about 140 feet in the past two decades.

Britain removed a major hurdle to a successful COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this fall when it decided it won’t require the thousands of attending delegates to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Slow vaccination rates in many poorer countries was threatening the potential for smaller countries more vulnerable to climate change from attending. Without representation from the poorer, small nations, experts believe a truly global solution cannot be implemented.

Instead, the UK will focus on providing vaccines for delegates upon their arrival, should they want them, according to testimony from government officials.

The news came as EU Climate Chief Frans Timmermans and his China counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, held what Timmermans characterized as “constructive” talks on what is needed at the summit. Particularly around including all countries and fulfilling existing commitments. And, at the same time as the European Parliament met to put into law climate legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 — the most ambitious government climate goal in the world to date.

Still, for all the good news, things can always change. Britain has postponed its reopening until mid-July because of a resurgence in Covid infections, led by the severe Delta strain out of India. Daily infections have doubled in the past two weeks. More than 20,000 delegates are expected in Glasgow, so watch this space.

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ZEUS: Maine’s new divestment law a first in U.S.

The Bass Harbor Head Light in Acadia National Park, Maine. Photo: National Park Service.

. . . . Maine became the first state in the U.S. to mandate divestment of fossil fuel stocks from its pension system last week. Now comes the hard part, writes David Callaway in his weekly ZEUS column. As more pension funds, in cities such as New York and in states to come, announce divestment plans or are required to by legislation, the actual practice of disposing of the assets comes into focus. The danger of stranded assets in the oil and gas business, and of gradually illiquid markets in the once-popular, dividend-paying energy companies is real. How asset managers handle the sales will become a case study in the fund business worldwide. . . .

Read the full ZEUS column

Corporate virtue is in the eye of the beholder, er, shareholder

We thought green transparency would make it easier.

. . . . Amid global calls for more corporate disclosure of climate risks, a new study has found that the more companies disclose, the more confusing what they are doing becomes to the ratings agencies, writes Mark Hulbert. The agencies, MSCI, Sustainalytics (now part of Morningstar), and Thomson Reuters, all measure certain environmental, social and governance (ESG) data in different ways, and so the more data, the more disagreement over what is important, according to the study by professors from Harvard Business School and the University of Oregon. As the green bond business, which has tripled in the past few years, continues to expand, the pressure to apply consistent metrics and standards grows with it. For now, investors are still sort of on their own. . . .

Read the full column

EU notebook: French mayors stick wrench in national wind turbine plans

New wind turbines near the Tricastin Nuclear Power Plant in the south of France. Photo: Jeanne Menjoulet/flickr.

. . . . Proving again there’s no bureaucracy like French bureaucracy, a new amendment to the country’s climate law was passed this week which gives local mayors the power to veto wind turbine projects in their municipalities, writes Vish Gain from Dublin. Proponents of the legislation said not enough studies have been done on the recycling plans for the turbines and, bizarrely, the concrete used to hold them down. Opponents said the amendment throws the country’s entire climate plan, designed to alleviate its over-reliance on nuclear power, into chaos. . . .

Read the full EU notebook

Thursday’s subscriber insights: Biden hits out at China solar products

. . . . The Biden administration, punishing China for human rights abuses against its Uyghur Muslim minority, banned trade with five companies in the Xinjiang region that are key suppliers to the solar industry. The impact is likely to be more political than economic, however. Read more here. . . .

. . . . A string of Big Oil defeats in the courts took a new turn this week when a Massachusetts judge rejected ExxonMobil’s (XOM) bid to dismiss a state lawsuit accusing it of misleading customers about climate change. The lawsuit opens up a new avenue for activists to go after oil and gas companies for more than pollution. Read more here. . . .

. . . . The White House announced a bipartisan deal on infrastructure Thursday afternoon on legislation that would spend $1.2 trillion on rebuilding U.S. roads and bridges, about half of which is in new spending. Details were scarce as Callaway Climate Insights went to press, but many of President Biden’s climate commitments in his original $2 trillion plan will likely have to be pursued separately. . . .

June 24th 2021

. . . . A 12-story oceanside condo collapsed overnight, leaving residents trapped and at least one person dead. The high-rise in Surfside, Fla., just north of Miami Beach, was determined to be unstable a year ago, according to a report from USAToday citing a researcher at Florida International University. The building, which was constructed in 1981 on reclaimed wetlands, has been sinking at an alarming rate since the 1990s, according to the report, based on a 2020 study conducted by Shimon Wdowinski, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University. While structural issues and sea-level rise have been major concerns in Florida, officials pointed out there is no evidence of this as yet in connection with Thursday’s building collapse, and urged people not to speculate about the cause. . . .

Editor’s picks: Giant direct air capture plant; plus, Amazon’s deal for more renewable energy

Giant direct air capture plant for Scotland

A new direct air capture plant is being planned in northeast Scotland which could extract an estimated one million tonnes of CO₂ each year — about as much as 40 million trees could absorb. A BBC report says extracted gas could be stored permanently deep under the seabed off the Scottish coast. The plant, still in its earliest stages of planning, is a joint project between the UK’s Storegga and Canadian company Carbon Engineering. A final site for the project probably won’t be selected until next year. According to the report, it would be the biggest DAC facility in Europe and depending on the final configuration, could be the biggest in the world.

Amazon buys up another 1.5 GW of renewable energy

Amazon (AMZN) is launching new renewable energy projects in the U.S., Canada, Finland, and Spain, the company said, making it the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the U.S. after announcing 14 new projects in North America and Europe. The projects bring Amazon’s total renewable energy investments to 10 gigawatts of electricity production capacity, enough to power 2.5 million U.S. homes. Already the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in Europe and globally, Amazon said in a statement that it continues to advance its ambitious goal to power 100% of its activities with renewable energy by 2025, five years ahead of its original target. The new projects also support hundreds of jobs while providing hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in local communities, according to the online retail giant.

Iron Man invests in home energy conservation

Venture capital firm Fifth Wall and actor Robert Downey Jr. are investing in a firm that offers financing incentives for homeowners who want to reduce their energy consumption. The company, Sealed, received $16 million in Series B funding, led by Fifth Wall. Investors include Downey’s newly-created FootPrint Coalition Ventures, Cyrus Capital and CityRock Ventures, according to a report in The Real Deal. According to the report, Sealed, based in New York, will work toward reducing residential energy use by paying upfront costs of upgrades for insulation, heating and cooling. Homeowners pay Sealed back through that energy savings, the company said.

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Latest findings: New research, studies and projects

In the city of Del Mar, Calif., near San Diego, sea level rise is threatening homes, businesses and coastal infrastructure. Photo: Emmett Institute/flickr.

‘Managed retreat’: Too late for prevention?

Managed retreat, the climate adaptation response of moving people and property out of harm’s way, should be considered among first responses such as coastal armoring — and not just as an option of last resort. Katharine Mach, a researcher at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, says that managed retreat should be viewed as a proactive option that can support communities and livelihoods in the face of climate change, the university reports. The findings were reported in the paper, “Reframing strategic, managed retreat for transformative climate adaptation,” published in the journal Science. “Managed retreat can be more effective in reducing risk — in ways that are socially equitable and economically efficient — if it is a proactive component of climate-driven transformations,” said Mach, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy. According to the report, Mach and her colleague, A.R. Siders from the University of Delaware, reviewed the existing literature on the subject to argue that societies will be better prepared for intensifying climate change, such as more frequent and severe storms, flooding, and sea-level rise, if they consider the potential role of strategic and managed retreat.

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Civil society farewell to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 2017.

Words to live by . . . .

“Climate change does not respect border; it does not respect who you are — rich and poor, small and big. Therefore, this is what we call ‘global challenges,’ which require global solidarity.”Ban Ki-moon, former secretary-general of the United Nations.