Combining Climate and Covid Responses

July 13, 2020

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., makes her way to a news conference on the House steps with members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Also appearing are, from left, Reps. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Mike Levin, D-Calif., and Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., far right. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Recognizing a historic inflection point, now is the time to front load climate and energy policy in the inevitable economic rebuilding of America, and the world.

Are we going to just go back to doing things the way we did before? Seems less and less likely.


Europe, long the most progressive continent when it comes to tackling climate change, is doubling down on this ambition to revive pandemic-ravaged economies.

Why it matters: The European Union is the world’s third-largest emitting region after the U.S. and China, but it’s not just that. These plans will push global corporate behavior and prod other governments by creating either templates to follow or protectionist battles (or both).

Where it stands: European nations account for three-quarters of the green stimulus funding announced as of early June, according to a BloombergNEF report

  • Other countries are not being nearly as aggressive in this space, despite mounting calls from the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and International Energy Agency.

Driving the news: Three different areas of Europe’s policy push are especially worth watching for their global implications. Many of these proposals come from the region’s Green Deal plan it unveiled late last year.

  1. The proposed recovery package itself, which will showcase to what degree $825 billion in clean-energy funding — especially for electric vehicles, hydrogen and energy efficiency — creates jobs and cuts emissions.
  2. Forthcoming standards on methane emissions and finance, which will affect virtually all oil and gas companies and countries seeking investments from them.
  3. To what degree Europe pushes forward with a border tax on imported goods from nations without similar climate policies.

“We’re keenly watching it,” Ilmi Granoff, who directs the finance program at the California-based ClimateWorks Foundation, said of these actions by Europe. “It may take different forms in different jurisdictions, but I do think it’s a bellwether for how we understand a truly mobilized climate policy.”

The intrigue: The role of natural gas in addressing climate change, controversial for years, is coming to a head in Europe, which will draw more attention to the topic around the world.

  • The European Commission is set to release a strategy soon to cut emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas. 
  • The commission is also set to decide by year’s end on whether natural gas (and other types of energy sources and technologies) is considered sustainable and worthy of investment by European governments and institutions.
  • Experts say it’s unlikely natural gas will be included, considering that the European Investment Bank already said late last year it would stop funding all fossil-fuel projects by next year.

Meanwhile, Democrats mounting plans for a US combined Climate/Covid Response.

Roll Call:

ANALYSIS — Eliminating or offsetting all of the U.S. economy’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to help avert environmental catastrophe will require an all-hands-on-deck approach, according to established science, and the exhaustive climate report House Democrats released Tuesday provides a rubric for just that.

Achieving that goal may also require significant political gains by Democrats in November, enough to take control of the House, Senate and White House to push aside Republican opposition that would prevent the ambitious agenda from being even partially realized.  

The report suggests legislative and policy changes that touch virtually every corner of the economy. It emerged from a 17-month effort by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which, for all the ideas it included, rejected many others.

Here are three intriguing policy provisions included in the report — and three that were left out.

IN: National zero-emission vehicle standard, electric fleets.

The report recommends a national “sales standard” to sell nothing but zero-emission cars by 2035 and heavy-duty trucks by 2040, paired with an emphasis on a nationwide electric vehicle charging network for plug-in vehicles.

It also would require the federal government to ramp up the share of electric vehicles in its fleet, reaching 100 percent by 2035 and 2040, respectively, for light- and heavy-duty vehicles.

The transportation sector is the biggest source of carbon emissions in the U.S., accounting for roughly 30 percent of domestic emissions.

IN: Advancing toward a “supergrid.”

Two problems facing the electric network in America could be solved, or at least mitigated, with a national grid.

oday there are three major portions of the U.S. power grid: a Western section, an Eastern section and Texas’ network. Combining these parts into one could allow low-carbon electricity to be distributed more broadly and carry more juice more efficiently, the report says.

“There are connections between them, but they cannot carry large volumes of electricity. A better-connected national grid would enable the country to maximize the use of the lowest-cost sources of renewable energy, which may be located far from population centers,” it says. “More geographically diverse sources of renewable energy would help balance the variability of renewable energy from individual sources.”

A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study found a national grid could save the public more than $47 billion and generate up to 80 percent of the country’s total electricity use from zero-carbon energy sources. That study is incomplete, and its findings have not been released, according to the NREL, which is funded by the Department of Energy.

IN: A revival of the “social cost of carbon.”

When the Trump administration came to power, the president’s Cabinet worked to strip an accounting metric known as the “social cost of carbon” from government regulations.

The Obama administration put it in place in 2009. It’s a way of measuring the overall damage of climate change and its byproducts, such as stronger hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

“Congress should direct the next administration to reconstitute an interagency working group to develop a new SCC that reflects the best available climate science,” the report reads in part.

OUT: Much international planning past November.

The next major U.N. climate conference was scheduled for Glasgow, Scotland, in November, just after the presidential election. Democrats had high hopes that a president-elect could declare that the U.S. would rejoin the Paris climate agreement.

Thanks to the coronavirus, that’s unlikely to happen. The summit has been delayed a year, and the select committee’s work does not provide much detail beyond the hope a new president will support the Paris agreement. 

“The majority staff for the Select Committee anticipates a future president committed to climate action will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, but, in the meantime, Congress can take steps to ensure that the United States continues to support global climate solutions,” the report reads.

The Trump administration has taken steps to withdraw from the deal but can’t complete that process until November. If President Donald Trump is reelected, he could finalize a withdrawal from the agreement.

OUT: A clear path to decarbonize aviation and shipping.

While the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a decrease in air travel, leading to fewer emissions from the sector, the industry remains one of the biggest sources of carbon pollution worldwide.

Taken together, shipping and aviation constitute about 4 percent of global emissions, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. That total is unlikely to drop soon without significant changes to consumer behavior, technological advances or both.

Change won’t be easy, as the report points out. “Full electrification of airline fleets, if technologically feasible, may be decades off,” it says. And on the water, ships could account for 18 percent of global emissions by 2050, according to the International Maritime Organization.

It’s also difficult to regulate both industries because they are inherently international, especially in the shipping business. What nation is responsible for the emissions of a ship registered in the Marshall Islands, operated out of Hong Kong and manned by a Malaysian crew?

Case in point: Negotiators at the 2015 U.N. climate talks in Paris punted on aviation and maritime shipping emissions, leaving them for another summit. 

The committee recommends funding research and development to create cleaner-burning ships and planes but stops short of a comprehensive solution.

OUT: Clarity about nuclear power’s domestic future.

Nuclear power generates 20 percent of the electricity in the U.S., all with zero carbon emissions.

But the industry is fading in the U.S., where commercial reactors are on average 38 years old and there is no long-term solution for the problem of spent nuclear fuel. The plants are expensive to build and require highly skilled technicians, and the waste problem has not been addressed.

The committee calls for a federal clean energy standard for utilities to meet, a move that would benefit nuclear power in America since it’s the biggest source of consistent zero-emissions electricity.

While the report endorses the idea of small modular reactors — devices that could be carried by rail — it does not issue groundbreaking suggestions about how nuclear will survive in a decarbonized America. 

The authors suggest a task force to study waste storage and incentives for utilities to move waste off-site. But they break little ground over the waste hurdle.


3 Responses to “Combining Climate and Covid Responses”

  1. […] Recognizing a historic inflection point, now is the time to front load climate and energy policy in the inevitable economic rebuilding of America, and the world. Are we going to just go back to doing things the way we did before? Seems less and less likely. Axios: Europe, long the most progressive continent when it … … Continue reading → […]

  2. doldrom Says:

    Breeder reactors such as the thorium LFTR would actually be able to burn up the nuclear waste that now has to be kept safe for tens of thousands of years. Although they also have waste, there is far less, and it seems a little more credible to safeguard some nuclear waste for up to 300 years than for 30,000 years.

    In fact, we owe it to posterity (human/animal) to improve on the current storage solutions in ways that do not assume hundreds of generations of continuity in our present civilization arrangements. We should do it even if we weren’t using the electricity.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    China will get there first. With a fiat economy they have cheaper labor, lower overhead and none of those pesky NIMBYs or environmentalists. With central planning and design they have economies of scale and the engineers all singing from the same songbook.

    They’ll have better opportunities to take advantage of RE+storage to reduce carbon release.

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