COP26 coming to an end with more hope in sight, youth activists push for more

Stop with the “blah blah blah” inside COP26 climate change negotiation rooms, calls out activist Greta Thunberg. Photo by By Matt Watts, Nov. 1, 2021, for Evening Standard.

As the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) enters its final stretch in Glasgow, Scotland, here are a few highlights:

Phasing-out fossil-fuel vehicles — who’s on board: 2040 is the target year to remove fossil fuel-powered vehicles to fight climate change from a group of automakers, other companies, countries, and cities. Some major players are not backing it as of yet. Here’s how it breaks out so far for what’s being called the Glasgow Declaration on Zero Emission Cars and Vans:

Backing it: Over 100 signatories including General Motors, Ford, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, BYD, and Jaguar Land Rover; Leaseplan; Uber; food retailer Sainsbury’s; 33 national governments including India, New Zealand, and Great Britain; states such as California and New York; and cities such as Seoul, South Korea, and Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Not backing it: Toyota, Volkswagen, Stellantis, Hyundai, Nissan, Honda, and BMW; and the U.S., China, Germany, Japan, and France. Why are they not backing it? Some say that countries need to go further with their commitment to the charging and grid infrastructure. Germany said that there’s still an internal debate over whether fuels made from renewable energy but burned in a combustion engine could form part of the solution. The European Union has proposed a fossil-fuel vehicle ban on these vehicles by 2035, along with a commitment to a charging infrastructure that automakers have been asking for.

The U.S. still needs to get its act together on new climate change policies, along with finish up the overall federal budget. The bipartisan infrastructure bill did finally pass a few days ago, but much is yet to be done in Washington.

Youth activists want more: While constructive pledges are emerging form COP26, there continues to be a number of stalled items that many would like to see go forward. Eighteen-year old global activist Greta Thunberg has been leading a massive protest outside the meeting halls. She’s tired of just hearing, “blah blah blah,” coming out of the working group sessions. These activists are pushing hard for politicians to end inaction, calling government figures and business leader to do everything they possibly can meet the crucial goal of capping global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Tens of thousands of protesters marched through the rainy streets of Glasgow, Scotland over the weekend to demand the urgent measures necessary to tackle the crisis.

Supply chain goes for 2050 as the mark: 2050 could be a more realistic goal for other countries and stakeholders as the First Movers Coalition was formed that wants to help transform eight hard-to-abate sectors: aluminum, aviation, chemicals, cement, direct air capture, shipping, steel, and trucking. Together, these economic sectors represent more than one-third of the world’s carbon emissions. The World Economic Forum is partnering with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and over 30 global companies to invest in innovative green technologies so they are available for massive scale-up by 2030 to enable net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. Founding members include A.P. Møller – Mærsk, Amazon, Apple, Bank of America, Mahindra Group, SSAB Swedish Steel, Trafigura Group, Vattenfall, Volvo Group, Yara International, and Western Digital.

U.S. calls for cutting methane: Last week, the Biden administration announced it will be cracking down on methane, a potent greenhouse gas that spews from oil and natural gas operations and can warm the atmosphere 80 times as fast as carbon dioxide in the short term. Methane is produced by landfills, agriculture, livestock, and oil and gas drilling. It is sometimes intentionally burned or vented into the atmosphere during gas production, which has been difficult for governments to stop.

It will apply to about one million oil and gas rigs across the U.S. The Obama administration had previously attempted to prevent methane lakes from oil and gas wells built since 2015, but these rules were cut out by the Trump administration.

President Joe Biden also said that 70 countries had joined a coalition to cut methane levels 30 percent by 2030.

In Washington, the oil and gas industry has been working together to block a separate effort in Congress to impose a fee on methane leaks from oil and gas wells as part of a broader budget bill. The methane fee is designed both to raise revenue and to lower greenhouse pollution.

Deforestation another key focus at COP26: Brazil joined more than 100 other signatories committed to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, which became the first major deal last week to come out of the global conference. Brazil holds about one-third of the world’s remaining rainforests, including a majority of the Amazon rainforest. Brazilian farmers and beef-sector ranchers have cut down much of it, while other Brazilian farmers have been working hard to protect and restore it.

The countries who have signed the pledge — including Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the US, and the UK, cover around 85% of the world’s forests. Forests play a critical role in fighting climate change by absorbing vast amounts of carbon. Another bright spots has been a pledge of public and private funds to meet the pledge and coming in at about $19.2 billion.

And in other news: A major environmental report was released as COP26 moved forward last week. A new analysis study produced by investigative journalism non-profit ProPublica shows for the first time just how much cancer-causing chemicals come from thousands of sources of hazardous air pollution in the U.S. — and how much the chemicals they unleash could be elevating cancer risk in their communities. Using advanced data processing software and a modeling tool developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ProPublica mapped the spread of cancer-causing chemicals from thousands of sources of hazardous air pollution across the country between 2014 and 2018. It offers a distinct view of how toxic air blooms around industrial facilities and spreads into nearby neighborhoods. One example given in the study comes from a huge chemical plant near a high school in Port Neches, Texas, which laces the air with benzene, an aromatic gas that can cause leukemia.

DOE granting awards for emissions reductions: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last week awarded $199 million to fund 25 projects aimed at putting cleaner cars and trucks on America’s roads, including long-haul trucks powered by batteries and fuel cells, and at improving the nation’s electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. Projects granted funding include SuperTruck 3, the third phase of an initiative that will work to improve medium- and heavy-duty truck efficiencies and reduce emissions of freight transportation. Overall, 25 research, development, and demonstration projects were granted awards aimed at advancing electrification of freight trucks, reducing vehicle emissions, and improving the electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Volvo Group, PACCAR, Daimler Trucks, Ford, and General Motors, were among the winners.

Rivian going public: Electric truck startup Rivian is expected to do very well during its initial public offering today — with valuation estimates that came in at about $70 billion shooting up to nearly $107 billion. The company has been at it a long time — first raising debt financing about a decade ago. The past two years have been much better, driven by an Amazon-led round bringing in around $700 million in corporate backing. As a private company, Rivian has raised about $10.5 billion in funding.

Based in Irvine, Calif., the truckmaker has a manufacturing plant in Normal, Ill., and other facilities in Palo Alto, Calif., Carson, Calif., Plymouth, Mich., Vancouver, British Columbia, and Woking, England.

Study on power sources for U.S. energy: Interested in finding out how clean energy is becoming in the U.S. — and which states are the farthest behind? Check out a new study from Michael Sivak, the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan; and calculations based on the data developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists; plus raw data (the percentages of electricity generated from different energy sources in the individual states) coming from the Nuclear Energy Institute. A well-to-wheels report on electric vehicle emissions of greenhouse gas took into account eight different energy sources. Coal and oil continue to be the source leading to most emissions from electricity generation, and hydro, wind, and nuclear are the energy sources leading to least emissions. West Virginia continues to be the leading source of power generated by coal, in 2020 knocking out Wyoming as the 2018 leader. Missouri, Kentucky, and Utah were the remaining states in the top five worst coal-power polluters.

Global carbon data analysis updated: Our World in Data, a source of data and analysis on critical issues, just updated its data on global CO2 emissions. The annual update is based on the latest release form the Global Carbon Project. Check out the overall website for amazing, and sometimes disturbing, charts on numerous categories shaping the world’s future.

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