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Biden’s climate plans

Presumptive Democratic party presidential candidate Joe Biden has released an ambitious $2 trillion energy and climate plan that will, if implemented, create not only millions of well-paying jobs, but place the nation on a mid-century carbon neutrality pathway. Calling for a massive investment in solar and wind capacity, Biden aims for a coal exit and elimination of carbon pollution by 2035. More than just an energy and climate platform, Biden’s plan reckons with ensuring a just transition for affected coal and gas producing regions, while directing support towards impacted poor and minority regions so often in the smokestack shadows. Far from perfect, Biden’s plan would at least begin to stop the world’s top polluter from taking us all over the climate cliff.

After a disastrous three years under Trump, myriad crises rippling throughout the Covid-plagued nation are rapidly converging: an economy devastated by job losses and widening financial inequality; years of stagnant investments in infrastructure; lack of support for mass transit; imploding fossil-fuel extraction industries; curtailing of environmental regulation; a closing window to significantly stem heat-trapping emissions; widening biodiversity and natural systems collapse; and sadly many more.

Knowing his administration must immediately address these challenges, in mid-July Joe Biden, now the presumptive Democratic nominee for President released a surprisingly ambitious $2 trillion plan to put the nation on a zero carbon emissions by mid-century path, aiming for a carbon-pollution free electricity sector by 2035.

Unequivocally linking broad climate action to re-employment, economic and social justice, Biden promises significant investments in renewable energy, including installing over 500 million solar panels and manufacturing 60,000 wind turbines. The plan specifically calls for utility-scale, rooftop, and community solar systems simultaneously with tens of thousands of on- and off-shore wind turbines to be either installed or permitted during Biden’s first term.

By acting immediately, Biden is clearly addressing the existential threat of climate change unlike the current incumbent. Committed to re-entering the Paris climate agreements, Biden accepts that “science tells us we have nine years before the damage is irreversible.”

“When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax’,” Biden said referring to Trump’s previous claims that the crisis is all fake news. “When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs’.”

The 7000-plus word plan on his website specifies his intent to implement an “energy efficiency and clean electricity standard” requiring utilities and grid operators over the next 15 years to rapidly end carbon-emitting sources’ share of electricity down to zero. Knowing that such a rapid shift away from fossil fuels will destabilize local economies dependent on extractive industries, Biden’s plan would in turn direct 40% of clean-energy spending toward disadvantaged communities in the shadows of refineries and power plants.

He also calls for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps that would put people to work on environmental restoration projects like cleaning up abandoned fracking wells, coal mines and revitalizing the ever growing amount of America’s brownfields.

Embracing several sectoral initiatives, Biden also plans to upgrade millions of buildings and homes by 2025. He’s also directing billions to spur electric vehicle manufacturing while calling for the installation of over 500,000 charging outlets for a new fleet of cleaner American-made cars, trucks and school buses.

A passionate advocate for rail and mass transit, Biden has long called for a major overhaul of America’s bare-bones national passenger rail system. His plan hopes to spark a second railroad revolution by providing not only more funding for the country’s struggling Amtrak passenger carrier, but aims to provide all Americans living in municipalities of more than 100,000 people with quality public transportation by 2030. He even wants to spend millions on new pedestrian infrastructure and bicycle lanes.

Going further, in coordination with private freight rail companies, Biden wants to electrify much more of the national rail system, in turn markedly reducing diesel fuel emissions. To contextualize, America’s biggest railroad, BNSF (privately owned by the Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway), is the second largest user of diesel fuel worldwide behind the US military. His plan also calls for new electricity transmission lines to be built alongside existing rail corridors nationwide, particularly within the rapidly expanding Midwestern and Texan wind-belt across the Great Plains.

In light of the desperate state of the U.S. economy, Biden has promised that, if elected, the plan would be sent to Congress immediately. “The reality is we will be facing a country that will be in dire need of these types of investments,” said a top aid after the speech.

This plan comes on top of other initiatives including a pledge to spend $700 billion on clean-energy research over the next 10 years; setting up a new agency to accelerate research on small modular nuclear reactors, carbon capture, grid-scale energy storage, and carbon-free hydrogen; and developing lower-emissions methods for producing steel, cement, hydrogen, and food. (For a deeper dive, Cleantechnica’s published several longer analyses).

While aligning Biden more closely with several of his progressive primary challengers, in particular Democratic-Socialist Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, the new climate and energy plan also follows upon the recommendations of a unity taskforce co-chaired by the New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a cosponsor of the Green New Deal.

Not cheap, the plan will partially be funded through a reversal of many of Trump’s corporate tax cuts, ending subsidies for fossil fuel production, tax increases for corporations and asking “the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share”. To hold polluters accountable, Biden also calls for the establishment of a new Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Justice Department.

All told, Biden is trying to walk a delicate line, appealing to the many progressive voters demanding sweeping climate policies without turning off more conservative working-class voters in key swing states where coal and natural gas are still large contributors to the economy. Salted throughout his plan, Biden stresses that “good-paying union jobs” are fundamental to his strategy.

Dancing like the career politician he is, Biden dodges a political bullet by including much of the Green New Deal language while conspicuously not mentioning it. But in neither calling for a fracking ban nor carbon pricing, he’s clearly still not moved that far from his longstanding centrist neo-liberal positions. Either way, much of Biden’s plan will require agreement from Congress, meaning gaining control of the Senate is critical for any of it to come to fruition. Nevertheless, Biden has a keen sense of which way the political winds are blowing. And today they are blowing green.

Woody addiction: Biomass is the UK’s dirty little secret to getting clean

Lauded internationally for reducing its coal dependency and cleaning up its economy, the United Kingdom’s energy transition has a dirty little secret: biomass. Misclassified as renewable and carbon free, tallying the biodiversity and environmental impacts of burning biomass depends on nuance: how tight the regulations are, how fast a forest can grow back, and how well you can tweak your numbers. Now the world leader in burning trees to make electricity, scientific evidence is piling up questioning biomass’ claims to climate neutrality. A new study by energy thinktank Ember, The Burning Question, alongside other ongoing citizen climate campaigns, demands London curtails future subsidies while tightening biomass’ dubious carbon loophole. L. Michael Buchsbaum reports.

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The IEA Won’t Budge: Fossil fuels, nuclear, and carbon capture remain key to innovation strategies

Despite so much criticism directed at the International Energy Agency (IEA) over the years, the Paris-based intergovernmental organization, which was established in the framework of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1974, refuses to seriously rethink its affinity to fossil fuels and nuclear power – and its timid embrace of renewables.

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Hydrogen…yet again

After much anticipation, the European Commission introduced ‘A hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe’ to pave the way for “the missing link in the energy transition. This was prompted by an understanding that an energy transition reliant solely on electricity as an energy carrier will not allow the EU to decarbonise its entire energy system. This has ushered in the Commission’s second attempt to facilitate the diffusion of the energy carrier, following its launch of a high level group on hydrogen in 2003 – to little avail. However, this time the reinvigoration of the fuel just might be right. John Szabo takes a look

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Clean mobility lags behind in Latin America

The transportation sector in Latin America is still largely based on fossil fuels and responsible for 35 percent of the continent’s carbon emissions. Greening public transportation systems is an issue predominantly for a few wealthier cities. But many remain highly inefficient, insecure and in the hands of powerful transportation mafia-like groups, which make them a difficult subject for reform. Yet the main hurdle for developing a sustainable transportation concept in many Latin American countries is the disconnect between national and municipal policies on transportation and energy policy. Rebecca Bertram reports

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Amidst coronavirus, conditions in South Africa are ideal to fast-track renewables

As the South African government prepares to inject a stimulus package equivalent to 10 per cent of its GDP into the economy to aid recovery from the coronavirus recession, energy analysts say the time is right to fast-track renewable energy. More than state-funded investment, though, this will need political will and policy that builds private-sector confidence. Leonie Joubert reports.

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Gender awareness: Energy efficient housing through gender-responsive measures. Pt. II

Energy usage within households occurs in various forms, whether it is about heating, cooking or the use of electrical appliances. Comprehensive data on household energy consumption is already trying to paint a more accurate picture of its consumers. However, one important factor often does not receive the attention it deserves: gender. In the second part of the series, Kathrin Meyer explains how energy efficiency in the housing sector is wasted due to inadequate consideration of gender-responsive measures.

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Baden-Wuerttemberg Discovers Geothermal Energy: Will Germany Follow?

Geothermal energy has been slow to contribute to Germany’s Energiewende, or clean energy transition. But this is changing. Bavaria has 20 deep-well plants and more in planning. Now its neighbor state in the south, Baden-Wuerttemberg, is picking up the thread. Deep geothermal energy is to become a cornerstone of its effort to achieve climate goals that are even more determined than Germany’s national plans – and currently in danger of falling short. Paul Hockenos has the story.

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To exit coal, Germany’s governing coalition digs a bigger hole

Just before summer break, Germany’s parliament finally committed to phasing out coal. But the conservative government’s plan doesn’t really call for meaningful shutdowns until 2023 as coal capacity slowly rolls offline through 2038. Instead, the law greenlights a large new coal plant while awarding billions of Euros in direct payments to the aggrieved coal operators and affected regional governments, directly ignoring key recommendations of the once celebrated Coal Commission. Though Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition and industry heaped praise upon it, environmentalists and opposition parties condemned the exit plan as a golden parachute for an already dying industry that won’t ensure the nation meets its Paris Climate Agreement commitments. Michael Buchsbaum has the details.

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