This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.
US President Joe Biden’s two-day Earth Day climate summit is underway. The summit’s goal is to boost international climate commitments ahead of the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow this November. And if there’s one word that best summarizes those commitments, it’s actually a number: 2030. Biden pledged that the US will reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, eventually reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. He also said the US would increase funding to vulnerable countries to help them combat the worst effects of climate change.
Other highlights of the climate summit included Chinese President Xi Jinping echoing a prior pledge to bring China to net-zero emissions by 2060, and to “strictly limit increasing coal consumption.” Canada vowed to reduce emissions 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, Japan said it could reach 46 percent below 2013 levels by 2030, and India pledged to install 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by the same 2030 deadline.
US emissions are already down about 20 percent from 2005 levels, although they could increase from that point this year; since oil and gas use may go up as people get vaccinated and feel comfortable traveling again and returning to a semblance of pre-COVID “normal.” Actually achieving the 2030 goals will require a lot of momentum from every sector, including travel. Let’s look at how that impetus is being built here in the US.
As travel and daily commutes pick up again, reaching that 50 percent threshold will be tough but doable — since the lowering cost of solar and wind power and the increasing adoption of electric vehicles will help make each aspect of daily life, including domestic and international travel, more sustainable. Airlines are increasingly turning to biofuels to power their planes, cutting the total emissions of each flight. The potential for a “revisiting” of nuclear power, with new technologies that make it safer and reduce the risk of human-triggered catastrophes, could help to fill in moments of intermittency when solar and wind power can’t be generated, such as night and windless periods. To learn more about this, I highly recommend Bill Gates’ new book, How To Avoid A Climate Disaster.
That momentum of the climate summit got a big push this week as a major union representing coal miners, the United Mine Workers of America, actually endorsed Biden’s green energy policies — with hopes that the federal government will provide ample employment aid and job training to displaced mine workers seeking jobs in renewable energy. Endorsements like this are huge, because they signal that an industry long resistant to the renewable energy transition is acknowledging the need for change, as long as its workers are protected. The union is justified in expecting its members to receive priority assistance and job placements in the energy industry of the future, given that many miners themselves aren’t as willing to endorse the transition for fear of job and income losses.
Lastly, the United States joined forces with Norway and Great Britain on Thursday to provide funding to countries that can prove they are lowering emissions by protecting and conserving tropical rainforests, in an initiative called the LEAF Coalition. The three governments are joined by major global companies pledging additional funding, including Nestle, Unilever, Amazon, and Salesforce.
“The LEAF Coalition is a groundbreaking example of the scale and type of collaboration that is needed to fight the climate crisis and achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2050,” US Global Climate Envoy John Kerry said in a statement. “Bringing together government and private-sector resources is a necessary step in supporting the large-scale efforts that must be mobilized to halt deforestation and begin to restore tropical and subtropical forests.”
More climate wins this week
Cadillac became the latest automaker to make the all-electric commitment, saying this week that all new vehicle models will be electric going forward. The company, whose parent General Motors already has announced a plan to sell only EVs by 2035, will sell through its current models over the next decade and be selling only EVs by 2030, according to a report in Elektrek. Last year, the automaker unveiled its first electric model, the Lyriq, which has a 300-mile range.
Electric-powered safaris have arrived in Kenya, Travel & Leisure reported this week. Some safari tour operators including Opibus now cruise visitors around in electric safari trucks and deploy solar power to run operations, creating a more off-grid experience that better protects the habitat and the wildlife. EVs are also much quieter than traditional safari vehicles, meaning snapping photos without disturbing the animals is that much easier.
Washington state’s House and Senate passed a bill that would phase out gas-powered cars by 2030, five years ahead of the 2035 deadline that a Goldman School of Public Policy study has shown to be a viable end of internal combustion engine vehicle sales. When signed into law, the bill would make Washington the state with the earliest EV transition deadline, The Verge reported.