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Climate

AM Briefing: 2035 or Bust

On decarbonizing the EU grid, oil prices, and contrails

AM Briefing: 2035 or Bust
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: A volcano on Iceland's Reykjanes peninsula has finally started to erupt • At least 120 people were killed in an earthquake in China • Meteorologists say Americans on the East Coast hoping for snow in January should keep “expectations in check.”

THE TOP FIVE

1. Some EU countries pledge to decarbonize power systems by 2035

A handful of countries within the European Union have pledged to decarbonize their power systems by 2035. The group includes France and Germany, the two biggest power producers in Europe. They’re joined in the commitment by the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, which is not in the EU but is aligned with the bloc’s climate policies. Current EU emissions goals aim for decarbonization by 2040, but this group believes they can move more quickly, and by working together they hope to streamline infrastructure installation and grid connectivity. “Cutting carbon from the electricity grid is seen as a crucial first step to removing emissions from the wider energy system,” Bloomberg Green explains.

2. Houthi attacks on ships send oil prices higher

The price of oil shot up yesterday on growing concerns about tankers being attacked by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. BP paused shipments through the channel, joining shipping giants including AP Moller-Maersk, MSC, and Hapag-Lloyd. The Red Sea offers a quick route from Asia to Europe, making it one of the world’s busiest shipping channels. It handles about 15% of global shipping, or 20,000 vessels each year, reportsThe Times of London. Since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas, Iran-backed Houthi rebels based in Yemen have been attacking ships with links to Israel. Lately the attacks have expanded to include ships with no Israeli ties. On Monday a Norwegian-owned vessel was attacked. The price of brent crude jumped by as much as 3% on the BP news, but “ample oil supply limited price gains,” saysReuters.

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  • 3. House Democrats sound alarm about major owner of oil and gas wells

    Democrats in the House of Representatives have launched an inquiry into the company that owns the most oil and gas wells in the U.S., saying its business model poses a massive climate risk. Diversified Energy Co. owns about 65,000 oil and gas wells, Bloombergreports. It buys old and unproductive wells and tries to keep them on life support. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee worry Diversified could suddenly decide to abandon the wells, leaving state governments with a hefty bill for cleanup and raising the risk of massive methane leaks. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, and already Diversified was the fourth-largest methane emitter among oil and gas producers last year, according to the EPA. “Diversified Energy’s strategy of leaving thousands of marginal wells unplugged for decades and potentially underestimating future cleanup costs could undermine important efforts to fight climate change,” committee members wrote in a letter.

    4. Airlines team up with researchers to reduce planet-warming contrails

    Major airlines are looking for ways to reduce the warming effect of the contrails produced by planes. Contrails are the clouds that build up in the sky behind jets as their engines spew hot air and soot into the atmosphere. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) posits that contrails could have a bigger warming effect than burning jet fuel, because contrails reflect heat back toward the ground. “It’s a big contributor and we need to worry about it,” MIT researcher Florian Allroggen tellsThe Washington Post. Airlines including Delta, KLM, and American are working with researchers to identify and test ways to eliminate contrails, which might mean flying at higher or lower altitudes to avoid routes with the coldest, wettest air. One recent study found that rerouting 1.7% of flights could cut contrail warming by 59%.

    5. Kentucky is getting a massive solar farm next year

    Construction has begun on what will eventually be Kentucky’s largest solar farm. The project, called Unbridled, is scheduled to come online in 2024. It will be able to power 120,000 homes with clean energy every year, and will provide around $42 million in direct economic impact over the first 20 years of operation, Electrek’s Michelle Lewis reports. “This 160 MW solar farm is a milestone for Kentucky, the fifth-largest coal-producing state in the U.S.” Lewis says. “Coal is at a point of no return, and renewables will provide clean electricity and substantial economic benefits. It’s encouraging that Kentucky is starting to embrace renewables.”

    THE KICKER

    Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly building a $270 million compound in Hawaii that will have its own food and energy supplies, and a 5,000-square-foot underground bunker.

    Yellow
    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

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    AM Briefing: N20 Emissions Climb

    On a very potent greenhouse gas, Florida’s flooding, and hydropower

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    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Temperatures in northern China will top 107 degrees Fahrenheit today • Months-long water shortages have sparked riots in Algeria • Unseasonably cold and wet weather is being blamed for stunted economic growth in the U.K.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Torrential rains flood southern Florida

    More than 7 million people are under flood advisories in Florida, with a tropical storm stalled over the state at least through Friday. Flooding was reported across the southern part of Florida including Fort Myers, Miami, and even farther north. In Sarasota, just south of Tampa, nearly four inches of rain fell in an hour, a new record for the area, with total rainfall reaching about 10 inches on Tuesday. The downpour was a one-in-1,000-year event. “The steadiest and heaviest rain will fall on South and central Florida through Thursday, but more spotty downpours and thunderstorms will continue to pester the region into Saturday,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Reneé Duff said.

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    On this week’s episode of Shift Key, Rob and Jesse talk about why power bills matter, how Jesse would design electricity rates if he was king of the world, and how to fix rooftop solar in America. This is the finale of our recent series of episodes on rooftop solar and rate design. If you’d like to catch up, you can listen to our previous episodes featuring Sunrun CEO Mary Powell, the University of California, Berkeley’s Severin Borenstein, and Heatmap’s own Emily Pontecorvo.

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    Jennifer Wilcox on Building the First U.S. Carbon Removal Office

    Now back at the University of Pennsylvania, she talks to Heatmap about community engagement, gaps in the decarbonization market, and goats.

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    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Climeworks, Tiffy3/Wikimedia Commons

    In November of 2020, Jennifer Wilcox had just moved to Philadelphia and was preparing to start a new chapter in her career as a tenured “Presidential Distinguished Professor” at the University of Pennsylvania. Then she got the call: Wilcox was asked to join the incoming Biden administration as the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy, a division of the Department of Energy.

    Wilcox had never even heard of the Office of Fossil Energy and was somewhat uneasy about the title. A chemical engineer by training, Wilcox had dedicated her work to climate solutions. She was widely known for having written the first textbook on carbon capture, published in 2012, and for her trailblazing research into removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With Penn’s blessing, she decided to take the job. And in the just over three years she was in office, she may have altered the course of U.S. climate action forever.

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