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Climate

When Will Methane Emissions Fall?

On the IEA’s latest report, electric semi trucks, and bananas

When Will Methane Emissions Fall?
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Storms dropped hail stones big enough to leave craters in the ground in Argentina • Denver is expecting more than a foot of snow • A wildfire outbreak is possible in Texas and Oklahoma.

THE TOP FIVE

1. IEA: Methane emissions from energy still high but could fall soon

Methane emissions from energy production around the world reached a record high in 2019, and have remained at that level ever since, with 2023 being no exception, according to the International Energy Agency’s 2024 Global Methane Tracker. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps more heat than carbon dioxide, and is responsible for about one-third of the total rise in global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels. Fossil fuel production is not the only source of methane emissions, but it is a big one, and it is within our control. Improvements to oil and gas infrastructure can reduce methane leaks, for example.

Energy production is the third largest source of methane emissions. IEA

Last year oil, gas, and coal producers added more than 120 million metric tonnes of methane to the atmosphere, a number that is “unacceptably high,” said the IEA’s chief energy economist Tim Gould. The agency called for a 75% reduction in methane emissions from fossil fuels this decade to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and said new policies, pledges, and methane-tracking satellites could bring emissions down soon. “If all methane pledges made by countries and companies to date are implemented in full and on time, it would be sufficient to cut methane emissions from fossil fuels by 50% by 2030,” the IEA said. “However, most pledges are not yet backed up by plans for implementation.”

2. Biden administration unveils infrastructure plan for electric freight trucks

The Biden administration yesterday released details of its plan to create the infrastructure needed to electrify the nation’s trucking fleet. “Heavy duty vehicles have a disproportionate effect on pollution, as large diesel engines release many more particulate emissions than light-duty vehicles do,” explained Jameson Dow at Electrek. Indeed the transportation sector accounts for about 30% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and more than a fifth of that comes from the biggest trucks. Phase 1 of the plan is to build out charging and hydrogen fueling hubs along some 12,000 miles of roads between 2024 and 2027, targeting some of the busiest routes first, including those around major ports. After the hubs are established, the subsequent phases would then connect those hubs to one another, and then expand the network. Here is a look at the hubs:

Joint Office of Energy and Transportation

3. Climate change threatens world’s banana production

Did you know there’s a World Banana Forum? The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) hosts the annual gathering so the “main stakeholders of the global banana supply-chain work together to achieve consensus on best practices for sustainable production and trade.” This week the event took place in Rome, and climate change was top of the agenda. “Farmers are battling daily with unpredictable weather patterns, scorching sun, floods, hurricanes, and increased cases of plant diseases,” said Anna Pierides, a sustainable sourcing manager at the Fairtrade Foundation. She warned that farmers may go out of business if they do not get more support and see fairer prices. “There will be some price increases, indeed,” said Pascal Liu, senior economist at the FAO. “If there’s not a major increase in supply, I project that banana prices will remain relatively high in the coming years.” Bananas are the world’s most exported fruit.

4. Greta Thunberg hauled away from Swedish parliament

For the second day in a row, police forcibly removed Greta Thunberg from the entrance to the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. The 21-year-old climate activist and other protesters began their demonstration there yesterday, protesting against what they see as inaction from political leaders in addressing the climate crisis. After Thunberg refused to move, police lifted her by the arms and put her about 20 meters away from the building’s door.

5. Bezos Earth Fund invests in making meat alternatives taste better

Jeff Bezos’ philanthropic organization, the Bezos Earth Fund, is pouring $60 million into setting up hubs at universities where researchers will work to improve the texture, taste, and nutritional value of meat alternatives. We’re not talking about “lab grown” meat here, but plant products made to taste like meat. Animal agriculture accounts for up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations, and meat consumption is expected to grow by 50% by 2050. Meat alternatives could reduce the environmental footprint of the food system, but only if they taste good enough to convert enough meat lovers. Last week Oscar Mayer announced it had partnered with a Bezos-backed food startup to create meatless hot dogs and sausages that “not only deliver on great taste, but also bring the smell, appearance, texture, and grill marks consumers desire and want.”

Oscar Mayer's plant-based sausges and hot dogs KraftHeinz

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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. Read More

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Politics

AM Briefing: Earth Day Edition

On expanding solar access, the American Climate Corps, and union news

Biden’s Big Earth Day Agenda
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Torrential rains forced Mauritius to shut down its stock exchange • “Once in a century” flooding hit southern China • In the Northern Hemisphere, the Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden kicks off Earth Day with $7 billion for expanding solar access

Today is Earth Day, but President Biden and his cabinet are celebrating all week long. Senior members of the administration have scheduled a national tour of events and announcements related to the president’s climate and environmental record. It starts with Biden’s visit to Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia, today, where he will announce $7 billion is being awarded to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Solar for All initiative, which aims to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. The average grant size will be more than $80 million, and the funding will be used to design new programs and bolster existing ones that subsidize the cost of rooftop solar installations, community solar projects, and battery storage.

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Sparks

Biden Hands Out $7 Billion to Expand Solar Access

The Solar For All program is the final piece of the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Solar panel installation.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The great promise of solar panels — in addition to their being carbon-free — is the democratization of energy. Anyone can produce their own power, typically for less than the going utility rate. The problem is that those who stand to benefit the most from this opportunity haven’t been able to access it.

That pattern could change, however, with Solar for All, a $7 billion program under the Environmental Protection Agency to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. On Monday, the Biden administration announced it was awarding the funds to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits, at an average grant size of more than $80 million.

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Climate

A Big Week for Batteries

Texas and California offered intriguing, opposing examples of what batteries can do for the grid.

A battery.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

While cold winters in the south and hot summers across the country are the most dramatic times for electricity usage — with air conditioners blasting as weary workers return home or inefficient electric heaters strain to keep toes warm from Chattanooga to El Paso before the sun is up — it may be early spring that gives us the most insight into the lower-emitting grid of the future.

In California, America’s longtime leader in clean energy deployment, the combination of mild temperatures and longer days means that solar power can do most of the heavy lifting. And in Texas — whose uniquely isolated, market-based and permissive grid is fast becoming the source of much of the country’s clean power growth — regulators allow the state’s vast fleet of natural gas power (and some coal) power plants to shut down for maintenance during the mild weather, giving renewables time to shine.

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