Photographer: Chang Lee/NYT/Redux

Josh Petri's Week in Green

Plummeting carbon emissions and big government spending—two of the defining narratives of 2020 so far—could create an unprecedented opportunity for the world to meet the goals enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, according to the International Energy Agency.

With $1 trillion of investment over each of the next three years, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions could end up falling in 2023 by 4.5 billion metric tons, or 14% of last year’s total. Such an investment has the potential to lift the world out of its Covid-19 economic slump with climate-safe growth. It’s a strategy that also could create 9 million jobs across a variety of energy-intensive sectors and push global GDP 3.5% higher than it would otherwise have been, according to a joint IEA-International Monetary Fund analysis.

But trillions of dollars aren’t easy to come by in the private sector, where risky technology bets with no guarantee of payout turn off even the most well-intentioned investor. Venture capital firms typically fund apps and software, not the industrial innovations needed to de-carbonize the world. 

A small, six-year-old nonprofit thinks it has an answer though: raise the funds through charitable vehicles like foundations, and from wealthy people who don’t mind risking some cash to fight climate change.

relates to States Race to Lead America’s Offshore Wind Industry
Solar panels on the rooftop of an Ikea store in Sydney.
Photographer: Steve Turner/Bloomberg

Perhaps Ikea could chip in. The Swedish furniture giant plans to assemble its own solar plant at one of its Australian megastores, complete with big-battery storage.

“This is about utilizing our commercial buildings to be a part of producing clean energy in the community,” said Jan Gardberg, CEO of Ikea Australia. “It’s basically that we will also become an energy production company.”

In the U.S., East Coast states from Virginia to Massachusetts are jockeying to be at the forefront of developing offshore wind farms. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy this week announced plans to build a huge port to handle the massive turbines. Construction on the 30-acre, $300 million project should begin in 2021, Murphy said. 

Before America has truly clean power, however, it needs more power lines. Wind and solar facilities are remote by nature, requiring unoccupied land and few buildings that could block breeze or create shade. The energy they produce has to travel a long way to reach customers, and the U.S. doesn’t have enough transmission lines to handle it all. 

Coronavirus Pandemic Causes Climate Of Anxiety And Changing Routines In America
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
Photographer: Pool/Getty Images North America

As the federal government says it is contemplating whether to invest in America’s moribund energy infrastructure (as part of a plan to bailout the economy), renewable advocates inside and outside the industry are pushing power lines to the top of the priority list.

Former U.S. vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden linked climate change and pollution to the struggle against racial inequality. “Climate change is not just an environmental issue,” Biden said during a webcast by the League of Conservation Voters. It’s “a health issue and a jobs issue and an equity issue.” 

Biden’s original climate plan was criticized by environmentalists for not being bold enough. He doesn't support a ban on fracking and has indicated he sees a future role for coal and natural gas. Biden has, however, announced a climate change task force that includes more progressive voices, including New York Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who will craft a recommendation for the Democratic Party platform.

China, on the other hand, consumed a record amount of fossil fuels in 2019, despite slowing economic growth. While the coronavirus halted industrial activity in the Asian nation earlier this year, there have recently been signs of an increasingly strong rebound, including record oil imports.  

The nation, which mines and consumes half the world’s coal, will likely ease the pressure on local governments to shut older, inefficient coal mines as it seeks to meet rising demand for the most-polluting fuel to spur its economic recovery.

Josh Petri writes the Week in Green newsletter recapping the best reads and key news in climate change and green solutions.