Germany’s clean energy blitz, Abu Dhabi’s plastic bag ban, EU proposals for a coal embargo on Russia, and all the big green business news from around the world this week
‘Historical’: Sweden to set target for consumption emissions
Sweden is on track to become the first country to start counting consumption-based emissions in its climate targets, after its lawmakers agreed on Thursday to establish a goal to reduce the climate impact of production of imported goods.
Following extensive negotiations, all eight of Sweden’s political parties have agreed to a target that would see consumption emissions reach net zero by 2045, in line with the country’s ambitious domestic climate target.
National climate targets submitted to the UN comprise of emissions generated within a country’s territory, but climate justice advocates have long advocated that richer nations need to take greater responsibility for the emissions generated overseas by products that are then shipped to their consumers. Research from WWF, for example, has found 46 per cent of the UK’s carbon footprint is generated overseas by goods produced to satisfy UK consumption.
Karin Lexén, secretary general at the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, welcomed the lawmakers decision to tackle consumption-based emisisons. “No less than 60 per cent of Sweden’s emissions are created abroad. So far, these emissions have remained invisible in the Swedish climate statistics,” he said. “Their inclusion in Sweden’s emission targets is historical and something that The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, among many other organisations, have worked towards for a long time.”
The environmental group said the target needed to be followed up with policy instruments that would help reduce emissions.
Counting consumption-based emissions is a complex exercise due to a lack of standardisation of accounting approaches and limited reporting on the climate impacts of manufacturing processes. Moreover, tackling emissions that are produced in other jurisdictions remains a major diplomatic challenge for countries looking to curb consumption-based emissions.
Climate change could cost US treasury $2tr a year by 2100, White House warns
Climate change could burn a $2tr hole in the US federal budget each year by the end of the century, according to a study published this week by the White House.
The assessment, published on Monday by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), found that the US government could lose about $2tr annually in revenue by the end of the century due to floods, fire, drought, and other extreme weather events caused by climate change. This would mean that measures to tackle climate change would be sapping 7.1 per cent of the nation’s annual budget by the end on the century.
In addition, the analysis noted that the federal government could end up spending between $25bn and $128bn annually on coastal disaster relief, flood insurance, crop insurance, healthcare insurance, wildland fire suppression, and replacing flooded federal buildings and structures.
The report is published nearly a year after President Joe Biden tasked federal agencies with analysing and mitigating the risks climate change posed to financial security.
In a blog post, OMB officials Candace Vahlsing and Danny Yagan wrote: “Climate change threatens communities and sectors across the country, including through floods, drought, extreme heat, wildfires, and hurricanes that affect the US economy and the lives of everyday Americans. Estimated damages from a subset of these events have grown to about $12bn a year over the past five years. Future damages could dwarf current damages if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.”
EU proposes ban on Russian coal imports
The European Commission on Tuesday announced a plan to ban all coal imports into the EU from Russia, as part of a its latest round of sanctions in response to the mounting atrocities in Ukraine.
If approved by the EU’s 27 member states, the coal ban would mark the first coordinated embargo from the bloc to tackle Russia’s fossil fuel exports.
Calls have been growing from the Ukrainian government for countries to stop purchasing fossil fuels from Russia, on the grounds that they generate hundreds of billions of dollars that then help fund the Kremlin’s war effort.
But nations have thus far been reluctant to introduce any such bans because of the risk restricting Russian energy exports would pose to Europe’s economy and the impact the move would have on households and businesses already struggling by soaring energy bills.
In a statement, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the coal ban, if approved, would bring a coal trade worth roughly €4bn a year to a halt.
“Russia is waging a cruel and ruthless war, not only against Ukraine’s brave troops, but also against its civilian population,” she said. “It is important to sustain utmost pressure on Putin and the Russian government at this critical point. The four packages of sanctions have hit hard and limited the Kremlin’s political and economic options. We are seeing tangible results.
“But clearly, in view of events, we need to increase our pressure further. Today, we are proposing to take our sanctions a step further. We will make them broader and sharper, so that they cut even deeper in the Russian economy.”
Reports yesterday suggested that the coal ban was set to come into full effect from mid-August, one month later than originally envisaged by the European Commission, following pressure from Germany to delay the measure to give it more time to identify alternative energy sources.
Methane emissions soar to record high
The level of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere surged to a record high for the second year in a row during 2021, according to analysis published on Thursday by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The agency noted that levels of the potent greenhouse gas had jumped to 17 parts per billion in 2021, in the largest annual increase recorded since records began in 1983.
It warned that emissions of the short-lived greenhouse gas were roughly 15 per cent higher in 2021 than in the period between 1984 and 2006.
“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” said NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad. “The evidence is consistent, alarming and undeniable.”
The report also notes that levels of carbon dioxide also continue to rise at historically high rates, noting that 2021 was the tenth consecutive year that emissions of the world’s most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas had increased by more than two parts per million.
The NAOO noted that action on methane emisisons could have an much more immediate effect on slowing the rate of global warming than efforts to mitigate carbon dioxide, given that it is shorter lived and roughly 25 times more powerful at trapping heat.
Germany plots major wind and solar drive to shore up energy security
Germany’s coalition government this week approved a package of clean energy measures designed to make the country less reliant on Russian oil and gas.
Published just days before the UK unveiled its own Energy Security Strategy, the so-called Easter Package or Osterpaket sets out new targets for Germany to secure 80 per cent of its electricity demand from renewables by 2030, up from approximately 42 per cent today, and almost 100 per cent green electricity by 2035.
Germany’s government described the package as the “biggest energy policy reform in decades”, noting that it would tackle the climate crisis and meet its goal to become climate neutral by 2035, while also helping to reduce the nation’s heavy dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
To get there, ministers have set targets to reach 115GW on onshore wind, 30GW of offshore wind, and 215GW of solar PV capacity by the end of the decade. They have also set out draft reforms for Germany’s clean energy law and legislation that could speed up grid development.
The legislation includes a new clause that recognises that clean energy is an issue of overriding national interest, and will be given priority over other concerns until emissions are reduced to net zero. The new rules have been designed to ensure the rapid build out of new renewables is not hampered by lengthy planning procedures, local opposition, and contradictions with other policy goals.
The package will now be sent to parliament and could be adopted in the first half of 2022, according to reports. Germany’s government has in theory agreed to the plans, although one third of the ruling coalition, the Free Democratic Party, has said it plans to push back against certain details over the coming weeks.
Abu Dhabi to ban single-use plastic bags from June
Abu Dhabi has announced it will ban single-use plastic bags from 1 June, as part of its plans to gradually reduce use of single-use plastic products across the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
The ban on single-use plastic bags will be followed up with similar interventions against single-use styrofoam cups, plates, and food containers by 2024, according to the emirate’s environment agency.
Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency said the policy had been developed to “promote a healthy environment and a sustainable lifestyle for all” while also helping the emirate reduce its carbon emissions.
“As part of our plan to completely curb the use of single-use plastics, we are encouraging Abu Dhabi citizens to use more multipurpose and re-usable materials to reduce their environmental footprint,” said Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, secretary general of the agency. “Today, we are introducing a ban on single-use plastic bags in the capital in light of their harmful impacts on the environment and biodiversity.”
Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency confirmed there would be a large-scale awareness campaign to prepare the public for the ban, which has been announced shortly after neighbouring emirate Dubai confirmed it would phase out single-use plastic bags within two years.
The United Arab Emirates, which is set to host the COP28 Climate Summit in 2023, has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, but how it intends to reach the goal remains unclear, with the oil-rich nation currently boasting one of the world’s highest emission rates per capita.