Climate Now

Climate News Weekly: Decarbonizing Heavy Industry, Europe's Deadly Air Quality, Insurance at Risk, and more

September 25, 2023 James Lawler Season 1 Episode 115
Climate Now
Climate News Weekly: Decarbonizing Heavy Industry, Europe's Deadly Air Quality, Insurance at Risk, and more
Show Notes Transcript

From a new White House climate jobs training program that echoes the Civilian Conservation Corp of the FDR era, to UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rolling back carbon reduction targets, global leaders are taking a stance after the UN’s Climate Week in New York. Also, big industry is grappling with finding low-carbon business models that can outlive government subsidies, a close examination of climate risk is imperiling the US home insurance market, and the EU gets a dose of reality about the extent to which they are overdosing on air pollution.

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James Lawler: [00:00:00] Welcome to Climate News Weekly. This is James Lawler and I'm joined by my co-host Emma Crow Willard, also Managing Producer of Climate Now. Welcome. 

Emma Crow-Willard: Thank you. Last week was Climate Week in New York City, which meant that the UN was meeting as well as lots of side events around the city to drum up conversations around climate solutions.

And I think, related to that, the White House on Wednesday released a new climate jobs training program that- it aims to help put people to work in good-paying climate jobs. And that is the American Climate Corps. 

James Lawler: That is right. So Biden unveiled the American Climate Corps, which is a new program that echoes another program in the U.S.'s history, which [00:01:00] was the Civilian Conservation Corps, that was, and is considered by many to be, one of FDR's most successful programs from the New Deal.

The Civilian Conservation Corps employed millions of young men on environmental projects during the Great Depression. The CCC planted more than 3 billion trees and constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 parks nationwide during its nine years of existence. So it had a very, sort of, foundational role in the creation of the national parks that the U.S. has across the country. 

So the American Climate Corps is designed to train young people in high-demand skills for jobs in the clean energy economy. To quote from the White House, “the ACC will put a new generation of Americans to work conserving our lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, advancing environmental justice, deploying clean energy, implementing energy efficient technologies, [00:02:00] and tackling climate change”.

Emma Crow-Willard: And so one of the nice things about it is it sounds like a lot of the positions, one, you could get paid to train, but two, it doesn't require previous experience, so opportunities to move into climate solutions careers that you might not have had before. So, speaking of Climate Week, you went to a different event that was not in New York City, James. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

James Lawler: That's right. So I attended a conference on decarbonizing heavy industry that is produced by an organization called DeCarb Connect. The conference was great, met a lot of people who are active in a wide variety of industries across energy production to materials production, etc. All basically coming together to try to figure out, you know, what is the path forward to a lower carbon intensity future, you know, in a net-zero future for their various industries.

There was a lot of focus at the event on CCS, that is carbon capture and [00:03:00] storage. A lot of CCS developers, so people who are leasing land or developing projects where injecting CO2 deep underground for permanent storage is an integral feature of the project. But a lot of other projects as well, and a lot of other industries besides, you know, just pure CCS.

One of the themes that, that recurred throughout the two days was that yes, there's a huge amount of federal money and a huge amount of subsidies that are flowing towards decarbonization. That said, it's not enough to just bank on federal handouts, that projects really need to make sense sort of on the fundamentals and on the, you know, fundamental business models that are, you know, that, that are in play. You can't finance, you know, large projects, or you, you know, you either can't or you, you know, you really shouldn't based on subsidies alone.

There's a lot of talk about 45Q, [00:04:00] which we've discussed before on this podcast. That's the subsidy for permanent underground CO2 storage. But many of these companies noted that, you know, 45Q has a 12 year horizon, right? And it, you know, it takes several years to get projects going. And so, yes, you can say that, well, climate change is not going away, and so 45Q is very likely to be extended and other policies like it, but you really can't be sure.

And several people pointed out, look, if, if we're going to fully decarbonize the economy based solely on federal subsidies, the United States will go bankrupt. It'll go bankrupt long before, you know, we're able to decarbonize everything that we need to decarbonize. So what matters here is figuring out innovative ways and kind of thinking outside the box in terms of how, you know, we leverage sort of all of the tools in the toolbox to get to the level of decarbonization that we need to get to.

And [00:05:00] some of those things include, like, how do industries play together, right? How can you achieve reductions in emissions intensity by thinking a little bit differently about how you construct your supply chains, how you can thoughtfully combine policy frameworks with really, sort of, innovative engineering and, you know, combinations of companies and sort of ecosystem like hubs, for example, to allow you to go a lot further?

Another theme that came up was that, over the last five years, industrial players have kind of pulled back a little bit. Not in the sense that, you know, they're not interested in decarbonizing or they're not actively trying to decarbonize or push projects forward. But everyone's sort of become aware that, wow, this is really hard.

This is a hard problem. And, you know, industry is sort of wrapping its head around what exactly are the business models? Where are the opportunities? And all of [00:06:00] this stuff is sort of getting processed and metabolized. And so, There's a lot more understanding and knowledge than there was just a few years ago, and more sophistication, still a huge amount of openness and curiosity and enthusiasm, and that energy was invigorating and very interesting to be a part of because it felt like, you know, as opposed to just kind of breathless hyperbole that- sort of based in nothing, like you, you really had folks who, who were starting to figure out the path to get there.

So, so anyway, it was a great conference and very glad that Climate Now had an opportunity to attend. 

Emma Crow-Willard: Great. That's really interesting to hear, sort of, on the ground what these hard-to-abate industries are thinking in terms of the challenges they're facing in decarbonizing. 

James Lawler: Right. 

Emma Crow-Willard: So one other new story that is interesting is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is [00:07:00] going to delay some of Britain's overall climate targets that they had set, sticking with net zero by 2050, yes, but then moving back five years this ban on the sale of gas and diesel cars that they were going to have and also changing the targets for when they were going to replace gas boilers.

James Lawler: It's hard to kind of disentangle political motives here from policy based in sort of new understandings of what is possible, given that Prime Minister Sunak is running for re-election currently and some believe this move is, is really just a political play for increased support.

Emma Crow-Willard: So an article from Grist talks about a research report that came out from First Street Foundation recently about how 39 million U. S. homes are at risk of losing their insurance because of climate risks. [00:08:00] Basically, the report shows that there's going to be increased costs of insurance, which is going to make certain places unaffordable to live as more and more climate impacts emerge. 

James Lawler: We've talked about on Climate Now before how a number of insurance companies have started to pull out of key markets like California and Florida.

So Allstate, State Farm, Nationwide, and other insurance providers have left areas where there's a higher threat of wildfire, floods, and storms. Now, the reason that they've just up and left is that each state, you know, regulates their insurance markets and some of those states limit how much these companies can raise their rates in a given year.

So in California, and I'm quoting from a Grist article here, which we'll link to in the transcript on our website, “anything more than a 7 percent hike requires a public hearing”. So because of those policies, that's meant that premiums don't always accurately reflect risk. 

And if the insurance companies suddenly [00:09:00] realize that they need to accurately reflect risk in their pricing, you know, they may have no choice but to pull out of those markets, right? 

Emma Crow-Willard: If you want to check out what they found about your area, check out the report at report.firststreet.org/insurance-issue

James Lawler: So, we've talked about air pollution, you know, as a result of forest fires in the United States a number of times.

The Guardian released an investigation that found that 98 percent of Europeans are breathing highly damaging polluted air that can be linked to about 400,000 deaths per year. The World Health Organization indicates that the safe air recommendation is no more than five micrograms of particulate matter 2. 5 per cubic meter. 

The study found that only 2 percent of the population of Europe live in areas within this limit. Almost [00:10:00] all residents in seven countries in Eastern Europe, Serbia, Romania, Albania, North Macedonia, and Poland. Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary have double the World Health Organization guidance.

In Germany, 75% of the population lives with more than twice the WHO guidance. In Spain, the figure is 49%. In France, it is 37%. In the United Kingdom, three quarters of the population live in areas where exposure is between one and two times the WHO guidance, with almost a quarter living in areas with more than two times over that limit.

The primary causes are traffic, industry, domestic heating, and agriculture. And, unsurprisingly, the impact is felt disproportionately by the poorest communities. 

Emma Crow-Willard: And air pollution, of course, causes a lot of health impacts beyond just asthma or difficulty breathing. It seems that there is a body of evidence suggesting it impacts almost every organ in the body, according to this Guardian article, [00:11:00] and has caused one million stillbirths a year.

James Lawler: Yeah. So Dr. Hannah Bugard, who's an expert on air pollution in Europe and at the U. S. Health Effects Institute, said that this analysis is crucial to help inform the debate about air pollution and its effects on the continent, which she said resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Quote, “the deaths are preventable, and the estimate does not include millions of cases of non fatal disease, years living with disability, attributable hospitalizations, or health effects from other pollutants”.

Emma Crow-Willard: And you can check out an interactive map at the Guardian website that they put together as well. 

James Lawler: Thanks, Emma, and thanks for listening. We will see you back tomorrow with our deep dive conversation, in which we will focus on distributed energy resources versus centralized energy production, and the future of the electricity grid in the United States.

Hope you can join us.[00:12:00] 

Climate Now is made possible in part by our science partners like the Livermore Lab Foundation. The Livermore Lab Foundation supports climate research and carbon cleanup initiatives at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which is a Department of Energy applied science and research facility. More information on the foundation's climate work can be found at livermorelabfoundation.org.