Global Briefing: President Biden mulls climate emergency declaration

The White House promises a wave of new climate measures, the EU bolsters energ security plans, and the top Vatican official backs fossil fuel non-proliferation

President Biden labels climate change ‘an emergency’

The Biden administration has given the clearest signal yet it is planning a wide-ranging package of executive actions to accelerate US decarbonisation efforts, in the wake of reports rebel Democrat Senator Joe Manchin intends to block any legislation containing provisions designed to tackle the climate crisis.

Speaking at an event at a former coal plant in Massachusetts, Biden said the White House would now take action in response to the on-going Congressional gridlock. “As president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that is what climate change is about,” he said. “This is an emergency.”

“As president, I’ll use my executive powers to combat the climate crisis in the absence of congressional action,” he added.

The use of the word “emergency” in his speech fueled speculation the President could formally declare that climate is an emergency – a move that would significantly strengthen the executive powers a sitting president could use to tackle carbon emissions and bolster climate resilience.

Following his speech, Biden told reporters he will “will make a decision” on whether to declare a climate emergency “soon”.

Campaigners called on the White House to move quickly to deliver its promised package of executive actions. “Today, Biden said that climate change is an emergency, but we are sick of watching this administration fail to treat it as such,” said Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash in a statement. “We are a year and half into the Biden presidency and all we’ve seen are a handful of executive actions, and the slow death of climate legislation in Congress. This moment is critical for the Biden Presidency – he can either take action and deliver for millions of people, or he will forever be known as the president who condemned my generation to an unlivable world.”

The debate over whether or not to declare a climate emergency is reportedly on-going within the administration. Some fear that declaring an emergency could make it more likely that a future Republican President could similarly declare an emergency on wide-ranging issues. But others have argued that with Congress unable to pass legislation it is the only mechanism available that would give the White House a shot at delivering on its climate goals.

Experts said that declaring a climate emergency would provide Biden with a raft of new powers that would make it easier for him to accelerate clean energy development on federal land, provide loans for clean tech projects, and direct finance to low carbon infrastructure projects.


US Postal Service boosts electric vehicle plans

The US Postal Service (USPS) this week announced that it is to strengthen its fleet electrification plans, in a move that could see at least 40 per cent of its fleet switch to zero emission models.

Reuters reported that the service was planning to buy at least 25,000 electric delivery vehicles – more than twice its previous plans – as it looks to refresh its aging fleet.

The organization had previously planned to buy just over 10,000 EVs as part of a new fleet order that would see it purchase around 50,000 new delivery vehicles. But the company seems to have responded to complaints that its plans were insufficiently ambitious and as it has drastically increased its EV procurement plans.

In total, USPS said at least 40 per cent of the 84,500 vehicles it now plans to buy will be EVs.


EU unveils winter energy-saving plan

The European Commission this week unveiled plans for what could become a bleak winter across the continent, proposing a target for member states to reduce their gas consumption by 15 per cent in response to the energy security threats that have resulted from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Against a backdrop of a record heat wave that is driving demand for cooling and the further contraction of gas exports from Russia, both of which are limiting the ability of member states to top up their gas reserves ahead of winter, the Commission warned that it may be necessary to imposed a legally binding target for reducing gas consumption in the coming months.

“We have to prepare for a potential full disruption of Russian gas – and this is a likely scenario,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The plan – dubbed “save energy for a safe winter” – proposes a voluntary gas demand reduction target of 15 per cent, from 1 August 2022 to 31 March 2023, with an option to make the target binding. It also calls on member states to deliver updated national emergency plans by the end of September including measures to meet the objective.

A number of member states have already taken steps to curb energy demand, calling on businesses and the public to turn off lights and embrace other energy savings measures. But some member states have taken relatively few measures to reduce demand and diversify their energy supplies, and a number of governments are expected to push back against the new plan.

But Von der Leyen warned that urgent action was now needed across the bloc. “If our demand reduction target is not ambitious enough, we risk ending this winter with empty storage, which would be impossible to refill in time for the next heating season,” she said.


Mainstream Renewable Power and Actis agree to sell leading African renewables developer

Mainstream Renewable Power and Actis this week signed an agreement to sell Lekela Power, Africa’s largest pure-play renewable energy developer, to Infinity Group and the Africa Finance Corporation.

The companies said the planned exit reflected “the successful culmination of Mainstream and Actis’ partnership strategy for Lekela, with the platform consisting of a leading management team, over 1GW of fully operational assets and significant growth prospects”.

Lekela now boasts five operational wind farms in South Africa, one operational wind farm in Egypt, one operational wind farm in Senegal, as well as further development opportunities in Ghana, Senegal, and Egypt.

“There has never been a more critical time to accelerate the global transition to renewable energy, for the health of both our planet and our communities,” said Mary Quaney, group chief executive, Mainstream Renewable Power. “Much of Africa is acutely vulnerable to climate change and we are proud to have worked with Actis, as well as the communities, governments, project lenders, equipment suppliers and contractors across Africa, to deliver over 1GW of operational wind power that will continue to have a positive impact for contracts to come.”

Lucy Heintz, partner and head of energy infrastructure at Actis, said: “This exit highlights the hands-on approach we take at Actis as builders and operators of leading energy of platforms scale, delivering positive impact. We’re to leave Lekela Power Strongly positioned for its next phase of growth as an acknowledged sustainability leader supplying much-needed clean energy to communities across Africa, building on our net zero commitment. With our dedicated sustainability team, we have focused on an active ownership approach allowing us to deliver deep commitment to local African communities and environmental protection initiatives, investing behind the Energy Transition and delivering financial performance for our investors.”


Earthshot Prize announces Boston as host city

Boston is to host the second annual Earthshot Prize, which are scheduled to take place this December.

The global clean tech prize, which was launched by HRH Prince William, will once again offer prizes worth up to £1m to companies or projects that offer solutions to five ‘Earthshot’ goals: protect and restore nature; clean our air; revive our oceans; build a waste-free world; and fix our climate.

“There is no more important Moonshot today than repairing the planet and no better place to harness the Moonshot spirit than the City of Boston,” said Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. “It is a great tribute to President Kennedy that The Earthshot Prize will partner with the JFK Library Foundation to host the 2022 ceremony in Boston and inspire a new generation with the possibility of a sustainable future.”


Vatican hints at backing for Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty

A senior Vatican cardinal has this week endorsed calls for a fossil fuel nonproliferation multinational, as he presented Pope Francis’ annual message on the importance of caring for God’s creation.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, the Canadian Jesuit who runs the Vatican’s ecology and development office, backed calls by campaigners for a new treaty to build on the Paris Agreement and ensure that fossil fuel production is phased down.

“The planet already is 1.2 degrees hotter, yet new fossil fuel projects every day accelerate our race towards the precipice – enough is enough,” he said. “All new exploration and production of coal, oil, and gas must immediately end, and existing production of fossil fuels must be urgently phased out.”

He also reiterated Pope Francis’ long-standing calls for an urgent end to industrial extraction processes that are destroying the natural world.


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