Newsletter: Canary’s new pods, a clean energy catapult’ and the vicious circle of climate finance

Have you heard about our new podcasts? Plus: COP26 news on coal retirements, hydrogen and more.
By Julian Spector

  • Link copied to clipboard
Mural near the site of the U.N. COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

Welcome to Canary Media’s free newsletter, which explores trends in the clean energy transition and highlights the best of our news coverage. Sign up today.

It’s Monday again, the first Monday since we told the world that we’re hatching two brand-new original podcasts.

The first episodes of The Carbon Copy and Catalyst with Shayle Kann will drop later this week. We want them to be your essential listening to stay savvy on the transition to clean energy. Think of them as an audio companion to what you love about this newsletter. Maybe you’re not back to a regular commute, but when you’re walking the dog, brewing a pour-over or slicing some veggies for dinner, you can be part of the conversation.

It’s a joyful reunion for me, as our podcasting partners Stephen Lacey and Shayle Kann helped shape my views as a cub reporter joining the cleantech beat at Greentech Media many years ago. Now Stephen’s running his own startup podcast studio, and Shayle’s making big bets as an investor in deep climate technologies.

Listeners have been turning to them for years for audio guidance on all things clean energy. Now they’re starting afresh, just like we did with Canary Media six months ago. Any help you can give to spread the word about the new shows is greatly appreciated. 

In fact, if you tag @CanaryMediaInc in any tweets or other social posts about the podcasts, you could end up being featured in a future newsletter. Get creative. And if you’ve got any topics you want the podcasts to cover, tweet at us or email us at [email protected].

Now let’s get you caught up on some COP26 updates that really matter, plus an inside look at what’s wrong with global climate finance.

Coal down, hydrogen up in Glasgow

At the 2015 Paris climate summit, the nations of the world all agreed on a number for how bad they would let global warming get: 2 degrees Celsius of warming, but no more — and ideally less than 1.5 degrees. In Glasgow, countries have been announcing more ambitious national plans intended to help meet that goal (though falling way short so far).

But beyond these official U.N. negotiations, there’s lots of new and interesting stuff swirling around, which could provide some of the oomph needed to deliver real climate action.

Take the developments around coal power, the single biggest source of emissions worldwide:

  • 20 wealthy countries including the United States, Canada, the U.K., Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand committed to ending public financing for overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of 2023
  • South Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines secured billions of dollars to help shut down existing coal plants and switch to clean power.

Keeping a livable climate means phasing out coal power, and these latest commitments work toward actually doing it. Get the full story.

Green hydrogen is showing up in a way it simply wasn’t six years ago. It’s still an open question just how expansive a role this carbon-free fuel will play in the future economy, but it’s quickly becoming a favorite for industrial niches such as iron and steel, long-haul trucking, and shipping and aviation.

A group of industrials announced a Green Hydrogen Catapult to fling this super-light gas over the parapets of commercialization. (I love me some medieval siege engines, but I must confess I struggle to understand the catapult metaphor in this case.)

Before we can run society on carbon-free hydrogen, we have to actually be able to produce it economically. The key lever for that is simply scaling up production of the electrolyzers that translate cheap, renewable electricity into hydrogen. The Catapult initiative aims to ignite and elevate electrolyzer capacity like a flaming boulder chucked in a parabolic arc at a besieged keep.

Here’s why that’s sorely needed:

  • Global electrolyzer capacity in spring 2021: ~300 megawatts, according to the International Energy Agency
  • Forecast for 2022 capacity: 1.8 gigawatts, according to BloombergNEF
  • 2027 capacity target announced by Green Hydrogen Catapult: 45 gigawatts
  • Capacity needed in 2030: ~850 gigawatts, to meet the IEA’s aggressive pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050

The Catapult target is a big step up from previous commitments. And the coalition of Catapulters unites clean energy developers who could fuel green-hydrogen production with future customers such as shipping and metals conglomerates. It’s an effort to build out supply and demand in parallel. 

But even the big new target is minuscule compared to the apparent need identified by the IEA analysis. At least we have empirical evidence that electrolyzers are on a learning curve, so their costs are on track to fall precipitously as more get built.

Wind and solar kept crushing expectations for how quickly they would grow. It’s entirely possible that green-hydrogen production follows a similar pattern. The question is just whether it’s fast enough to play the role that many leaders now ascribe to this resource. Read all about it.

What’s wrong with global climate finance

You’ve probably heard that rich nations are supposed to pony up $100 billion per year to give to poorer countries to invest in climate-related projects. Unfortunately, they haven’t hit that level yet, and they probably won’t for a few more years.

But Jeff St. John just filed a gripping story revealing all the more insidious ways that climate finance fails the countries that suffer the most from climate change. An official from Fiji described the terms and practices of climate finance as a disaster of private capital” compounding the disaster of climate change.

It’s not just the lack of funds, but also the terms of the loans and the hoops countries have to jump through to even access funds that are nominally available to them. The rates of actual disbursement of climate funds dedicated to developing countries are shockingly low.

If you read any feature on the COP right now, it should be this one. Here’s how it kicks off:

Satyendra Prasad, Fiji’s ambassador to the United Nations, has a word for how the international climate finance system treats countries like his on the forefront of climate-change-driven destruction:​“cruelty.”

There’s a certain cruelty, he says, to a system that forces island nations such as Fiji to borrow at punishing interest rates” to repair the massive destruction caused by storms like Cyclone Winston, which hit the country in 2016 and caused $1.4 billion in damages — roughly one-third of Fiji’s gross domestic product.

That cruelty is compounded by repeated and intensifying storms that cause flooding and erosion that tears down these repairs over and over, forcing countries like Fiji into cycles of indebtedness that rob them of the ability to make more productive public investments.

In Fiji, we long ago moved to a tipping point where we spend more on repairing schools than on building new schools,” he said in an interview. To recover is to stand still. It is to go nowhere.”

Nations like his, which have played almost no role in causing the climate change now threatening them, are also forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops and wait years to fund critical infrastructure projects, he said.

Now, with world leaders gathering in Scotland for the United Nations COP26 climate talks, Prasad and other island nation representatives are demanding relief from the cycle of damages, debt and delay they say has characterized the past decade of climate finance policy.

Smaller states need to be supported to overcome the punishing cruelty that climate finance is today,” Prasad said.

Read the rest.

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.