This year’s Climate Week NYC helped set the tone for the runup to COP26. The theme was “getting it done” with a focus on fulfilling and increasing commitments made by businesses, governments and organizations. This is the hub for Canary Media’s coverage of the event.
As Climate Week NYC comes to a close, let’s set aside for a moment the self-congratulatory backslapping for corporate commitments to incrementally reduce carbon emissions. The theme for this year’s event was “getting it done.” To do that, world powers will need to put money in the right places, while taking it away from the entities doing the most harm — and fast. It is an imperative outcome for COP26.
This is an unfair fight, but it doesn’t have to be. In Thursday’s panel, “Cutting the Crap on Climate Finance Access: A Commitment to the Global South,” experts from across the globe welcomed the title because they’re sick and tired of the empty promises from the same wealthy nations that have contributed the most to global warming.
“I really like the titling of all of this because the system of balance for access to climate finance is all crap,” said Diann Black-Layne, Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador for climate change and lead negotiator on climate change for the Alliance of Small Island Developing States. “We are now six years beyond the Paris Agreement, and we have a tremendous amount of financing for the fossil fuel industry, which is the largest emitter, by far, for subsidies. They get over $680 billion a year. So the governments that provide so-called climate finance to us are giving them over $600 billion. And on the high side, we get about $2.4 billion.”
Even with additional commitments from the EU this week, developed nations are still far short of their 2009 pledge of directing a total of $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries.
Others on the panel, which was sponsored by RMI, were equally blunt. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.)
“Access to finance means survival,” said Una May Gordon, principal director of climate change with the Jamaican Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. “Let us stop talking and put the money on the table. Survival it is for us.”
And finally, if you’re going to catch up on this informative panel on a Friday afternoon and you’re feeling feisty, you could turn this into a game by taking a drink every time someone says the word “crap.” Depending on your beverage of choice, Canary Media does not take responsibility for your condition by the end of the viewing. If you do go this route, please be sure to let us know what your drink of choice was @canarymediainc.
For New York City to have any chance of fulfilling its ambitious electric vehicle plans, it’s going to need a lot more EV-charging sites like Revel’s “superhub.” Located in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, the superhub has 25 fast chargers — the most universally usable high-speed chargers at any single site in the nation, according to Paul Suhey, Revel’s co-founder and head of rideshare and EV.
But how will charging sites like these find enough power on the already-congested grid that serves the country’s most densely populated major city?
Providing the public with a sufficient number of places to charge their electric vehicles in close proximity to where they live and work is critical to convincing them to make the shift to EVs and help New York City meet its aggressive transportation electrification goals. The city’s Electric Vehicle Vision Plan, unveiled earlier this month, aims to get 400,000 car owners to switch to EVs by 2030. To support that transition, the plan sets a goal of having about 46,000 chargers in place by then — 40,000 public Level 2 chargers, which take hours to refill a battery, and 6,000 direct-current fast chargers, which can do the job in as little as half an hour. Right now there are only around 2,000 Level 2 and 270 fast chargers in New York City and the adjacent Westchester County area combined.
Adding these concentrated load pockets to a congested grid isn’t easy, however. “To find connected power on the grid right now where you can site and permit EV charging is very, very hard,” Suhey said. The wait time to build charging projects can keep developers on hold for “a year to never, depending on the location and a lot of other factors.”
Adding EV charging capacity to the grid would be difficult enough on its own. But at the same time, the city is trying to shift heating systems in buildings from fossil fuels to electricity — a key strategy for reducing carbon emissions as the state moves to clean up its electricity supply on the path toward goals of 70 percent renewables by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040. Widespread electrification of other appliances including stovetops, water heaters and clothes dryers — another important climate strategy — will only add to the grid stress.
The upshot is that New York City is going to need a lot more electrical capacity, and fast.
This is a global problem, as Christian Levin, CEO of Volkswagen-owned truck manufacturer Scania, stated in a Tuesday panel at this week’s Climate Week NYC event. When he talks to companies that are worried about switching to EVs, “it’s not the vehicles” that are holding them back, he said. “It’s the charging. We need to start to invest heavily into charging infrastructure, [and] we need…help from policymakers.”
But the EV charging buildout is also an intensely local challenge, as the experience of Revel and other developers in New York City indicates. It involves costly and complex work to extend power lines, install transformers and manage new grid loads.
“How do we build the charging infrastructure to support that transition?” Suhey asked. “That’s hard in and of itself.”
The Revel approach
Revel, a startup founded in New York City in 2018, sells its charging services at 39 cents per kilowatt at its Brooklyn superhub. The site is the equivalent of a gas station for EVs.
One-liners, and a few mentions of systemic change, mark the first-ever Climate Night on late-night TV
I’m not sure anyone needed a Seth Meyers rewrite of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” but that’s what the first Climate Night gave us.
On Wednesday night, seven late-night show hosts aligned to deliver segments on climate change as part of Climate Week NYC. Despite the coordination that went into planning Climate Night, the treatment of this weighty topic was all over the place, with only a minority calling out fossil fuel interests as a key problem in addressing the crisis.
Jimmy Kimmel brought on Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist who is co-director of the Climate Center at Texas Tech University and chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy.
“Ninety companies produced two-thirds of all the heat-trapping gases that have caused climate change since the dawn of the industrial era,” she told Kimmel. “You could fit all their CEOs in three buses.”
Kimmel wasn’t the only one to address the fact that the primary problem is our reliance on fossil fuels and the entrenched interest of fossil fuel companies, in particular.
“Chevron, Exxon, Shell and BP are responsible for 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions,” Stephen Colbert said during his monologue. “There has to be systemic change backed up by government action to make everyone make the right choices, not the easy ones. If it weren’t for government intervention, we’d still be eating lead paint chips dipped in fresh asbestos hummus.”
Hats off to Colbert for providing a way for people to encourage government action. The Late Show’s bandleader, New Orleans native Jon Batiste, spoke about that city’s long recovery after Hurricane Ida, whose strength was in part driven by climate change. Batiste noted the #CodeRedCongress initiative, led by Climate Power, via which constituents can email their representatives in Congress to urge them act on climate change by passing the Build Back Better Act. (Read more about why this legislation is so important in Canary’s coverage here.) Bill Gates also mentioned the importance of this legislation when speaking to Late Late Show host James Corden, but he didn’t explicitly ask the audience to engage with their politicians.
From there, it was kind of a mixed bag. Samantha Bee took a deep dive in another direction, into a very unsexy element of basic infrastructure: sewage. She spoke about the problems of combined sewer overflow, especially in the face of increasing storms and the racial inequity in sewage services in the U.S. She also had a call to action that does not require a majority in Congress: Stop throwing wipes into the toilet (yes, even the ones that claim they’re flushable).
Jimmy Fallon provided some actionable advice via his guest Jane Goodall, who spoke of her new initiative Trees for Jane, which has a mission of broad-scale, community-based forest protection and restoration. And yet, while forest and ocean health are both key to mitigating climate change (Jeff Bezos just dropped $1 billion on efforts in this area), hyping the notion that planting trees can significantly mitigate climate change without mentioning the need to drastically slash fossil fuel use made it feel like a segment that could have been sponsored by Chevron. Fossil fuels also didn’t merit a mention from The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah as he spoke about the myriad ways climate change is affecting our planet.
But back to Seth Meyers for a minute. He spent more than seven minutes talking about the effects of climate change we’ve seen this year in powerful weather events before he got around to something meatier in his monologue (and he later brought on John Kerry to talk about climate change action).
“How is it acceptable that a guy who profits personally from coal is writing our climate policy?” Meyers asked, referring to Joe Manchin (D-WV), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who earned nearly $500,000 in dividends last year from a coal brokerage firm he founded in the 1980s. ”It’s like if instead of hiding his gambling, Pete Rose is calling his bookie from second base.”
Kimmel and Meyers arguably had the most comprehensive approaches, and yet they still only scratched the surface of the complexity of the climate crisis. The question now is whether these television hosts will turn Climate Night into regular, ongoing climate coverage.
Food and agriculture have climate commitments, too
Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, is confident that the U.S. and Canada can convert more than 5 million medium- and heavy-duty trucks from fossil fuels to electric without disrupting the flow of cargo they carry. And he has the data to back it up.
That data comes from Run on Less–Electric, a just-concluded test conducted by major freight companies across six states and two Canadian provinces. Over three weeks, Run on Less collected data on electric delivery vans, box trucks, port terminal tractors and heavy-duty semitractor-trailers making standard daily deliveries, ranging from taking beer and potato chips to grocery stores to moving cargo containers between seaports and distribution centers.
Roeth has coordinated two previous Run on Less events to collect real-time data on new high-efficiency truck designs, working in partnership with nonprofit research organization RMI and with support from the Department of Energy’s SuperTruck program. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.)
But this is the first test that focused on electric trucks — and according to preliminary data and reports from the companies and drivers involved, the trucks are ready for action.
Roeth described a few snags in the test drives during a Wednesday event at Climate Week NYC, such as “downtime events on a few of the trucks.” But outside a handful of hang-ups like these, “all of the trucks operated very well over the three weeks.”
In fact, the feedback from the 13 participating companies, which included Anheuser-Busch, Frito-Lay, NFI and DHL, indicated that “these electric trucks are performing better than recent diesel…introductions,” he said. That’s not surprising, given that electric-drivetrain-equipped trucks are considered to be easier to operate and are cheaper to maintain than internal combustion engine models.
What hasn’t been as clear to the trucking industry is whether electric trucks can match the range and refueling flexibility of their fossil-fueled predecessors. But that wasn’t a problem for the vehicles running the daily duty cycles chosen for this test, Roeth said. Most, in fact, never dropped below 50 percent charge on their batteries, and they had plenty of time to slow-charge overnight without straining the power grids they were connected to.
Roughly half of all freight trips completed each day in the U.S. are less than 100 miles in length, so it’s a significant finding that electric vehicles can make those deliveries with no major problems, Michael Berube, DOE deputy assistant secretary for sustainable transportation, said at Wednesday’s event.
Only a few years ago, the conventional wisdom held that “we’ll never electrify trucks,” he said. “But the reality is, as [this research has] shown, there are some parts of that market that are ready today…where it will make economic sense to switch over, between the lower fuel costs and the lower operation costs of these electric vehicles.”
That, in turn, could have an outsized impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions by sector, said Jason Mathers, director of vehicles and freight strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Trucks make up less than 4 percent of total road vehicles in the U.S. but account for roughly 25 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. This is because they weigh a lot more than passenger cars and they’re on the road more often, Mathers said. Nearly half of those trucks, about 5.2 million, fall into the categories of vehicles represented in this month’s Run on Less test. But right now, less than 1 percent of those trucks are electric.
Switching all 5.2 million of these trucks to electric could slash about 100 million metric tons of carbon emissions from the U.S. trucking sector’s annual total of just under 450 million metric tons. The switch could also make even bigger cuts to emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that are harmful to human health, Roeth said.
“That’s [equivalent to] about 25 coal-fired power plants that would be eliminated if all those trucks went electric,” he said. “And all of those trucks are electrifiable.”
China ends foreign coal investment, essentially shutting down all financing
Climate Week NYC coincides with the U.N. General Assembly in New York — and for good reason. Many influential leaders are in town, some of whom will make appearances at Climate Week events across the city (assuming they don’t get snared in the insufferable midtown traffic created by the U.N. being in session).
As the world confronts the climate crisis, it also means that big energy and climate-related announcements are amplified by these concurrent gatherings. That is certainly true of Chinese President Xi Jinping announcing that the country will stop financing new coal plants outside of China. Within China, however, coal capacity remains the dominant source of power.
BREAK: Xi Jinping says China will stop building coal plants overseas. This almost completely ends the international finance of coal in a single sentence.
Bill Gates hits his $1B target for Breakthrough Energy Catalyst
This summer, Bill Gates promised to drum up $1 billion to help drive down the “green premiums” for technologies that could bring hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy all the way to 100 percent zero-carbon.
This week, Gates closed the deal, landing $100 million apiece in charitable donations from BlackRock and Microsoft, as well as commitments from General Motors, Bank of America, American Airlines, Boston Consulting Group and ArcelorMittal to cover the remainder. The latter companies are pledging a combination of equity investments and offtake agreements for the green hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuel, long-duration energy storage and direct-air carbon-capture projects the funds will seek to bring to commercial-scale operations.
These technologies aren’t commercially viable today, Gates explained in a Tuesday talk at Climate Week NYC. That’s why Breakthrough Energy Catalyst — the latest iteration of his Breakthrough Energy umbrella organization — is putting its money into reducing the risk for majority investors, working with the European Union, the U.S. Department of Energy and private-sector backers to bring them the rest of the way there.
“We have kind of a deadlock unless we can use innovation to bring that green premium down very, very dramatically,” Gates told Climate Group CEO Helen Clarkson. “Why would a middle-income country commit if the costs are just so incredibly high?”
“The rich countries have a lot of that power to innovate. But we not only have to invent things in the lab — we [also] have to demonstrate that these things work reliably so that over time, the price of things like green hydrogen can come down.”
Bezos pledges $1B for conservation to fight climate change
Surrounded by soaring views of Manhattan, with the Empire State Building lit green in honor of Climate Week NYC, Jeff Bezos took to the stage at the event’s opening day reception, along with John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, and Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the U.N. and chair of the U.N.‘s Sustainable Development Group.
While many who work in climate solutions refer to the 2020s as “the climate decade,” Kerry’s focus was much more on the short term. “We are in the race of our lifetime in the next 40 days,” he said of the lead-up to the COP26 talks in Glasgow.
“Every bit of the science tells us we can do this. It isn’t a question of an absence of capacity; it’s a question of an absence of the will and political decision-making to make it happen,” he added. “It is far less expensive to invest in this now than it is to wait and clean up the damage…storm after storm after storm.”
Bezos matched that call for investment with his announcement of $1 billion for conservation from Bezos Earth Fund, with an initial focus on the Congo Basin, parts of the tropical Pacific Ocean and the tropical Andes. This move is in line with an international push known as “30x30” that seeks to conserve 30 percent of the planet’s land and water area by 2030.
“The loss of nature and the changing climate aren’t two separate problems,” he said during the announcement. “They are two sides of the same coin. We cannot reverse climate change without addressing the loss of nature and vice versa.”
COP26 will reveal who is on board and who is full of crap when it comes to curbing climate change
New York City needs a lot of clean power to meet its zero-carbon goals. Upstate New York produces a lot of clean power, and so does Canada. But right now, there isn’t enough transmission grid capacity to connect these areas.
On Monday, New York leaders announced two big transmission projects designed to bridge this north-south clean power divide. To help overcome the barriers that have stymied many similar projects in the past, both will use high-voltage direct-current cables buried underground and, in some places, under the waters of the Hudson River.
State policymakers have aimed for years to link up New York’s renewables-rich upstate region and the fossil-fuel-dependent New York City area. New York City gets about 85 percent of its electricity from fossil fuel plants, many of them located in disadvantaged communities that are harmed by air pollution from the facilities. By contrast, upstate New York gets about 88 percent of its electricity from carbon-free resources, including ample hydropower, a growing share of wind and, more recently, solar projects.
In a Monday announcement coinciding with the opening day of Climate Week NYC, New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) highlighted how these projects could “help us turn the page on New York City’s long-standing dependence on fossil fuels.” In addition to creating thousands of jobs and driving about $8.2 billion in economic development, the transmission projects are expected to reduce carbon emissions by 77 million metric tons and save $2.9 billion in public-health costs from reduced air pollution over the next 15 years.
But the projects aren’t a done deal yet. Both were selected as part of a process launched in January by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, so they still must go through final contract negotiation and approval. Once contracts are finalized, the New York Public Service Commission must approve them. Payment for the projects will be dependent upon local approvals, completion of construction, and delivery of power to New York City.
The larger of the two projects is the 1,250-megawatt Champlain Hudson Power Express, which has been in the works since 2013. It would connect hydropower from Canadian utility Hydro-Québec via a 339-mile corridor running under Lake Champlain, underground along transportation rights of way through Schenectady and Albany, and under the Hudson River for most of the rest of the distance to New York City.
The project is expected to cost about $2.2 billion and start delivering power to New York City in 2025. It is being developed by Transmission Developers, Inc., which is owned by private equity firm Blackstone.
The second project announced Monday, Clean Path New York, comes from Forward Power, a joint venture of EnergyRe and Invenergy, in partnership with public utility New York Power Authority. Unlike the first project, this one bundles new transmission with new clean energy — about 3,400 megawatts of new wind and solar capacity to be built upstate by EnergyRe and Invenergy, the latter a major clean energy developer.
Of the project’s $11 billion price tag, about $3.5 billion would go toward building a 174-mile high-voltage direct-current transmission line capable of carrying 1,300MW of power from upstate to New York City, with completion set for 2027. The remainder of the budget would fund the new wind and solar.
The New York Power Authority will provide the right of way for much of the project underneath its existing 345-kilovolt overhead transmission line running from Utica to Orange County, with the remaining stretch buried along roadways and underneath the Hudson River. NYPA will also balance out the variability of the new wind and solar with its Blenheim-Gilboa pumped-hydropower storage facility, which uses excess clean energy to pump water uphill and then releases it back down through power turbines to generate additional electricity when needed.
Gloria Walton, CEO of The Solutions Project, discusses why carbon-neutral goals aren’t enough and how this energy transition can — and must — do better when it comes to delivering a more equitable energy system than the one we have now that has its roots in colonialism.
NY Gov. Hochul announces 10GW solar target, two new transmission lines
New York Governor Kathy Hochul snaked her way through midtown traffic to join the opening day of Climate Week NYC and brought a few goodies for the crowd. Just four weeks (minus one day) into the job, Gov. Hochul (D) announced that New York is upping its solar goal, increasing it from 6 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2025 to 10 gigawatts by 2030.
Additionally, she said, “We’re bringing extension cords down through New York,” she announced. “This is exciting.” New York will build two new transmission lines from upstate and Quebec to the borough of Queens, allowing New York City to end its reliance on fossil fuel power plants, according to the governor. Referring to the climate crisis, Hochul added that she never wants her yet-to-be-conceived grandkids to ask her, “How could you let his happen?”
EU pledges an additional 4 billion euros to help developing nations combat climate change. It’s not enough
The European Union has proposed directing an additional 4 billion euros annually to developing nations for climate finance through 2027, according to Reuters. Even though that’s on top of about $25 billion the EU already commits annually, developed nations are still far short of their 2009 pledge of directing a total of $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries. “Some [African] economies will be devastated,” Vivienne Yeda Apopo, director general of the East African Development Bank, said at the opening day of Climate Week NYC, speaking of countries whose chief exports are fossil fuels. Her focus going into the COP26 talks in Glasgow later this year is developing “pragmatic solutions” and a clear roadmap for the next 24 months.
Climate Pledge adds 86 companies to its ranks
Good morning! It’s the first day of Climate Week NYC, and even before the official events have kicked off, corporate pledges are already rolling in. Amazon and Global Optimism have added 86 new signatories to The Climate Pledge, which has companies commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 — 10 years ahead of the target set by the Paris Agreement. That means new and existing signatories, including consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, truck maker Scania and Norwegian fintech startup Enfuce, will have to focus on slashing emissions or paying for offsets instead of fundamentally reshaping their businesses. If the pledges from the more than 200 participating companies are met, it would amount to nearly 2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions reductions from a 2020 baseline, or 5.4 percent of global annual emissions.