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This Week in Climate: Climate plays catch up around the world

Today in our climate news section, This Week In Climate, we look at the new shipping emissions regulations in the EU, Brazil's cancelation of new oil pipelines and a wind energy comeback in the UK.
Julian Moore
Dec 5, 2022 9 min read
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EU Regulates Shipping Emissions

The European Union announced this week that it would regulate emissions from the shipping industry for the first time.

Starting in 2024, shipping companies operating in European ports will be compelled to purchase carbon credits corresponding to at least 40% of their emissions. Those requirements will quickly scale up to 70% in 2025, then 100% in 2026.

The European Union’s Emissions Trading System has been active since 2005, but until now had left out emissions from the shipping industry due primarily to a lack of alternatives. No less than 90% of the world’s goods travel in shipping containers at some point in their supply chain journey and fossil fuels are still the only viable fuel to propel commercial vessels around the globe.

The short on-ramp for the new regulations is designed to usher in both long and short-term changes in the shipping industry. Increased costs associated with fossil fuels are expected to push the industry to invest in low-carbon innovations such as green hydrogen or green ammonia, but those technologies are still not quite ready for prime time.

The world’s largest shipping companies said as much on the sidelines of COP27 when they announced a commitment to net-zero emissions… by 2050. The European Union is hoping to nudge that target up a couple of decades to fall in line with more ambitious proposals in other parts of the world.

Until then, cargo ships have more immediate options for reducing fuel consumption. The first would be to simply slow down. One study showed that a 10% reduction in speed produced a 27% hourly reduction in fuel consumption for container ships. Adapting ships to plug into ports’ electrical grids when they reach land would also eliminate the need to burn fuel while idling to keep electricity running on board.

Then there’s black carbon. Ships emit a particulate known as black carbon— the result of incompletely burnt fuel, and an example of the rare short-lived climate change contributor. Black carbon only stays in the atmosphere for a few days, but it attracts the sun’s rays while it’s in the air. When those sun-heated particles land on snow, they accelerate snow melt and contribute to the loss of ice in places like the Arctic.

Electrification will be key to reduce the emissions associated with shipping, which account for 3% of the world’s carbon profile, on par with fully industrialized countries like Japan and Germany.

Brazil Cancels Oil Pipelines

Brazil’s incoming environmental minister announced the new administration will cancel a series of planned natural methane gas pipelines and powerplants as one of its first official acts.

Brazilian President-elect Lula da Silva returned to power earlier this year on a climate action platform that included promises to halt the nauseating levels of deforestation encouraged under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

Since then, Lula has promised to halt deforestation full stop once he takes over, and last week floated a pact in cooperation with the soy industry to protect the Cerrado savanna. The Cerrado’s rich network of roots acts as a major carbon sink that is teetering toward becoming a carbon source, on the order of 3.2 Gigatons of CO2, due to deforestation for soy and cow ranching.

But Lula also made clear during his campaign that he supports the expansion of Brazilian offshore oil exports well into the future. Brazil only produces 12% of its electricity with oil, but crude is a critical revenue source for a country laser-focused on lifting its people out of poverty.

Lula received a hero’s welcome at COP27 last month with his expected Environment Minister Marina Silva in tow.

Marina Silva said the proposed methane gas network would line the pockets of Brazilian energy executives with $22 billion of taxpayer money over four years, and roughly another billion to keep it running each year. Time will tell how far Lula’s government will go to reduce emissions, but for now the most egregiously expensive ones are the easiest to cut.

Wind Energy Comeback in the UK

Construction of new wind farms has been banned in the UK since 2015, but those days could soon be over. New UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly looking at reversing the ban to help ease surging energy costs.

Wind energy comes in at about a quarter of wholesale electricity prices in the UK, which has reached historic highs. It’s unlikely that any repeal will bring back commercial-scale farms but it could create room for smaller installations at a local level.

Historically, resistance to wind farms in the UK has been of the NIMBY variety, with local mayors and authorities leading the movement in 2015 to ban wind farms. But with energy subsidies due to be reduced in coming weeks, municipalities are increasingly looking for quick solutions for a potential energy crunch.

Small wind turbines can be assembled in a matter of days, if not hours, and have slowly won over conservative advocates in the country as the energy crisis drags on.

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The Author

Julian Moore