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The Climate 202

The growing chorus for carbon capture

The Climate 202

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! 

🚨 Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) met with a bipartisan group of senators on Monday evening about a potential climate and energy bill that could garner 60 votes, skirting the budget reconciliation process. More on that below. But first:

The growing chorus for carbon removal

There's a growing consensus among climate scientists that reducing emissions won't be enough to avert the worst effects of global warming.

Instead, scientists say, humanity must also capture the carbon dioxide that has already been emitted and store the gas underground, where it cannot escape into the atmosphere and warm the planet.

The technology to suck carbon out of the air and bury it deep underground — known as carbon capture and storage, or its derivative, carbon dioxide removal — is still somewhat expensive and controversial. But it got a big boost this month from some of the world's top scientists and corporations.

First, a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that carbon capture is central to most scenarios in which humanity meets the more ambitious goal of the Paris agreement. Then some of the world's biggest tech companies launched the Frontier fund, which will spend nearly $1 billion buying offsets from start-ups that remove carbon dioxide from the air. 

Here's what to know about the growing momentum for carbon capture in the scientific community, Silicon Valley and on Capitol Hill:

What the IPCC said

The sweeping report from the U.N. panel identifies seven “mitigation pathways” — four that limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and three that keep warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Only one of the seven scenarios includes no carbon capture. However, this scenario requires global energy demand to fall by half in the next 30 years, whereas the International Energy Agency expects global energy demand to increase 47 percent by 2050 because of population and economic growth.

In addition, the IPCC report says that carbon removal will be “unavoidable” for some hard-to-decarbonize industrial sectors, such as cement and steel production.

The report “makes it really clear that carbon dioxide removal is an essential tool in the toolbox,” Lee Beck, global director for carbon capture at the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group, told The Climate 202.

What Big Tech is doing

The Frontier fund — a new public-benefit corporation backed by Google, Meta, Shopify, McKinsey and the payment company Stripe will spend $925 million buying offsets from start-ups that remove carbon dioxide from the air, dwarfing previous efforts of this kind.

“We know that in addition to radical emissions reduction, we're also going to have to do a huge amount of carbon removal, in part because we haven't done such a great job with the former,” Nan Ransohoff, a Stripe employee who will lead Frontier, told The Climate 202.

Ransohoff drew a key distinction between carbon capture, which involves capturing carbon from a “point source” such as a factory or power plant, and carbon removal, which involves sucking carbon from the air. Frontier will only focus on the latter, she said.

Frontier and its predecessor, Stripe's climate division, have recently hired two prominent climate experts: Jane Flegal, the former senior director for industrial emissions in the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, and Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist with Berkeley Earth.

Stripe has already contracted to buy carbon removal from 14 different start-ups, including CarbonBuilt, which is trying to store carbon in concrete, and Running Tide, which grows kelp and sinks it deep into the ocean. 

Stripe has paid anywhere from $75 to $2,000 to remove a ton of carbon dioxide. But Frontier wants to support carbon removal solutions that have a path to becoming affordable at scale, or less than $100 a ton.

The goal is to send a “strong demand signal” that eventually helps start-ups scale up operations and remove carbon at the cheapest price possible, Kate Brandt, chief sustainability officer at Google, told The Climate 202. 

What Congress could do

The bipartisan infrastructure law already provided $12 billion for carbon capture projects, while President Biden's climate and social spending bill would extend and expand a key tax credit for such projects, known as 45Q.

As the reconciliation bill stalls in the Senate, members of the Portland Cement Association, which represents the majority of U.S. cement production, will meet with lawmakers this week to push for the credit's expansion.

“Existing credits are too small, and more certainty is needed so that the infrastructure will be developed to facilitate sequestration of CO2,” Sean O'Neill, the association's senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement.

Ashley Schapitl, a spokeswoman for Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said in an email that 45Q is “still part of the reconciliation conversation.”

However, some climate advocates oppose federal subsidies for carbon capture, which they view as a false climate solution because it could prolong the life of fossil fuel infrastructure.

“This is not the sort of thing we should be subsidizing at the government level when we already subsidize the fossil fuel industry at tens of billions of dollars every year,” Collin Rees, the U.S. program manager at Oil Change International, told The Climate 202.

“If private industry wants to do this,” he added, “I'm not going to stop them.”

On the Hill

Manchin explores possible bipartisan climate and energy bill

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is exploring the possibility of a climate and energy package that could garner 60 votes, avoiding the partisan budget reconciliation process that has held up the $555 billion in climate spending included in President Biden's Build Back Better plan, Axios's Hans Nichols and Alayna Treene report.

Manchin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) organized a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators on Monday evening to discuss the possibility. Sixteen senators — eight from each party — were invited.

The meeting was attended by Congressional Progressive Caucus Deputy Whip Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) as well as Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.). 

After the meeting, Manchin, a key swing vote who torpedoed negotiations over Biden's spending package in December, said he wants a bipartisan climate and energy security package, “like we did a bipartisan infrastructure bill.” 

“If I can find something bipartisan, we don't need reconciliation,” he added in an interview with Bloomberg's Ari Natter and Steven T. Dennis.

Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said in an email to The Climate 202 that the meeting “was an effort to gauge bipartisan interest in a path forward that addressed our nation’s climate and energy security needs head on.”

International climate

South Africans are standing up to Big Oil

On South Africa’s Wild Coast, residents fought with the oil giant Shell after it sent a ship to conduct a seismic survey — using deafening sound waves to map more than 2,300 square miles of geology beneath the deep waters nearby — and won, The Washington Post's Max Bearak and Steven Mufson report.

A group of residents joined forces in December to protect their beloved coast by taking Shell to court, where a judge found that the company lacked permits for the seismic tests, forcing its ship to leave temporarily. 

“This ocean is our life, so it is nothing less than that which Shell would destroy,” said Zingisa Ludude, 62, who harvests mussels for a living. “Everything we need comes from the ocean.”

Shell argued that the seismic surveys are safe and conducted responsibly, but locals said the tests are harmful to marine life and that future projects could cause oil spills. G.H Bloem, a judge on one of South Africa’s 13 regional high courts, agreed with the residents and said the court had “a duty to step in.”

Although the outcome was a victory for those living in the province who feel the effects of climate change firsthand and want to save their fishing and tourism industries, the push against new drilling projects is rarely supported on the national level, where the South African government says that production would bolster the country’s energy security and economic development.

“This is the least developed province,” Gwede Mantashe, the country’s energy minister, said in a phone interview. “If we are too liberal about development, investors won’t wait, and we will remain poor.” 

Agency alert

Interior sets new limits on drilling at Arctic reserve

The Biden administration on Monday announced it is shrinking the amount of land eligible for drilling at the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, reversing a Trump-era plan that would have opened up 82 percent of the reserve to potential oil and gas exploration, The Hill's Rachel Frazin reports. 

The record of decision from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management returns to an Obama administration plan that would make only 52 percent of the reserve eligible for exploration. The bureau had previously indicated that the Obama-era plan was its “preferred alternative.”

Extreme events

Climate change exacerbates record heat wave gripping India

Extreme heat has persisted in parts of India for months, plaguing the country with dry, sweltering weather that is expected to worsen as climate change causes heat waves to become longer and more intense, Matthew Cappucci reports for The Post. 

March maximum temperatures were the highest in the area in 122 years, according to the India Meteorological Department, with April patterns forecasted to be not far behind. Many Indians live in poverty and lack air conditioning, making the population more vulnerable to heat. Older adults are especially at risk.

In the atmosphere

Viral

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