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The Climate 202

Can philanthropists help fuel a global clean energy transition?

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Brady Dennis is taking over today while Maxine is out. Today we're reading about how scientists found a secret forest at the bottom of a massive Chinese sinkhole. But first:

Can philanthropists help fuel a global clean energy transition?

At a summit this week in Kigali, Rwanda, billionaire and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg announced plans to spend $242 million to boost clean energy in 10 developing nations, part of an effort to help them — and ultimately the world — steer toward a greener future.

Bloomberg already has spent more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars working to phase out coal and other fossil fuels, first in the United States and later in Europe. But while those campaigns were aimed at cutting the massive greenhouse gas emissions produced by the industrialized world, the latest initiative has a decidedly different target.

As developing nations grow and energy demand soars, whether they quickly make the transition to renewables or cling to coal and other planet-heating fuels will have a profound impact on the world’s efforts to limit Earth’s warming, as well as implications for jobs, infrastructure and public health in many communities.

Climate philanthropy vs. climate policy

The undertaking by Bloomberg Philanthropies, and others like it, is intended to help such nations navigate the obstacles to such a transformational change.

But it also raises questions about how significant a role billionaires and philanthropic groups can play in pushing the world toward a more sustainable future. Can they fill gaps left by governments that have yet to mobilize to help poorer nations grow without relying on fossil fuels? Can they help demonstrate to private financiers that scaling up clean energy in the developing world is a smart investment?

“What’s happening in philanthropy cannot make up for where there are government policy failures,” said Helen Mountford, president of ClimateWorks Foundation, a group that tries to amplify the impact of philanthropy and is a partner on the Bloomberg initiative. “It can help show the solutions.”

Mountford said philanthropists don’t have the massive coffers needed to fund the shifts to clean energy, but they can move more quickly than governments. They can work directly with local communities, help foster strategies to retire coal plants earlier without abandoning workers, make riskier investments to fund pilot projects, and provide accurate data and expert analysis to public officials.

The goal, she said, is to help countries that are trying to modernize overcome the political and financial barriers to clean energy development — in short, to demonstrate what is possible.

“This is really an effort to turbo-boost potential solutions in a number of key developing countries,” she said.

Mohamed Adow, head of PowerShift Africa, a group that lobbies for climate policies across the continent, said if Bloomberg’s push helps pave the way for wealthy governments to invest far more in developing nations, it will be a positive step.

But he remains skeptical.

Creating an ‘enabling environment’

So far, Congress has not fully funded the more than $11 billion annually the president wants for international climate financing, Adow said, and other rich nations also “have been woefully inadequate” at delivering the money they’ve long promised.

“If we’re going to shift countries off fossil fuels, the scale of the investment needs to be in an entirely different ballpark,” Adow said in a text, noting that the Bloomberg Philanthropies commitment amounts to an average of $24 million per nation.

In addition to four African countries — Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and South Africa — Bloomberg said it plans to foster partnerships in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Pakistan, Turkey, and Vietnam.

“We’re in the middle of this massive energy revolution; it’s actually happening,” said Joseph Curtin, managing director of the power and climate initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation, which along with Ikea has committed $1 billion to scale renewable power projects in the developing world.

But, he added, the vast majority of investment in renewable energy still goes to industrialized nations, and “way more than half the world is being left behind.” Ideally, philanthropy can work with countries to create an “enabling environment” that leads public and private investors to fund large-scale shifts to clean energy.

If successful, that would benefit developing economies, give millions of people access to electricity and cleaner air, and help combat climate change — not a moment too soon, Curtin said.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher.”

On that, Adow agrees.

“The good news is many of these countries are blessed with clean energy potential. But they need the finance to harness that and fund their energy transition,” he said.

“If we can combine the wealth of the rich world with the political will and green energy resources in the developing world, we can make great progress in addressing the ever growing climate crisis.”

Agency alert

Interior to reveal offshore oil and gas leasing plan by June

Following months of speculation about the administration’s plans, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Thursday that the department will propose a new five-year schedule of lease sales for offshore oil and gas drilling by June 30, when the current program expires, our colleague Anna Phillips reports. 

Haaland made the announcement at the start of a Senate budget hearing where Republican lawmakers and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) angrily criticized the Biden administration’s energy policies and pressured the secretary to increase drilling both on land and in federal waters. They expressed doubt that the administration’s new five-year plan would call for any new oil and gas lease sales.

For their part, many climate advocates hope it won’t. New offshore lease sales could represent a 20-year investment in future fossil fuel development at a time when climate scientists are saying the world needs to rapidly transition to cleaner sources of energy.

Questioned about whether Interior intends to hold offshore lease sales, Haaland said the department is still working on its proposal. The earliest it could be finalized is Nov. 30, but it has historically taken the government six months to a year to finalize a new offshore drilling plan.

“The previous Administration stopped work on the new five-year plan in 2018, so there has been a lot to do to catch up. Varying, conflicting litigation has also been a factor,” Haaland said. “We take this responsibility seriously and are not prejudging an outcome.”

Former secretary didn’t violate lobbying laws, Interior watchdog finds

The Interior Department’s internal watchdog on Thursday said it found no evidence that former secretary David Bernhardt violated lobbying laws with a California water client, according to a report, although he did continue to advise them on legislative matters after he stopped working as their lobbyist in 2016, Joshua Partlow reports for The Washington Post. 

The Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water supplier, reached a deal with Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation in 2020 — while Bernhardt was in office — to receive permanent access to irrigation water for farmers and rural communities along the west side of the drought-stricken San Joaquin Valley. But last fall, a California judge declined to validate the contract, agreeing with environmentalists who said it took water away from the general public and gave it to corporate farmers. 

 Bernhardt’s attorney, Danny Onorato, said in a statement that “despite its shortcomings, the report completely vindicates Secretary Bernhardt.” 

Energy Dept. launches multibillion-dollar carbon capture initiative

The Energy Department said it will use $3.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law to build out four direct air carbon capture hubs to kickstart the domestic industry and help the nation eliminate legacy pollution to reach President Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, Ella Nilsen reports for CNN. 

Each of the hubs would be capable of sequestering over 1 million tons of carbon dioxide each year — equivalent to taking roughly 200,000 gas-powered cars off the road — according to a notice of intent for the program released Thursday.

On the Hill

Rep. Jayapal endorses Jessica Cisneros in Texas runoff

Ahead of a competitive runoff election next Tuesday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) threw support behind Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration lawyer, in her Democratic primary bid against incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar (Tex.), breaking the status quo in the House, Nicholas Wu reports for Politico. 

Cuellar is the only House Democrat to oppose abortion rights and is the second-biggest recipient of oil and gas industry donations in the 2022 cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets. Cisneros, on the other hand, has been dubbed by environmentalists as a champion of climate action and has sought to make abortion a top issue in the race after a leaked draft opinion revealed that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

So far only four sitting House members and two senators have endorsed Cisneros. However, Jayapal, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the debate over abortion was a tipping point in her decision to back Cisneros.

House passes oil price-gouging bill

The House on Thursday voted to pass a bill that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to hold oil companies accountable for “excessive” gasoline prices during an energy emergency, Rachel Frazin reports for the Hill. It is part of a push from Democrats to blame the oil industry for soaring costs despite earning record high profits amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act passed 217 to 207, with no Republicans voting in favor of it and four Democrats voting against it, including Reps. Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Lizzie Fletcher (Tex.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), and Jared Golden (Maine). It is unlikely to gain enough Republican support to pass in the Senate.

Pressure points

The climate scientists are not all right

Despite climate science being settled years ago, leaders have yet to take the sweeping action necessary to avert disaster. Now scientists, who say that climate advocacy could jeopardize their jobs, are boycotting research and participating in protests, arguing that inaction on global warming is far more consequential than the damage to their professional reputation, Casey Quackenbush reports for The Post. 

“There’s a broader recognition among professional scientists that the data won’t carry the day,” said David S. Meyer, a sociology professor at the University of California at Irvine. “Deep down most scientists operate with this religious belief that getting the truth out is what matters. It’s harder and harder to hold on to that belief. What do you do when you realize that you need to package the truth with something else in order to save the world?”

In the atmosphere


Thanks for reading!