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Global briefing: EPA suspends environmental law enforcement in response to pandemic

Global briefing: EPA suspends environmental law enforcement in response to pandemic

All the key green business news from around the world this week

US EPA suspends enforcement activity, as EU lobbyists call for delay to emissions rules

Global emissions may have fallen as the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered businesses around the world, but environmental campaigners are increasingly fearful the crisis could yet be used to roll back environmental rules and regulations.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday announced it was suspending its enforcement of environmental laws in response to the crisis, informing companies they would not be pursued for environmental infractions during the outbreak.  

The government said the policy was temporary, but provided no end date. The EPA said it would not "seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations" during the suspension.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency was "committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognises challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements".Butthe move prompted outrage from environmental groups, who in a joint letter argued that "it is not clear why refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities that continue to operate and keep their employees on the production line will no longer have the staff or time they need to comply with environmental laws".

The move came in the same week as European NGO Transport & Environment warned leading auto industry lobby groups were calling on the EU to now delay new emissions rules.

"The priority now is to ensure the health, safety and job security of the workers affected by the current factory closures," said Julia Poliscanova, clean vehicle director at Transport & Environment. "While the overall economic recovery is crucial, we shouldn't let some opportunistic carmakers use the crisis to shamelessly roll back the EU climate targets for cars. All three German carmakers, VW, Damiler and BMW, have rightly acknowledged this is not needed. It is too early to judge the impacts of the Coronavirus on the car industry but selling less cars won't impact compliance with the law. What matters is the type of car you sell. Any incentives to boost demand once normal life resumes should be targeted at zero-emissions cars. This will help keep jobs in Europe, curb pollution and boost the competitiveness of our car industry."


California to double 2030 clean energy goal, as New York closes its last coal plant

California this week adopted a new emissions target for its electric sector that would see the state double its clean energy capacity by 2030 and end the development of new natural gas plants in support of its previous net zero emissions goal.

The move came in the same week as the New York Times reported that New York State's last remaining coal plant is to clase this month.


Total buys French wind power firm

Oil giant Total has continued its clean energy acquisition spree, announcing this week that through its Total Quadran renewables subsidiary it has acquired 100 per cent of Global Wind Power (GWP) France, a company with a 1GW portfolio of onshore wind projects, including 250MW scheduled to come on stream by 2025.

"Following Vents d'Oc' acquisition in 2019, this new investment demonstrates Total's commitment to expand in all types of renewable energy while contributing to France's energy transition goals," said Philippe Sauquet, President Gas, Renewables, and Power at Total.
"It strengthens Total Quadran's footprint adding to its existing portfolio of nearly 1000 MW of installed and operated capacity, including over 500 MW of onshore wind and confirms its ambition to be one of the main players on France's renewables market."


Financial close for giant Oman solar plant

One of the largest solar projects in the Gulf took a major step forwward this week, as a consortium of leading developers announced they had recahed financial close on a planned 500MW project in Oman.

ACWA Power, Gulf Investment Corporation, and Alternative Energy Projects Co. announced they had achieved a significant milestone on the project, bringing together six international and local lenders, including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to provide $275m of senior debt for the project.

The move means the 500MW solar PV Independent Power Project (IPP) at Ibri in the Sultanate of Oman has reached financial close.


Norway subsea cable project stalls

The Norwegian government is postponing a decision on whether to greenlight plans for a new subsea interconnector between Norway and Scotland.

Reuters reported that the government has decided it needs more data on the market impact that will come from other power cables that are currently being built before a decision can be made.

Planning on the €2bn NorthConnect project, which is partly owned by leading clean energy developer Vattenfall is continuing.

Advocates of interconnectors argue they canplay a crucial role in helping to balance increasingly renewables reliant grids. ButReuters reported that the NorthConnect project is controversial as some Norwegian politicians fear rising grid costs and power prices could result as generation from wind turbines and hydropower dams is exported.


Russia faces criticism over new climate goal

Russia this week unveiled plans to strengthen its emissions goals for 2030, but green groups were quick to condemn the new proposals as insufficiently ambitious.

The Ministry of Economic Development announced plans limit emissions to 2.08 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030, including land use and forestry, or 67 per cent of the 3.11 billion tonnes recorded in 1990. However, Russian emissions collapsed following the break up of the Soviet Union and as such current emissions levels are still onlyat around half 1990 levels.

Consequently, Russia is proposing that its emissions would continue to rise over the next decade, albeit at a slower rate than had been previously envisaged. In its submission under the Paris Agreement Russia had proposed ensuring that emissions stood at 75 per cent of 1990 levels in 2030.

"This is not an ambitious plan… it would allow emissions to rise," Niklas Höhne, founding partner of the New Climate Institute, told Climate Home News. "It's not in line with the Paris Agreement. Countries need to go for the highest possible ambition."

BusinessGreen Leaders Awards: Entry deadline extended ahead of rescheduled ceremony

BusinessGreen Leaders Awards: Entry deadline extended ahead of rescheduled ceremony

The UK's biggest celebration of the green economy will now take place this autumn

BusinessGreen can today confirm it is extending the deadline for this year's BusinessGreen Leaders Awards until 5pm on May 1st and will reschedule the annual ceremony for this autumn in light of the continuing coronavirus outbreak.

Leading businesses, projects, executives, entrepreneurs, investors, and NGOs from across the green economy are invited to submit their entries ahead of the new May deadline and showcase the inspiring work that will be so critical to the UK's short term economic recovery and long-term net zero transition.

An announcement on the rescheduled date for the awards ceremony will be made in the coming weeks.

"Everyone is obviously hoping that by June 23rd, the original date of the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards, the worst of this tragic outbreak will have passed and people will once again be free to gather," said BusinessGreen editor-in-chief James Murray. "But in such a fast-evolving situation the only right and responsible thing to do is to postpone this year's awards."

2020 marks the 10th year of the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards, which for the past decade has brought together around 600 of the UK's top green business executives, investors, campaigners, and politicians each summer to celebrate the many achievements of the sector and highlight some of the world's most inspiring green businesses and projects.

Murray said that while this year's awards would be rescheduled and digital contingency plans explored should restrictions on public gatherings continue, BusinessGreen would continue to provide a platform for the UK's pioneering businesses and a network through which green business leaders can connect.

"Everyone's lives and businesses have been transformed in the past few weeks as we collectively battle this unprecedented crisis," Murray said. "But when the recovery comes, as it must, the green business community will have a more important role than ever to play in driving the development of a more sustainable and resilient economy. As such, we want to hear from all our subscribers, readers, and stakeholders about the cutting-edge projects and initiatives they have undertaken in the past year, so as to help provide both inspiration and an example for others to follow.

"We will conduct an independent judging process as normal, albeit likely via teleconferencing, and then bring together the many deserving finalists later this year."

By moving the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards to early autumn they will sit alongside the world's first Net Zero Festival on September 30th, tickets for which are available now.

You can enter this year's BusinessGreen Leaders Awards through the awards website here.

Reports: Coronavirus forces EDF to delay application for new UK nuclear plant

Reports: Coronavirus forces EDF to delay application for new UK nuclear plant

French energy giant looks set to lodge plans to build Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk later than planned

EDF's ambitions to build another new nuclear power station in the UK have been paused as the country grapples with the coronavirus crisis, with the French energy giant yesterday confirming it has postponed plans to lodge its planning application for the Sizewell C project in Suffolk.

An application to build the multi-billion pound power plant had been expected to submitted to the UK's planning inspectorate before the end of March, but with much of the UK on lockdown in a bid to limit further spread of the Covid-19 virus, that timetable has now been pushed back, according to Reuters.

However, the firm did not announce a new timetable for submitting plans for the £16-20bn project, which - as with Hinkley Point C - EDF it is developing in partnership with Chinese state-owned firm CGN.

If given the go-ahead, Sizewell is expected to generate around seven per cent of the UK's electricity, making it an almost identically-sized project to Hinkley Point C.

"We are ready to submit the application but we recognise that many people in Suffolk, including the local authorities, are adjusting to new circumstances created by the coronavirus crisis," Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF's managing director for nuclear development, said yesterday, according to the news agency.

Meanwhile, construction of EDF's flagship nuclear power plant project in Somerset, Hinkley Point C, has also been hit by restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, raising the prospect of the development being further delayed.

The firm announced on Monday that, in a bid to limit spread of the virus, it would be more than halving the number of workers on site developing Hinkley Point C, with around 2,000 workers leaving the site over the course of this week.

However, "critical work on nuclear parts of the project" is set to continue for the time being, EDF said.

"Keeping this capability intact is essential for a project of critical national importance and an industry which plays a key role in helping the UK reach net zero," the company said in a statement.

EU signals desire for green focus in coronavirus economic recovery plans

EU signals desire for green focus in coronavirus economic recovery plans

Green transition efforts should be integrated into Covid-19 recovery plans, according to European Council statement

The European Union has signalled it will not lose sight of its green ambitions as it deals with the immediate priority of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and that decarbonising the Europe's economy should form a core part of the continent's economic recovery.

Following an EU Council meeting yesterday, heads of governments issued a statement setting out the bloc's core priorities for limiting the spread of the Covid-19 virus, providing medical equipment and assistance, and tackling the socio-economic consequences of the crisis currently gripping the global economy.

But while stressing fighting the pandemic should be Europe's immediate priority, the statement also signalled that the economic recovery from the coronavirus fallout - which has forced an effective shutdown on major economies across the continent - should be compatible with the EU's climate and environmental ambitions.

"The urgency is presently on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and its immediate consequences," the EU Council statement reads. "We should, however, start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and economies and to sustainable growth, integrating inter alia the green transition and the digital transformation, and drawing all lessons from the crisis."

The statement calls on the Presidents of the European Commission and the EU Council - Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, respectively - alongside the European Central Bank to immediately set to work on drawing up an economic recovery strategy with these green principles in mind.   

Ensuring effective recovery from the crisis "will require a coordinated exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment", the statement adds.

It follows reports this week that the Commission is currently readying a €37bn 'Corona Investment Fund' for Europe using spare money from the EU budget to help businesses, industries, and health care systems in a bid to stave off a worsening economic crisis in the wake of the pandemic.

The dramatic shutdown of major European economies - including Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, and the UK - as governments seek to limit further spread of the virus come just weeks after the EU Commission unveiled a slew of further details of its proposed Green Deal package.

First announced last year, the European Green Deal aims to build a net zero economy across the continent by 2050, and recent weeks have seen proposals announced for a new Climate Law that would legally require all member states to draw up strategies towards reaching the goal, alongside a new Industrial Strategy and Circular Economy plan, among other policies.

But since the pandemic outbreak there have been fears that green policies could fall by the wayside, and that economic recovery may come at the expense of long-term climate ambitions. A number of industry lobby groups, most notably from the auto industry, have already called on the EU to delay emissions rules to help companies adapt to the crisis.

Consequently, calls have also being growing for any economic recovery package in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak to be backed with 'green stimulus' measures to guard against investments that could lock in high-carbon infrastructure as governments seek to get their economies motoring again.

As such, assurances yesterday from the very top of the EU Council may offer cause for optimism within the green economy that climate action and environmental efforts remain core pillars of Europe's policy agenda during 2020 and beyond.

The statement follows comments earlier this week from the Commission's Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, who also sought to reassure observers that while the EU had both "short term and long term challenges to tackle" it had "the ability to manage both".

Actual good news

Actual good news

The world may be reeling from unprecedented public health crisis, but the UK's latest greenhouse gas figures offer genuine cause for optimism

UK emissions are down. By a lot. And it has nothing to do with Covid-19.

That, in a nutshell, was the shining gem of good news in another otherwise bleak day down the news mine.

The government today published its preliminary emissions and energy data for 2019 and while there were few surprises it offered confirmation that last year was another very good year for the UK's decarbonisation efforts.

Emissions were down 3.6 per cent on the year, low carbon power accounted for over 54 per cent of the electricity mix, renewables capacity rose nearly seven per cent, coal generation was negligible, even transport emissions ticked downwards. Overall, UK emissions are now down over 45 per cent since 1990.

It is, as Energy and Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng observed, "extraordinary progress".

Of course, it is vital that any discussion of the UK's decarbonisation efforts comes with a truck load of caveats. Recent government data suggests the UK's imported emissions are falling, but they are doing so at a much slower rate than domestic emissions. Even on the domestic front we are still not cutting emissions fast enough to be on a trajectory for net zero emissions by 2050.

It also remains painfully true that the next decade of emissions reductions will prove harder to realise than those seen over the past decade. Cutting emissions from power generation has been tough. Virtually eradicating emissions from power generation, while slashing emissions from buildings, industry, agriculture, and transport - and building a negative emissions industry from scratch - is an order of magnitude harder. 

But even when these legitimate concerns are considered there is further genuine good news and causes for optimism to be found in today's data. 

Transport emissions are falling for the first time in years and electric vehicles provide a path to deep decarbonisation. Less than a decade ago esteemed experts would confidently predict offshore wind would never be cost competitive. Now it is on track to become the backbone of the UK's power system. Political commentators insisted the Tories would never revive onshore wind and solar farms. Two months ago they did precisely that. Even key players in carbon intensive sectors such as aviation, steel, cement, mining, farming, shipping,and oil and gas are starting to set net zero targets. The recent Budget (was that really only a fortnight ago?) may have been completely overshadowed by the escalating coronavirus crisis, but it also provided some further foundation stones for a credible net zero strategy.

Emissions will fall sharply again this year, but this time for tragic reasons. Renewables' share of the power mix will soar (and we will get a snapshot view of how the grid copes) as energy demand slumps.

As such, when the pandemic crisis eventually passes, the usual suspects will declare 'see, that is the level of societal and economic pain required to cut emissions'. They are already rehearsing their arguments, even as the crisis escalates.

Today's data and the UK's decarbonisation record over the past decade provides crucial evidence that is simply not true. We can cut emissions and transition to net zero emissions without harming living standards. Indeed, we have no choice but to do so.
A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing email, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.

What mobilizing innovation for COVID-19 can teach us about catalyzing climate tech

What mobilizing innovation for COVID-19 can teach us about catalyzing climate tech

Heather Clancy explores how some leading clean tech firms are lending their shoulder to the wheel to tackle the coronavirus crisis

By now, I hope you've heard the uplifting story of an Italian 3-D printing startup, Isinnova, that stepped in produce respirator valves for a hospital in Lombardy after the regular supplier was unable to provide them.

Isinnova was recruited to help by FabLab, another Italian company that specializes in manufacturing technologies, because it is close to the hospital site. It took roughly six hours for engineers at the two companies to come up with a design that worked — a redo of a snorkel mask that it already was producing - and to start printing out the valves.

Another group - inspired by a company in Ireland and brought together on Facebook - convened 300 engineers, medical professionals and researchers to come up with an open source design for a ventilator in about a week.

It still needs to be approved by the regulatory world, but it's another step in the right direction.

There are dozens more similar tales of seemingly instant innovation emerging, as businesses grapple with how to stabilize their own operations and reassure their workforces, while acting meaningfully to provide valuable assistance and supplies to fight the pandemic.

Take Bloom Energy - yes, the fuel cell maker. California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the company's CEO on Friday if it could repurpose old ventilators to get them back into working order - crucial for the most compromised coronavirus patients and in extremely short supply.

Bloom Energy figured out how to refurbish old ventilators in under five hours / Credit: Bloom Energy
Bloom Energy figured out how to refurbish old ventilators in under five hours / Credit: Bloom Energy


The original manufacturer said it could take a month; Bloom figured out how to make it happen in under five hours. Now, it estimates it can redivert its manufacturing lines in California and Newark, Delaware, to produce "hundreds" every week during the crisis. (Ford, General Motors and Tesla are evaluating their capacity to do something similar, but it's unclear how quickly they will be able to respond.) 

Given the critical need for better testing and diagnostics capacity, the masters of artificial intelligence and cloud computing are also jumping in with resources. 

Amazon's cloud division last week committed $20m to accelerate research. At least 35 global research institutions, companies and startups are involved. (Here are the details.)

Elsewhere, IBM over the weekend launched a consortium with more than a dozen well-known institutions including the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Argonne, NASA, MIT and Rensselaer Polytechnic to foster research collaboration that can help surface potential drug treatments. (It already has worked with Oak Ridge lab to screen more than 8,000 compounds, identifying 77 that will be experimentally tested.)

And IBM tweaked the focus of its annual Call for Code solutions hackathon, focused broadly on seeking climate tech and disaster response applications, to "take on COVID-19." It's letting inventors use its open source software to develop technologies that could help with diagnostics, treatments and (one hopes for the future) prevention. Last year's winner was Prometeo, which developed a smart device for improving firefighter safety by measuring air quality during disaster response. The inventors? A nurse and a firefighter.

One of my biggest takeaways from reading about these and other inspiring innovation initiatives is this: When humans confront an existential challeng - one that knows no borders - the instinct among most of us is to put aside other petty, partisan considerations to seek ways to defeat that common enemy.

The climate action dialogue is understandably more muted right now, but I hope the corporate sustainability community is taking notes on how swiftly the right resources can be deployed by the private sector when it matters and how quickly humans can come up with some pretty ingenious ideas - once the challenge is opened to a diverse cast of unusual suspects.

I took comfort in an open letter issued Tuesday by Clean Energy Ventures and more than two dozen supporters of early climate tech investments reaffirming their commitment to backing solutions that address climate change. 

"If you're seeking investment, we're committed to continuing to invest actively now and in the coming months," they wrote. "We are moving forward in full force to seek out and invest in promising organizations that can make a meaningful difference in creating a more sustainable planet and way of life."

Now is exactly the right time to plan for the hopefully-not-so-distant day when COVID-19 is no longer dominating headlines. It's our collective duty to channel this spirit of innovation on behalf of an even more existential threat, the climate crisis.

This article first appeared in GreenBiz's weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe here. Follow me on Twitter:@greentechlady.

This article also appeared at

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