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Summit shows Biden’s big vision on fighting climate change

Associated Press

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Biden's big vision on fighting climate change

What did the world learn at Joe Biden’s global summit about his vision of the battle to save the world’s climate?

For two days, Biden and his team of climate experts pressed his case that tackling global warming not only can avert an existential threat, but also benefit the U.S. economy — and the world’s as well.

The virtual summit, based at the White House and featuring more than 40 world leaders whose views were beamed to a global online audience, offered fresh details on how the U.S. might hope to supercharge its efforts on climate while leveraging international action to spur new technologies to help save the planet.

Biden opened the conference by announcing a goal to cut up to 52% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — double the target set by President Barack Obama in the 2015 Paris climate accord. The 2030 goal vaults the U.S. into the top tier of countries on climate ambition.

“This goal is eyebrow-raising, but it has to be,” said Marshall Shepherd, a climate expert at the University of Georgia. “To move the needle on the climate crisis, we need bold actions like this rather than individual or incremental actions only.”

While new targets from the U.S. and others got mostly positive reviews, they still fall a bit short of what some scientists say is necessary to avoid a potentially disastrous 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures.

Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a climate science think tank in Berlin, said his team’s calculations showed the U.S. needs to reduce emissions 57% by 2030 to stay on a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway. He calls the new target “really a major improvement,” but also “not quite enough.”

Still, the U.S. goal is ambitious, and reflects lessons learned, not only by Biden — Obama’s vice president — but by his team of battle-tested aides, including climate envoy John Kerry and White House adviser Gina McCarthy. Both served in the Obama administration.

Biden and his team “absorbed the lessons of the Obama years,” including watching the “stumbles” in climate foreign policy at a disappointing 2009 Copenhagen summit, said Hare. “What shocked me is just how fast this moved,” less than 100 days after Biden took office.

The 78-year-old Biden, known as a cautious, mainstream politician during four decades in public life, as president has shown a willingness to take aggressive action on issues from virus relief to immigration.

“In so many areas, he is much bolder than Obama, right out of the gate, and that’s certainly true on climate,” said Nathaniel Keohane, a former Obama White House adviser who now is a senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The message from the White House is clear, Keohane added: “The United States is ready to go all-in to beat the climate crisis.”

As the conference wrapped up Friday, Biden said he has come to see the economic opportunities of the climate fight as the silver lining in a cloud that threatens the world’s very future.

“My mother would always say when something very bad would happen in our family, ‘Out of everything bad, Joe, something good will come,'” said Biden, whose life has repeatedly been touched by tragedy.

On climate, the good that Biden hopes will emerge is the chance to remake the global economy and produce millions of jobs in clean energy and technology that will be needed to slow global warming.

“Is there anything else you can think of that could create as many good jobs going into the middle of the 21st century?” he asked.

The climate crisis also has provided an opportunity for the U.S. to work with longtime rivals such as Russia and China. While Biden has often disagreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader now is “talking about how you capture carbon from space,” Biden said.

Despite their differences, “two big nations can cooperate to get something done … that benefits everybody,” Biden said.

Biden’s re-entry into the Paris agreement and his decision to host the summit were welcomed by world leaders.

“I’m delighted to see that the United States is back … in climate politics. Because there can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution if we really want to fulfill our ambitious goals,” Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel told Biden.

“We are all so delighted to have the United States back” in the climate game, added South Africa’s President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa.

Even after four years of inaction on climate change under President Donald Trump, “the United States still has cachet,” said Alice Hill, a senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. She pointed to the attendance of world leaders on both friendly and otherwise chilly terms with the U.S., including China, Russia, Germany and Brazil.

Kerry, who has worked on climate issues in a long career as a senator and former secretary of state, said the next 10 years are crucial to slow global warming and “avoid the worst consequences” of the climate crisis.

“This has to be the decade of decision,” Kerry said.

But even as Biden opts to go big on climate, his plan faces obstacles, including continued resistance from congressional Republicans and the reality that businesses are struggling to create needed technology on an affordable scale.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed Biden’s plans, including a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, as costly and ineffective.

The infrastructure bill includes up to $1 trillion in spending on clean energy and climate change, including 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles, expansion of solar and wind power and technology to capture and store carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. About $174 billion would go to help put school children, commuters and truckers into electric vehicles and buses, $50 billion to make infrastructure more resilient against volatile weather linked to climate change, and $100 billion to update the power grid.

The administration has pitched the bill as the “American Jobs Plan,” and Moody’s Analytics estimates gains of about 2.7 million jobs.

Failure to adopt the package could doom Biden’s commitments to cut carbon emissions in half, although officials say substantial progress can be made through administrative regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation Department and other agencies.

The White House says officials will continue to reach out to Republicans and will remind them that the proposal’s ideas are widely popular with a wide swath of Americans.


WASHINGTON (AP) — By MATTHEW DALY and CHRISTINA LARSON Associated Press

Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this story.

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Microsoft pledges to let EU users keep data inside bloc

Associated Press

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Microsoft pledges to let EU users keep data inside bloc

Microsoft is pledging to let business and public sector customers in the European Union keep cloud computing data inside the 27-nation bloc to avert concerns about U.S. government access to sensitive information.

Microsoft “will go beyond our existing data storage commitments and enable you to process and store all your data in the EU,” said Brad Smith, the U.S. technology giant’s president.

“In other words, we will not need to move your data outside the EU,” Smith wrote in a blog post Thursday.

Microsoft is responding to customers that want stronger commitments on so-called data residency, Smith said. The updates will apply to the company’s core cloud services including Azure, Microsoft 365, and Dynamics 365.

Transatlantic data protection has been a growing concern since the European Union’s top court struck down a data sharing agreement last year known as Privacy Shield. The court said the agreement, which allowed businesses to transfer data to the U.S. under the EU’s strict data privacy rules, was invalid because it didn’t go far enough to prevent the American government from snooping on user data.

Microsoft, which operates data centers in 13 European countries including France, Germany and Switzerland, will challenge any government request for an EU public sector or commercial customer’s personal data when there’s a lawful basis for doing so, Smith said.


LONDON (AP)

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Public transit hopes to win back riders after crushing year

Associated Press

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Public transit hopes to win back riders after crushing year

Taking the Los Angeles Metro for his first trip in months, Brad Hudson felt a moment of normalcy when the train rolled into the station in South Pasadena, California, harkening back to his daily commute into LA before the coronavirus pandemic.

Then Hudson boarded the train, and reality set in.

Not everyone wore masks. Metro staffing levels appeared much lighter. There was more trash on the trains. He worried about security.

As President Joe Biden urges more f ederal spending for public transportation, transit agencies decimated by COVID-19 are trying to figure out how to win back passengers.

It’s made more urgent by the climate change crisis. Biden has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by the end of the decade. That aggressive target will require Americans to ditch gas-guzzling cars for electric vehicles or embrace mass transit.

“We have a huge opportunity here to provide fast, safe, reliable, clean transportation in this country, and transit is part of the infrastructure,” Biden said at an event Friday to promote rail and public transportation.

With fewer transportation alternatives, lower-income people are more reliant on public transportation for commuting and their daily lives.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti promises free transit fares for them and for students. The city’s Metro ridership has fallen to about half its peak of 1.2 million, and Garcetti said getting more people on board would accelerate economic recovery “for our most vulnerable” and reduce traffic and emissions.

In Washington D.C., where many federal employees now telework due to COVID-19 restrictions, transit officials are mulling lowering fares. New York City has deployed several hundred additional police officers in recent months after a series of subway attacks. The Chicago area is looking at rejiggering train schedules to accommodate more passengers traveling throughout the day, part of a pandemic shift from traditional 9-to-5 work days. Houston is pledging improvements to 17 of its higher-frequency bus routes, including adding brightly lit sheltered stops with digital arrival information.

Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan would provide $85 billion over eight years to update and replace subway cars and repair aging tracks and stations; of that amount, $25 billion would go to expanding bus routes and rail lines. Another $25 billion would pay to convert gasoline- and diesel-powered mass transit buses to zero-emission electric vehicles.

Congressional Republicans are balking at the price, as well as Biden’s plan to increase corporate taxes to pay for it. A Senate GOP counteroffer proposes $568 billion for infrastructure, resulting in cuts to public transit funding.

A year ago, transit ridership drained to almost nothing as tens of millions of Americans stayed home and shunned trains and buses. To stay afloat, transit agencies cut payroll and slashed services.

Three rounds of nearly $70 billion total in federal COVID-19 emergency assistance pulled transit agencies from the brink of financial collapse. That federal aid is now expected to cover operating deficits from declining passenger revenue and COVID-19 cleaning and safety protocols through at least 2022.

Still, even as vaccinations become more widespread, it’s uncertain how many riders will come back.

Work-from-home arrangements initially seen as temporary appear to be a more durable trend. Transportation alternatives such as Uber and Lyft ride-share programs — and bike shares and scooters, not to mention driverless cars — threaten to eat away at transit ridership. Some city-dwellers have moved away.

Transportation officials say a key to increasing ridership will be employers reopening offices. Even so, it could take years to get all riders back, if ever, putting lower-income workers at a greater disadvantage if levels of service drop off.

In the Chicago area, transit ridership was down 71% in March compared with the same time in 2020, according to the Regional Transportation Authority.

Those who continue to rely on public transportation are mostly Black, Latino and low-income workers. For that reason, the Chicago Transit Authority, which runs 24 hours, didn’t cut routes or service even as ridership plunged.

“We recognized that we’re carrying primarily essential workers who relied on and needed to use public transit to carry out their functions on a daily basis,” said CTA President Dorval Carter.

Although empty train cars are common in some parts of the city, 34-year-old Ryan Patrick Thomas says Chicago’s Green Line trains connecting the south and west sides to downtown remain busy. Sometimes it’s standing room only.

Thomas, who’s Black, says train cars that used to have mixed crowds are now mostly Black, noting the virus has disproportionately hit people of color.

“These trains seem to be just as full of people in more vulnerable demographics,” he said.

New York’s subway system lost billions in revenue and more than 90% of its riders at the height of the pandemic; also about 150 employees who died of COVID-19. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has spent hundreds of millions on disinfecting train cars and the system’s nearly 500 stations, even taking the unprecedented move of shutting the system down overnight; it remains closed between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.

Subway ridership remains down close to 70%, though it continues to rise gradually. There’s a slower recovery on the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road lines that serve the suburbs, where many white-collar workers have the option of working from home.

More than $14 billion in federal aid has put the agency on sound fiscal footing until mid-2024, MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said.

“If we can’t get people back in the next couple of months, it’s going to be harder to get them back in the future,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim head of New York City Transit, which runs subways and buses.

The Biden plan would invest $621 billion to modernize transportation infrastructure. Projects in the pipeline likely stand to gain the most, including a planned extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system to San Jose and Santa Clara, California; bus rapid transit lines in St. Paul, Minnesota, Charleston, South Carolina, and Las Vegas; and New York City’s long-awaited Second Avenue subway line.

There’s also Atlanta’s proposed $5 billion upgrade of its transit system, including light rail for its Beltline; and a $7.1 billion transit expansion in Austin, Texas, approved by voters in November, featuring new rail and rapid bus routes connecting downtown to suburbs, an all-electric bus fleet, on-demand shuttles and park-and-ride facilities.


WASHINGTON (AP) — By HOPE YEN, CHRISTOPHER WEBER, SOPHIA TAREEN and DAVID PORTER Associated Press..

Weber reported from Los Angeles, Tareen from Chicago and Porter from New York. AP writers Juan Lozano in Houston and Ashraf Khalil in Washington contributed.

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Biden pushes for diversity in transition to clean energy

Associated Press

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Biden pushes for diversity in transition to clean energy

As the nation pushes to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and use cleaner energy sources, President Joe Biden’s administration says it wants to ensure diversity among the communities that benefit from the transition and the people who are hired to do the work.

The administration says it wants more solar arrays erected in communities that have suffered from pollution caused by fossil fuels. It’s also directing research grants and opportunities to students and faculty members at historically Black colleges and minority-serving institutions.

The Department of Energy on Tuesday announced $15.5 million in new funding to deploy solar energy in underserved communities and to build a more diverse, skilled workforce to help reach the administration’s ambitious goal of 100% clean energy by 2035.

Another $17.3 million, announced Monday, was awarded for internships and research opportunities designed to connect students and faculty in science, technology, engineering and math with resources at the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories.

Biden has set a goal that 40% of overall benefits of federal climate and clean-energy investments goes to disadvantaged communities.

“This administration is really committed to making the transition to clean energy an inclusive transition, offering benefits to every community, because not every community has benefited up to this point,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a discussion at Howard University, a historically Black college, Monday. “In fact, some communities, particularly communities that are indigenous and Black and people of color, have disproportionately been negatively affected by pollution, and so we want to make sure that voices are at the table that are representative of communities who can benefit from this transition.”

Historically Black colleges have faced unequal access to federal funding for research, Granholm said.

The problem stems from inequities in research infrastructure such as grants and personnel to administer them, as well as access to top laboratories at some of the historically Black colleges, said Kim Lewis, associate dean for research, graduate programs and natural sciences at Howard University.

“For example, not having state-of-the-art research laboratories could prevent or minimize faculty members from getting or obtaining preliminary data to demonstrate a proof of concept that’s needed to compete for these research funds,” Lewis said.

Many faculty members also have a heavy teaching workload, and there may be implicit bias during the review process, she added.

Data shows that the U.S. needs diversity in science, technology, engineering and math, and “it’s a huge priority for the Biden administration,” Granholm said.

The Energy Department under Biden has awarded research grants to students and faculty from 57 institutions — nearly half of which were minority-serving institutions — to collaborate with staff from the department’s National Laboratories this summer.

The solar funding announced Tuesday will provide free technical assistance to communities to streamline the process for installing solar. That, in turn, helps attract investment and lowers energy costs for consumers.

The Energy Department is also planning a series of meetings with environmental-justice organizations, government leaders, solar developers and others to talk about how to address energy challenges in underserved communities.

“We’re willing to use the force of federal contracting and policy incentives to achieve greater diversity in hiring and equity in pay,” Granholm said in a discussion with solar industry stakeholders Tuesday.

When a large array of solar panels and batteries was built to provide power to a predominantly Black community in Chicago, it was important to hire Black, Hispanic and local workers, said Van Vincent, president and CEO VLV Development, which built the array.

“It’s going to take a collaborative effort,” Vincent said in the discussion Tuesday. “There is no silver bullet … there needs to be a commitment to including the people who live in the communities.”


NEW YORK (AP) — By CATHY BUSSEWITZ Business Writer.
AP Writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

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