At Half-time, the European Green Deal is Still Grounded

The European Green Deal can still catalyse a socio-economic system that provides for the needs of all people, but only when every decision from this moment narrows inequality, and respects the Earth’s limits. - NGOs call for Europe to opt for citizen-controlled renewable energy in Brussels. Credit: FoE Europe/Lode Saidane

NGOs call for Europe to opt for citizen-controlled renewable energy in Brussels.
Credit: FoE Europe/Lode Saidane

By Jagoda Munic
BRUSSELS, Jun 10 2022 – This month marks the mid-point of the much-heralded European Green Deal. Taking office at the end of 2019, the European Commission went into rhetoric overdrive. This was Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment, we were told. The Green Deal would herald an economic paradigm shift, and “reconcile the economy with our planet…to make it work for our people” the new President, Ursula von der Leyen, said.

Now, two and a half years later, and with two and a half years of the mandate left to go, this vision of the Green Deal is barely alive. The pandemic has taken its toll – slowing down legislative processes and their implementation. Now the horrific invasion of Ukraine, and its global repercussions, are consuming politicians’ attention.

The European Green Deal can still get off the ground. Its promise can be saved, but it will require European governments to revisit the bold vision put forward over two years ago and to double-down on it

With so much hype, perhaps it was inevitable that the substance of the assorted legislation lumped under the Green Deal would be a let-down. Indeed, Friends of the Earth Europe was critical of the package from the outset. The policy proposals remain moderate and far short of what’s needed to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.

Fundamentally, the Green Deal does not recognise Europe’s historical responsibilities and it locks-in the exploitation of countries outside Europe which are already disproportionately affected with its and colossal demand for natural resources.

To be fair, in the face of unpredicted and unprecedented crises, Brussels did not drop its sustainability drive altogether – the EU has shown some resolve in keeping the green transition on its to-do list.

At this halfway point, we can say that some positive proposals have kept the potential of the Green Deal alive. A new 10-year-plan to tackle nature loss is welcome. The intention to boost renewables is also good, including the pledge to set up at least one renewable energy community in every municipality, in recognition of the need to democratise energy.

Other proposals are promising in principle but lack the necessary funding. A ‘just transition fund’ to help alleviate the social and economic costs of transition should be increased ten-fold. The ‘social climate fund’ designed to support subsidised renovations, renewables and green transport across Europe has been slashed before it even exists.

Overall, the components making up the Green Deal lack scale, urgency and justice. They are based on flawed ‘green growth’ thinking. They certainly do not constitute the step-change that was promised – and that is desperately needed to bring our socio-economic system within planetary boundaries.

Major barriers to truly progressive, transformational EU decision-making have not been tackled. The von der Leyen Commission has spectacularly failed to reign in vested interests’ influence on the agenda. In the last two and a half years this Commission has taken part in 500 meetings with representatives of oil, gas and coal companies. That’s close to one meeting every working day. The European Green Deal proposals have the fingerprints of corporate lobbying all over.

The plans are polluted by techno-fixes and failed market-based solutions. Policy-makers have fallen for the ‘hydrogen hype’ of the gas industry which promotes an overinflated role for green hydrogen in Europe’s energy mix. They are continuing to subsidise supposed ‘hydrogen ready’ infrastructure projects which in reality just lock-in continued fossil fuel use and eye-watering industry profits.

War in Ukraine has shown the fragility of the European energy system and its overreliance on fossil fuels. It must be a turning-point to get us off fossil fuels and accelerate the efficient, clean, democratic energy system of the future. In the next years we need to see massive investment in community renewables and renovations.

Green Deal proposals aimed at reducing the use of pesticides have been postponed after coming under pressure from the agribusiness lobby. This delay comes after the historic failure to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, meaning that 400 billion Euro of EU funds will continue to be spent on warped farming subsidies which mainly benefit a few environmentally-disastrous industrial-scale factory farms.

The agribusiness lobby is now cynically using the invasion of Ukraine to try to derail other sustainable agriculture goals. Their short-term arguments ignore that the decline of insects and pollinators will impact our capacity to produce food in the long-term.

The European Green Deal can still get off the ground. Its promise can be saved, but it will require European governments to revisit the bold vision put forward over two years ago and to double-down on it. The crises of the intervening years – global pandemic, military aggression, the rising cost of living – must be taken as reasons to re-commit to that vision, and press ahead with the policies to realise it, not to water it down.

The social elements which are currently at the margins need to be made central, and the industry interests which are currently dominant need to be removed. For example, the EU must tackle corporate climate impunity by introducing enforceable obligations on companies to reduce their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

The European Green Deal can still catalyse a socio-economic system that provides for the needs of all people, but only when every decision from this moment narrows inequality, and respects the Earth’s limits.

Excerpt:

Jagoda Munic is Director, Friends of the Earth Europe

Farmers in Senegal Adopt Farming as a Business to Beat Climate Change

Small holder farmers in Senegal are embracing sustainable agriculture practises to boost their productivity and income. Credit: Caroline Mwongera/ Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

Small holder farmers in Senegal are embracing sustainable agriculture practises to boost their productivity and income. Credit: Caroline Mwongera/ Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Jun 10 2022 – Onions and rice are a conspicuous part of every meal in Senegal, including the famous Poulet Yassa. However, climate change makes it hard for smallholder farmers to grow enough staple food with extra to sell for income.

Senegal is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change from droughts, flooding, sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and bush fires, according to the Climate Change Knowledge portal of the World Bank.

“For some time, we have been facing climatic risks such as the scarcity of rains that persist more and more, high heat and a decline in productivity leading to food insecurity,” says Coumba Diallo, a smallholder farmer from Gourel Baydi village in the Tambacounda region.

Diallo, 47, is the President of the Kawral Women’s Group of Gourel Baydi, whose members have been trained to farm sustainably to beat climate change while increasing productivity and profits.

A regional project is helping farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change which has made agricultural production a gamble. Under the Adaptation and Valorization of Entrepreneurship in Irrigated Agriculture (AVENIR) project led by Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), in partnership with the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), smallholder farmers in Senegal are being trained in farming as a business in agroforestry, horticulture and rice.

The AVENIR project aims to improve the social and economic well-being and resilience of farming households in Senegal’s Sedhiou and Tambacounda regions. The two areas in the southwest and east of the country are vulnerable to climate change, experiencing drought spells, flooding, coastal erosion and soil salinity.

Commending the project, Diallo commented that demonstration activities had armed her with the tools to deal with climate change, such as using adapted seeds and learning new agricultural practices to increase her crop yields and income while being more resilient to the climate.

“Learning through practice has helped us to have a better knowledge of adapted varieties, a good mastery of fertility management practices, agroforestry and the drip system to make efficient production with good yields,” Diallo explained.

Another farmer, Clément Sambou, co-founder, and coordinator of Startup-sociale in the Sedhiou Region, says the water salinity, silting, loss of arable land and water erosion are major risks in his region. They are tackling these through the adoption of better agricultural practices.

The AVENIR project encourages women and young people to treat farming as a business by promoting climate-adapted irrigation and agricultural practices. It increases the profitability of agribusinesses in the production of baobab, mango, cashew, onion, okra, ditakh, madd, pepper and rice.

The project will benefit more than 10 000 women and youth from farming households and indirectly impact another estimated 35 000 individuals.

“We want to ensure that farmers have increased their ability to cope with the climate risks they face in the regions where they are producing food,” says Caroline Mwongera, a senior scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mbene Diagne, a farmer from Thioro Bougou village in the Tambacounda region, has found practical training helpful. It’s boosted his knowledge of soil fertility management technologies, especially with moisture conservation techniques in an excessively hot area.

“There is a very big difference between our practices and those current conveyed through the demonstration sites,” said Diagne (29), vice-president of a group of young modern farmers in Tambacounda.

“With these new technologies, there is a reduction in workload for irrigation with better control of water and working time,” Diagne noted.

Farming is Good Business

The project has focused on adaptation and agribusiness after realizing that horticulture was an easy market entry option for women because of the high demand for horticulture products.

“We wanted to create opportunities for women and young people to engage and sell their produce in the local markets,” says Mwongera. “The varieties we selected for horticulture are locally demanded. For example, onion is a big part of the Senegalese diet,  tomatoes, pepper, and okra. In addition, horticulture is a good fit for women and youth with limited access to irrigated land,  which can measure as small as twenty square metres. ”

The project has promoted salinity and drought-tolerant rice varieties. The Senegalese research organization, ISRA and the Africa Rice Centre developed the rice. For agroforestry, quick maturing mango, cashew and baobab varieties have been introduced.

“If you have food and income, you can cope with climate risks. We want the food system to be diversified. That is why we are focusing on the three commodity groups: rice, agroforestry, and horticulture because that helps you to withstand risks better, says Mwongera. She adds that farmers are also trained to intensify their production to grow short-season crop varieties under irrigation.

Farmers get high-yielding and drought-tolerant seeds and are trained using climate-smart technologies and efficient, affordable irrigation techniques.

Increasing Incomes through Irrigation

Farmers have been introduced to affordable and labour efficient water technologies to save on scarce water resources.

“We are now training farmers to use drip irrigation, which is water efficient and has low labour demand, especially for women,” Mwongera told IPS, explaining that farmers have shifted from manual flood irrigation, sprinklers and watering cans which used a lot of water.

Rice and onions are part of every meal in Senegal, but smallholders often face food insecurity. Now a project helps farms adapt to the impact of climate change, Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Rice and onions are part of every meal in Senegal, but smallholders often face food insecurity. Now a project helps farms adapt to the impact of climate change, Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

To encourage farmers to use water-efficient technologies, the project has introduced an incentive-based purchase programme (e-voucher) to provide discounts for farmers. Farmers get technologies at a fraction of the value with an option to pay the balance when they produce and sell their crops.

A multi-actor platform brings together local actors, producer organizations, local administration, and researchers to help farmers share information and experiences on climate information services and equitable water resource management to improve their productivity.

Mwongera noted that farmers had poor access to viable markets, which meant they could not increase their production if they had nowhere to sell their produce. There is a need for a market value chain that includes producers, processors, transport providers and the financial sector.

“We need market-led development to enhance resilience and profitability of farmers,” says Mwongera noting that the project was also teaching farmers about integrated soil management, proper composting and using climate information services.

“We also provide weather information using SMS and integrated voice through a service provider who gets weather forecasts from the National Agency for Civil Aviation and Meteorology of Senegal (ANACIM). Farmers use this information to plan when to plant and what varieties to plant,” said Mwongera.

Climate change threatens Senegal’s social and economic development, which is vulnerable to droughts, floods, and high temperatures, which impact the agricultural sector. Agriculture employs 70 percent of the country’s workforce and contributes about 17 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

Top climate scientists have warned of the urgency of reducing carbon emissions as human-induced climate change affects all development sectors, including agriculture. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather has reduced food and water security, hindering efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals.

“Increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security, with the largest impacts observed in many locations and/or communities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Small Islands and the Arctic Jointly,” scientists said. They noted that sudden food production losses and access to food compounded by decreased diet diversity had increased malnutrition in many communities, especially small-scale food producers and low-income households.

IPS UN Bureau Report

 


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Land in South Africa Shall Be Shared Among Those Who Work It

Sbongile Tabhethe works in the food garden at eKhenana land occupation in Cato Manor, Durban, 9 June 2020. Credit: New Frame / Mlungisi Mbele

By Vijay Prashad
Jun 10 2022 (IPS-Partners)

In March 2022, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres warned of a ‘hurricane of hunger’ due to the war in Ukraine. Forty-five developing countries, most of them on the African continent, he said, ‘import at least a third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia, with 18 of those import[ing] at least 50 percent’. Russia and Ukraine export 33% of global barley stocks, 29% of wheat, 17% of corn, and nearly 80% of the world’s supply of sunflower oil. Farmers outside of Russia and Ukraine, trying to make up for the lack of exports, are now struggling with higher fuel prices also caused by the war. Fuel prices impact both the cost of chemical fertilisers and farmers’ ability to grow their own crops. Maximo Torero Cullen, chief economist at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, said that ‘one of every five calories people eat have crossed at least one international border, up more than 50 percent from 40 years ago’. This turbulence in the global food trade will certainly create a problem for nutrition and food intake, particularly amongst the poorest people on the planet.

Poorer countries do not have many tools to stem the tide of hunger, largely due to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that privilege subsidy regimes for richer countries but punish poorer ones if they use state action on behalf of their own farmers and the hungry. A recent report by no less than the WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development provided evidence of these subsidy advantages from which wealthier countries benefit. At the 12th WTO ministerial conference in mid-June, the G-33 countries will seek to expand the use of the ‘peace clause’ (established in 2013) to allow poorer countries to protect their farmers’ livelihoods through the state procurement of food and enhanced public food distribution systems.

Two young girls return to their homes after drawing water from a stream that the farm dwelling community shares with wild animals, 29 July 2020. Credit: New Frame / Magnificent Mndebele

Those who grow our food are hungry, yet, stunningly, there is little conversation about the poverty and hunger of farmers, peasants, and agricultural workers themselves. More than 3.4 billion people – nearly half the world’s population – live in rural areas; amongst them are 80% of the world’s poor. For most of the rural poor, agriculture is the principal source of income, providing billions of jobs. Rural poverty is reproduced not because people do not work hard, but because of the dispossession of rural workers from land ownership and the withdrawal of state support from small farmers and peasants.

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research (South Africa) has been paying very close attention to the plight of farmworkers in the region as part of our overall project to monitor the ‘hurricane of hunger’. Our most recent dossier, This Land Is the Land of Our Ancestors, is a fine-grained study of farmworkers from their own perspective. Researcher Yvonne Phyllis travelled from KwaZulu-Natal to the Western and Northern Cape provinces interviewing farmworkers and their organisations to learn about the failures of land reform in South Africa and its impact on their lives. This is one of the few dossiers that begins in the first person, reflecting the intimate nature of politics surrounding the land issue in South Africa. ‘What does the land mean to you?’, I asked Yvonne while we were together in Johannesburg recently. She answered:

I grew up on a farm in Bedford, in the Eastern Cape province. My upbringing gifted me some of the best lessons of my life. One lesson was from the community of farmworkers and farm dwellers; they taught me the value of being in community with other people. They also taught me what it means to nurture and cultivate land and how to make my own meaning of what land is to me. Those lessons have informed my personal beliefs about the nature of land. All people deserve to live from the land. Land is not only important because we can produce from it; it forms part of people’s histories, humanity, and cultural heritage.

Six generations of the Phyllis family have lived in this house and worked on this farm. Credit: New Frame / Andy Mkosi

The process of colonialism by Dutch (Boer) and British settlers dispossessed African farmers and converted them into either landless workers, unpaid labour tenants, or the rural unemployed. This process was hardened by the Native Land Act (no. 27 of 1913), whose legacy continues to be felt today. Seventeen-year-old composer Reuben Caluza (1895–1969) responded to the law with his ‘Umteto we Land Act’ (‘The Land Act’), which became one of the first anthems of the liberation movement in the country:

The right which our compatriots fought for
Our cry for the nation
is to have our country
We cry for the homeless
sons of our fathers
Who do not have a place
in this place of our ancestors

The Freedom Charter (1955) of the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies promised those who struggled against apartheid, which formally ended in 1994, that ‘The land shall be shared among those who work it’. This promise was alluded to again in the 1996 South African Constitution, chapter 2, section 25.5, but it excludes explicit mention of farmworkers.

This is the site of the ancestral graveyard of the Phyllis family on which Yvonne’s father Jacob and their family worked, 6 June 2021. Credit: New Frame / Andy Mkosi

In fact, right from the 1993 Interim Constitution, the new post-apartheid system defended the rights of farm owners through a ‘property clause’ in chapter 2, section 28. Differences within the ANC led to the abandonment of the more progressive Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in favour of the neoliberal Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy – a self-imposed structural adjustment programme. What this meant was that there were simply insufficient political will and state funds allocated for the land restitution, land tenure reform, and land redistribution programmes. As our dossier notes, to this day the promises of the Freedom Charter ‘have yet to be fulfilled’.

Rather than expropriate land from the primarily white land-owning class to compensate for historical injustices, the state provides for compensation to landowners and operates on the principle of ‘willing buyer, willing seller’. Bureaucratic red tape and a lack of funds have sabotaged any genuine land reform project. In his 2014 Ruth First Lecture, Irvin Jim, general secretary of the largest trade union in the country, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), noted that the centenary of the 1913 Land Act was not commemorated by the government but only by the militant strike by farmworkers in 2012 and 2013. ‘The strike is still fresh in our memories’, Jim said. ‘It continues to highlight the colonial historical fact that the land, and the produce that comes from it, are not being equitably shared among those who work the land’. Due to the neoliberal orientation of the land question, some of the programmes set up for restitution and redistribution have ended up benefitting large landholders over subsistence farmers and lifelong farmworkers.

Former labourers Freeda Mkhabela, Lucia Foster, and Gugu Ngubane (from left to right) are among the activists struggling against landlessness as well as poor pay and working conditions and for better treatment of farmworkers, 26 May 2021. Credit: New Frame / Mlungisi Mbele

A genuine agrarian reform project in South Africa would not only meet the cries for justice from the land but would also provide a pathway to deal with the hunger crisis in the countryside. Our dossier ends with a six-point list of demands developed from our conversations with farmworkers and their organisations:

    1. The government of South Africa must consult farmworkers and farm dwellers to incorporate their contributions into the development of a land reform programme which addresses their land needs.
    2. Labour tenants’ claims to land ownership should be given priority in order to avoid land reform that solely enriches Black elites.
    3. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development should facilitate the process of white farm owners apportioning some of their farmland to lifetime employees and descendants of families who have worked on farms for several generations.
    4. The government must purchase farms for farmworkers and assist them with capital for start-up costs, farming equipment, and agricultural skills.
    5. Land reform in South Africa must take into account the social factors that contribute to food insecurity and acknowledge the opportunities to rectify it through land redistribution.
    6. The process of land reform must address the marginalisation of women workers in the agricultural industry and the lack of land ownership by women farmers to ensure gender parity in both spheres.

Loo ngumhlaba wookhokho bethu! This is the land of our ancestors! That’s the slogan that gives our dossier its title. It is about time that those who work the land get to own the land.

US President Biden Refuses to Mention Worsening Dangers of Nuclear War While Media & Congress Enable His Silence

A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, 26 September. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Norman Solomon
SAN FRANCISCO, USA, Jun 10 2022 – I’ve just finished going through the more than 60 presidential statements, documents and communiques about the war in Ukraine that the White House has released and posted on its website since Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in early March.

They all share with that speech one stunning characteristic — the complete absence of any mention of nuclear weapons or nuclear war dangers. Yet we’re now living in a time when those dangers are the worst they’ve been since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

You might think that the risks of global nuclear annihilation would merit at least a few of the more than 25,000 words officially released on Biden’s behalf during the 100 days since his dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress.

But an evasive pattern began from the outset. While devoting much of that speech to the Ukraine conflict, Biden said nothing at all about the heightened risks that it might trigger the use of nuclear weapons.

A leader interested in informing the American people rather than infantilizing them would have something to say about the need to prevent nuclear war at a time of escalating tensions between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.

A CBS News poll this spring found that the war in Ukraine had caused 70 percent of adults in the U.S. to be worried that it could lead to nuclear warfare.

But rather than publicly address such fears, Biden has dodged the public — unwilling to combine his justifiable denunciations of Russia’s horrific war on Ukraine with even the slightest cautionary mention about the upward spike in nuclear-war risks.

Biden has used silence to gaslight the body politic with major help from mass media and top Democrats. While occasional mainstream news pieces have noted the increase in nuclear-war worries and dangers, Biden has not been called to account for refusing to address them.

As for Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, party loyalties have taken precedence over ethical responsibilities. What’s overdue is a willingness to insist that Biden forthrightly speak about a subject that involves the entire future of humanity.

Giving the president and congressional leaders the benefit of doubts has been a chronic and tragic problem throughout the nuclear age. Even some organizations that should know better have often succumbed to the temptation to serve as enablers.

In her roles as House minority leader and speaker, Nancy Pelosi has championed one bloated Pentagon budget increase after another, including huge outlays for new nuclear weapons systems.

Yet she continues to enjoy warm and sometimes even fawning treatment from well-heeled groups with arms-control and disarmament orientations.

And so it was, days ago, when the Ploughshares Fund sent supporters a promotional email about its annual “Chain Reaction” event — trumpeting that “Speaker Pelosi will join our illustrious list of previously announced speakers to explore current opportunities to build a movement to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons once and for all.”

The claim that Pelosi would be an apt person to guide listeners on how to “build a movement” with such goals was nothing short of absurd. For good measure, the announcement made the same claim for another speaker, Fiona Hill, a hawkish former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council.

Bizarre as it is, the notion that Pelosi and Hill are fit to explain how to “build a movement to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons” is in sync with a submissive assumption — that there’s no need to challenge Biden’s refusal to address nuclear-war dangers.

The president has a responsibility to engage with journalists and the public about nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to human survival on this planet. Urgently, Biden should be pushed toward genuine diplomacy including arms-control negotiations with Russia. Members of Congress, organizations and constituents should be demanding that he acknowledge the growing dangers of nuclear war and specify what he intends to do to diminish instead of fuel those dangers.

Such demands can gain momentum and have political impact as a result of grassroots activism rather than beneficent elitism. That’s why this Sunday, nearly 100 organizations are co-sponsoring a “Defuse Nuclear War” live stream — marking the 40th anniversary of the day when 1 million people gathered in New York’s Central Park, on June 12, 1982, to call for an end to the nuclear arms race.

That massive protest was in the spirit of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964: “I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction.”

In 2022, the real possibility of such a hell for the entire world has become unmentionable for the president and his enablers. But refusing to talk about the dangers of thermonuclear destruction makes it more likely.

Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of a dozen books including Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State, published this year in a new edition as a free e-book. His other books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is also the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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Why Biden Just Declared Heat Pumps and Solar Panels Essential to National Defense

President Joe Biden authorized use of the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of several climate-friendly technologies. Credit: MICHAEL WILSON/Unsplash

President Joe Biden authorized use of the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of several climate-friendly technologies. Credit: MICHAEL WILSON/Unsplash

By External Source
Jun 10 2022 – Solar panels, heat pumps and hydrogen are all building blocks of a clean energy economy. But are they truly “essential to the national defense”?

President Joe Biden proclaimed that they are in early June when he authorized using the Defense Production Act to ramp up their production in the U.S., along with insulation and power grid components.

As an environmental engineering professor, I agree that these technologies are essential to mitigating our risks from climate change and overreliance on fossil fuels. However, efforts to expand production capabilities must be accompanied by policies to stimulate demand if Biden hopes to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

 

Energy and the Defense Production Act

The United States enacted the Defense Production Act of 1950 at the start of the Korean War to secure materials deemed essential to national defense. Presidents soon recognized that essential materials extend far beyond weapons and ammunition. They have invoked the act to secure domestic supplies of everything from communications equipment to medical resources and baby formula.

For energy, past presidents used the act to expand fossil fuel supplies, not transition away from them. Lyndon Johnson used it to refurbish oil tankers during the 1967 Arab oil embargo, and Richard Nixon to secure materials for the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline in 1974. Even when Jimmy Carter used the act in 1980 to seek substitutes for oil, synthetic fuels made from coal and natural gas were a leading focus.

Today, the focus is on transitioning away from all fossil fuels, a move considered essential for confronting two key threats – climate change and volatile energy markets.

The Department of Defense has identified numerous national security risks arising from climate change. Those include threats to the water supply, food production and infrastructure, which may trigger migration and competition for scarce resources. Fossil fuels are the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlights additional risks of relying on fossil fuels. Russia and other adversaries are among the leading producers of these fuels. Overreliance on fossil fuels leaves the United States and its allies vulnerable to threats and to price shocks in volatile markets.

Even as the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas, the United States has been rocked by price spikes as our allies shun Russian fuels.

 

Targeting 4 pillars of clean energy

Transitioning from fossil fuels to cleaner energy can mitigate these risks.

As I explain in my book, “Confronting Climate Gridlock,” building a clean energy economy requires four mutually reinforcing pillars – efficiency, clean electricity, electrification and clean fuels.

Efficiency shrinks energy demand and costs along with the burdens on the other pillars. Clean electricity eliminates greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and enables the electrification of vehicles, heating and industry. Meanwhile, clean fuels will be needed for airplanes, ships and industrial processes that can’t easily be electrified.

The technologies targeted by Biden’s actions are well aligned with these pillars.

Insulation is crucial to energy efficiency. Solar panels provide one of the cheapest and cleanest options for electricity. Power grid components are needed to integrate more wind and solar into the energy mix.

Heat pumps, which can both heat and cool a home, are far more efficient than traditional furnaces and replace natural gas or heating oil with electricity. Electrolyzers produce hydrogen for use as a fuel or a feedstock for chemicals.

 

Generating demand is essential

Production is only one step. For this effort to succeed, the U.S. must also ramp up demand.

Stimulating demand spurs learning by doing, which drives down costs, spurring greater demand. A virtuous cycle of rising adoption of technologies and falling costs can arise, as it has for wind and solar power, batteries and other technologies.

The technologies targeted by Biden differ in their readiness for this virtuous cycle to work.

Insulation is already cheap and abundantly produced domestically. What’s needed in this case are policies like building codes and incentives that can stimulate demand by encouraging more use of insulation to help make homes and buildings more energy efficient, not more capacity for production.

Solar panels are currently cheap, but the vast majority are manufactured in Asia. Even if Biden succeeds in tripling domestic manufacturing capacity, U.S. production alone will remain insufficient to satisfy the growing demand for new solar projects. Biden also put a two-year pause on the threat of new tariffs for solar imports to keep supplies flowing while U.S. production tries to ramp up, and announced support for grid-strengthening projects to boost growth of U.S. installations.

Electrolyzers face a tougher road. They’re expensive, and using them to make hydrogen from electricity and water for now costs far more than making hydrogen from natural gas – a process that produces greenhouse gas emissions. The Department of Energy aims to slash electrolyzer costs by 80% within a decade. Until it succeeds, there will be little demand for the electrolyzers that Biden hopes to see produced.

 

Helping heat pumps succeed

That leaves heat pumps as the technology most likely to benefit from Biden’s declaration.

Heat pumps can slash energy use, but they also cost more upfront and are unfamiliar to many contractors and consumers while technologies remain in flux.

Pairing use of the Defense Production Act with customer incentives, increased government purchasing and funding for research and development can create a virtuous cycle of rising demand, improving technologies and falling costs.

Clean energy is indeed essential to mitigating the risks posed by climate change and volatile markets. Invoking the Defense Production Act can bolster supply, but the government will also have to stimulate demand and fund targeted research to spur the virtuous cycles needed to accelerate the energy transition.The Conversation

Daniel Cohan, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.