The world’s largest public oil producer is planning to reduce its methane emissions by 15 percent by 2020.

ExxonMobil made the announcement today along with plans to reduce flaring at gas sites by 25 percent and increase energy efficiency measures.

The oil giant will achieve this through making operational improvements such as ‘leak detection and repair’ efforts, which have led to a 2 percent drop in the past year.

“We have a longstanding commitment to improve efficiency and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions,” said Darren W. Woods, chairman and chief executive officer. “Today’s announcement builds on that commitment and will help further drive improvements in our business.”

The company will seek to improve energy efficiency across its refining and chemicals manufacturing business, although it did not provide details.

Exxon claims to have spent $9 billion on technologies to lower emissions since 2000, including carbon capture, biofuels, and flare reduction.  It expects to make the most ground on meeting its new goal on flaring by targeting its West Africa operations.

Flaring is used to ease the pressure on equipment by burning gas, which is then released into the atmosphere. Widespread use of the technique is a major source of carbon emissions.

Exxon’s news comes at a time of increased pressure on oil and gas companies to make stronger commitments on climate change. A group of sixty major investors called on the sector to “take responsibility” for its carbon emissions in a letter to the Financial Times last week.

Royal Dutch Shell also defeated a motion to set targets in line with the Paris Agreement at its annual general meeting this week. The meeting was dominated by discussions on the company’s actions to lower its carbon emissions.

BP has tried to stave off shareholder revolts by placing a cap on future carbon emissions out to 2025.

Read more: ExxonMobil sets new targets to reduce greenhouse...

Technology giant Intel is making strong progress towards sustainability.

The company’s annual report on its corporate responsibilities, released last week, highlights the array of measures it is taking towards meet its environmental goals.

Intel has a target to reduce its direct greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent a year by 2020. Its latest analysis shows the company is on track to achieve this, having decreased the carbon intensity of its operations by 20 percent in 2017.

The company’s commitment to climate action is significant given its global presence; it operates multiple offices in over 70 countries and employs 106,000 people.

In the past five years it has ramped up its investments in energy conservation, spending 185 million on 2,000 projects, which have helped save an estimated 3 million megawatt hours. 2017 alone saw savings of 142,000 megawatt hours thanks to 189 conservation projects across its global business.

100 percent of its power use in the United States and European Union is now sourced from renewables, and globally this totals 73 percent of energy usage.

Focussing on energy efficiency has also proved to be good business sense as it has led to economic savings of more than $400 million, according to the company.

In addition to energy measures, in 2017 it set a new goal of ensuring 100 percent of its global water usage is restored to local communities by 2025, up from the current rate of 18 percent.

“We continue to explore new opportunities to apply our technology to help solve major societal challenges, from protecting endangered species and understanding the impacts of climate change, to treating cancer and respecting human rights,” commented Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich.

The company has also made progress in improving the environmental performance of its buildings. 25 percent of its building space has achieved the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. This equates to over 15 million square feet across 46 buildings.

“We also continued to advance the application of digital efficiency technologies that empower others to reduce their own environmental footprints,” he added.

Source: Intel

Read more: Intel makes sure sustainability is inside its...

The global value of carbon pricing schemes are now estimated to be worth $82 billion, according to a new report from the World Bank.

The figure for 2017 represents a 56 percent increase on the $52 billion in the previous year, following the opening of new markets, including China.

The report, launched today, finds that there are currently 51 carbon pricing initiatives around the world, consisting of 25 emissions trading schemes and 26 carbon taxes. These initiatives cover 20 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, or 11 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The schemes have been put in place across 71 jurisdictions, 45 of which are on the national level as governments increasingly see the economic benefits of curbing emissions. The World Bank estimates that receipts from carbon pricing now amount to $33 billion, also a 50 percent increase on the previous year.

Along with China’s planned regulation of its power sector, new carbon programmes were rolled-out in Chile, Colombia, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario.

The European Union also took steps to fix its dysfunctional trading scheme by increasing the price from 5 euros per tonne of CO2 equivalent to 13 euros ($7 to $16).

However, analysts from the World Bank point out that this remains below the accepted range of $40-$80 per tonne needed to reach the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

 “Governments at all levels are starting to see the effectiveness of carbon pricing in their efforts to cut harmful carbon pollution while also raising revenues for climate and other policies, including environmental action,” said John Roome, World Bank Senior Director for Climate Change. “As countries take stock of their Paris Agreement commitments and set a path towards increased ambition, carbon pricing mechanisms with robust pricing levels are proving to be essential elements of the toolkit.”

Looking forward, Singapore and Argentina also plan to implement carbon taxes in 2019.

Read more: Global carbon market increases by 56% in one...

A former coal plant in the north of England will become the test site for a new way to remove carbon dioxide from electricity generation.

The Drax power company has released details of a new trial to develop bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS), billed as the first of its kind in Europe.

The £400,000 trial will begin work this month at Drax’s biomass power plants in Yorkshire.

After an initial feasibility study, a second phase of the pilot is planned for the autumn. At this point, it is hoped a demonstration unit will be installed to isolate the carbon dioxide produced after burning biomass.

Three Drax’s units were previously used for coal-fired generation, but have since been upgraded to use wood pellets instead, imported from the US and Canada.

If successful, the unique project would lead to carbon dioxide being removed from Earth’s atmosphere. This process of ‘negative emissions’ is a key pillar of the UN’s plans under the Paris Agreement to prevent dangerous climate change.

Will Gardiner, CEO of the Drax Group, said: “If the world is to achieve the targets agreed in Paris and pursue a cleaner future, negative emissions are a must – and BECCS is a leading technology to help achieve it.

“This pilot is the UK’s first step, but it won’t be the only one at Drax. We will soon have four operational biomass units, which provide us with a great opportunity to test different technologies that could allow Drax, the country and the world, to deliver negative emissions and start to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Claire Perry, the minister for energy and clean growth, said the government aimed to make the UK a world leader in the technology.

“It’s hugely exciting that Drax has chosen to invest in this innovative project, demonstrating how government support for innovation can create an environment where companies can develop new technologies and scale up investment to build the sectors we will need to achieve long term decarbonisation.”

[embedded content]

Source: Drax Group

Read more: First European trial for innovative carbon...

New research has found a clear correlation between the phasing out of fossil fuel power plants and improved public health.

Academics from the University of California at Berkeley delved into public health records to assess what impact local power plant closures may have had on early birth rates.

Eight coal and oil plants closed in California between 2001 and 2011. The researchers found that those babies who were born too early dropped from 7 to 5.1 percent one year after these closures.

Preterm births, defined as between 32 and 37 weeks, are caused by health problems often linked to external factors.

The researchers expressed surprise that birth rates within 5km of the plants dropped by so much, but that the data remained consistent with similar research on the matter

The rates for African-American and Asian women fell further, from 14.4 to 11.3 percent.

“We were excited to do a good news story in environmental health,” said lead author Joan Casey. “Most people look at air pollution and adverse health outcomes, but this is the flip side: We said, let’s look at what happens when we have this external shock that removes air pollution from a community and see if we can see any improvements in health.”

The research highlights another benefit of making the transition to low-carbon and renewable forms of energy.

Pauline Mendola of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development applauded the work, while pointing out that preterm births was “one of our most intractable health disparities.”

“Perhaps it’s time for the health of our children to be the impetus behind reducing the common sources of ambient air pollution. Their lives depend on it,” she added.

The paper was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Fossil fuel closures in California between 2001 and 2011

Source: UC Berkeley

Read more: Closure of fossil fuel plants in California...

There is something in the water.

It’s an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste being dumped in the world’s oceans each year, and we are all responsible.

There must be something else also causing the seeming avalanche of announcements from all sections of society to combat this level of waste.

Many commentators have attributed the pace of action to the Blue Planet II nature series, released last year, which documented to such large audiences the damaging impacts of single-use plastics.

As the mood has changed, small companies to large corporates (and governments), have acted quickly to ensure they remain on the right side of public opinion.

We have spent time wading through the press releases, policy documents and sustainability targets to see who is being the most bold. In doing so, we have come up with a top 5 list of companies which are really testing themselves, and could have the most impact.

This snapshot is designed both as a look forward and an inspiration for others to act.

Even before ASDA’s planned merger with Sainsbury’s was announced, the UK food retailer had made bold commitments on plastic pollution.

Earlier this year, it set out plans to immediately reduce plastic use by 10 percent in 2018, which will require the replacement of 2.4 million drinking straws. All of its stores will also remove single-use cups and cutlery by 2019.

In the long-term, it set out ambitions to make all its branded packaging recyclable by the mid-2020s. As the company currently serves 18 million people a week, the potential for changing consumer behaviour is high. 

ASDA is also owned by US giant Walmart and the merger with Sainsbury’s will create the largest supermarket chain in the UK. It’s uncertain if the latter will take on ASDA’s plastic plans, but it could come under pressure to step up to the plate.

With over 36,000 restaurants in 122 locations, it’s clear when McDonald’s commits to doing something “across the globe”, it means it.

The fast food chain hasn’t received a good press for its business practices over the years, and recent environmental commitments are perhaps designed to counteract this negative image.

“As the world’s largest restaurant company, we have a responsibility to use our scale for good to make changes that will have a meaningful impact across the globe,” Francesca DeBiase said recently, McDonald’s Chief Sustainability Officer.

She was commenting on the company’s landmark decision to ensure 100 percent of its packaging comes from renewable, recycled or certified sustainable sources within the next eight years.

The move has been backed by leading environmental organisations and McDonald’s has pledged to work with local governments to help achieve the goal.

If successful, it would mean a huge amount of plastic diverted from the world’s oceans, and an unprecedented number of people engaged along the way.

It may surprise some that Costa Coffee is, in fact, one of the world’s largest coffee companies.

Operating over 3,000 stores around the world, it gets through a lot of disposable cups, but the company has decided to take its sustainable responsibilities seriously.

New commitments have been made including discounts on reusable cups and the planned removal of all plastic straws from cafes.

However, it is the decision to pay waste collectors £70 for every tonne of used cups which is a real game changer.

By 2020, the company is targeting an astonishing half a billion recycled cups, the equivalent of its current annual sales in the UK.

The factories involved are bracing themselves for a seven-fold increase in work.

Evian is going carbon neutral and plastic free.

Last year saw the introduction of a new zero-carbon bottling plant, the first step towards major change across the whole business.

As a world-famous brand of bottled water it stands on the frontline in the battle to reduce plastic waste.

By 2025, the French company has made the pledge to only produce bottles which are 100 percent recycled.

To do so, it is working to create a truly “circular model” across the business, with the help of the Ellen MaCarthur Foundation.

A partnership with Veolia will also rapidly scale-up recycling rates and ensure discarded bottles don’t end up in the ocean.

Sport has a unique ability to reach millions of people around the world. And football as one of the few truly global sports is able to engage people from all backgrounds on social and environmental issues.

That’s why Tottenham Hotspur’s move to eliminate plastics from its new stadium could elevate the plastic-free campaign to a new level.

The North London football club is currently constructing an estimated £850 million ground to support its growing fan base and recent success.

Once the new 62,000 seated venue opens at the end of 2018, it will ban all single-use plastics across the whole club, including VIP areas. Fans will be sold disposable cutlery, straws and stirrers from day one.

What’s more, the club will replace plastic bags with biodegradable ones and all contracts with suppliers will contain a requirement to reduce plastic usage. New members will receive a Bag for Life when the next season starts.

Read more: 5 companies leading the movement to go plastic...

One of the largest onshore wind farms in the UK now has battery storage co-located at the site.

The Pen y Cymoedd wind farm, located in South Wales, has a capacity of 228 megawatts (MW), enough to power 188,000 households.

Before the project was completed last year, Swedish developers Vattenfall won a contract from the National Grid to also build an innovative battery device.

The 22MW facility will help the grid manage split-second changes in the supply and demand of electricity, making a small contribution to its overall reliability.

The new site contains five BMW-manufactured battery packs with a capacity of 33 kilowatts adapted for stationary use.

Gunnar Groebler, Vattenfall’s senior vice president for wind energy said: “Vattenfall is on the road to a smart, digitalised future, free from fossil fuels. I can think of few other energy installations that better demonstrate what that future looks like than this battery installation.”

Battery storage is becoming an increasingly familiar site at renewable energy sites, with a succession of new projects coming online within the UK this year. The technology is seen as key to the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and has received enthusiastic backing from the government.

Claus Wattendrup, head of solar and batteries, said: “This is Vattenfall’s largest battery installation to date, where we make use of synergies at our existing wind farms sites – such as at Pen y Cymoedd. Hybrid renewable parks will play a larger role in the future and we are leading this development.”

Rival energy company Ørsted announced last month its own large-scale venture into battery storage with the development of a 20MW site near Liverpool. The project is the Danish developer’s first commercial investment in the technology.

Photo Credit: Mike Davies

Read more: Huge Welsh wind farm now comes with batteries...

An energy start-up has secured investment to build what will be world’s largest battery network.

UK-based Pivot Power has unveiled plans to construct the 2 gigawatt project, which will see new grid-scale batteries and rapid charging stations installed across the country.

This is designed to support the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and help the National Grid work more flexibly in response to renewable energy.

The UK Government announced plans last year to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Pivot Power’s £1.6 billion programme will see 50 megawatt batteries constructed at 45 sites, located near major towns and roads to also help supply new rapid EV charging stations.

The ambitious plan represents a major leap forward in the transition to clean energy, and dwarfs existing battery projects in the UK. The network will be able to store roughly two thirds the energy of the planned Hinkley C nuclear power plant.

If successful, it will also be the world’s largest, meeting the energy needs of 235,000 homes for a day.

Graeme Cooper at National Grid said: “We expect the use of electric vehicles to grow rapidly. This innovative solution will help accelerate adoption by providing a network of rapid charging stations across the country enabling cars to charge quickly, efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.

“It will also give the system operator more choice and flexibility for managing the demands in the day to day running of the network, and also help mass EV charging”.

The company aims to have batteries up and running at 10 sites within the next 18 months. A site in Southampton on England’s south coast could be built by 2019 if it secures planning permission.

Pivot Power’s CEO Matt Allen said: “We want to future-proof the UK’s energy system and accelerate the electric vehicle revolution, helping the UK to clean up its air and meet climate targets. Big problems require big solutions, and we are moving fast to put in place a unique network to support a clean, affordable, secure energy system and embrace the low-carbon economy.”

Energy entrepreneur Michael Liebreich, an early investor in the project, said: “Pivot Power were quick to understand the scale and nature of the opportunity and have positioned themselves brilliantly.”

Photo Credit: Nick Birse/Wikimedia Commons

Read more: Pivot Power to build ‘world first’ battery network

Construction on a wind farm in the UK is due to commence in what the developers claim is the first project in the country not to require state subsidies.

German company Energieknotor announced it had reached financial close on the Withernwick Extension project, located in Yorkshire, north-east England.

Chief Executive Peter Szabo said the project was a “milestone” and that it was “as far as we know” the first onshore wind farm to manage without subsidies.

The achievement was made thanks to a significant power purchase agreement it has signed with a “global company in the consumer goods industry”.

The deal also “underlines our pioneering role in the quest to realise wind farms and solar parks with a lower levelized cost of electricity than from fossil and nuclear resources.”

The small 8.2 megawatt project will consist of four turbines which will be erected in the first half of 2019. It will sit next to an existing nine turbine wind farm, also operated by Enerkiekontor.

“The financial close for the Withernwick II project shows that our efficiency measures to reduce costs are indeed bearing fruit and that we are already able to implement a wind farm profitably at pure market conditions,” Szabo added.

Onshore wind has faced a difficult few years after the Conservative government sought to stop new projects being built. It has done this through preventing the technology from bidding for government contracts and creating insurmountable hurdles in the planning process.

The claim from Enerkiekontor will be met with a mixed response from the industry as it may persuade the government to maintain its removal of financial support. Despite a frosty period for the technology, new Government ministers have spoken more positively about a future for onshore wind. Energy and Clean Growth Minister, Claire Perry, said last November her department was actively working on plans to allow new projects to come forward, albeit only in Scotland and Wales.

Read more: First ‘subsidy free’ wind farm to be built in...

The European Commission has put forth a proposal to regulate carbon emissions from heavy-duty vehicles for the first time.

The plan, released last week, confirms a target of reducing emissions in the sector by 30 percent by 2030.

Despite contributing 6 percent of all the European Union’s carbon emissions, lorries, coaches and buses are currently unregulated across the bloc.

This is damaging to the EU’s stated aim of reducing all emissions by 40 percent by 2030 (on 1990 levels) covering all sectors; a target created so it remains in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

What’s more, the Commission estimates emissions from the heavy duty sector to grow by about 9 percent over the next decade if left unchecked.

Increasing fuel efficiency is also seen as an important emerging market where Europe needs to maintain its competitiveness. The initial proposal will include incentives for new zero and low-emission vehicles in the form of a “super credits system”.

Reducing emissions from the sector will also help to improve air quality across Europe as heavy-duty vehicles produce large quantities of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, along with carbon dioxide.

Europe’s trade body for the automobile sector, ACEA, acknowledged the need to decarbonise road transport, but said the new targets were “far too aggressive”.

“It would seem as though the Commission has simply taken the exact CO2 reduction levels it already proposed for cars and vans, and applied them directly to heavy-duty vehicles, without fully recognising the fundamental differences between these vehicle segments,” said ACEA Secretary General, Erik Jonnaert

The move comes at a time in which the US Government has put forward opposite plans to downgrade fuel efficiency standards. The Environmental Protection Agency made the announcement last month, stating the previous Obama administration was wrong to set standards that were “too high”.

Read more: EU sets out plan to cut truck emissions by 30%

Sales of new electric vehicles (EVs) will reach 11 million within the next eight years, according to new analysis.

Last year saw a record 1.1 million of new sales, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Its latest market forecast shows EVs going from strength-to-strength and will increasingly become a dominant force in the automobile industry. By 2030, sales are expected to reach 30 million, accounting for 28 percent of the global market.

China will drive this growth with 39 percent of all EV sales taking place within the country by end of the next decade. Electric buses are also the star performer in the new modelling, with China again making up the majority of demand, to which other countries will follow.

Last year, the country contributed an astonishing 99 percent of global sales in e-buses, and there are now a total of 300,000 such vehicles on its roads.

Looking further out to 2040, BNEF predicts 80 percent of the world’s municipal bus fleet to be an electric. An important development given the sector’s significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

The EV market is also expected to displace 7.3 million barrels a day of transport fuel within the next 20 years, but will inevitably contribute to higher demand of electricity, adding 6 percent to the global need.

In addition, sourcing the materials needed for batteries, such as lithium and cobalt, could provide a challenge to continued growth.

Salim Morsy, senior transportation analyst, said: “While we’re optimistic on EV demand over the coming years, we see two important hurdles emerging. In the short term, we see a risk of cobalt shortages in the early 2020s that could slow down some of the rapid battery cost declines we have seen recently. Looking further out, charging infrastructure is still a challenge.”

Climate Action has previously reported on whether charging points can keep up with the increased demand for cleaner forms of transport.

Read more: Electric vehicle sales will top 10 million by 2025

New York State has proposed strict new carbon dioxide standards which will lead to coal plants having to change the way they operate, or close down.

New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, made the announcement last week, calling coal “a relic of the past”.

The move forms part of Governor Cuomo’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 40 percent by 2030. It also follows through on a pledge he made in 2016 to restrict coal use across the state.

The Department of Environmental Conservation published the new rulings last week, which limit all coal plants to producing no more than 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity generated.

"While Washington continues an open assault on our environment, New York is leading the charge with bold climate action to protect our future," the Governor said.

"…It's time to step up, take action, and put an end to our need for fossil fuels and focus on cleaner, more green energy solutions for the survival of our planet and future generations," he added.

The regulations remain open to consultation for the next two months and three public hearings will be held on the matter.

However, New York only has two remaining active coal plants in the state, accounting for a fraction of its electricity use.

"New York is a leader in the fight against climate change with significant investments to protect our environment," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "We're enhancing our infrastructure across the state and pursuing projects that promote cleaner and greener energy options for our communities and residents."  

Governor Cuomo has made increasingly strong commitments on climate change and the low-carbon economy. Along with targets on carbon emissions, the state now aims to source 50 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2030. This will be partly achieved by a huge planned expansion in new offshore wind power.

Photo Credit: Seabamirum/Flickr

Read more: New York to end all coal-fired power by 2020

British food retailer Iceland continues to take the lead on sustainability issues.

It announced this week that it will become the first UK supermarket to support government plans to introduce a plastic bottle deposit scheme.

At the same time, it has become one of the first companies to use new plastic-free labelling on its own brand packaging.

The label was officially launched by the charity A Plastic Planet, and is designed to raise awareness on plastic waste. Iceland has already made the commitment to replacing plastic on all its own packaging by 2023. Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza is also using the ‘trust mark’ following its move to introduce plastic-free aisles in its stores earlier this year.

“With the grocery retail sector accounting for more than 40 per cent of plastic packaging in the UK, it’s high time that Britain’s supermarkets came together to take a lead on this issue,” said Richard Walker, Iceland’s Managing Director.

The deposit return scheme will be trialled after Iceland undertook extensive consultations with suppliers as to its implications.

The vending machines repay customers a 10p voucher for any Iceland plastic bottle returned. It is hoped the trial will lead to a better understanding of consumer behaviour and appetite for the scheme ahead of a wider government roll-out.

“The vocal support Iceland has received since announcing our intention to eradicate plastic packaging has shown us that there is a huge public will to tackle the scourge of plastics,” Walker added.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP, applauded Iceland for “leading the way” with the trial scheme.

“It is absolutely vital we act now to curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled. Support from businesses will be a vital part of ensuring we leave our environment in a better state than we found it,” he added.

Iceland has separately made the decision to remove palm oil from its own products citing the “environmental devastation” caused by the industry.

Read more: Iceland supermarket launches deposit scheme and...

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