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Global Briefing: French vegan restaurant becomes first to win coveted Michelin Star

Global Briefing: French vegan restaurant becomes first to win coveted Michelin Star

ONA awarded Michelin star in major milestone for vegan cuisine

A new chapter has been opened in the long history of French haute cuisine, after a restaurant in the country's south-west became the first vegan restaurant to be awarded a coveted Michelin star.

The restaurant ONA - which stands for Origine Non Animale - in the city of Ares, near Bordeaux, was founded by Claire Vallée in 2016 after she secured crowdfunding from supporters and a loan from French green bank La Nef.

In addition to the standard star, Vallée was also awarded a green star, which Michelin introduced last year to highlight restaurants with a strong environmental credentials.

A Guide Michelin spokeswoman confirmed to AFP that ONA "the first vegan restaurant in France to win a star".


'Gas is over', declares European Investment Bank chief

The President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) has issued a stark assessment of the long term future for gas infrastructure across the continent, declaring at apress conference this week that "to put it mildly, gas is over".

"This is a serious departure from the past, but without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets," said Dr Werner Hoyer, as he presented the bank's annual results for 2020. 

The comments represent a significant strengthening of the EU's line on the future of gas, which has previously seen policymakers endorse the idea new gas infrastructure would be required to help more coal-dependent economies curb their emissions.

However, the EIB highlighted that gas has a very limited role to play in the EIB's climate roadmap. Currently, only power plants emitting less than 250 grammes of CO2 per kilowatt-hour currently eligible for support under the bank's rules, but the EIB now intends to phase out all funding for fossil fuels before the end of the year.

Hoyer said that instead the bank would now divert more finance towards energy efficiency projects, renewable energy projects, green innovation, and research.


Elon Musk trails plans for carbon capture prize

Billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk this week revealed plans for a new cash prize for promising carbon capture technologies. Writing on Twitter the controversial entrepreneur, said he was "donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology". He added that more details would follow next week.

The tweet prompted a raft of suggestions for technologies that promise to capture industrial emissions or draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, as well as lots of photos of trees.


Hamburg coal power plant to be converted into mega-electrolyser for green hydrogen

Vattenfall, Shell, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Hamburg's municipal heat supplier Hamburg Wärme have this week signed Letter of Intent in support of plans to develop a major new green hydrogen hub in the port city.

The new electrolyser is to boast a 100MW capacity and is set to be built on the site of the former Moorburg coal-fired power plant. The companies are now exploring how they can jointly produce hydrogen from wind and solar power at the site and then utilise the resulting gas in the region.

The firms said that subject to a final investment decision and planning approvals the production of green hydrogen is anticipated in 2025.


China coal output rises to highest level since 2015

New statistics from the Chinese government have underscored the scale of the challenge the country faces if it is to deliver on its new net zero emissions goal, after authorities confirmed coal output rose to its highest levels since 2015 last year.

Despite huge disruption to the economy from the coronavirus outbreak, new data from the National Bureau of Statistics this week showed that the world's largest coal miner and consumer produced 3.84 billion tonnes of coal in 2020. The uptick in production was partly driven by the government's unofficial restriction of coal imports, but environmental campaigners are also concerned that a post-covid economic recovery could also see a surge in demand for coal power across the country.


Over 90 top corporates call on Japan government to boost clean power goals

A group of 92 corporates that have signed up to the Japan Climate Initiative (JCI) this week issued a call for the Japanese government to raise its renewable energy share of the power mix to 40-50 per cent by 2030.

The group noted that to meet the goal of becoming net zero emissions economies by 2050, EU countries and US states have set clean power goals to be reached by 2030 in the range of 40 per cent to 74 per cent of the electricity mix. In contrast, Japan's recently confirmed a national net zero emissions target for 2050, but its current renewable energy target for 2030 stands at just 22 per cent to 24 per cent.

The new message, which was endorsed by leading Japanese corporations in a wide range of fields, including the electrical, IT, automotive, aviation, shipping, retail, food, housing & construction, pharmaceutical, steel, chemical, glass, insurance & finance sectors, urged the government to step up efforts in support of their goal of playing "a greater role in the global business environment, where decarbonisation is accelerating, and enable Japanese companies more committed to the challenge of mitigating the climate crisis".


Report: EU renewables drive is delivering

Two new reports from the European Environment Agency (EEA) have highlighted how the continent's rapid expansion of its renewables sector over the past 15 years has resulted in significant environmental gains.

The agency found that across the EU the increase in electricity from renewable sources such as solar photovoltaic (PV), wind, and biomass, had, by 2018, significantly reduced net greenhouse gas emissions. The assessment presented a detailed life cycle analysis of global changes in overall environmental impacts associated with the expansion of EU renewables capacity between 2005 and 2018 and concluded that "for most of the impact categories investigated, the switch from fossil fuel to renewable electricity sources within the EU Member States resulted in clear improvements in 2018, compared with 2005".

The report found that on top of significant emisisons savings the lifecycle impact potentials were lower for eutrophication, particulate matter formation, and acidification in 2018 than in 2005, while ecotoxicity- and land occupation-related impact potentials slightly increased.

"The briefing also shows that monitoring and targeted actions can help minimise some adverse effects of this transition, in particular those regarding freshwater ecotoxicity and land occupation," the EEA said. "Actions should focus on reducing impacts linked to material sourcing and to production processes across various supply chains (e.g. for solar photovoltaic modules and biomass fuels), along with improvements in energy and resource efficiency."


Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures completes $1bn clean tech raise

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the clean-tech venture capital fund backed by Bill Gates, has reportedly raised $1bn for a second round of investments, after investing its first $1bn fund-raising round in 45 startups.

"We have built a great technical team and our ability to close a second fund is a testament to their good work," Eric Toone, BEV's technical lead, told Bloomberg.

The first round was backed by a raft of high profile names, including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Ma, Chris Hohn, and Michael Bloomberg. Rodi Guidero, BEV's executive director, told Boomberg said many of the firm's original investors were involved in the second round, along with some new ones, but declined to provide any names.

The move follows the firm's first successful exit last autumn when lithium-ion battery developer QuantumScape listed on the New York Stock Exchange.


IEA warns of global SUV surge

The IEA has warned that rising global demand for SUVs could put global emissions goals at risk, as emissions savings made in other sectors are offset by increased demand for larger vehicles.

In a new analysis the influential agency noted that "as global energy-related carbon emissions fell last year because of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, one sector saw emissions actually rising in 2020: sport-utility vehicles (SUVs)".

"The world's overall energy-related emissions fell by an estimated seven per cent this year, the largest drop in history and around five times the size of the decline in 2009 following the global financial crisis," the report noted. "But emissions from SUVs, which are typically larger and less fuel-efficient than other cars, are estimated to have seen a slight increase of 0.5 per cent."

While demand for electric vehicles is soaring globally, SUVs continue to dominate much of the global auto market and now account for 42 per cent of all sales.

"Despite the effects of the pandemic on overall car use, SUVs consumed more oil last year than they did in 2019,"the IEA said. "Oil consumption from SUVs reached 5.5 million barrels per day in 2020. Remarkably, we estimate that the increase in the overall SUV fleet in 2020 cancelled out the declines in oil consumption by SUVs that resulted from Covid-related lockdown measures."

'Our futures are at stake': Sports stars fear industry could be defeated by escalating climate impacts

'Our futures are at stake': Sports stars fear industry could be defeated by escalating climate impacts

Top tennis, rugby, and football players open up about fears of growing impacts of volatile weather on sports in new ECIU podcast

A host of top athletes and figures from the world of sport have opened up about their fears over the growing impact of climate change on their professions, in a bid to raise awareness and ambition among fans and clubs alike in confronting the effects of hotter temperatures and volatile weather.

Top footballers, rowers, triathletes, and rugby and tennis players have all taken part in a new podcast series launched by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) think tank today, which aims to investigate the "traditionally unexplored" links between sport and climate change.

Presented by former BBC Sport correspondent Jonathan Overend, it marks the first time many top sports starts have spoken out about the growing effects of climate change on their professions, as well as featuring input from top sports clubs and governing bodies.

As the planet warms, weather is becoming increasingly volatile, leading to scorching hot temperatures, severe flooding and raging storms that are taking an increasing toll on both professional and amateur outdoor sports.

But Overend said the "uneasy relationship" between sport and climate change was still "rarely discussed" in much detail or depth, as he called on fans, policymakers, sports clubs, and governing bodies to engage with the potential impacts "in order to search for solutions".

"Now is the time for more athletes to step up and act as influencers," he said. "Hopefully this series proves there's no need for a 'fear of hypocrisy'. Nobody's perfect. After all, what can be more important than the future of our planet? The future of sport depends on it."

Evidence continues to grow regarding the impact of the changing climate on professional sport, which remains a major ecomomic player and significant exporter for the UK. A report by the Rapid Transition Alliance last year estimated that over the next three decades a quarter of English league football grounds would be at risk from flooding every season, a third of British Open golf courses could be damaged from rising sea levels, and half of Winter Olympics cities could become unreliable hosts due to riding temperatures.

Speaking in the podcast, Premier League footballer, Southampton FC's Oriol Romeu, warned "we have to react before it's too late".

"I would love for us to not put ourselves in that situation and we don't regret afterwards saying 'we should have done this or should have done that'," said Romeu. "I'd rather do it now."

Others raising their concerns about the growing climate crisis in the series include GB Olympic rower Melissa Wilson, former Australian rugby union player David Pocock, and five-times Women's Tennis Association (WTA) doubles Grand Slam champion Lucy Safarova.

Safarova, also a French Open singles finalist in 2015, recalls her discomfort playing at the 2014 Australian Open during extreme heat during the podcast, an experience she describes as "insane" and "not healthy".

"It still feels like you're playing in the sauna," she explains. "We played through the middle of the day. It was 43 in the shade. On the court it was around 65. It's concrete under you, concrete around you so there's no escape from the brutal heat."

"Today is late already to say ok this is happening. If we continue the trend we have right now the planet won't be here as we know it very soon," Safarova adds. "Tennis is a global sport so I'm not going to be able to travel less but we are dying to change our calendar so we're not going insane distance and then back."

Podcast: How mobilising capital markets could drive decarbonisation of heavy industry

Podcast: How mobilising capital markets could drive decarbonisation of heavy industry

Climate Bonds CEO Sean Kidney and Decarb Connect founder Alex Cameron discuss the growing role for transition bonds in unlocking investment for tackling carbon-intensive sectors of the economy

With the Green Bond market delivering $1tr of investment, what opportunity could a new category of bond bring to companies trying to engineer a transition of hard to abate assets? How can capital markets be mobilised further to drive change in industries that need finance of a scale that matches the Paris agreement ambition?

Repurposing existing investment plans to support climate priorities is going be a key factor in delivering net zero. Could the bond market be a key element of financing decarbonisation at scale?

In a new podcast, Alex Cameron, Founder of Decarb Connect, and Sean Kidney, CEO of Climate Bonds, discuss the real need for transition bonds to help challenging industries find their route to change - a route which might not be available through green bonds or more traditional finance. The discussion covers the structure and clarity that will be essential, as well as the need for appropriate ambition on the part of the corporates, in order to help deliver decarbonisation in energy and carbon intensive industries. It also explores the progress of the growing green bond market and what other investment routes exist for interested parties.

The podcast can be listened to in full at the link below.

Decarb Connect will host its first digital festival next week. More details on the event are available here.

Biden and the future of clean energy politics

Biden and the future of clean energy politics

New group Clean Energy for America is hoping to seize the opportunities that should come for the renewables sector with a Biden Presidency

Have you heard about the clean energy triangle? 

The theory goes that in order to rapidly deploy clean energy, you need three elements: technology; policy; and finance. When these components are integrated, we're able to thoughtfully accelerate the speed and scale of clean technologies. The technology is there and is getting better. The finance is following as investors see there's money to be made. The only missing piece, before this week, has been policy. 

The inauguration of Joe Biden as president is the dawn of a new political era; for the first time, the stars are aligning for the clean energy sector to unleash its full potential. 

Biden's position on clean energy is as diametrically opposed to his predecessor as this analyst can fathom. On his first day, the new president signed executive orders killing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and recommitting the United States to the Paris climate accord. As a candidate, Biden called for 100 per cent clean energy in the US by 2035. He's integrating climate experts across all departments in "the largest team ever assembled inside the White House to tackle global warming."

The political sea change is larger than the whims of a single politician. It's a reflection of the growing, influential force of the clean energy sector itself that will be difficult for serious politicians to ignore forevermore. 

How clean energy pros helped POTUS land his new job

Biden didn't always make clean energy his issue. He responded to the public's growing concerns about climate change and listened to experts about its immense economic potential. 

That didn't happen by accident. The clean energy sector has been growing and maturing for years, and in this election cycle, it helped Biden land his dream job thanks in part to the all-volunteer organisation Clean Energy for Biden (CE4B)

"I'm not just hopeful, I'm pretty convinced [clean energy professionals were politically influential]," Dan Reicher, CE4B co-chair and former US Assistant Secretary of Energy, told me in a phone conversation. "They've shown themselves to be very capable in President Biden's victory and made a real difference."

CE4B brought together more than 13,000 individuals in all 50 states, including 40 regional affinity groups in key locations across the county. It raised $3.2m through more than 100 fundraisers and held hundreds of phone banks to get out the vote. The effort brought together impressive, diverse and passionate professionals  excited about leaders who understand clean energy. (Full disclosure: I'm a volunteer for CE4B.)

The success of the CE4B's organising and campaign efforts inspired organizers to spin out a newly formed nonprofit, Clean Energy for America, which will support candidates and policies that will accelerate the clean energy transition at the state and national levels. 

"Clean Energy for America is a recognition that the transformation that we need to address our clean energy challenges and opportunities needs to happen up and down the ballot," Reicher said. "It's not enough to work on a presidential campaign and then close up shop. We've got to continue on a variety of races on the national level, but we have to get really focused on state and local races as well."

It's also a recognition that clean energy professionals are realizing their power and are here to stay. As clean energy continues to disrupt dirty energy incumbents, the sector will grow in numbers and power. It also means those in power today will decide the policy levers that shape our energy future; who benefits and in what way. 

Clean Energy for America is continuing with the key tenets of CE4B, organizing around the principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion to ensure that the clean energy transition is a just transition for all.

The long road to Clean Energy for America 

Before Clean Energy for Biden, there was CleanTech for Hillary. Before that, there was CleanTech for Obama. 

The evolution of the name - from cleantech to clean energy - is a reflection of the industry itself. 

"We treated it as a technology play, not ready for prime time," said Reicher, who was involved in each organization. "We now call it clean energy. We had decided we had become mainstream; we were no longer a large tech sector backed by venture capital communities. It is a large, mainstream energy sector backed by large investment firms around the US and world."

Today, millions work in clean energy (about 3.4 million before the start of the pandemic), and those numbers translated into a larger network. 

"We still marvel today at how fast [CE4B] grew to 13,000 people," Reicher said. "We never saw that level of growth in the other organizations."

With the birth of Clean Energy for America, the group is poised to continue to mobilize in races quickly. That, combined with the virtuous cycle that promises millions more Americans will be employed by clean energy in the coming decades, plants a clean energy flag in the sand.

This article first appeared at

Court rejects legal bid to block 3.6GW Drax gas power plant in Yorkshire

Court rejects legal bid to block 3.6GW Drax gas power plant in Yorkshire

Court of Appeal upholds government's decision to approve controversial project, despite claims it would undermine UK climate targets

Plans for a major new gas-fired power plant in North Yorkshire look to have cleared the last major legal hurdle, after the Court of Appeal upheld the government's decision to grant planning permission for the controversial project despite widespread concerns over its climate impact.

The Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed claims from ClientEarth that then-Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom acted unlawfully in granting Drax's proposed 3.6GW gas plant in Selby planning permission in 2019, when she overruled contrary advice from the UK's planning authority.

The Planning Inspectorate had opposed the project, warning it could lock-in high carbon infrastructure at the expense of the UK's climate goals, marking the first time it had opposed a major project on such grounds. It also argued wind and solar power would be more cost-effective for bill payers compared to new gas power capacity.

However, the Court of Appeal yesterday ruled in favour of the government's decision, prompting ClientEarth, which brought the case against the government, to confirm it does not intend to take its appeal to the Supreme Court.

The move paves the way for Drax to begin development of the project. However, ClientEarth claimed the ruling nevertheless set an "important new precedent" for the approval process of major energy projects, which could force authorities to take more account of the potential climate impact of any new developments.

The environmental law NGO and a number of green groups have long argued the proposed gas plant, which is earmarked for development on the site of an old coal power station, undermines the UK's 2050 net zero emissions target as well as the government's climate leadership credentials ahead of the crucial COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year.

But the government maintained gas power capacity will be required in the UK for the foreseeable future, and that it can play a key role in the UK's net zero transition. However, it also stressed that low carbon generation options such as carbon capture and storage, clean hydrogen, and long-duration storage could eliminate the need for unabated gas power in the future.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) welcomed the Court of Appeal's ruling yesterday.

"As we transition to net zero emissions by 2050, our record levels of investment in renewables will meet a large part of the energy demand," BEIS said in a statement. "However, natural gas will still provide a reliable source of energy while we develop and deploy low carbon alternatives that can replicate its role in the electricity system."

Leadsom's decision to approve Drax's gas plant was first challenged by ClientEarth in January last year, with the group alleging the project was at odds with the government's own climate change plans and the UK's statutory target to decarbonise its economy to net zero by 2050.

The environmental law group argued that once fully operational, the Drax project could account for up to 75 per cent of emissions from the UK's electricity sector, and that as co-hosts of the critical COP26 Climate Summit the UK should demonstrate global leadership in phasing-out fossil fuels.

However, the High Court rejected ClientEarth's claims, prompting the NGO to take its case to the Court of Appeal, which yesterday upheld the government's decision to award planning permission to the project.

But despite the Court upholding the planning decision, ClientEarth said the ruling had set an important new legal precedent that current planning policy could be used to assess major energy projects based on their climate impact. Moreover, the Court ruled that the national need for every project must be assessed and that assessment must be forward-looking and 'grounded in reality', the NGO claimed.

"This ruling sets an important precedent: major energy projects in the UK can be rejected on climate change grounds, and the government must consider the carbon lock-in risk of each project," said ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones. "Crucially, and contrary to Drax's position at the planning inquiry, the judgment confirms that decision makers must consider a project's carbon lock-in risk, that they can refuse permission on the basis of climate impacts, and that the public can raise these issues in planning inquiries."

"The Secretary of State's decision still stands and that's problematic of course, but we believe that the judgment brings vital clarity to the meaning of national planning policy," he added.

The proposed Drax plant is the latest major project to secure approval despite climate change concerns. Earlier this month the government opted against blocking plans for a new coking coal mine in Cumbria, while a legal challenge from green groups against the government's decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow Airport was also dismissed last month.

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Doug Parr said yesterday's Court of Appeal decision was "yet another failure of climate leadership from the UK government ahead of a crucial UN climate summit".  

"Government is allowing the construction of Britain's first new coal mine in 30 years, and was fighting for the construction of the largest gas power station in Europe, so is sending the worst possible signal at the worst possible time," he warned. "Ministers are behaving like someone trying to galvanise a pacifist rally by waving a machinegun."

But, responding to the Court of Appeal's decision yesterday, a Drax spokesperson reiterated the energy firm's target to become a 'carbon negative' business by 2030, by utilising carbon capture (CCS) technology on its biomass plants to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere that the company generates.

It claims bioenergy with CCS could remove up to 16 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year "making a significant contribution to achieving the UK's climate targets".

"Drax Power Station plays a vital role in the UK's energy system, generating reliable electricity for millions of homes and businesses," the firm added in a statement.

Latest UK-France interconnector powers up to full capacity

Latest UK-France interconnector powers up to full capacity

National Grid confirms its second electricity link to France is now operating at full capacity providing a further boost to decarbonisation efforts

National Grid has this morning confirmed that the second electricity interconnector linking the UK and France is now able to flow low carbon electricity between the two countries at full capacity.

Wholesale power traders started buying capacity to transport power across the 149-mile subsea power cable, which stretches along the sea floor between Fareham, Hampshire in the UK and near Caen, Normandy in France, yesterday.

Dubbed IFA2, the cable is the result of a joint venture between French Transmission System Operator RTE and National Grid. As with the rest of the growing fleet of UK interconnectors the cable is designed to expediate trade in power between different countries, making it easier for grid operators to balance grids across northern Europe that are increasingly reliant on intermittent renewable power generation.

With a capacity of 1,000MW, the new high voltage direct current (HVDC) power cable can provide enough energy to power 1 million British homes and is expected to meet 1.2 per cent of Britain's electricity demand.

National Grid said that importing lower carbon electricity from France should allow the project to prevent 1.2 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 from entering the atmosphere - equivalent to planting 50 million trees - in its first full year of operation.

"IFA2 is the latest feat of world-class engineering helping to transform and decarbonise the electricity systems of Britain and its European neighbours," said Jon Butterworth, managing director of National Grid Ventures "We're delighted to have been able to again work with our partners RTE to strengthen the connection between the French and British power grids.

"Together we are now able to help deliver cleaner, more secure, and more affordable energy to consumers at both ends of the cable. Our first interconnector together, IFA, has been successfully operating for more than 30 years. We look forward to working together with RTE over the next 30 years, to support the delivery of net zero targets to fight climate change across the UK and Europe."

The latest milestone means National Grid's portfolio now has four operational interconnectors - two to France in the form of IFA and IFA2, one to the Netherlands called BritNed, and one to Belgium known as Nemo Link. Two further projects are under construction: the North Sea Link with Norway that is due to come online later this year and the Viking Link with Denmark that is due to be operational by 2023.

The links are seen as a critical component of the UK's grid decarbonisation plans, as they will allow both the export of excess renewable power from the UK at times of peak generation and the import of low carbon nuclear, hydro, and wind power from other countries when UK renewables output is at lower levels.

By 2030, 90 per cent of electricity imported via National Grid's interconnectors will be from zero carbon sources and the company estimates that between 2020 and 2030 the fleet of interconnectors will prevent more than 100 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

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