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Topic: Just Transition

[Episode #172] – IPCC AR6 Part 1

The IPCC published the final part of its Sixth Assessment (“AR6”), the Working Group III report, on April 4, 2022. The IPCC's Working Group III report contains assessments of how the energy transition can reduce emissions in the context of an updated outlook for global warming. Together, the three reports of AR6 comprise over 6,000 pages of material, so we have chosen to focus our coverage on the Working Group III report, which we present in two episodes.

In this first episode on AR6, we speak with one of the lead authors of the Working Group III report, energy researcher Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex. We discuss some major advances in AR6 over the AR5 report of eight years ago; the gaps between our national climate action ambitions, what is really needed to limit warming to 1.5 or 2°C, and some ways that those gaps can be closed; how market-based financial approaches can be harnessed to reduce carbon; the importance of equity and “just transition” strategies; the challenge of path dependency and technology lock-in; how political economy can inhibit taking action on climate; the roles that non-government actors and individuals can play in the transition; and the various ways of decarbonizing transportation and providing better low-carbon mobility.

Our second episode on AR6, Episode #173, will review the updated figures for the remaining carbon budget, and consider the pathways and probabilities for limiting warming to 1.5 and 2°C.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #164] – Political Economy of Energy Transitions

The energy transition is about much more than just switching one fuel for another—like replacing coal with renewables. Transition happens in the context of our societies, which are strongly influenced by the economic interests of various actors and their political power; aspects of global trade; and the impact of those technologies on the ecological environment. And ultimately, these facets of the transition can have even more influence over the outcome than the characteristics of technologies themselves. We could have the best energy transition solutions in the world, but if we can’t get them actually deployed because incumbents on the losing end of energy transition resist, the transition will fail.

One way we can understand those influences is by looking at their histories, as well as their contemporary political economies. But these aspects of the energy transition haven’t received nearly as much attention or study as the technologies themselves, so we're taking a look in Episode #164.

In this episode, we speak with Peter Newell, a researcher at the University of Sussex in the UK, about his new book titled Power Shift: The Global Political Economy of Energy Transitions. It offers a helpful, five-part framework for understanding the political economy of the energy transition, and draws upon history, academic literature, the author’s own experience with renewable energy projects, as well as other sources to offer some useful insights about the forces that resist the energy transition, as well as how to make the energy transition a success—not only in economic terms, but also in terms of environmental and social justice.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #160] – Coal Plant Buyouts

Economic factors and existing policies have done a pretty good job of stopping the construction of new coal plants around the world, but what is needed to push existing plants off the grid? Our guest in this episode has been working to phase out coal from a variety of angles for the past 13 years, and believes the only approach that might still work is to just buy out existing plants and shut them down. But how? Where will the money come from? And if the money is public, how can we make sure that coal buyouts benefit the public, and not the big banks? How will we obtain the lowest price for the plants? How quickly can we execute the buyouts and retirements? How can we make sure that the power is replaced by clean power plants and not by natural gas-fired plants?

And what about the important related questions, like: What role should US government agencies like the Federal Reserve and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission play in implementing climate policy? What responsibility do major media organizations have to support the energy transition? And what about the so-called “just transition” away from coal? Is it real, or just a comforting talking point?

Join us in this discussion for some fresh new ideas and strategies that could help the world shut down the coal industry faster and more equitably, while delivering the best outcomes for the public.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #130] – 5-Year Anniversary Show

In this anniversary episode, we welcome back Jonathan Koomey to talk about some of the interesting developments and raucous debates we have seen over the past year. We’ll consider how expectations have changed for coal and gas-fired electricity generation; we’ll discuss the changed outlook for natural gas appliances; we’ll talk about the growing support for “just transition” strategies integrating climate and environmental justice objectives to ensure that energy transition leaves no one behind; we’ll summarize the latest developments in the ongoing debate over climate scenarios; we’ll discuss some of the new models around what an 80, 90, or 100% renewable energy system might look like; and we’ll review a slew of stories about corruption investigations into legacy energy companies, several of which we first covered two and three years ago.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #106] – Transition in South Africa

South Africa is one of the most coal-dependent countries in the world, with abundant (if low-grade) coal resources, a grid that is almost entirely powered by coal, an industrial base that is powered by coal, and a huge fiscal dependence on coal exports. And it’s debt-laden state-owned power company is not only in need of repeated bailouts, but is also now ruining the country’s credit rating. But South Africa also has excellent wind and solar resources, enabling renewable projects to easily beat coal on price. So one would think that energy transition there is a no-brainer. But the picture is actually much more complex, having more to do with politics than technology or economics.

So we turned to Jesse Burton, an energy policy researcher in the Energy Systems Research group at the University of Cape Town and a senior associate at the London-based think tank E3G to help us understand the current reality, and the future potential, of energy in South Africa. Join us as she leads us on a fascinating tour of a country that has one of the highest proportional carbon footprints today, but could be the poster child of energy transition in the future.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #104] – 4-Year Anniversary Show

In this anniversary episode, we welcome back Jonathan Koomey to talk about some of the interesting developments and raucous debates we have seen over the past year. We’ll be talking about the flawed concept of “committed emissions” and how we should be calculating future emissions instead; we’ll expand that discussion and critique the conflicting stories that we’ve been hearing about the expectations for coal usage and emissions in India; we’ll review some of the efforts to execute so-called “just transitions” in coal country; we’ll take a little excursion into a recent raging dialogue on Twitter about RCP8.5 which had its genesis in the PhD thesis of our producer, Justin Ritchie, which we explored in Episode #49; we’ll move on from there to discuss the communication challenges around climate change science, and what’s wrong with the kind of hysterical journalism being practiced by writers like David Wallace-Wells in his book The Uninhabitable Earth; we’ll take a look at Jon’s latest research on the energy demands of Bitcoin mining; we’ll consider the rapid deployment of utility-scale storage and what that might mean for the future of the grid; we’ll review Jon’s update of global energy intensity data and ask what it all means; and we’ll wrap it up with another look at the energy transition modeling work of Christian Breyer’s team at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, which we explored in Episode #95.

Geek rating: 6

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