• Pasadena City Hall on a hot day (Photo - Gnawme).

      Pasadena City Hall on a hot day (Photo – Gnawme).

      As 2018 nears its end, here are my Top 6 developments in climate & energy policy this year:

      By Ethan Elkind

      1. Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions increase.
        Let’s start with the bad news for 2018: emissions are rising like a “speeding freight train,” primarily due to more coal-fired power coming on line for India and China, plus more energy use in the United States. Emissions are expected to increase 2.7 percent in 2018, according to research published by the Global Carbon Project. Meanwhile, a U.N. report in October indicated that the world may have just about a dozen more years to get emissions under control enough to avert disastrous warming. These reports should be concerning to everyone.
      2. Solar PV hits policy and deployment bumps but with long-term growth potential.
        With declining policy support worldwide, including costly tariffs on solar PV in the U.S., solar PV leaders have seen a downturn in 2018, for the first time in recent memory. Globally, according to the Frost & Sullivan (F&S) report Global Renewable Energy Outlook, 2018, the world saw 90 gigawatts (GW) of new solar installations for 2018, which was a slight year-on-year decrease. Overall though, renewable capacity will see 13.3% annual growth in 2018. The report authors expect global investment in renewable energy for the year to be $228.3 billion, a slight increase of 0.7% over 2017. In the U.S., according to latest industry figures, the third quarter saw installed solar PV capacity experience a 15% year-over-year decrease and a 20% quarter-over-quarter decrease. However, total installed U.S. solar PV capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years. Overall, the picture is concerning but with a potentially positive long-term outlook.
      3. EV sales increase worldwide, with 1 million in the U.S. and the Tesla Model 3 finally unveiled.
        The chart below tells the largely encouraging story:

        4 million EVs chart (Photo - cleantechnica.com).

        4 million EVs chart (Photo – cleantechnica.com).

        China leads the pack with 40% of all sales. Here in California, sales just reached half a million, with one million nationwide. Prices continue to fall, and the Tesla Model 3 became the #6 top-selling car in the U.S. in November. Of all the climate change news, this progress on vehicle electrification may be the most hopeful, although we’ll need to see even more rapid deployment over the next decade to get growing worldwide transportation emissions under control.

      4. Electrification of transportation spreads to trucks, buses and scooters.
        The EV revolution has spread, with cheaper, more powerful batteries now making electric “micromobility” options feasible, such as e-bikes and e-scooters. 2018 was truly the year of the e-scooter, when it comes to city streets. And on the heavy-duty side, companies are unveiling previously unheard of electric models, such as Daimler Trucks North America making the first delivery of an all-electric delivery truck, the Freightliner eCascadia, while the California Air Resources Board last week enacted a new rule requiring transit buses to be all-electric by 2040. All told, it’s a positive development for low-carbon transportation.
      5. Movement to legalize apartments near transit in California and across the U.S.
        All the electrification we can muster on transportation won’t matter much if we don’t decrease overall driving miles. It’s a particular problem in the U.S., with so many of our major cities built around solo vehicle trips. So it was encouraging to see California attempt to legalize apartments near major transit with Scott Wiener’s failed SB 827 earlier this year (which started a productive conversation) and now a potentially viable version in SB 50. The movement is catching on around the country, as Minneapolis just voted to end single-family zoning. It’s long overdue and our only real hope to decrease driving miles.
      6. Trump rollback proposals increase but face judicial setbacks.
        Trump’s attack on environmental protections made news all year, particularly his attempted rollback of clean vehicle fuel economy standards. The only bright spot is that many of his regulatory rollbacks are sloppy and getting shot down in the courts, as my colleague Dan Farber noted in a report and recent Legal Planet post. And with Democrats set to control the House of Representatives next month, pro-environment legislators are set to have more negotiating power on everything from the budget to enforcement to policy oversight.

      So the trends overall are uneven, with a lot for concern and also promising technology and policy momentum still in effect. 2019 could also greatly change this picture, with a potentially slowing economy and more private sector innovation on clean technology.

      Overall, those who care about these issues have a lot to digest and ponder this holiday season, along with the cookies. See you in 2019!

      Ethan Elkind directs the climate program at UC Berkeley Law, with a joint appointment at UCLA Law. His book “Railtown” was published by the University of California Press.


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      Comments

      1. Thom Hawkins says:

        All in all, a terrifying case of mass psychosis–near total detachment from reality.

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