Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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China Is Absolutely Destroying the US on Clean Energy

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 4:13 PM EST
A worker installs solar panels on November 17 in Yantai, Shandong Province, in China.

When world leaders convene on Monday in Paris for two weeks of high-stakes climate negotiations, one of the top items on the agenda will be how developing nations should prepare for and help to slow global warming. Opponents to President Barack Obama's climate agenda, such as GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio, like to argue that anything the United States does to curb greenhouse gas emissions will be pointless because countries like India and China aren't doing the same.

But new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that this argument is just hot air: For the first time ever, over the last year the majority of global investment in clean energy projects was spent in developing countries. In fact, clean energy investment in China alone outpaced that in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France combined, BNEF found. Across 55 major non-OECD countries, including India, Brazil, China, and Kenya, clean energy investment reached $126 billion in 2014, a record high and 39 percent higher than 2013 levels. 

The chart below shows how that level of investment is opening up a market for wind, solar, and other clean energy projects in non-OECD countries that is now larger than the market in the traditional strongholds of the United States and Europe. In other words, the very countries Rubio likes to malign as laggards are actually leading the charge.


That trend is likely to continue for decades to come, BNEF found. Check out their projection for growth through 2040:


These numbers add up to a big deal for the climate, because they show that countries in Africa and Southeast Asia that still lack reliable electricity for millions of people are solving that problem, and growing their economies, without relying on dirty fossil fuels. China, to be clear, is still the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and it doesn't plan to peak its emissions until 2030. But its early commitment to clean energy means it can continue its rapid rate of growth with far less pollution than it would produce otherwise.

The BNEF report is just the most recent good sign for the clean energy business. Big corporations in the United States are signing contracts for a record amount of clean energy for their data centers, warehouses, and other facilities. And the Paris talks are likely to send a jolt through the industry, as countries around the world redouble their commitments to get more of their power from renewable sources.

Stay tuned for more news on this front as the talks unfold over the coming weeks.

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This Jeff Goldblum Video Isn't Really That Funny, But I Give Him Credit for Trying

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 1:41 PM EST

It's pretty hard to be funny about climate change. Not just because the subject tends to be grim, but also because the solutions tend to be technical, wonky, and interesting mostly just to nerds.

The video above, released today by Funny or Die in affiliation with the League of Conservation Voters, makes a valiant effort. It features Jeff Goldblum explaining the Obama administration's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a boardroom full of cartoonishly evil fossil fuel executives. I won't spoil what he says, since it's the punchline (such as it is). Suffice to say the execs don't like it…and something about Miami Vice star Don Johnson.

I also won't go on record vouching for the jokes in this. I chuckled a few times. I will say that Goldblum—or rather his character, the mysterious "Fixer"—nails his description of the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from the power sector by about a third by 2030, and which will form the backbone of Obama's contribution to the upcoming global climate talks in Paris. The framing of the video is also spot-on: The plan is indeed facing stiff opposition from coal companies and the industry's allies in statehouses and in Congress

The Clean Power Plan is admittedly kind of boring to most people, despite being a groundbreaking policy achievement and an important step toward saving the planet from global warming. So if it takes Jeff Goldblum to get people interested, I've got no problem with that. Enjoy!

France Scrambles to Secure Upcoming Climate Talks After Deadly Attacks

| Mon Nov. 16, 2015 1:32 PM EST
Security was heightened across Paris following Friday's deadly attacks. A major international climate summit is due to start there in two weeks.

On Saturday, just a day after terrorist attacks in Paris left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured, the French government vowed to forge ahead with a long-scheduled international summit on climate change.

The summit, which is scheduled to start in just two weeks, will take place at an airport in the northern suburbs of Paris, not far from the stadium that was the site of multiple bombings on Friday. There, world leaders plan to hash out final details of the most wide-reaching international agreement ever to combat climate change. White House officials confirmed to Politico that President Barack Obama still intends to attend the talks, as scheduled prior to the attacks. Dozens of other heads of state are expected to be there as well.

"[The summit] will go ahead with reinforced security measures," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "This is an absolutely necessary step in the battle against climate change and of course it will take place."

Christiana Figueres, who chairs the UN agency overseeing the talks, released a similar statement on Twitter:

Even prior to the attacks, 30,000 French police officers were scheduled to secure the event, according to Radio France International. More than 10,000 diplomats, non-governmental organization employees, and journalists are expected to attend the summit. Specific new security measures have not yet been made public, but Politico quoted an unnamed French official who said participants should expect "extremely tightened security" following the attacks.

Paul Bledsoe, a former climate advisor to President Bill Clinton, also told Politico that the attacks could actually improve the odds that the talks reach a successful outcome.

"The resolve of world leaders is going to be redoubled to gain an agreement and show that they can deliver for populations around the world. The likelihood for a successful agreement has only increased because of these attacks," Bledsoe said.

On Thursday, just a day before the attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to butt heads with his French counterpart over what the exact legal status of the agreement will be. Other questions remain as well, such as how wealthy, heavily polluting countries such as the United States will help developing nations pay for climate change adaptation. But overall, the Paris talks are expected to yield a better outcome than the last major climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, which failed to produce any meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions or prepare for the impacts of global warming.

Meanwhile, on Monday French officials said they would block a series of rallies and side events that were scheduled to take place outside the main negotiations. Environmental groups are scrambling to work out how to change their plans following the attack. Several groups involved in organizing protests and rallies that were intended to coicide with the Paris talks confirmed to Mother Jones that a hastily arranged meeting to hash out a plan will take place on Monday evening, Paris time. Will Davies, a spokesman for Avaaz, one of the main advocacy groups involved, said that despite the flurry of activity, plans for global marches in cities other than Paris were still going ahead as scheduled.

Stay tuned for more updates on this story.

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