COP28 – the annual global summit on climate change – is underway in Dubai. Typically the conference serves as a showcase for initiatives started months before the conference begins, and this year was no exception. Here are three key announcements from Week 1:

Solar power is growing everywhere, but coal is too.

The price of solar is now so low that the IEA has named it the “cheapest form of energy in human history.” Solar energy production is growing faster than any other power source. But China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia are rapidly expanding their use of coal. Each new coal plant locks in emissions for years to come.

Solar vs coal illustrates a key challenge in front of attendees of COP28: Ensuring that all countries and all regions have access to cheap, clean power. See this excellent country-level analysis in the NY Times.

Top oil and gas companies pledge to reduce methane emissions.

50 leading oil and gas companies announced a coordinated plan to eliminate methane emissions by 80% over the next 15 years (Source). Methane is 25% of global emissions, and persists in the atmosphere so long – 80 times longer than carbon emissions – that it accounts for 50% of human-caused global warming.

In the US, the Biden administration announced new regulations that require plugging methane leaks. The two methane reduction announcements are harmonized, as BP America praised the new ruling, saying “We appreciate the collaborative way EPA, NGOs and industry worked together on this rulemaking” (Source).

A new estimate of the social cost of carbon emissions, $190 per ton.

The U.S. EPA issued a final rule that has been two years in the making. The social cost of carbon emissions is used in policy making and is an estimate of the economic damage caused by one ton of carbon emissions. The new estimate is also a new method, breaking the calculation up into four modules and incorporating results from the scientific literature in each. As the planet changes, so will this estimate.

One key module is the discount rate. In the Trump administration this was set at 5 – 7% per year, and the latest estimate sets it at 2% per year. To illustrate the impact of the change, consider $1000 of economic damage in 20 years (e.g. 2043). It is $311 today at 6% annual interest, and is $672 today at 2% annual interest. In the new method, the risk and uncertainty of the planet’s future are well-detailed in the other modules, so a low discount rate is warranted. The EPA’s work was independently confirmed by unaffiliated analysts. See this article in Nature.