The Biden administration’s decision to apply a climate test to a massive LNG terminal is a landmark win, and not the only good news we’ve seen this month. Now let’s build on that momentum.
For anyone who spends much time working on or thinking about climate change and energy, 2024 is already throwing an unexpected curveball, something it’ll take some time and effort to get used to:
There’s little doubt that the Biden administration’s recent decision to apply a climate test to a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Louisiana, Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2), is a landmark victory in the fight to drive down carbon and methane pollution. Better yet, CP2 is the biggest but just one of 17 LNG megaprojects the U.S. fossil industry is pushing forward for approval. A decision to follow the evidence in Louisiana could call all of them into question.
“Um…I think we all just won”
The CP2 announcement, which could push regulatory review for the project beyond the November general election in the United States, is “the biggest thing a U.S. president has ever done to stand up to the fossil fuel industry,” wrote veteran climate author an activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of the Third Act and 350.org, in his The Crucial Years newsletter.
McKibben’s headline for his post read: “Um, I think we all just won.”
No minor feat
An LNG plant isn’t just any fossil fuel project. Stopping one or many of them in their tracks is no small feat — and no minor victory.
The main component of natural gas, or “fossil gas” as campaigners have been trying to rebrand it, is methane. It’s a shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it packs a far bigger punch over the short term: methane is about 84 times more potent than CO2 over the crucial 20-year span when we’ll all be scrambling to get climate change under control.
Small wonder that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lists methane controls in oil and gas, along with energy efficiency, solar, and wind, as the cheapest path to the fastest, deepest emission cuts by 2030.
That begins with meaningful controls (it’s with some hesitation that I’ve linked those words to a voluntary agreement among 50 giant fossil companies) on methane emissions and gas flaring in oil and gas operations, and independent satellite monitoring (okay, that’s better) to hold them to account. But it also means heeding the International Energy Agency’s nearly three-year-old call for no new investment in oil, gas, or coal development if countries really mean it about holding future global warming to 1.5°C.
Biden’s announcement is a big, essential step down that road. It’s a signal that the world’s biggest LNG exporter might begin cleaning up its act, and that any minimally fit White House administration will not only massively fund and enable clean energy alternatives, but cut with both arms of the scissors by moving to curtail future fossil production.
Grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory
As with any advance on energy and decarbonization, there are questions to be answered and potential landmines to avoid. But as climate wins go, at least for the moment, this one is about as clean and complete as they get.
Which makes this announcement one of those moments when we need to embrace good news when we see it.
The second-guessing in response to the CP2 decision is already in full swing. But as we get closer to the turnaround we need on climate and energy, we’re all going to need to learn some new skills: To see the win when it happens; to acknowledge the win when we see it; to notice it and celebrate the shift as climate voices and practitioners move toward center stage, after years and decades of bashing away at the front door to get inside.
We’re all going to need to learn some new skills: To see the win when it happens; to acknowledge the win when we see it; to notice it and celebrate the shift as climate voices and practitioners move toward center stage
And to realize that there will still be times when climate and energy advocates need to say ‘no’, but the job will increasingly be to fight for ‘yes.’ Which is exactly where we need and want to be to get this transition done.
The context for the news on CP2 is just as important as the win itself, showing that the White House announcement was part of a wider, deeper trend.
A bigger, wider shift
The reality is that gas is at least as good at wrecking the climate as coal once you factor in methane releases, deliberate or not, at every step along the line — from extraction, to transport, to final use. The meteoric rise of renewable energy, energy efficiency and heat pumps, particularly in response to Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, spells trouble for anyone who’s counting on a predictable, long-term global market for gas.
“There is no reason to believe that Europe’s energy security depends on further expansion of LNG export capacity that would only come online toward the end of this decade,” Felix Heilmann, a policy analyst at Germany’s Dezernat Zukunft think tank, told media. The same momentum is taking hold in Asia, long seen as a reliable, long-term market for LNG. That market is beginning to shift fast enough to raise tough questions about projects like the Indigenous-owned Ksi Lisims floating gas liquefaction facility in British Columbia.
And, crucially, LNG isn’t the only area where 2024 has delivered a series of early wins. Here are just a few of the stories we’ve been following, all in the last three weeks:
- A global surge in renewable energy deployment brings a tripling of global capacity by 2030 within reach.
- New analysis shows (once again) that the transition off fossil fuels could cost less than energy futures modeling usually predicts.
- A wind developer closes an $11-billion deal for the biggest green infrastructure project the United States has ever seen.
- A U.S. judge sends a landmark youth climate case to trial, after years of government-instigated delay dating back to the Obama administration.
- A First Nation north of Estevan, Saskatchewan unveils a 100-MW solar project, the province’s biggest to date.
- Hawai’i replaces its last coal plant with battery backup for its power grid, while Puerto Rico embraces virtual power plants.
- Independent analysis is showing that Canada is within reach of its 2030 climate targets.
- British Columbia and Quebec are both in the midst of major clean electricity expansions.
To be sure, the breakthroughs big and small were interspersed with stories about climate risk, climate and wider environmental pollution, and senseless, needless fossil fuel expansion. But the good news continued unabated. And it came on the heels of a UN climate conference late last year that issued an historic call for a transition off fossil fuels.
Elections bring a year of influence
All of which brings us back to 2024 as a pivotal year for climate progress. It’s easy enough to conclude, as one of our readers did in an online comment, that politics is a “snake pit” that we’re well advised to steer clear of. But anyone who decides to do something about climate change is tacitly deciding to jump into that pit.
It’s complex. It’s messy. It rarely delivers a clean win.
And with elections coming up at every turn — including the U.S. presidential election and Canada’s federal campaign in 2025 — a potential moment of influence is at hand.
In the coverage of the White House LNG announcement, at least two major news outlets cast the decision as a response to public or activist pressure on the campaign trail. The clear implication was that Biden is caving to youth voters and campaigners whose active support he’ll need to win a second term in a country that is, to put it gently, “flirting with authoritarianism.”
But important as they are, the “outside” anti-LNG campaigns by dedicated community activists aren’t the only game in town. There’s also a growing collection of “inside” stories from project developers, investors, workers, states and provinces and municipalities, all of them seeing better economic prospects because of the billions flowing into climate solutions. And telling their politicians all about it.
No single announcement will deliver all the results we need
So pick your storyline: Biden is caving to pressure, aligning with the win he’s been working for years to build, manifesting a genuine understanding of the depths of the climate emergency, or some unknown mix of all three. Whatever the answer — why does it matter, as long as we get the durable outcome we need?
It’s clear the U.S. economy is bouncing back in large part due to clean energy and climate investments under the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act and the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Canada is projecting solid, measurable climate performance for the first time ever, on the hope or assumption that a large collection of hard-fought regulatory measures and incentives will continue past the next federal election.
The continuing news of climate impacts—of record drought in the Amazon and epic ice loss in Greenland — means any win we declare is conditional. Quite clearly, the deep risks and tipping points we face are accelerating right alongside the climate solutions we’re working to build.
But in a climate emergency, this is what winning looks like, the only way it’s going to happen. Faced with such a big, all-encompassing, global emergency, no single announcement or breakthrough will deliver all the results we need. And there will be more than enough moments of grief, fear and loss along the way.
That’s all the more reason to see the wins and take the wins, anytime we legitimately can. It’s the only way to keep the effort up for the long haul, the best antidote for friends and colleagues, relatives and neighbors in the grips of climate despair.
Featured photo: LNG tanker