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Action on climate change can boost global economy, economist says

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An employee with Ipsun Solar installs solar panels on the roof of the Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Virginia on May 17, 2021.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Ramping up investment in policies and technologies to tackle climate change could play a significant role in the global economy’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

In a recent note, Charles Dumas, chief economist at U.K.-based investment research firm TS Lombard, said that action on climate change is often criticized as moving too slowly. However, with governments increasing spending to aid their post-Covid economies, they may start catching up. 

A key tenet of this is the ever-decreasing cost of electricity per megawatt hour, according to figures from TS Lombard, with costs of solar, offshore and onshore wind dropping over the last 10 years, while gas and coal have remained largely the same.

“Effectively by 2030 the cost of renewable electricity is going to be half that of coal and gas sourced electricity,” Dumas told CNBC.

These trends will bring many of the various pledges to reach net zero more closely in sight.

The fatal floods in Germany in recent weeks have put the impacts of climate change firmly in the spotlight again but they are only the latest in a series of devastating extreme weather events of late, including the sprawling wildfires in Oregon.

COP26 priorities

Amid this backdrop, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, will meet in Glasgow in November. It will mark one of the most significant multilateral meetings on climate since the Paris agreement.

Dumas said that as COP26 approaches, governments need to understand their key priorities, and among them should be infrastructure investments as numerous technological and engineering challenges continue to obstruct renewable energy.

“I think the intermittency problem is pretty serious and it’s not just that the sun goes down at night,” Dumas said.

In the case of solar power, output can be mixed depending on the location of infrastructure like solar farms.

“There’s huge variation with sunny days in winter and sunny days in the middle of summer so the intermittency takes on a very big seasonal aspect,” Dumas said.

“You can have vicious weather for a long time in the middle of December or January and lo and behold you wouldn’t want to be depending on solar power.”

Energy transmission could be another bottleneck, he said. While the developing world, including several African nations, has great potential in developing sites for generating solar power, that power needs to move easily.

“The issue of transmission technology is really major. If you want Chad to be the new Saudi Arabia, because of the Sahara Desert there’s a lot of sun there, but you want the electricity to be used in Europe then you’re talking about some expensive processes and processes needing a lot of research and a lot of further investment.”

Storage and carbon capture are all areas that require hefty investment, Dumas added, if governments are to reach their net-zero targets.

“What we need is a very clear public policy lead in order to get anywhere near these net zero promises and I suspect that actually what it’s going to be about is a carbon tax, which the Americans may resist but will be necessary,” he said.

Job creation

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Steele said that investments to drive a climate-friendly economy cannot be short term or have quick goals.

He pointed to the various government support schemes for the airline industry, which has been battered by the pandemic. Just this week, the European courts gave the nod to a $2.9 billion bailout for Air France-KLM’s Dutch business.

Bailout funds like these should be tied to sustainability commitments by the airline industry, he said, but that can be a dicey proposition to get over the line.

“Governments aren’t making the connections enough and traditionally treasuries and particularly the ministries of transport are still dominated by road building lobbies and people who like to build highways and increase transport rather than people who want to invest in sustainable alternatives.” 

 

 

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White House prepares for potential government shutdown

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, center, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., arrive for a news conference to announce a framework for President Bidens economic plan in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday, September 23, 2021.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Democrats in Congress scrambled Thursday to beat a string of deadlines that hold massive stakes for both the health of the U.S. economy and President Joe Biden’s sweeping economic agenda.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., aim to work their way out of multiple binds as they try to prevent a government shutdown, a default on U.S. debt and the collapse of Biden’s domestic ambitions.

The leaders first find themselves staring at a Sept. 30 deadline to pass an appropriations bill before government funding lapses. The White House on Thursday began to advise federal agencies to prepare for the first government shutdown of the Covid-19 era.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is taking steps to let department and agency leaders know that, barring a new appropriations bill, they are expected to execute shutdown plans starting late next week. For many agencies, those plans often include sending workers home.

The office typically asks agencies seven days before a government shutdown to update their plans and will share a draft template each department can use to update government employees on congressional efforts to pass a funding bill and how many workers may need to be furloughed.

The communication does not reflect the office’s views on whether a continuing resolution is likely or not and is viewed as more of a formal duty.

Efforts to pass a new budget are underway on Capitol Hill, where House Democrats earlier this week passed a measure to fund the government, suspend the debt ceiling, and approve emergency aid such as disaster relief.

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That proposal is expected to stall in the Senate, where Republicans are unanimous in their opposition to any bill that seeks to raise or suspend the debt ceiling. 

Democrats are on tight economic timelines. Some are self-imposed, such as Pelosi’s promise to hold a vote on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on or before Sept. 27. The Senate has already passed the measure.

But there are other, standing deadlines. While Congress must pass a new budget by the end of September to avoid a shutdown, lawmakers must also figure out a way to increase or suspend the debt ceiling by a to-be-determined “drop-dead” date.

Treasury officials estimate that lawmakers have until some point in October before the U.S. would default on its debt for the first time.

Despite the time crunch, Schumer has promised to take up the House-passed debt ceiling and government funding bill nonetheless and force the GOP to publicly vote against a bill that would keep the government open and allow the Treasury Department to continue to pay for legislation Congress has already authorized.

Raising or suspending the debt ceiling, or borrowing limit, does not authorize new federal spending, but allows Treasury to pay for legislation that lawmakers have already passed. An increase would allow the department to pay off bills associated with the trillions in Covid relief enacted under former President Donald Trump and Biden.

Many suspect that Pelosi will be forced to pass a new resolution without the debt ceiling to keep the government open. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said on multiple occasions that he would support such a “clean” bill to avoid a shutdown.

Separately, Pelosi and Schumer declared Thursday morning that they had reached an agreement on the “framework” for taxes that would be needed to fund Democrats’ $3.5 trillion package to revolutionize the U.S. public safety net.

“The White House, the House and the Senate have reached agreement on a framework that will pay for any final negotiated agreement,” Schumer said. “So, the revenue side of this, we have an agreement on. It’s a framework. An agreement on the framework.”

Moderate and progressive Democrats have clashed over the size and scope of the package. Neither Pelosi nor Schumer clarified whether the negotiators had made decisions whittling down their options for financing the bill, or were simply in agreement over which of many options they are collectively willing to consider.

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CDC panel endorses third Pfizer doses for millions

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Lisa Wilson receives a shot of the Pfizer vaccine at a mobile COVID-19 vaccination site in Orlando, Florida.

Paul Hennessy | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

A key Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group voted Thursday to recommend distributing Pfizer and BioNTech‘s Covid-19 booster shots to older Americans, nursing home residents and other vulnerable Americans, clearing the way for the agency to give the final OK as early as this evening.

The agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices specifically unanimously endorsed giving third Pfizer shots to people 65 and older and nursing home residents in the first of four votes. The panel also recommended third shots for adults age 18 to 64 with underlying conditions.

The panel will also vote on whether to recommend the shots for adults who are more frequently exposed to the virus – possibly including people in nursing homes and prisons, teachers, front-line health employees and other essential workers.

The elderly were among the first groups to get the initial shots in December and January.

The vote is seen as mostly a win for President Joe Biden, whose administration has said it wants to give booster shots to all eligible Americans 16 and older as early as this week. While the CDC panel’s recommendation doesn’t give the Biden administration everything it wanted, boosters will still be on the way for millions of Americans.

The endorsement comes a day after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to administer third Pfizer shots to many Americans six months after they complete their first two doses. While the CDC’s panel’s recommendation isn’t binding, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to accept the panel’s endorsement shortly.

Walensky addressed the committee Thursday before the vote, thanking them for their work and laying out what’s at stake.

“These data are not perfect, yet collectively they form a picture for us, and they are what we have in this moment to make a decision about the next stage in this pandemic,” she said.

Prior to the vote, some committee members said they worried that widely offering boosters could interfere with efforts to get the shots to the unvaccinated or potentially reduce confidence in the vaccines’ effectiveness. Others were frustrated that only Pfizer recipients would be eligible to get the shots, leaving out millions of Americans who got the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The vote came at the end of a two-day meeting, where CDC advisors listened to several presentations on data to support the wide distribution of booster shots, including one presentation from a Pfizer executive who displayed data that showed a third shot appears to be safe and boost antibody levels in recipients.

During one presentation Thursday, CDC official Dr. Sara Oliver presented observational studies from Israel, where officials began inoculating the nation’s population ahead of many other countries and began offering third shots to their citizens in late July.

The Israel data has been criticized by at least one FDA official as so-called observational studies don’t adhere to the same standards as formal clinical trials.

“We can use the experience from Israel to inform our knowledge of the safety of boosters,” Oliver said, adding the country has only reported one case of a rare heart inflammation condition known as myocarditis out of nearly 3 million third doses administered.

CDC official Dr. Kathleen Dooling said data also suggests a third dose may reduce the risk of severe illness in older adults and people with comorbidities. Potential risks include myocarditis, although this risk is very rare, occurring mostly in males under 30, she said.

“The third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine appears to have similar reactogenicity as the second dose,” she added.

The topic of who should get boosters and when has been a contentious topic among the scientific community since the Biden administration outlined its plan to widely distribute boosters last month.

In a paper published days before an FDA advisory meeting last week, a leading group of scientists said available data showed vaccine protection against severe disease persists, even as the effectiveness against mild disease wanes over time. The authors, including two high-ranking FDA officials and multiple scientists from the World Health Organization, argued in the medical journal The Lancet that widely distributing booster shots to the general public is not appropriate at this time.

In outlining plans last month to start distributing boosters as early as this week, Biden administration officials cited three CDC studies that showed the vaccines’ protection against Covid diminished over several months. Senior health officials said at the time they worried protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death “could” diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were inoculated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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NIH Director Collins calls Israeli data ‘impressive’

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A patient receives his booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine during an Oakland County Health Department vaccination clinic at the Southfield Pavilion on August 24, 2021 in Southfield, Michigan.

Emily Elconin | Getty Images

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins called Israel’s data on Covid-19 booster shots “impressive,” noting that they provided a tenfold reduction in infection for people who received a third dose.

Israel began administering boosters in late July to individuals over 60, giving scientists more time to examine their ability to combat Covid and bolster the waning effectiveness of the initial series of doses. Collins’ comments Thursday came just a day after the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid booster for high-risk people, including anyone 65 and older.

“Without tipping my hand too much, I will say the data looks really impressive, that the boosters do in fact provide substantial reduction in infection,” Collins said during a discussion on Covid hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Like a tenfold reduction just within 12 days after that booster, and also a reduction in severe illness, which is the thing we’re most concerned about.”

Collins added that the Israeli data indicated a roughly twelvefold reduction in severe Covid as the nation was starting to experience more breakthrough cases. Pfizer reported on Aug. 25 that recipients of its third doses experienced a threefold increase in antibodies.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of medical authorities who offer guidance to the agency, will vote Thursday on whether to endorse the FDA’s booster decision. The panel began a two-day series of presentations on boosters on Wednesday to give experts and the public a chance to hear more data before the final vote.

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