The latest Climate Change News Digest prepared for followers of the PLM Green Global Alliance summarizes a significant number of news items from October 2021 on the climate crisis and the growing movement to decarbonize the global economy. The good news question of the month: which country announced its intent that all electricity generation will be fossil fuel free by 2035? Read on to find out.
👍 A global trio of climate research scientists have won the Nobel Prize in Physics this year. The most notable is Dr. Syukuro Manabe who as far back as 1967 developed a model of the link between CO2 in the atmosphere and warming. Yes, we have now had over 50 years of warning from scientists that we failed to take seriously.
👍 Last month China, the world’s largest GHG emitter, announced it would stop funding the construction of new coal-fired power plants around the world. That is with the exception of in their own country. China is reported to be on the path to add another 250 GW of new coal energy from plants already planned or under construction. That said, China is also the world’s leader in hydroelectric, wind, and solar power. The biggest driver for new energy in the country comes from a huge concrete and steel industry to support massive building across the booming economy. This industry is said to account for 7% of total global emissions.
Two dozen federal agencies released reports requested by President Biden on the risk of climate change along with preliminary climate adaption plans. The alarming reports detailed the perils we can expect to agriculture, infrastructure, national security, human health, energy sources, migration, recreation, travel, international relationships, commerce and trade.
A new study from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network reports that climate change has killed 14% of the world’s coral reefs since 2019. Warming ocean waters which cause coral bleaching was cited as the reason.
A record hot summer in the US has turned into an unseasonably warm fall for much of the country. As a result, the colorful change in fall foliage is once again happening later than usual. And in some locales that suffered not only heat but also drought, leaves are just falling off stressed trees before changing colors.
The demand for fossil fuel based energy sources has soared with the growing economic recovery. So much so that Europe, Asia, and parts of the US are suffering from rapid increases in the price of oil, gas, and coal. Some 75% of all global energy still comes from fossil fuels. The hope for a green recovery was only that, a hope.
👍 The Democrat Party in the US Congress resumed looking at a carbon tax to help pay for several trillion dollars of investments in infrastructure, much of which is related to increasing resiliency due to extreme weather events. Pricing carbon emissions has been studied for years, but still not acted upon. One analysis predicts that pricing carbon at $50 per ton by 2030 could cut emissions by 40%. Others are skeptical that it would just shifts the cost of emissions from the polluters to the consumers with little net reduction.
Growing numbers of young and old people alike are reporting they are anxious and depressed about climate change. Some activists along with mental health professionals worry that this “doomism” will not motivate people to demand changes, but simply make them fall into despair that nothing can be done. Yet, climate scientists say that this is wrong. There is still time to do much to arrest climate change if we act soon.
Increasing numbers of young adults report that they are putting off having children because they fear life on the planet undergoing climate change. And of course having children just increases their carbon footprint. A business analyst has estimated that “Having a child is 7-times worse for the climate in CO2 emissions annually than the next 10 most discussed mitigants that individuals can do.”
👍 A US Federal Reserve Governor, Lael Brainard, said that regulators should require financial institutions to include the risks and hazards of climate change in their assessments. She went on to say that climate change can have “profound consequences” on economic activity and the value of assets.
While the oil and gas industry has started proclaiming they are becoming green, behind the scenes they and their trade associations, front groups, and lobbyists continue to oppose measures to decarbonize industry. Recently, social media ads and posts have popped up urging rejection of President Biden’s legislative agenda on the environment and infrastructure.
A European record for rainfall was set in a region of Italy where over 29 inches of rain fell in just 12 hours. It represented more than half of what it would typically be received for the entire year. This follows a summer of record extreme rainfall amounts across China, US, and other parts of Europe. Climate scientists have long reported that a warmer atmosphere holds much more moisture and energy that precipitates extreme weather events like these.
👍 In preparation for the annual UN climate summit, Pope Francis called on global leaders to overcome partisan divides to tackle climate change.
With the Arctic expected to be ice free during the summers by as early as 2030, some senators in the US want to establish an office within the state department responsible for Arctic issues. Other nations, notably Russia and China, are already establishing their positions for access to and through the Arctic region.
As the Arctic warms, research into the plight of polar bears becomes more difficult. Thinner and melting ice fields makes life tough not only for the bears, but also the scientists who are studying them. Recent studies have warned that polar bears could suffer devastating losses in the coming decades.
👍 Google has announced it will prohibit ads on its platforms, including YouTube, that have false content or misinformation about climate change. It would apply to content that references climate change as being a hoax or scam, or denies that human activity and GHG emissions are contributing to climate change.
👍 The Biden Administration announced it would restore climate change provisions within the National Environmental Policy Act that Trump had dismantled. The changes would reinstate a requirement that the federal government must evaluate the impact and risks of climate change into new projects which require federal permits.
The IEA predicts that the global use of fossil fuels for energy is expected to peak the middle of this decade. This is largely due to the growth of wind, solar, and electric vehicles which has exceeded expectations. In some outstanding news, the emissions of CO2 may also peak during this decade and start a gradual decline. Yet they warn the path to zero emissions is not fast enough to avert dire consequences of a warming planet.
👍 Nearly 70 well-known German businesses have begun urging the newly formed government to take more ambitious action to meet net zero goals.
👍 Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that UK’s electricity generation should be fossil fuel free by 2035. This was at a conference of his conservative party, where British conservatives are still conservative in their protection of life as opposed to American conservatives. Just under half of the UK’s current electricity comes from renewables.
👍 An economic study on offshore wind says that this industry’s supply chain in the US could become worth over $100B in the next ten years. The US has set a goal of 30 GW of offshore wind power by 2030. Billions of dollars in investments will be required for permits, construction, underwater towers, turbines, cables, power substations, and operations.
👍 The Biden Administration announced more details of its plan for wind farms along most of the US coast line to help reduce half of our GHG emissions (from 2005) by the year 2030. The Interior Department will open up offshore leases in federal waters in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific oceans. The president’s infrastructure bill which is hung up in Congress has some $150B for paying electric utilities to purchase more zero-carbon energy.
👍 China has announced the construction of a massive renewable energy project of over 100GW of combined wind and solar. That one project will be bigger than all the wind and solar in a country like India.
In preparation for the upcoming Glasgow UN climate summit, the chair of the British Environmental Agency has warned it is time to “adapt or die.” US emissary John Kerry has warned that world leaders are coming up short on pledges to meet the Paris accord goals. India and China, both of which Kerry has recently visited, have yet to commit to a 2030 emissions reduction goal. He said “it hurts” when describing the reluctance of his own country and the US Congress to act on President Biden’s climate change proposals.
👍 EPA Administrator Michael Regan has threatened to use the regulatory power of his agency to enact Biden’s 2030 climate goals if the US Congress fails to act with legislation. That would include new rules to limit GHG emissions by power plants, cars, and the oil and gas industry
A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change claims that 85% of the world’s population has already experienced weather made worse by a changing climate. The impact is being felt by the most wealthy countries as well as the poorest with no part of the globe spared from extreme weather events.
The Biden Administration released a report and plan that warned climate change poses a systemic threat to the US economy and the lives of its residents. Already this year, nearly 1 in 3 Americans have been affected by extreme weather events. In the past five years alone the costs of these disasters are reported to be greater than $500B. The administration has instructed federal agencies such as Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, FEMA, and the SEC to incorporate climate change into their planning to reduce risk and enhance resiliency.
The Lancet medical journal is warning that climate change will be the driving factor in human health causing millions of unnecessary deaths in coming years. The authors point to increasing temperatures, humidity, droughts, infectious diseases, smoke air pollution, floods, crop failures, migrations and extreme storms that will all harm public health.
A new study from the UN Environmental Program has stated that the world needs to cut by more than half the production of oil, gas, and coal to meet the 2015 Paris Accord goals. They warn the window of opportunity to limit global warming is rapidly closing.
👍 The Board of Directors of oil giant Exxon Mobil are said to be debating whether to continue on with its largest oil and gas projects around the world. Pressure from outside investors and new internal board members is reported to be influencing the company that once denied global warming publicly while privately confirming its existence in its own internal research.
The Governor of California issued a statewide drought emergency that will allow mandatory state-wide water restrictions. Previously, the state had asked residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 15%.The past year was the second driest on record for the state and a contributing cause to the massive wildfires and record low levels of reservoirs.
Conservative policy and media writers in the US and abroad have pivoted from denying climate change to saying ok, it is real, but the costs to reverse it are far worse than the costs to just adapt to it. Yes, that is their new strategy; adaptation is good, regulations are bad. Just suck it up, accept the harm, costs, storms, deaths, crises, migrations, ocean acidification, flooding, wildlife loss, and impact on future generations. They think we can just build a few more dikes to keep out rising seal levels and we will be just fine. These are not conservatives. They are the opposite. They are radical extremists.
With the world economy rebounding, China, as well as in parts of Europe and the UK, is in the middle of an energy crunch. As a result, China has rolled back previous restrictions on mining, importing and burning coal, and allowing coal-fired power plants to run at full capacity. Coal prices in China have nearly doubled as a result.
Coal powers over half of China’s economy. As a result, it emits about 14 billion metric tons of GHG a year, more than 25% of the world’s total. China is said to have approved over two dozen new coal power plants so far in 2021. All while it is reported to have closed over 5,000 mostly smaller coal mines in the past five years. They have pledged that emissions will peak in 2030 as part of a goal to become net zero by 2060. While we hope this can be accomplished, does anyone believe it will happen? And what responsibility do consumers around the world, especially in the US, have since much of the emissions are due to manufacture goods they use?
The shipping industry, which carries most of the goods manufactured in Asia, has about 60,000 ocean going vessels that are burning fossil fuels. And the fleet is growing by hundreds of new ships each year. The International Maritime Organization is calling for vessels to be 40% more fuel efficient by 2030 with a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050. The customers such Amazon, IKEA, and Unilever are calling for zero-carbon ships by 2040. Some banks that lend to the shipping industry are pushing for an industry net-zero mandate by 2050.
To support the increasing world demand for coal, Australia, which is the world’s largest exporter of coal, has 20 new coal mines in the approval process. This despite scientists warning that we must leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground if we have any chance of holding off the worst affects of global warming. The country is one of the remaining few that is holding out on a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. This despite its own share of climate-related disasters including droughts, wildfires, and the die off of coral reefs.
Not surprising, some Australian think tanks and media pundits are claiming that net-zero by 2050 is unrealistic because the world’s energy demands will increase by 50% between now and then. They argue that developing nations are unlikely to decarbonize their economies that do not yet provide their populations with the comfort of more mature economies.
In a new report, the US Treasury Financial Stability Oversight Council has stated that climate change as an emerging threat to the stability of the US financial system. It warned that the financial sector may experience credit and market risks that could impact the stock market, savings, retirement investments, and loss of income. It went on to say that low income and people of color would be disproportionately harmed.
The US Defense Department, Homeland Security and National Security Council released new National Intelligence Reports detailing for the first time the threat to US security due to climate change. The reports cited increased geopolitical tensions, migration of stressed populations, humanitarian crises, food and water shortages, political and civic unrest, conflict over natural resources, and competition in areas on land and in water opened up by thawing snow, ice, and glaciers. The report said that given current trends the countries of the world are unlikely to meet the GHG emission and decarbonizing goals to head off the worst consequences and the US military should plan accordingly. Sobering.
The World Meteorological Organization confirmed that GHG reached a new record high last year. CO2 levels rose to 413.2 ppm in the atmosphere when it has not been this high for over 3 million years. And despite the pandemic economy, the rate of increase was higher than the average of the past 10 years. Scientists say that about half of human generated CO2 is absorbed in the air and the other half in the world’s oceans. Methane and nitrous oxide also increased. The WMO said the world is “way off track” of keeping temperature increases limited to 1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius.
The US pacific coast was hit with yet another extreme weather event when an “atmospheric river” left record rainfall amounts across California.
👍 In notable progress, a recent poll in the US shows that 75% of the Americans polled believe climate change is real and happening now. Almost 60% say that global warming is very or extremely important; an increase of 10% from 2018. And more than half want Congress to pass legislation to increase green energy sources.
👍 The US Bureau of Land Management has for the first time begun to perform environmental assessments that analyze emissions from oil and gas drilling on federal lands. That activity is reported to be responsible for emitting over 1 billion tons of GHG each year which is about 20% of energy-related emissions. Many argue that these social costs and damages should be included into the sale of leases for drilling rights.
This month executives of the nation’s largest oil companies and their trade associations were brought to testify in front of a US House committee over allegations that they have financed disinformation campaigns similar to what big tobacco did decades ago. Despite ample evidence that the companies financed through shadow organizations and downplayed if not lied about the risk of climate change, they refused to admit such and denied deception. They did however, agree that the burning of their products was driving climate change and that they support the transition to cleaner energy. I wonder what do they tell their children and grandchildren?
A new UN report casts doubt whether some of the world’s UNESCO forests are actually sequestering more CO2 than they give off. The report says that 10 out of 257 forests are actually emitting more CO2 than absorbing due to logging, agriculture, and fires.
👍 President Biden’s new infrastructure bill, yet to pass the House, has over $500B in climate-related investments, which would make it the largest climate-related investment on record. The proposed legislation includes $320B in tax credits for utility-scale renewable energy development. Another $105B is to improve resiliency to climate threats such as wildfires and floods. And $110B to grow the US supply chain for renewable energy technologies, such as batteries. There is also funding for 300,000 workers in a new Civilian Climate Corps. However, the most important term, directly rewarding power companies to move from fossil fuels to renewables and penalizing those that did not was dropped due to opposition from a single senator from a coal-producing state.
Interest in geoengineering is gaining more support from scientists who argue that time is running out to slow GHG emissions that can remain in the atmosphere for many decades. Some argue that adding sulfur into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight could be a quick and relatively inexpensive fix. What could possibly go wrong? And who will block some country, like India or China that does not want to reduce their emissions, from undertaking a planetary scale experiment all on their own?
At the end of the month just before most of the world’s leaders gather in Glasgow for COP 26, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a dire warning that time is running out on humanity to gut GHG emissions and that we are on track for a climate catastrophe. Current commitments are not enough to keep the planet from warming past the Paris Accord agreement of 2.7 degrees F. The UN warns that it may be closer to 5 degrees F by end of the century, within the expected lifetimes of children born this decade. The UN has been encouraging counties of the world to reduce emissions by nearly half of their 2010 levels by 2030. They also said that poor countries will need $100B from the richer economies to make the transition, including money to adapt to climate change’s worst effects.
Featured image is from the World Meteorological Organization news release on the award of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics to three climate scientists at https://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/climate-scientists-win-nobel-prize-physics.