Climate Change News Digest September 2021

This month’s Climate Change News Digest prepared for followers of the PLM Green Global Alliance summarizes the latest news not just about the changing climate but the growing momentum to decarbonize the global economy. Our good news question of the month: how many international companies have now joined The Carbon Pledge to reduce their GHG emissions to net-zero by 2040? Read on to find out.

The emissions of another powerful greenhouse gas, methane, is getting more visibility from space. Interactive maps made from satellite images clearly show where most of the methane emissions are coming from, especially in Asia and China. The composition of methane in the atmosphere is rising rapidly, but unlike CO2 emissions, its sources have historically been more difficult to identify.

The Biden Administration continues to raise the importance of combating climate change with the announcement of a new pledge to reduce methane gases. In cooperation with the EU the US will work to lower methane emissions by 30% by the end of this decade.

At the end of last month, Hurricane Ida became the 4th strongest storm to strike the US gulf coast where it left widespread flooding, damages, and over a million without power or drinking water for days. But the surprise was the disaster the storm left behind at the start of the new month in the U.S. Northeast. Dozens died in flash flooding across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.  Three inches of rain fell in parts of NYC in less than an hour, flooding subway lines and trapping families in basement apartments where some sadly died. Over 10 inches fell in other locales in less than a day, breaking all-time records.

Climate scientists have long predicted that with a warming atmosphere, storms would dump extreme rainfall amounts. The US National Climate Assessment says that the strongest storms in the Northeast now produce over 50% more rainfall than they did last century.  For every 1 degree C the atmosphere holds about 7% more water vapor.

As dozens are left dead from flooding in New England, the western US continues to face record droughts and wildfires threatening cities and aging infrastructures.  Big cities and small towns alike are struggling to handle the damages and costs associated with extreme weather events. Public officials in large cities like NYC are confronting that new processes are needed going forward.

Nonstop extreme weather disasters across the country this summer made it clear that the US is unprepared to deal with the impact of a changing climate. President Biden when visiting flood ravages neighborhoods this week told the nation that the climate crisis has arrived and we much act now as it is “everybody’s crisis.” But he added that it was one in which we still have the power to stop it from getting worse so it is time to get serious.

The US EPA warned in a new report that climate change will harm racial minorities disproportionately in coming years. The country just witnessed black residents in Louisiana suffering and dying from Hurricane Ida which was followed by immigrant families in New York City dying when trapped by flood waters in their basement apartments. Hundreds of elderly minority seniors were evacuated from their nursing homes in Louisiana and later found to be living in squalor without power, resulting in the deaths of some frail seniors. NOAA has been monitoring the growing differences between rural areas and urban heat islands where many disadvantaged live. In some cities the difference can be 10-20 degrees during the day and during the night just as unequal.

An article published in the NYT documents what many of us know, that nights and not just days are getting hotter all across the country.  Many states this year reported record high temperatures during nights this past summer. When cities, utilities, and people can’t cool down overnight additional strain is put on their health. And the neighborhoods that suffer the most are often inner-city areas with the most vulnerable elderly and low-income populations.

An editorial published in over 200 medical and health journals from across the globe asked for urgent action to confront climate change which they call the “greatest threat to global public health.” It was the largest co-publication effort to date, signaling how grave the medical profession feels the climate threat is becoming.

The United Nations World Meteorological Organization reported that across the world, weather disasters are occurring 4-5 times more often. In the 1970’s the world experienced just over an average of 700 weather-related disasters a year. But in the last decade that number went up to over 3,500 per year.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry traveled to China to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, to find areas of mutual cooperation in fighting climate change.  China has previously said its GHG emissions would peak in 2030 and also pledged to achieve net-zero emissions before 2060. The former US senator and Secretary of State has been an international road warrior for the planet since Biden appointed him to his new position, having already visited 14 countries.  He has had nearly 20 discussions with China alone, and recently visited India.

 In good news, the US added a record amount of wind power last year, nearly 17,000 MW, bringing wind power to over 10% of total US energy. Nearly $25B has been spent on adding this green capacity. Solar made up 38% of all new energy added in 2020. Overall, all sources of renewable energy made up 80% of all new utility scale energy capacity in 2020. President Biden previously announced a goal of adding 30GW of wind power by 2030.

Harvard University has finally joined other prestigious higher-education institutions by announcing it will divest its $42B endowment fund of fossil fuel investments. They cited the urgent need to decarbonize the global economy.

Democrats in the US Congress are pushing for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps. The effort would produce hundreds of thousands of jobs helping the country address the reality of climate change. Republicans predictably dismissed the idea with one representative calling it delusional. Yet isn’t it delusional to dismiss climate change.

NOAA confirmed that California just experienced the hottest summer on record along with Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. The country overall experienced the hottest summer with temperatures running some 2.6 degrees F above average. The seven warmest years have been the last seven years.

 The largest carbon capture plant to date began operating in Iceland this month. It is capable of removing 4,000 tons annually, a small amount of what will be needed, and sequestering it in underground caverns.  The IEA has set a goal of extracting 1 billion tonnes of carbon out of the air to meet the 2050 net-zero goals.

President Biden wants all new cars sold in the US in 2030 to be electric. But as of now there are just over 100,000 public charging stations available, with experts saying that over a million will be needed to support all these new EVs. Will private business in America pick up the pace without government subsidies as in Europe and China? Europe already has nearly 200,000 charges in place and China an impressive 800,000.

The Biden Administration has provided more details for how solar power can provide 40% of the nation’s electricity needs by 2035. As of now solar only provides 3% with 15 GW having been installed in 2020. All together renewables now provide 20%.  To meet this goal the rate of solar power growth would have to double for each of the next 4 years, then double again by 2030.

Unfortunately, the landscape of electricity production across the US varies a great deal. Some states rely nearly all on coal, while others largely on renewables.  The road to decarbonization of electricity generation in the US is not a single one, but fifty different plans, one for each state.

The production of Bitcoin is said to consume over 90 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, more than is used by some countries.  As a result, cryptocurrency mining is coming under greater scrutiny due to its energy usage. However, even if renewable energy sources are used to power the increasing amount of computing cycles needed to create coins, that will make those green watts unavailable for other more-productive uses in the economy.

The world’s first crewless zero-emissions cargo ship is being tested in Norway. The shipping industry is responsible for about 3% of all global GHG. The electricity to power the ship’s gigantic batteries will come from hydroelectric sources.

A study in the journal Nature says that nearly all of the current fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we are to have hope of slowing climate change and meeting 2050 GHG emission goals.  The extraction of fossil fuels, which leads to putting more carbon into the atmosphere for decades if not centuries, desperately needs to start declining now they argue. The good news is that coal mining has already started to fall, but total oil and gas must also start falling to keep global warming below the Paris Accord agreed-to levels.

The UN climate conference that was rescheduled for Glasgow, Scotland this fall, COP26, has already become controversial before it begins. Climate activists from around the world, especially those from impoverished and developing economies, say travel to and from the conference during a pandemic has become prohibitive. They warn that without better attendance and participation from across the globe the conference will not be representative nor democratic in its deliberations and consensus making.

A new study published in Science has studied how climate change causing the Arctic to warm can produce not warmer but colder weather in the northern mid-latitudes as we saw last winter. Scientists think that the warming north pole disrupts the polar vortex circulation, causing it to stretch and undulate, allowing arctic-like weather to leak southward for weeks at a time.

 President Biden announces an ambitious plan for the country to replace all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. As a start, by 2030 the country would produce three billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuels. This would amount to 10% of such fuels which are only 1% of the total. Environmentalists question how green new fuels will be if they are derived from biofuels, such as those coming from corn or soy. GE Aviation said it was working to become zero-carbon by 2050, including emissions from its products.

A new study from the UK reports that over half of all young people between the ages of 16 to 25 are feeling very or extremely worried about climate change. More than three-quarters said they felt the future to be frightening. Over 60% felt their countries were failing them. They are not alone.

An article in the journal One Earth confirms what others have been reporting about the deteriorating health of the world’s coral reef systems. The amount of living coral has declined by nearly one-half since the 1950s. While there are many factors, including overfishing and pollution, the ocean warming and acidification associated with climate change are they most worrisome.

A US congressional subcommittee has launched a formal inquiry of oil giants to explain their role in denying climate change thru the support and funding of disinformation campaigns by shadow groups and lobbyists, similar to what tobacco companies once did. Yet some progress is being made as the powerful American Petroleum Institute has said they welcome putting a price on carbon and regulating methane gases. It’s a big step for them.

A World Bank report has found that climate change could push 200 million “climate migrants” to flee their homes due to extreme weather events, heat waves, water scarcity, rising sea levels, agricultural failures, and the political and economic instability these precipitate.  The US is already experiencing a worsening humanitarian crisis at its southern border due to the arrival of thousands of Haitian refugees who fled Haiti, in part because of floods, heat, and storms.

Drought and heat-fueled wildfires that continue to burn across the US west are threatening groves of 2,000 year old Sequoia trees. Firefighters have gone so far as wrapping the base trunks of some 200-foot-tall giants with protective foils. Last year’s fires were reported to have killed thousands of sequoias in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range of California.

A sobering report from the United Nations warns that that the world is on a “catastrophic pathway” toward a hotter future of nearly 5 degrees F warmer unless nations pledge immediate, rapid, and large-scale cuts in GHG emissions. UN chief Antonio Guterres urged a cut of nearly 45% in emissions by 2030, some 20-23 billion tons annually. Based on current pledges only a 12% reduction can be expected.  Nearly all of the responding nations are falling far short in their plans to reduce emissions. More than 70 countries of the 197 signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement have yet to submit updated targets, including China, the world’s largest emitter.

 More major corporations are joining The Carbon Pledge to reduce their carbon emissions to net zero by 2040. This month the new participants included HP, Proctor & Gamble, Salesforce and Nespresso. They join nearly 200 others that include Amazon, who founded the group.

The US EPA issued new rules to reduce the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons by 85% over the next 15 years. HFCs are commonly used in commercial refrigeration and air conditioning. They are said to be thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The rule is expected to result in the reduction of the equivalent of nearly 5 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050.

In a somber live meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the first in two years during the pandemic, China’s President Xi Jinping shared some good news that China will stop financing and building coal-burning power plants around the world. In recent years China had emerged as the world’s largest and increasingly only financier of these power plants across the globe. There are reportedly 47 planned power plants in some stage of development whose fate is uncertain. The head of the UN, among others, has been calling for a moratorium on coal-fired plants for some time. In not so good news, China built the equivalent of one new coal plant per week last year, negating the retirement of existing coal plants by the rest of the world.

On the same day, President Biden announced a plan to double financial aid to help poor countries make the transition to cleaner energy forms. The US will contribute over $11B of the goal of $100B for developing economies.

Boris Johnson from the UK also addressed the UN where he said “it is time for humanity to grow up” referring to how we treat the planet. He went on to say that if we don’t, “our grandchildren will know that we are the culprits.” The Prime Minister used his entire allotted time on the climate and environment. The NYT in a recent editorial also agreed that it was past time for humanity to take a stand on climate.

Also coinciding with the UN meeting, young climate activist Greta Thunberg joined a multitude of others around the world for an international day of climate protest and school strikes in over 1,000 locations. Many in the crowds were protesting that their elders and governments were not doing enough to protect future generations from the harm of climate change that they argue has become a climate crisis. Greta encouraged the crowd by saying “There’s no going back now. We can still turn this around. People are ready for change. We want change, we demand change, and we are the change.” Let’s hope she is right.

The Biden Administration announced a plan for federal agencies to reduce the risks to public health, especially outside laborers, due to extreme heat conditions which are becoming more common. The new regulations will create heat standards and protections that will require employers to minimize heat-stress.

The European Central Bank has conducted a simulation on the economic impact of various scenarios for climate change. ECB models predict that if no new policies are put into place to arrest climate change the EU economy could stop growing and actually begin to shrink. It concludes that the short-term costs of transitioning to a low carbon economy are pale in comparison to the costs of unabated climate change.

Proposed changes to flood insurance in the US are projected to raise rates for over three-quarters of policy holders. The changes are meant to account for hazards and risks due to increased flooding from extreme weather events fueled by climate change. Historically, insurance for homes in high-risk areas have been subsidized, but that is changing, as it should, instead of externalizing the cost to others.

Some momentary good news from the Arctic. The minimum of sea ice this summer was not as low as it had been in recent years. It’s still the 12th lowest amount of sea ice since satellite tracking began in 1979. Colder temperatures and stormier weather are said to have provided a reprieve. Scientists still warn that the Arctic is on track to become ice free during the summer within our lifetime.


The featured image is from the BBC article on methane emissions at https://www-bbc-co-uk.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/science-environment-54597764.

Please leave your comment or message here