November 30 2022

November 30 2022

27th COP focuses on loss and damage in poorer nations, Arctic wildfires, local midterm-election results bolster climate resilience, home insurance market teeters in Florida, generating electricity from the tides

As the nations of the world gathered in Egypt for the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP), the danger posed by climate change is unassailable. The New York Times notes that the draft National Climate Assessment, released by the U.S. Government for public comment, concludes that “climate changes make it harder to maintain safe homes and healthy families, reliable public services, a sustainable economy, thriving ecosystems and strong communities.” While the report outlines many actions and policies to adapt to our new climate, these are being adopted too slowly. The report also notes that current efforts to reduce emissions are “not sufficient” to meet the Biden Administration’s 2050 target of net-zero emissions. Meanwhile, a recent analysis concludes that global emissions of carbon dioxide will reach an all-time high in 2022, as described by the study’s authors in The Conversation.

The global effort to reduce emissions appears inadequate to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. The Washington Post reports that new natural-gas projects, many initiated in response to the war in Ukraine, will have to be closed before the end of their useful life if the world is to meet its emissions goals. This is unlikely. The Post also describes a new study from the World Meteorological Organization reporting that global emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and the primary component of natural gas, are rising faster than ever. Initial analysis has concluded that the methane increase is not from fossil fuels, but rather from natural sources such as wetlands or agriculture, suggesting that this is a response to climate change. The executive director of the U.N. Environment Program stated, “It’s a dismal, horrendous, incomprehensible picture.”

The Washington Post reports that only 24 countries have submitted new emissions-reduction pledges in the past 12 months. At present, the combined 193 climate pledges made since the Paris Agreement would actually increase emissions 10.6% by 2030, compared with 2010 levels. To reach the 1.5°C target, it is estimated that nations must reduce their emissions to about 45% of their 2010 levels, and an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times describes how far we have to go. An op-ed in the Guardian concludes that anybody who thinks the 1.5°C target is still achievable is delusional. The author argues that acknowledging this reality is essential for increasing action by corporations and governments. An editorial in the Washington Post argues that we should not lose hope.

President Biden attended the meeting in Egypt, apologizing for Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and touting the Inflation Reduction Act as evidence of the United States’ commitment to climate action. The New York Times notes that the President announced that the U.S. also will require domestic oil and gas producers to detect and fix methane leaks. But the President was criticized for not making good on past promises, particularly the provision of funds to assist poorer nations transition from fossil fuels. The challenge for the U.S. in fulfilling this promise was evidenced by the comments of U.S. Representative Greg Murphy (R-NC): “Fossil fuels built the world,” said Mr. Murphy,“And we’ll bankrupt the world and starve the world if we make a transition that is too fast.”

For the first time, the issue of wealthy nations paying reparations to poorer countries for climate impacts, known as “loss and damage,” was on the COP agenda. An op-ed in the New York Times notes that reparations are not charity. Climate change will impact global commerce and food prices, and increase migration that will impact wealthy nations. While the moral argument is clear that those who emitted the carbon should help those who are being severely impacted, where that money will come from is unclear. The New York Times describes one concept, which is to reorganize the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to make significantly more money available to developing nations to mitigate the effects of climate change. Leaders of both of these institutions have embraced the concept of the reforms, greatly increasing the momentum for their enactment.

At the close of the COP meeting, participants agreed to a plan to address loss and damage costs, although many details remain to be worked out (The Guardian has a summary of the key outcomes). The New York Times notes that “The agreement hammered out in this Red Sea resort town says nations cannot be held legally liable for payments. The deal calls for a committee with representatives from 24 countries to work over the next year to figure out exactly what form the fund should take, which countries should contribute and where the money should go. Many of the other details are still to be determined.” The Guardian notes that representatives from Pakistan worked hard for this agreement, and the recent flooding in that country demonstrated “loss and damage” in real time and provided resolve for many participants.

The New York Times reports that the burning of unwanted methane by the oil industry is less effective than previously assumed, resulting in new estimates for releases of the greenhouse gas in the United States that are about five times as high as earlier ones. Among the issues discovered is that flares are frequently extinguished and not reignited, resulting in massive methane releases. Just keeping lit the existing flares would “result in annual emissions reductions in the United States equal to taking nearly 3 million cars off the road each year.”

In the New York Times, a young mother from Oregon describes the challenges of family life when wildfire smoke makes going outside unhealthy for her children. Inside Climate News describes how wildfires are destroying mobile-home parks, which are a critical part of the affordable-housing stock in California. Mobile homes house 22 million people in the U.S., three times the number of affordable-housing units than the nation’s public housing. Often, mobile-home parks and their residents are at the intersection of a variety of challenges that make fire recovery more complex and difficult.

Reuters reports on the global impact of Arctic wildfires, which account for roughly 15% of the world’s annual carbon emissions from fires. The New York Times describes how Canada is turning to its indigenous communities to help preserve intact boreal forests, which represent enormous stores of carbon. “Forests like the 3.2 million-acre Broadback are at the center of a growing battle to save the world’s largest carbon sinks, from the rainforests in the Amazon to the peatlands of Indonesia and Central Africa to Canada’s 1.4 billion acres of boreal forests.”

Scientific American describes a recent study concluding that wildfires in California in 2020 produced “roughly 127 million megatons of greenhouse gas emissions, or about twice California’s total emission cuts from 2003 to 2019.” Wildfire does, however, result in conditions that “can bolster carbon sequestration rates and help preserve carbon stocks by germinating seeds, mobilizing nutrients, thinning overly dense forests and reducing risk of catastrophic wildfire.” The Union of Concerned Scientists blog describes the challenges that rainfall poses to areas struck by severe wildfire.

The Guardian describes a quiet but important aspect of the recent midterm elections: voters passed many local and statewide measures to raise funds for climate resilience. These include taxes and bond measures that represent a multi-billion dollar investment. “In New York state, the $4.2bn environmental bond act passed by an overwhelming majority, with 81% of voters casting their ballot in support of the measure.”

Grist describes the growing insurance crisis in Florida, which is being exposed by Hurricane Ian. Floridians already pay three times the national average for homeowner’s insurance (which does not include coverage for flood), and prices are likely to continue to climb. Ironically, that insurance, which is supposed to make homeownership affordable, may make it too expensive for many to stay in their homes. Compounding the problem is insurance fraud: Florida accounted for 8% of all homeowner’s insurance claims in the United States in 2019, but more than 75% of all insurance lawsuits. The Daily podcast has an excellent episode on this topic as well.

The New York Times examines the damage from Hurricane Nicole, including the damage to seaside condominiums and the implications for homeowner fees in these buildings. The Washington Post describes the massive solid-waste problem left behind by Hurricane Ian and other major storms. Four years after Hurricane Michael, Floridians are still clearing debris from waterways in the area.

Anthropocene Magazine reports on a new design for lithium-ion batteries that allow them to charge much faster. By lowering the temperature of the battery when it is charging, the result is a battery that can charge up to 70% of its capacity in just around 10 minutes. Researchers note that this should allow auto makers to build cars with smaller batteries, making them cheaper and addressing critical material shortages that face the industry.

The Guardian describes the challenge of providing charging stations for the growing number of EVs expected on the roads. There are currently 50,000 charging stations in the U.S., many of which are old and slow, and the Biden Administration has set a goal of 500,000 high-capacity stations by 2030. These will mainly be installed by local governments, and there is a complex array of considerations at that level. These include accessibility (particularly providing access to those in apartment buildings), equity across neighborhoods and the demand based on current and projected EV adoption that varies even across localities. Anthropocene Magazine reports on a study that highlights the enormous health benefits from electrifying trucking for those communities that live in areas exposed to excessive truck exhaust.

The New York Times visits the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia to examine efforts to generate electricity from the tides. The Bay of Fundy has one of the largest tides in the world (55 vertical feet), and the movement of water between low and high tide represents an enormous amount of energy. People have been trying to harness this energy for over 100 years, but achieving this goal in the harsh marine environment with minimal environmental impacts is an engineering challenge. The latest efforts involve turbines mounted on a floating platform that can be lowered into the water to generate electricity.

As species around the world face the threat of extinction, the Guardian describes the success at recovering the California Condor from near extinction. Experts project the population will continue to expand in coming decades. Also noteworthy, the Department of Energy’s Loans Program Office has released some beautiful WPA-style posters promoting renewable-energy accomplishments.