January 31 2024

fires both a product and source of global warming, a large battery under construction in Utah, getting “grid services” from renewables, drought affects operation of Panama Canal, the unintended impacts of sea walls

The Guardian reports that the massive fires in Canada in 2023 tripled that country’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions. This is an example of a possible tipping point related to forests, where ecosystems that traditionally have been carbon sinks turn into sources of carbon (a New York Times article notes that recent satellite measurements confirm the importance of undisturbed lands as carbon sinks). As emissions from major fires further heat the planet, it becomes more likely that forests will continue to burn, resulting in more emissions. The loss of wetlands (including bogs) in the boreal forest, a result of hotter and drier conditions caused by climate change, has also made massive fires more likely.

While fire is a natural part of forest ecosystems, the scale of the fires we are seeing now is unprecedented, driven by climate change and historical forestry practices. The New York Times describes how megafires, such as those last year in Canada, are transforming the landscape. Some are referring to the age in which we now live as the Pyrocene, given the size and frequency of these megafires. The World Resources Institute concludes that, annually, fires now burn twice as much tree cover as they did 20 years ago.

Yale e360 notes that “the boreal forests and unglaciated polar lowlands are Earth’s most lake-rich biome, hosting nearly half of the planet’s lakes by surface area.” Like the forests, the lakes have been a carbon sink as sediments accumulate in their cold waters where there is little decomposition. However, as these regions warm, researchers are finding that decomposition is increasing. The author accompanies researchers to visit several lakes in Greenland where the scientists expected their measurements to reveal the lakes to be sinks, but the field measurements determined all the lakes to be sources during the record heat of 2023…

January 15 2024

2023 temperature records reflect “global boiling”, Antarctic octopus genetics suggests West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse possible, the electrification of the automobile industry is underway, U.S. Treasury Department describes massive costs of climate change, global greenhouse-gas emissions may have peaked in 2023

To those paying even the slightest bit of attention last year, it comes as no surprise that 2023 was the hottest year on record. The Guardian reports that both NASA and NOAA reached this conclusion, as did another analysis by EU scientists. These air temperature records were accompanied by record high ocean temperatures and a new low in Antarctic sea ice extent. NOAA stated that, over the last 40 years, each decade has been warmer than the last and the most recent 10 years are the hottest decade ever recorded. The article quotes climate scientists who are finding it difficult to explain why 2023 was so much hotter than previous years.

The Washington Post quotes UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who called 2023 the year of “global boiling,” as the year saw the hottest single day (July 6), the hottest-ever month (July) and the hottest June, August, September, October, November and probably the hottest December. On November 17, global average temperature was 2°C above preindustrial levels, providing a reminder of where we are headed without a much more ambitious effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The impact of these extremes was visible everywhere. This includes intense drought in Brazil, where some towns are being forced to ration drinking water. The BBC notes that the Amazon has never seen a drought like this. Because the rivers are the major transportation corridor, the drought has major impacts throughout society in the region. There were vast wildfires in Greece and Canada, hot-tub temperatures in the ocean in Florida, quickly intensifying major storm systems and unrelenting heat in Phoenix and other places around the world. The Washington Post notes: “The U.S. alone suffered a record number of extreme weather disasters that caused at least $1bn in damages in 2023…”

December 31 2023

global agreements at COP28 in Dubai, major U.S. decision looms on natural-gas exports, one farming family uses as much Colorado River water as Las Vegas, how sustainable can aviation fuel be?, EV mythbuster

The Washington Post reports that “nearly 200 countries struck a breakthrough climate agreement… calling for a transition away from fossil fuels in an unprecedented deal that targets the greatest contributors to the planet’s warming.” The agreement, reached at COP28 in Dubai, is the first international agreement that aims explicitly to reduce fossil-fuel use due to its impact on the climate. It calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.” CNBC notes that the UAE says the agreement represents “a paradigm shift that has the potential to redefine our economies.”

While it is not a surprise that the UAE (and other major oil-producing countries) are touting the agreement as a major achievement, and it is the first time the COP has actually addressed fossil-fuel use formally, many are quite skeptical of the document (Elizabeth Kolbert states in The New Yorker that “after twenty-eight COPs, and twenty-eight years of rising emissions, skepticism is clearly justified”). The Guardian notes that, because the agreement does not call for the phaseout of fossil fuels, it allows the continued growth of fossil-fuel production and use. A Washington Post editorial notes that “the effort’s credibility suffers when goals and pledges often require unprecedented efforts and offer little clue about how they will be financed. It doesn’t help either that, so far, the world is failing to hit targets set before.” A review in The Atlantic calls the agreement “a new floor for climate ambition.”

Inside Climate News interviews Alden Meyer, who has been part of the COP process for 30 years (most of the time as a staff member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, where I got to know him). Alden provides a thoughtful perspective on the agreement, including its weakness in ambition and its place in the history of global climate policy. Alden also notes that the initial $700M contribution obtained at Dubai for the Loss and Damage Fund, which will help developing nations build resilience to the new climate, is dwarfed by the $3.5B a day spent on fossil-fuel subsidies. Alden finds hope in the fact that the agreement includes the historic recognition that we have to come to grips with our addiction to fossil fuels, and that the COP meetings now mobilize all sectors of society, not just scientists and environmentalists, in a call to action…

December 15 2023

major agreement on methane emissions, COP Chair doubts need for fossil-fuel phaseout, Acapulco still reeling from Hurricane Otis, another famous physicist fails Climate Change 101, Portugal runs for days on renewable electricity

The Washington Post reports on a global agreement, the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter (OGDC), announced at COP28 in Dubai to limit methane emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that does not remain in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, so cutting methane emissions can reduce warming in the next few decades. “Halving human methane emissions by 2030 could slow the rate of global warming by more than 25 percent and start a path to prevent 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100, according to 2021 research by a team of scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and several U.S. universities.” This first-time agreement includes commitments from some of the world’s largest oil companies (such as Saudi Aramco and ExxonMobil) to virtually eliminate methane emissions from their drilling and production work, and new regulations from the U.S. government along with international monitoring efforts.

Inside Climate News notes that the agreement was buttressed by a $40 million commitment from Bloomberg Philanthropies to provide independent monitoring and verification of OGDC members’ emissions reductions. In addition, the number of countries that have signed the global methane pledge — a voluntary agreement to curb methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030 — continues to grow and now includes more than 150 nations. “If those promises are met, it’s got the potential to cut temperatures we would otherwise see within the next decade… more than anything agreed to at prior COPs, more than anything I’ve seen in my entire career over 30 years,” said Fred Krupp, president of the EDF.

Others are a bit more skeptical of the agreement. Distilled notes: “These companies also have a terrible track record when it comes to making good on their climate pledges. Over the last 5 years, fossil fuel companies like BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil all announced voluntary pledges to go net-zero and invest in low-carbon technologies. Then one by one they all walked back these pledges. Even if fossil fuel companies could be trusted to make good on their promises, the methane agreement would still have its problems.” In addition, as 40% of methane emissions come from animal agriculture, the agreement leaves a major part of the problem unaddressed…