Climate Change Blog 45

By Carl Howard posted 12-07-2021 06:07 PM

  

Climate Change Blog 45

Facts on the Ground:

Storm Arwen, a pre-winter, late November, snow-storm killed at least 3 people in the UK (from fallen tress), knocked out power and stranded travelers as 3’ of snow closed roads for days in North Yorkshire, more than 200 miles northwest of London.

The prior week, Vancouver experienced heavy rains and flooding which forced 17,000 people from their homes, emptying entire towns and inundating farms. Roads and rail links to the rest of the country were cut off by washed-out bridges and landslides. It was the second time in six months that the province had endured a major weather-related emergency.

British Columbia has suffered through record-breaking heat, wildfires and floods in 2021. Hundreds of people were killed by these disasters, including three in the recent rains which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to homes and infrastructure. The economic impacts were felt across Canada due to the loss of roads and rails and disruption to the port of Vancouver, which is vital to the country’s economy.

“In the last six months, B.C. has both burned and drowned,” said Merran Smith, the executive director of Clean Energy Canada, a climate program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. “So there’s really no greater evidence of climate change right now than here in British Columbia.”

An increasingly common weather event known as an “atmospheric river” led to the province’s devastating flooding and set numerous rainfall records. This river acts as a moisture conveyor belt, known as the Pineapple Express. It is a relatively narrow but very long band of fast-moving, moisture-laden air that forms in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. Normally, such systems release that moisture as intense rain once they reach BC’s coastal mountains and peter out before they enter the dry interior region on the other side. But this atmospheric river was different, said Armel Castellan, a meteorologist with the weather service at Environment and Climate Change Canada. “This had so much potency to it that it was able to ride up those mountains and really unleash into what is otherwise the dry belt,” he said.

Alex Hall, a professor of atmospheric science at U.C.L.A., said the phenomenon was notable for its scale. The town of Hope received 11.6” of rain in 52 hours, about a third more than the amount of rain it usually receives in all of November.

BC has been a leader in mitigation efforts, said Barry Prentice, a professor at the University of Manitoba. In 2008, it introduced North America’s first carbon tax. Ms. Smith of Clean Energy Canada said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had a credible and ambitious climate plan, but it is undermined by the oil and gas industry, particularly the oil sands operations based largely in Alberta. “We need to reduce the emissions from the oil and gas sector; it is one of Canada’s biggest challenges,” she said. “All of these other good policies, we need to see them implemented without delays. There’s a lot of inaction that gets disguised as flexibility, and we’re past that time.”

Earlier in November, heavy rain and flooding forced the evacuation of over 1,000 homes and emergency rescue of residents of Abbotsford, one of the largest cities in BC, after hundreds of people were stranded on highways by torrential rains. Cars were overturned and roadways were impassable due to flooding and mudslides. Abbotsford borders the town of Sumas, in Washington State, where highways were also inundated.

In early December, the Hawaiian Islands were flooded by an intense seasonal cyclone. Flash flood warnings were issued in Oahu and Honolulu with power outages in Maui which had received over 12” of rain with more to come. Gov. David Ige of Hawaii signed an emergency declaration, as did the mayor of Hawaii County, Mitchell Roth, which freed state funds to be used for losses caused by flooding and other cyclone damage.

This type of cyclone is called a kona low, which typically stalls, drops large amounts of rain in one location and comes from a southerly direction, bringing moisture to areas that do not usually get much rainfall. It is rare for a kona low to stall directly over the Hawaiian Islands, according to meteorologists. “This is an extreme weather event,” said Adam Weintraub, a spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

All the islands were on a flood watch, several public schools canceled classes and Governor Ige warned residents on Twitter, “now is the time to make sure you have an emergency plan in place and supplies ready should you need to move away from rising water.”

In mid-November, a pilot crashed and died while fighting the fast-moving Kruger Rock fire in northern Colorado. Several rounds of evacuation orders, both mandatory and voluntary, were issued to residents and businesses. Parts of Rocky Mountain National Park were closed because of the fire.

In 2021 Colorado has had multiple wildfires including the Oil Springs fire (which burned nearly 13,000 acres), and the Morgan Creek fire (nearly 8,000 acres). “One of the things that is a change of paradigm is Colorado used to talk about a fire season,” Gov. Jared Polis said, adding that the phenomenon was now year-round.

Wildfire experts see the signature of climate change in the dryness, high heat and longer fire season that have made these fires more extreme. “We wouldn’t be seeing this giant ramp-up in fire activity as fast as it is happening without climate change,” Park Williams, a climate scientist at U.C.L.A., said. “There’s just no way.”

Strobe-light like lightning led to fierce storms and flooding in Egypt, which had a bizarre effect: 100s, maybe 1,000s of 4-inch long scorpions, called Deathstalkers due to the toxicity of its venom, were swept from their burrows and into villages (Aswan) and homes stinging over 500 people (causing severe pain but no deaths). Three people died from the storm, and local officials said 103 homes were partly or fully destroyed, though residents said the real toll was far greater.

The rains were the heaviest in seven years, but flooding had rarely, if ever, touched residential areas before. The storm’s intensity led Egyptian meteorologists to speculate publicly that it was connected to climate change, which has hurt Egypt’s olive and date harvests, turned vast areas of farmland into desert and made the country’s already blazing summers even hotter.

More locally, also in mid-November, a storm brought quarter-sized hail and wind gusting to 60mph to NYC, New Jersey and Long Island. Tornado warnings were issued for Commack, Levittown and Melville on Long Island. About 11,000 customers of the utility PSEG on Long Island lost power.

In late October, a large, slow-moving storm, brought some of the highest tidal surges of the past two decades to the mid-Atlantic region. The storm and flooding affected cities and towns along northern coastal Virginia up through the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay areas, to coastal New Jersey. Waters surged into Annapolis, Md., and Alexandria, Va., and waterways surrounding Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia swelled. In Baltimore, the Inner Harbor was underwater.

Maryland’s capital city, which lies on the Chesapeake Bay, now confronts regular tidal surge flooding, which forced the city to purchase a pumping system to prevent high-tide flooding. But it was no match for the surge.

“We’re used to flooding, and this is kind of flooding beyond that,” David Mandell, deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management said. Coastal flood records were broken along the shores of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay in Solomons Island and Straits Point in Maryland, and Dahlgren, Va. Water levels along the Delaware River and upper Delaware Bay approached record highs. Heavy winds along parts of the Atlantic coast reached 60mph, according to the National Weather Service, toppling trees and power lines. In New Jersey, about 4,000 households lost power.

From 2000 to 2015, the incidence of high-tide flooding in the Mid-Atlantic doubled to an average of six days per year from three days, according to a 2018 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The storm came just days after a Nor’easter battered coastal New England with hurricane force winds, cutting electricity to hundreds of thousands of households. It continued north with hurricane-force winds after battering the NY area and causing wide-spread power outages across New England including almost 425,000 customers in Massachusetts, nearly 80,000 in Rhode Island and about 25,000 in Maine, according to PowerOutage.us. The Weather Service in Boston warned coastal residents, “For your safety indoors, stay away from windows!” It also said Nantucket had experienced a bomb cyclone, an explosive deepening of pressure that can lead to powerful wind.

Flood warnings were issued across the region, including Saddle River in Lodi, N.J., the Ramapo River in northern NJ and Orange and Rockland Counties, NY. Joseph Fiordaliso, who leads NJ’s utility board, said “Someday maybe we’ll just have a regular rainstorm. We don’t seem to get those much anymore,” adding, “Climate change is real, and we have to work to mitigate as much of it as we possibly can.”

The two main stories: The House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Bill and world leaders met in Glasgow. The legislation was passed on Nov 5 and signed into law Nov 15. It includes about $1 trillion to rebuild the country’s aging public works system and addresses climate change:

-Transportation: tens of billions of dollars is intended for improvements to roads, bridges and transportation programs. About 80% is directed to highways and road projects and much of the rest to public transit. Felicia Park-Rogers, the director of regional infrastructure projects for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted that “Given that we’re staring down a climate catastrophe, this is not what we would like to see.” The Department of Transportation will send money to the states to move highways out of flood-prone areas. Amtrak may get its largest cash infusion ever. And funds may go to programs for safe commutes for pedestrians.

Electric Vehicles are featured in a $7.5 billion initiative intended to build 500,000 high-speed charging stations across the US by 2030. Currently, there are about 43,000 charging stations, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

-Climate: to address the impacts of global warming, money will go to the Forest Service to reduce the effects of wildfires, and $73 billion is intended to modernize the nation’s electricity grid to allow it to carry renewable energy.

-Underserved communities: a $2 billion grant program is expected to expand transportation projects in rural areas and should increase support for Native American communities via the allotment of $216 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for climate-resilience and adaptation efforts. More than half of that money, $130 million, is intended to move groups of Indigenous Americans away from vulnerable areas.

Some money will be channeled through various federal agencies, like the Department of Transportation. Other funds will go to state entities, like the NY Department of Transportation or New Jersey Transit. The states will then decide which projects to prioritize.

Several of the 13 Republicans in the House and 19 in the Senate who voted for the bill heard from angry constituents.  Of the House Republicans who supported the bill, four were from NY and two from NJ. On Long Island, a man was arrested after making death threats against Representative Andrew Garbarino.

The New York Region has its wish-list of projects which includes replacing polluting school and commuter buses with cleaner vehicles. In NYC, the Second Avenue subway may be extended, and plans may be developed to build a new rail tunnel linking NY and NJ. State agencies have some flexibility in spending and could use highway funds to expand bike lanes, said Kate Slevin, the executive vice president of the Regional Plan Association.

The bill also focuses on social equity concerns by seeking to reverse the harm past infrastructure projects have inflicted on low-income and Black communities. “Cities like Newark, East Orange, New Haven, they were really ripped apart from interstate highway construction and urban renewal projects,” Ms. Slevin said.

Infrastructure dollars could advance long-planned projects to redesign streets and reduce NYC’s vulnerability to climate-related flooding. In East Harlem, trees may be planted along with rain gardens and street drainage improved. The Army Corps of Engineers considered spending $119 billion to protect the city from flooding. In 2019, Mayor de Blasio said $10 billion was needed just to protect the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan.

Kevin Corbett, president and chief executive of New Jersey Transit, which operates one of the nation’s largest fleet of commuter buses, said the federal funds will help accelerate the purchase of electric buses and the electrification of bus depots. About $5 billion was earmarked to replace older school buses, which generate harmful emissions, with electric or low-emission versions.

Some $47 billion is designated for climate resilience and helping communities prepare for the new age of extreme fires, floods, storms and droughts that scientists say are worsened by human-caused climate change.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in the infrastructure bill to help us prepare for climate upheaval, but that package does very little to affect emissions, and therefore won’t prevent climate upheaval,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a prominent champion of climate action in Congress. “It’s significant that we could get a significant bipartisan measure that recognized that climate change was real, and we need to protect our infrastructure against its impacts,” he said. “But it’s not enough to just do repair work. We need to prevent the worse scenarios.”

The spending falls far short of the levels of government action that scientific reports have concluded is needed to either prevent or prepare for the worst impacts of climate change. In 2018, the federal government’s National Climate Assessment estimated that adapting to climate change could cost “tens to hundreds of billions of dollars per year.”

Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA, an author of the climate resilience provisions, will see money flow to his state. In September, Hurricane Ida killed at least 82 people and left millions without power in Louisiana, in the wake of a storm that scientists say offered a clear picture of the types of devastation we can expect from climate change. He called the bill “the largest investment in infrastructure and coastal resiliency in the history of Louisiana.”

“There’s people living in Livingston Parish, for example, flooded in 2016, whose lives — everything in their life was destroyed,” he said. “The pictures of their children, the wedding dress in which they married, the home in which they lived, which had never flooded before — the fact that we are helping our fellow Americans avoid that gives me an incredible sense of satisfaction.”

Climate impacts are being felt throughout the US. There were 22 climate disasters that cost at least $1 billion each in the US in 2020, shattering the previous record of 16 events, which occurred in 2017 and 2011, according to NOAA.

That record is on track to be broken again this year. This summer, the hottest on record in the nation, saw record wildfires devastate millions of acres in California and a deadly heat wave bake the Pacific Northwest. Once-in-200-year flash floods killed dozens of people in NY and NJ.

The Army Corps of Engineers is to receive $11.6 billion in construction funds for flood control and river dredging. That’s more than four times the amount Congress gave the Corps last year for construction.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also will address damage from flooding by buying or elevating at-risk homes. That program will see its annual budget more than triple, to $700 million.

NOAA will receive $492 million to map and forecast inland and coastal flooding, including “next-generation water modeling activities.” It will also get $50 million to predict, model and forecast wildfires.

The Department of Agriculture is to receive $500 million for “wildfire defense grants to at-risk communities,” money that could help people make changes to their homes or landscape to make them less vulnerable to fires.

Climate experts caution that all that spending should just be a down payment; absent billions of dollars of additional money and aggressive action to sharply reduce CO2 emissions, the costs of adapting to the new realities of global warming will only climb in the coming years.

“Fifty billion dollars for resilience is both transformational and totally inadequate,” said Shalini Vajjhala, executive director of the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center. “If you compare the total to some of the largest resilient infrastructure projects being planned in the U.S., it’s tiny,” Ms. Vajjhala said. “This is progress, not perfection.”

The leaders of 120 countries met in Glasgow in early November at the 26th Convention of the Parties (“COP26”). There were some notable deals. At least six major automakers, including Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Volvo, 30 national governments and 2 states pledged to work toward phasing out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles worldwide. These automakers account for roughly one-quarter of global sales in 2019. The agreement states that automakers will “work toward reaching 100 percent zero-emission new car and van sales in leading markets by 2035 or earlier.” Toyota, Volkswagen and Nissan-Renault did not join the pledge. Nor did the US, China and Japan, three of the largest car markets.

The 30 countries that joined the coalition included Britain, Canada, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Sweden. India is the world’s fourth-largest auto market, and this is the first time it has committed to eliminating auto emissions on a specific timeline.

California and Washington State also signed the pledge. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order saying that only new zero-emissions vehicles would be sold in the state by 2035, though regulators have not yet issued rules to make that happen. Washington had not previously made such a formal pledge.

Two dozen vehicle fleet operators, including Uber and LeasePlan, also joined the coalition, vowing to operate only zero-emissions vehicles by 2030.

Worldwide, transportation accounts for roughly one-fifth of humanity’s CO2 emissions that are responsible for climate change, with a little less than half of that coming from passenger vehicles such as cars and vans.

The other two automakers that signed the pledge were BYD, a Chinese automaker that has made major inroads selling EVs in Europe, as well as Jaguar Land Rover.

Some of the major automakers that did not sign the agreement are nonetheless investing heavily in EV technology. Volkswagen, which six years ago confessed to criminally concealing illegally high emissions from its diesel cars, now plans to spend tens of billions of dollars to build six battery factories, install a global network of charging stations and offer more than 80 new electric models by 2025.

Toyota, the world’s best-selling automaker in 2020, was notably absent from the deal, but it announced plans this year to sell 15 EV models around the world by 2025. The Japanese automaker had not committed to EV technology as it considered alternatives like hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles. But in early December it announced that it planned to build a factory employing 1,750 people to make batteries in North Carolina. It will be built outside Greensboro and is expected to be complete by 2025 at a cost of $1.29 billion, making battery packs for 200,000 cars a year.

Leaders of more than 100 countries vowed to reduce deforestation by half by 2030. This will affect a wide range of companies that use products linked to deforestation, such as palm oil and wood. “Almost every sector of our economy is part of the crime of deforestation,” said Mindy Lubber, who heads Ceres, a nonprofit that works with companies and investors to address their environmental effects. The world’s forests are crucial to absorbing CO2 and slowing the rise in global warming.

The pact includes Brazil, Russia and China, encompassing about 85% of the world’s forests. Putin pledged to expand reforestation programs in Russia, which is home to 20% of the world’s forests. Putin’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060 is largely dependent on using its forests to absorb GHG. Skeptical climate scientists say the country is unable to properly monitor its vast forests and it continues to invest in producing more oil, gas and coal. (And see below.)

Biden said he would work with Congress to deploy up to $9 billion to the global effort through 2030. Additionally, governments committed $12 billion through 2025, and private companies pledged $7 billion to protect and restore forests, including $1.7 billion for Indigenous peoples. More than 30 financial institutions also vowed to stop investing in companies responsible for deforestation.

But similar prior efforts have failed. In 2014, an accord was reached to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it entirely by 2030. Instead, by 2020, the areas deforested annually had grown dramatically worse.

Some environmentalists predicted that the same will happen this time. “It allows another decade of forest destruction and isn’t binding,” said Carolina Pasquali, the executive director of Greenpeace Brazil. “Meanwhile, the Amazon is already on the brink and can’t survive years more deforestation.”

If tropical deforestation were a country, it would be the third-biggest emitter of GHGs in the world, according to the World Resources Institute, after China and the US. Much of the world’s deforestation is driven by commodity agriculture to clear land for cattle, soy, cocoa and palm oil.

Biden went to Glasgow without the passage of legislation proving that the US is serious about acting on climate change. But he did go with an achievement on methane emissions reduction. At Glasgow, he announced that 70 countries had joined a coalition led by the US and EU to cut global methane levels at least 30% by 2030. The countries that signed the Global Methane Pledge include half of the world’s top 30 methane-emitting countries, and US officials expect the list to grow. Biden called it the “single most effective strategy we have to slow global warming in the near term” and achieve his goal of cutting US emissions 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Methane is the second most abundant GHG after CO2, and it’s responsible for more than a quarter of the warming the planet is currently experiencing. It dissipates from the atmosphere faster than CO2 but is more powerful at heating the atmosphere in the short run.

The United Nations says that a global effort to reduce methane emissions from the fossil fuel, waste and agricultural sectors could achieve a 45% reduction by 2030 and help avoid nearly 0.3C of global warming as early as the 2040s.

Post-Glasgow, the bottom line is that the stated goal of keeping global warming under 1.5C is unlikely to be met. World leaders from nearly 120 countries pledged to cut GHG emissions, but still the planet is on track to warm around 2.4C by the year 2100 compared to preindustrial times, with catastrophic implications regarding the future of human civilization. Warming will lead to more destructive and deadly storms, droughts, wildfires, and sea-level rise as well as social and economic upheaval including millions of environmental refugees pushed by the widening climate crisis.

Recognizing the stakes and the urgency of the climate crisis, the conference closed with an agreement that the countries will return next year with stronger emissions-reduction targets and promises to double the money available to help countries cope with the effects of global warming. It also mentions by name, for the first time in a quarter century of global climate negotiations, the main cause of climate change: fossil fuels.

The call to return next year, as opposed to every five years as agreed to in the Paris accord, was lead in part by Mohamed Nasheed. He is the former president of the Maldives, and leader of a group of countries called the Climate Vulnerable Forum that includes atoll nations like his as well as developing countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh. Five years, Mr. Nasheed said, “is a very long time. And we might not exist.”

Mr. Nasheed has been arrested over a dozen times for his activism. He has twice been tortured in prison and recently he survived an assassination attempt. You cannot give up,” he said flatly.

In 2009, before the international climate summit in Copenhagen, as the Maldivian president, he held a meeting with 13 of his cabinet members in scuba suits 13’ under water. It made the point that many countries could be under water if major polluting nations do not move away quickly from fossil fuels.

Mr. Nasheed observed that some conservative leaders have embraced climate action, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain. “The people have actually decided that when they vote, they will look for those who are thinking of saving the planet,” he said. “People are realizing that we are moving to a doomsday situation. People do understand that the planet is losing its balance. And that shouldn’t be left to happen.”

He fights because inadequate pledged emissions reductions are an existential threat to low-lying island nations like the Maldives. He sees world leaders unable to act because of what he called the influence of the fossil fuel industry. But he believes that will soon diminish. “The whole idea about politics is to lead, not to follow,” he said. “We must talk to the people. We must tell them what’s happening, and we must point out the morality of the issue.”

Questions and hurdles abound. President Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil didn’t even bother to show up. Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia did show up, but pledged an emissions target that experts said falls far short of what’s needed.

Leaders in Washington, Beijing and New Delhi face a complex combination of pressures. In the US, Biden faces heavy resistance not only from Republicans, but from key senators within a divided Democratic party. In China, Xi Jinping, recently elevated to the pantheon of Communist Party leaders alongside Mao Zedong, may be unwilling to push provincial leaders to reduce their use of the coal that has powered China’s economic rise. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi allowed his representatives to weaken the final agreement’s language on coal at the 11th hour. Will he honor his pledge to increase renewable energy sources fivefold by 2030? Is there any reason to believe Brazil will keep its pledge to join other countries in reversing deforestation in the Amazon?

In Russia, Putin has expressed his interest in development in Siberia where permafrost is melting and in utilizing year-round Arctic shipping with specially designed “ice class” container vessels as an alternative to the Suez Canal. Russia is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of GHG and a major producer of fossil fuels. It sees vast economic opportunities in a warming world. That in and of itself could doom the efforts of the rest of the world.

In Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and one of history’s largest emitters of GHG, Prime Minister Johnson pledged to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. By 2017, coal had fallen to 7% of Britain’s electricity generation from 40% in 2013. But new roads and airports are under construction and oil and gas extraction continue in the North Sea. Mikaela Loach, a young Briton who has sued the British government over an oil and gas project there, labelled the summit outcome “#CopOut26.”

Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist, criticized the US for its sales of offshore oil leases. The Interior Department is set to auction over 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing, the largest US lease sale ever. The sale comes just days after Biden pledged at COP26 to reduce climate emissions.

“The Biden administration is lighting the fuse on a massive carbon bomb in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous, hypocritical action in the aftermath of the climate summit,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

One of the biggest fights at the summit concerned climate justice, whether, and how, the world’s wealthiest nations should compensate poorer nations for the damage caused by rising temperatures. Oil and gas companies in the US and abroad are not retreating from their core businesses even though the burning of fossil fuels was noted in agreement as the cause of the climate crisis. The leaders of these companies say that they need revenue from fossil fuel to fund alternative energy investments, especially when oil and gas prices are so high. “We are a cash machine at these types of prices,” said Bernard Looney, chief executive of BP.

Maisa Rojas, a climate modeler at the University of Chile, said researchers need to better quantify the effects of climate change on vulnerable people and communities. That will help address the contentious issue of “loss and damage,” or the question of what is owed to people who have barely contributed to global warming but are most harmed by it. But rich countries merely agreed to a “dialogue” on the compensation issue in the future.

Simon Stiell, the environment minister from Grenada, argued that simply offering disaster relief, as some countries including the US have suggested, is insufficient. Loss and damage funding is also required for the slow attrition of land due to sea-level rise and for agricultural losses from long running droughts. “There needs to be outcomes beyond a dialogue,” he said.

Many of the tens of thousands of youth activists who protested outside the conference said the promises didn’t go nearly far enough to address the problems they are already living with. Mitzi Jonelle Tan, an activist from the Philippines said the outcome felt like “a stab in the back from those who call themselves leaders.”

Despite the scientific consensus of the need for immediate reductions in fossil fuel use, such use is expected to continue for years. But clean energy technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and EVs are advancing so rapidly that perhaps the global use of fossil fuels may peak by the mid-2020s and then start declining, as noted by the International Energy Agency. For that to happen, the agency said much stronger action is necessary from governments around the world to reduce their planet-warming CO2 emissions over the next few years.

The IEA’s annual World Energy Outlook, which forecasts global energy trends to 2050, was issued shortly before the climate summit. The new report notes significant gains: wind and solar power are now the cheapest source of new electricity in most markets and growing briskly. Sales of EVs worldwide hit records last year. Across the globe, approvals for new coal-fired power plants have slowed dramatically in recent years as governments and banks have increasingly refused to finance them (but see below).

Governments are also stepping up their pledges to curb emissions. The EU has increased the price it charges large polluters to emit CO2. For the first time, India joined the growing list of nations pledging to reach “net zero” emissions, (although it set the deadline at 2070). One of the world’s largest consumers of coal, India also announced that it would significantly expand the portion of its total energy mix that comes from renewable sources, and that half of its energy would come from sources other than fossil fuels by 2030. China has said it would stop financing new coal plants overseas.

The IEA projects that global coal use may fall between now and 2050, despite increased industrial activity in China. Global oil demand is expected to begin a permanent decline by the 2030s with the switch to EVs. By 2035, wealthy countries must shut down virtually all fossil-fuel power plants in favor of cleaner technologies. A turning point is now in sight, the report says.

Still, this shift is inadequate to avert some of the horrific consequences of climate change, the agency warned. Current energy policies still put the world on track to heat up roughly 2.6C (4.7F) by 2100 compared to preindustrial levels. Last month, the UN warned that such an outcome would be “catastrophic,” noting that countries are already suffering more deadly heat waves, droughts, floods and wildfires after just 1.1C of global warming to date.

Many world leaders still hope to limit average global warming to around 1.5C. To meet that goal, the IEA said we must do more than allow global emissions to simply peak and then ease into a decline in the decades ahead, as currently expected. Instead, the world’s nations must expedite the emissions reductions nearly in half this decade and cease CO2 emissions entirely by around 2050.

Earlier this year, the agency detailed the road map for what the effort should look like. By 2030, EVs must constitute more than half of new car sales globally, up from just 5% today. By 2035, wealthy countries must shut down virtually all fossil-fuel power plants in favor of cleaner technologies like wind, solar or nuclear power. By 2040, all the world’s remaining coal plants must be retired or retrofitted with technology to capture and bury their carbon emissions. That technology is developing but not available at scale.

Nations must triple their investment in clean energy over the next decade, to roughly $4 trillion per year, the agency said. Most of that increased spending must go to developing countries, which have been generating most of the emissions growth in recent years but struggle to gain financing.

“So far only about 20% of clean energy investments are going to emerging countries,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “That needs to change. This is a race that no one wins unless everyone finishes the race.”

The report noted that more than 50 countries, including China and the US as well as the EU, have announced targets to get to “net zero,” meaning no additional CO2 emissions to the atmosphere over the next few decades. If such intentions were realized, the world could still potentially warm a catastrophic 2.1C by 2100, the report found. But few countries have enacted policies to achieve such a goal.

“This needs to happen quickly,” the report said, “or global energy markets will face a turbulent and volatile period ahead.” Not to mention potential societal collapses.

A coalition of the world’s biggest investors, banks and insurers that collectively control $130 trillion in assets pledged to use that capital to hit “net zero” emissions targets in their investments by 2050. That push would make limiting climate change a central focus of many major financial decisions.

In Europe, many companies have already adjusted their business models for the next decade to align with European Union laws unveiled last summer which include high carbon taxes that apply to a widening group of industries.

Just how much CO2 each nation needs to cut remains unresolved. Rich countries are disproportionately responsible for global warming, but some leaders have insisted that poorer nations must accelerate their shift away from fossil fuels.

Private equity funds continue to invest billions in fossil fuel projects. These entities are secretive investment companies actively buying offshore platforms, building new pipelines and extending lifelines to coal power plants. Exactly the actions that must stop but won’t if profits can be made.

Since 2010, the private equity industry has invested at least $1.1 trillion into the energy sector. The overwhelming majority of those investments was in fossil fuels, according to data from Pitchbook, a company that tracks investment, and a new analysis by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit that pushes for more disclosure about private equity deals.

Only about 12% of investment in the energy sector by private equity firms went into renewable power, like solar or wind, since 2010, according to Pitchbook.

Private equity investors are taking advantage of the pressure being exerted on the oil industry by environmental groups and their own shareholders to move away from fossil fuels. Thus, many oil companies have sold some of their dirtiest assets many of which have been purchased inexpensively by private equity-backed firms. These assets gain a second life despite being some of the most polluting wells, coal-burning plants and other inefficient properties in operation. That adds GHGs to the atmosphere.

Banks too are being pressured to reduce investments in fossil fuels and have reduced financing the industry, opening the way for private equity.

In its report, the Private Equity Stakeholder Project found that about 80% of the investments made by the top 10 private equity firms since 2010, including giants Blackstone, KKR and Carlyle, were in oil, gas and coal. This while many of those firms tout their sustainable investments.

Private equity firms are not required to disclose much information, so obtaining insight into their holdings or their environmental practices is difficult. Still, some of the largest emitters of methane in the US are oil and gas producers backed by investment firms. For example, in 2017, Hilcorp, a private company backed by the private equity giant Carlyle, bought $8.6 billion worth of oil and gas assets and is now the largest known emitter of methane in the US, reporting almost 50% more emissions from its operations than the country’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil. And Blackstone acquired a project to build a new oil pipeline and export terminal in Louisiana that could emit 500,000 tons of GHGs per year.

The private equity industry manages $7.4 trillion in global assets and clients include public pension funds, which on average allocate about 20% of their investments in private equity.

“Any private equity fund is obsessed with one thing, and one thing only: How much money can we make in any given investment?” said Ludovic Phalippou, professor of financial economics at University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. “And when these largely anonymous firms collapse, you don’t even know who to be angry at, because you don’t even know who they are.”

A new report from the United Nations Environment Program, with researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute, reveals the despite all the pledges to reduce fossil fuel emissions, many countries are planning to produce twice as much oil, gas and coal through 2030 than the limit required to keep global warming to 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels.

The report looked at future mining and drilling plans in 15 major fossil fuel producing countries, including the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada, China, India and Norway. By 2030, the report found, the world’s nations are planning to produce 240% more coal, 57% more oil and 71% more natural gas than would be necessary to limit warming to 1.5C.

“The world’s governments must step up, taking rapid and immediate steps to close the fossil fuel production gap and ensure a just and equitable transition,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

Even as countries like China and the US are expecting to cut back on coal extraction in the decades ahead, that would be offset by plans for new mining in Australia, India and Russia.

Oil and gas producers in the US, the report found, are expected to increase productivity until 2030. The Biden administration has vowed to pause and reform leasing programs for oil and gas drilling on federal lands, but such efforts are in litigation. (And see above.)

The world is currently experiencing a severe energy crunch, with Europe, Asia and Latin America all seeking additional supplies of natural gas to supplant their renewable power. The IEA warned that nations need to significantly increase their investment in clean energy to overcome these problems, but the disruptions lead to calls for more fossil fuel production. China’s government, for example, recently ordered coal companies to increase their mining output to address an electricity shortage that has led to rolling blackouts nationwide.

The report notes that over half of fossil fuel production worldwide is run by state-owned companies, which are often insulated from market pressures and can be legally required to maintain production to maintain tax revenues. But even countries that depend on private companies to mine for coal or drill for oil often subsidize operations which keeps fossil fuel output artificially high.

To address these challenges, the new report calls for closer international coordination “to ensure that declines in fossil fuel production are distributed as equitably as possible, while minimizing the risks of disruption.”

John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, denounced measures taken by governments that artificially lower the price of coal, oil or gas. Speaking at the summit, Kerry called for rapidly phasing out the subsidies. The U.N. Development Program recently calculated that the world spends $423 billion each year to subsidize oil, gas and coal, about four times the amount needed to help poor countries address climate change. “That’s a definition of insanity,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that underwriting oil, gas and coal allows governments “to feed the problem we’re here to cure. It doesn’t make sense.”

Tina Stege, the climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, a South Pacific nation threatened by rising sea levels, said, “Fossil fuel subsidies are paying for our own destruction.”

New York State's Climate Action Council Co-Chairs, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority President and CEO Doreen Harris, announced that the Council has reached a milestone toward the goals of NY's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

The Council's seven advisory panels, Transportation, Agriculture and Forestry, Land Use and Local Government, Power Generation, Energy Efficiency and Housing, Energy Intensive and Trade Exposed Industries, and Waste have, along with the Just Transition Working Group, submitted their recommendations for the Council to consider in the development of the draft Scoping Plan that will guide progress toward the Climate Act's goals to significantly reduce GHG emissions, ramp up renewable energy development, and help the State reach carbon neutrality economy-wide by 2050.

The draft Scoping Plan will be released for public comment and the subject of six public hearings in 2022. In addition, State agencies are meeting other requirements of the Climate Act, including:

-releasing the Value of Carbon guidance to aid State agencies estimate the value of reducing carbon and other GHG emissions in decision-making;

-finalizing regulations to reduce GHG emissions statewide including reductions of GHGs 40% by 2030, and 85% by 2050;

-adopting regulations to strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and ensure that benefits go to disadvantaged communities;

-Finalizing regulations to significantly reduce potent hydrofluorocarbon substances, and emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds; and,

-Expanding the State's landmark Clean Energy Standard to increase renewable energy use in NY from 50% to 70% by 2030 and of offshore wind from 2,400 MW by 2030 to 9,000 MW by 2035.

Also, in NYS, 68.9% of the voters passed the Green Amendment thereby amending the State Constitution to state in Section 19, Article 1: “Environmental rights. Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” Congratulations!

Washington:

In a major push to reduce methane emissions, in addition to the 70-country deal Biden achieved in Glasgow, EPA will publish proposed regulations to reduce methane emissions. The regulations should have broad application, cover low and marginal producers and include frequent monitoring.

An additional effort to reduce methane emissions may appear in the reconciliation package in the form of a “methane fee.” Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va. has opposed this tact and Democrats are unlikely to gain any Republican support, so his vote is crucial.

Advocates of climate action are looking to replace the failure of the proposed $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program that would have paid power companies to switch to renewable energy sources and fined utilities that moved too slowly away from fossil fuels.

But Republicans in Congress said Biden’s promises in Glasgow would hurt Americans at home. “The president wants to kill abundant and affordable U.S. energy sources like oil, natural gas and coal that Americans depend on,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, said. He called the White House plans “a recipe for disaster” that would lead to a shortage of affordable energy.

The oil and gas industry is united against a separate effort in Congress to impose a fee on methane leaks from oil and gas wells as part of a broader budget bill. The methane fee is designed both to raise revenue and to lower GHG pollution. Experts said that the double-pronged approach was necessary to shut down methane emissions.

The proposed regulations will create a monitoring program under which companies will be required to find and fix methane leaks (“fugitive emissions”) at new and existing well sites and compressor stations. The regulations would limit the methane coming from about one million oil and gas rigs across the US.

Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the technology to reduce methane emissions exists. Operators can install vapor recovery systems in storage tanks, make sure pressure relief valves don’t get stuck open and replace leaking pipes. “This is not about rocket science,” Mr. Brownstein said. “This is auto mechanics.”

“It’s going to be next to impossible to remove enough carbon dioxide to get any real benefits for the climate in the first half of the century,” Drew Shindell, a professor of earth science at Duke University, said. “But if we can make a big enough cut in methane in the next decade, we’ll see public health benefits within the decade, and climate benefits within two decades.”

The views expressed above are my own.
Carl Howard, Co-chair, Global Climate Change Committee

Follow me on Twitter: @HowardCarl

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