Welcome to Forge the Future, your weekly guide to all things climate. This week is the start of the COP25 Climate Conference in Madrid, where delegates are thrashing out some of the final parts of the Paris Agreement (see this weeks’ Long Reads for more on the importance of that). Here in the UK, election fever is building, and things are getting dirtier by the day. Boris Johnson refused to attend last week’s leaders’ climate debate, and after the broadcaster replaced him with an ice sculpture, the Conservative party have threatened to review their broadcast licence.
In more constructive news, the European Parliament declared a climate emergency, with sweeping changes suggested across the board. It comes just as the UNEP released their annual Emissions Gap Report, highlighting just how big a gap we face between current policies, commitments and what’s needed to stay under 1.5-2°C of global warming.
State of the Climate
CO2 levels this week: 410.71 ppm
This time last year: 408.42 ppm
A group of leading scientists have warned that more than half of the major climate tipping points identified a decade ago may now be active, committing the world to large amounts of irreversible change. Reducing emissions will not stop the changes, but may slow them enough that we have enough time to cope with the effects. A study by Oxfam suggests that people are now 3 times more likely to be displaced by cyclones, floods, fires and other natural disasters than by conflicts, with low-lying island nations the hardest hit.
East Africa has been heavily hit by rains, with over 70 people killed by floods and landslides over the past month and a half. The area was already hard hit by severe drought earlier in the year, and now has the opposite problem. Aside from the immediate effects, there will likely be agricultural consequences, as much of the region’s farming relies on rainwater. In South America, a new study links increased melting in the Andes with Amazon forest fires - the fires produce soot that darkens the surface of glaciers, increasing the rate of melting.
Visualisation of the Week
This week’s visualisation comes from CarbonBrief’s coverage of the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, and highlights the massive gap between current policies, the Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) agreed as part of the Paris Agreement, and where CO2 levels need to be to stay under 1.5°C of global warming. It’s pleasing to see that we are starting to pull things back - the chances of the worst case scenarios have decreased - but we still have an enormous way to go.
Public good versus Private Profit
I wanted to talk this week about an area that’s been on my mind a fair bit of late - that of public good versus private profit, as it relates to the environment. This week saw the launch of an IBM weather system that for the first time extends accurate, high resolution weather forecasting to the entire globe. It’s an impressive feat, and will allow people in Africa and across Asia to access far more accurate weather predictions than they could previously. In the US, the NOAA, traditionally a provider of vast amounts of environmental data, is now grappling with how to deal with businesses that aside from building on that raw data, are now producing data of their own that is of better quality. Many of these companies are providing services that are leaps and bounds ahead of public sector government equivalents. Some are even giving some of their information away without charge.
This leads to a clear dilemma - private organisations are often more effective than the public sector in building cutting edge services and moving with the times, but ultimately, they are motivated by profit. Where do we draw the line between the two? Many working in entrepreneurial roles in the climate sector are extremely well-intentioned, and may give away as much as they can for the public good, but ultimately, there’s nothing that binds them to that. There’s nothing stopping a new owner stepping in tomorrow and pulling the plug. If those services are a vital public good, that is problematic.
Is there any place in between the two extremes though? Is there a way to run a business, to take advantage of the forcing power of the market economy in which we live, but whilst ensuring vital services remain open to all, regardless of future changes in situation? Perhaps, if we are rebuilding the world in a greener way, there’s a way to make business less selfish. What does that look like? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly open to suggestions.
US vs the Climate
John Kerry has launched a star-studded bipartisan climate coalition, including past presidents, movie stars and climate activists. It’s a promising movement, but it’s too early to say whether it will prove successful in moving the needle on climate in the US.
Michael Bloomberg has recently announced a late run for the presidency. Bloomberg has been well-known for his climate philanthropy, and has expressed interest in running on a climate-first platform.
The US Midwest has been hit hard by floods this year, with heavy rains in spring delaying planting, and later rains destroying crops before harvest. There are no food shortages yet, but many farmers are starting to struggle to stay afloat economically.
Once again, FEMA is being called out for prioritising the mainland US over Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands for disaster relief - around 400 projects have been funded across the latter two, versus 3700 in each of Florida and Texas.
New Jersey has signed up to build 7.5GW of offshore wind by 2035, up from previous targets of 3.5GW by 2030. The new target will mean half of the state’s power will come from wind, and follows a wider boom in offshore wind in the US, after a slow start.
LA has unveiled an ambitious plan to move away from cars, shifting 20% of single occupancy trips to public transportation by 2028, along with ensuring that the majority of new car sales are electric.
Dominion Energy in Virginia are facing a backlash from customers after trying to sell coal power in a 100% renewable energy package.
The European Parliament has declared a climate emergency, saying the EU should cut emissions by 55% by 2030. It also calls for reductions in emissions from global shipping and aviation, with the former potentially brought under the EU ETS. It also calls on European countries to phase out all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies by 2020.
The amount of global electricity produced from coal is likely to fall by 3% this year, the largest ever drop on record, and only the third drop ever. Average operating hours for coal plants is also falling, meaning plant operators are finding it harder and harder to stay in business.
India’s supreme court has declared that state governments must pay their citizens if they cannot provide clean air and water. This is the latest in the court’s numerous attempts to tackle pollution in the country - they tried to stop crop burning to mitigate air pollution, but that has been largely ignored.
A new study comparing aviation to train use on the London-Paris route has shown that the Eurostar high-speed rail link has almost halved air travel on the same route over the last 25 years.
Audi is cutting around 15% of its workforce to improve earnings as it shifts to an electrified lineup. The company expects to have 30 electrified models by 2025.
Western Australia is running into issues as household solar capacity is getting too high, putting pressure on baseload power stations. The issue is that the grid itself is not designed to accommodate the new types of power generation, and cannot adapt to the large changing supply from solar. A similar story is unfolding in Wales, where Carmarthenshire is struggling to build renewables due to lack of grid capacity.
Sweden is booming for on-shore wind - capacity is expected to double in the next 3 years, thanks to ideal geographic conditions and supportive policy conditions.
IKEA is investing €200m to try and become ‘climate positive’ by 2030, improving their use of renewable energy as well as working on reforestation schemes and better forest management.
Jair Bolsonaro is claiming Leonardo DiCaprio has been bankrolling the Amazon rainforest fires. I… don’t even know what to say.
India is one of the nations hit hardest by climate change, with both severe droughts and flooding, and that’s likely to get worse still as time goes on.
CarbonBrief dives into ‘Article 6’ of the Paris Agreement - one of the few parts that has yet to be finalised, and one that could make or break the agreement. It’s set to be negotiated this week at COP25.
Climate Change is forcing ski resorts to turn to snow machines to provide slopes as the weather becomes more uncertain, but with a significant environmental impact, is this just making the problem worse?
The End Times
That’s all I have for you this week. As always, thank you for reading, and give yourself a pat on the back if you made it all the way to the end! If you’ve any feedback or suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them (you can reach me at email@example.com), and if you feel like sharing this, I’d massively appreciate it! See you next week,