FtF News #142 – 2nd March 2022
Europe at war, a new IPCC report, and climate change as a universal modifier
Hello, and welcome to Forge the Future, your weekly rundown of the latest climate news.
Well, it’s certainly been quite a week, with the normally massive release of the second part of the IPCC’s Interim Report 6 (focusing on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability) understandably overshadowed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is causing yet more impacts to a country that has already seen so much. If you’re feeling somewhat helpless about the situation there, here’s a good overview of ways to help (UK-focused, but the charity links are relevant wherever you’re based).
I’m struck again by how climate change acts like a universal modifier to everything going on. It is rarely solely responsible for any given event (something climate deniers adore), but it compounds and intensifies wars, droughts, floods… you name it – this week’s Long Read about Syria’s ‘breadbasket’ region is a perfect case in point.
Once again, this week’s issue was ably assisted by Syuan Ruei Chang, who contributed a number of the articles and stories featured this week.
State of the world
Climate research and findings, weather events and studies
It’s one of those weeks for climate research, with unpleasant findings across the spectrum. This week saw Antarctica’s sea ice shrink to the smallest area ever seen, breaking the record set in 2017. In contrast to the Arctic, where sea ice has been on a steady decline, Antarctic ice has shown more irregular patterns due to the more complex interactions between different dynamics, but nevertheless, it too appears to be trending downwards.
The UN has released a report focusing on the growing dangers of wildfires, suggesting that the risk they pose could grow by up to 50% in the coming years, even in milder climate scenarios. It describes a ‘global wildfire crisis’, with huge wildfires sweeping nearly every continent in recent years. Unfortunately, most governments are still behind the curve, with efforts mostly focused on fighting fires once they occur rather than fire management.
New research published in Nature this week found that the global water cycle is intensifying at twice the predicted rate, increasing by up to 7.4%. Broadly, this means that patterns of wet and dry will become more extreme, with rains becoming more intense, and droughts becoming longer and harsher – an effect we’re already seeing play out worldwide.
Finally, floods have hit both Australia and the Amazon. The Aussie weather has been caused by a ‘rain bomb’ weather event that caused a year’s worth of rain to fall in just a couple of days – parts of Brisbane saw over 1.5m of rainfall! Over in Brazil, much of the cities of Jordão and Manaus were flooded following extreme rain, even as major wildfires continue to burn in Argentina’s Ibera Wetlands.
A picture tells a thousand words…
As a counterpart to this week’s Long Read on peatlands in the Congo, here’s a cute exploration of the story and value of peatlands, accompanied by lovely art by Eden Weingart.
Moving towards a greener and more equitable world
Where there’s a will…
The conflict in Ukraine is scary stuff indeed, both in terms of the destruction and horror of the situation on the ground, as well as the wider geopolitical implications. It seems as though this more immediate threat has motivated action on energy in a way that the less focused threat of climate change could not. Germany moved this week to block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a direct gas link with Russia, after the country’s aggressive invasion. It has also accelerated its goal of supplying 100% of its electricity with renewables to 2035, five years earlier than previous planned.
This has been echoed by a wider move in the EU to accelerate existing plans to move away from fossil fuels – the full details are due to be announced later today. The current conflict has driven home just how reliant the EU has become on Russia for both oil and gas, which has made it beholden to an unpredictable petro-state not unwilling to throw its weight around. It is proving a wake-up call for nations across the world about the outsize power that fossil fuel powers have to dictate terms when they control key energy supplies.
A time of reckoning
ESG has been on the rise for the past few years, with investments in the area skyrocketing and new funds popping up left, right and centre. However, there’s also been growing concern about the lack of clear standards for the industry, which has allowed many managers to benefit from the investor excitement without necessarily changing their investments significantly. This concern appears to be coming to a head, with analysis firm Morningstar dropping their sustainability label for 1,200 funds this week, totalling $1tn in managed assets. Meanwhile, lawyers are starting to evaluate what terms like ‘sustainable’ truly imply, and whether funds using such language are essentially mis-selling their products – a serious charge which has many money managers getting cold feet.
Events that move the needle in the wrong direction
We need to do more
The second part of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report has been released, detailing climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. It makes for grim reading, citing the growing ‘irreversible’ impacts of global warming impacting an ever larger portion of the world’s population. It highlights the growing gap between the effects appearing across the globe and the disjointed, slow efforts being made to mitigate and adapt to the changes occurring. In particular, it notes the outsize impact being borne by the Global South, with fifteen times more deaths from extreme weather events in Africa, South Asia, Central and South America than the rest of the world between 2010-20.
The report also notes that though the cost of adaptation and mitigation is steep, it pales in comparison to the costs of doing nothing. For example, to adapt agriculture and food production in sub-Saharan Africa will cost at least $15bn per year, but the damage caused by not acting could top $200bn annually.
“We are so used to talking of climate change in the future tense. All of us need to stop talking of climate change in a future tense. You have to say climate change has happened.”
- Aditi Mukherji, principal researcher at the International Water Management Institute and co-chief author of the IPCC’s chapter on water
Interesting deep-dives into climate-related topics
Our first long read this week looks at a really awesome project run by and for Indigenous peoples in the Middle Juruá in the Amazon. After decades of harassment and aggression from rubber farmers, fishermen, loggers and more, the tribes’ lands were officially recognised and demarcated in 2003. Since then, a number of groups in the area have collaborated to sustainably extract resources like the giant freshwater pirarucu fish, which they manage, selling what they catch to help fund growth and development. In the 11 years in which the scheme has been running, pirarucu stocks have risen an impressive 425%!
Next, we travel to the Congo, where the New York Times explored the complex interplay surrounding the discovery of huge peatlands deep in the rainforest. This discovery is just the latest play in a complex chain of events dating back to colonial times. Locals are cautiously supportive of efforts to protect the peatlands from extraction, but ultimately, they can’t and won’t do it for nothing, and are somewhat resentful of (albeit well-meaning) scientists flying in from the developed world and telling them that they cannot exploit their tiny patch of jungle to try and raise themselves out of poverty.
“As you can see, we have nothing here that pollutes,” he said, gesturing at the houses of clay, bamboo and thatch, some without doors.
“They keep polluting, and ask us to protect the peatlands,” he said. “They must think carefully.”
He began counting nations off on his fingers.
“The British, the French, the Belgians, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Americans,” he said. “They are the polluters. And they are the ones who have to pay.”
Finally, we take a look at Syria’s agricultural heartland, formerly known as the country’s breadbasket, now a dried husk of its former self. The region is suffering from crisis compounding crisis, with a decade of war, a wrecked economy, persistent drought, and water shortages induced by neighbouring nations with little sympathy for the now desperate farmers in the area. Once again, climate change proves a multiplier – it is not solely responsible for the situation, but has undoubtedly amplified the various factors at play.
Some quick climate news nuggets to sate your appetite
Auctions for offshore wind near New York and New Jersey have attracted record bids for the US.
China’s relentless expansion of solar is set to continue, with the country expected to install 75-90GW in 2022, versus nearly 55GW last year.
Research suggests each of the 74,000 annual visitors to the Antarctic is effectively responsible for melting 83 tonnes of snow on the continent.
California has approved a roadmap of policies to tackle microplastics pollution, the first major governmental body to do so.
The latest figures from the IEA say that actual methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are 70% higher than official numbers.