FtF News #144 – 23rd March 2022
Europe speeding away from fossil fuels, Brexiters pushing back on climate action, and climate watercolours
Hello, and welcome to Forge the Future, your weekly rundown of the latest climate news.
I’m back after a very pleasant week off skiing in the French Alps. It’s not the most eco-friendly of trips, but skiing is a long-held passion of mine, so it was great to be able to hit the slopes after several years away. I also managed to do the trip entirely by train, and I was surprised how convenient it was versus flying (although it was rather pricey – something I’d really like to see change in the future). It’s certainly made me more determined to stick to my resolution on not flying going forward (something which made this recent list of climate-centric lifestyle changes for those in well-off countries).
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
Mozambique was struck by Cyclone Gombe the week before last – a huge storm touted to be one of the worst cyclones that the country has seen in the last 20 years, with winds up to 140mph. The storm has killed about 60 people, and affected as many as 400,000, with thousands of homes damaged or destroyed whilst causing heavy crop damage. Meanwhile Antarctica saw an unexpected heat spike, with temperatures on the eastern ice sheet ranging from 50-90° above normal, baffling and worrying scientists observing the event.
A new study on permafrost peatlands in northern Europe and western Siberia suggests that they may be close to a climate ‘tipping point’. The analysis suggests that even under moderate warming scenarios, 75% of the area may become too wet or too warm, potentially releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide, although the exact impact is uncertain (released carbon dioxide could be offset by vegetation growth). Beyond this tipping point, much of the peatlands are likely to be permanently gone, with unclear consequences for the area and the globe.
European birds are being fundamentally altered by climate change – analysis looked at a host of traits in various species, and found that species are changing size, habits and morphology, and many of these changes are linked to rising temperatures. The picture is complex, and there are many other factors to consider, including urbanisation, pollution, habitat loss and more, but it is concerning nevertheless.
A report by McKinsey suggests that switching to renewables could not only help with emissions but also water use. Most thermal power plants, whether coal, gas or nuclear, use water in the form of steam, and so can put pressure on often scarce water supplies. Meanwhile the principal forms of renewable energy, solar and wind, use no water at all, indicating the need for a wider and more nuanced assessment of energy transition benefits that considers not just emissions but other key environmental factors.
A picture tells a thousand words…
The Verge covered Nicole Kelner’s beautiful watercolours of climate-related concepts and ideas.
Some heavy pictures from the recent floods along Australia’s east coast.
Moving towards a greener and more equitable world
The Right Incentives
The continuing tragedy that is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows no sign of ending, but it does seem to have had one major positive outcome – it has boosted much of Europe into action on the clean energy transition. The UK has announced it will be phasing out Russian oil imports by 2023 (and is exploring the same for gas), whilst the Netherlands and Belgium are both ramping up renewables plans, and Belgium is also looking to extend the life of its nuclear reactors by another decade.
What is most frustrating about these changes is that it shows just how much of decarbonisation is down to political incentives and motivation. Current Paris Agreement NDCs would reduce emissions by just 9% globally by 2030, far short of the level needed to reach net-zero by 2050. However, now that the source of ever convenient coal, gas and oil has proved rather aggressive, suddenly rapid action has become possible on a huge scale – that new Dutch renewables plan calls for a doubling of planned offshore wind capacity by 2030!
Meanwhile, Mumbai has become the first South Asian city to produce a net-zero roadmap, planning to hit the target by 2050, 20 years ahead of India’s overall goal date. The city faces a huge challenge, as while it is India’s richest city, it heavily relies on fossil fuels currently, and also has a large slum-based population who are extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and flooding. Details are fairly minimal at present, but with the estimated cost of unabated climate change sitting at $920bn, it’s clear that Mumbai felt that net-zero was the only reasonable choice.
Events that move the needle in the wrong direction
Some men just want to watch the world burn
With UK households facing their biggest income squeeze since the 1970s thanks to the Ukraine war, UK right-wing politicians are using the time as the perfect opportunity to push back on net-zero plans. Leading figures from the Brexit movement such as Nigel Farage have seen this as their next platform, conflating rising costs of living with the green transition, arguing for everything from restarting fracking to cancelling the net-zero target altogether. A recent investigation by DeSmog found significant links between anti-green politicians, climate deniers and hardline Brexiters, suggesting that we could be in for a repeat of the UK’s exit from the EU, where facts played second fiddle to emotive feelings hijacked by manipulative figures.
Analysis of 31,000 funds in the EU found that those marketing themselves as sustainable under EU rules had very little more green benefit than traditional funds. The researchers looked at levels of ‘green revenue’ – the percentage of sales generated from products that benefit the environment, e.g. producing cleaner water or contributing to climate change mitigation. They found that Sustainable funds (Article 8 of the EU rules) had 3.8% green revenue, versus 3.1% for standard funds (Article 6). The research did note that Article 9 funds (a stricter bracket) generated 15% green revenue, suggesting that perhaps the rules are heading in the right direction, but need tightening up to really have an impact.
Interesting deep-dives into climate-related topics
Bill McKibben authored an excellent essay in the New Yorker recently pushing for the world to stop burning things, full stop. Whilst fossil fuels have helped us develop to where we are now, we need to move away from them, and rapidly, but that’s going to be a tough challenge. Economically, it makes sense to move fast, but there’s a host of challenges ahead, from breaking the oil hegemony to bringing the wider public on side (i.e. giving them a reason to support a cleaner, decarbonised world) to ensuring adequate support for developing nations to grow and adapt to the coming changes.
The New York Times took an in-depth look at the complex and dark realities of life on the ground in and around protected indigenous regions deep in the Brazilian Amazon. The article focuses on the Ituna-Itatá, a preserve created to protect an isolated and uncontacted Indigenous people. However, the agencies responsible for its creation and enforcement are fighting an uphill battle against smallholders and land-grabbers who see the preserve as yet another rule designed to prevent them exploiting the huge wealth of the forest for themselves.
Some quick climate news nuggets to sate your appetite
The US has allocated just $1bn to international climate finance, way short of promised commitments and vastly behind any notion of its fair share.
Corporate emissions target organisation SBTi is to exclude oil and gas companies from its listings, and going forward will not recognise net-zero commitments from the sector.