FtF News #150 – 4th May 2022
Indian heatwaves, deforestation and the power of architecting buildings for sustainability
Hello, and welcome to Forge the Future, your weekly rundown of the latest climate news.
It’s once again been a busy week in the climate news sphere – I’m struggling to keep up with the volume of news pouring in, especially trying to balance FtF and attending a climate accelerator. The mix of the two environments is at times jarring – the news sphere bringing home the ever-mounting urgency of the climate crisis, contrasting with the energy and optimism of the accelerator environment. I think the mix of urgency and optimism is perhaps necessary to properly effect change – it’s so easy to end up lacking one or the other.
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
NW India and Pakistan are sweltering right now, suffering under an intense and long-running heatwave that is heading into its third month. Whilst the region is known for high temperatures, normally they fall later into the year, but this year has seen the heatwave arrive early and not shift. Temperatures have already reached 48°C, and forecasts suggest they could top 50°C in the coming weeks. The Indian Meteorological Department said that March 2022 was the hottest March the country has ever seen, averaging 33.1°C.
Yet more evidence came in this week of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. First up, a study suggests that failing to limit warming to 2°C could wipe out the majority of ocean life, but if we manage to keep temperatures within limits, the damage would be reduced by more than 70%. Another study comprehensively catalogued threats to the biodiversity of reptiles for the first time, finding that up to 20% of species face extinction from a variety of causes, including logging, farming and more. For better or worse, the threats facing reptiles mirror those facing other animal groups, meaning that at least measures to save them will also benefit reptiles.
The UNCCD has released its latest Land Report, and as always, Carbon Brief has a thorough summary. The report focuses on land degradation and its implications for climate, food systems and biodiversity. The news is not great – 80% of deforestation and 29% of global emissions are driven by food systems. However, changing to a plant based diet could help reduce this impact, and protecting and restoring ecosystems could be key to keeping the planet within safe temperature bounds. Another key takeaway is that, once again, land degradation will have an outsize impact on marginalised communities – but conversely these same communities are vital for ecosystem protection and restoration.
A picture tells a thousand words…
Keeping to the deforestation theme is this excellent interactive NatGeo article showing forest degradation and loss across the world.
Moving towards a greener and more equitable world
The EU continues to lead the way when it comes to environmental policy, unveiling a roadmap to use existing laws to ban a vast array of chemicals linked to cancers, hormone disruption, obesity, diabetes and much more. The legislation would tackle up to 12,000 substances, and has been hailed as the world’s ‘largest ever ban of toxic chemicals’. Naturally, industry is pushing back, claiming it will harm consumer choice and product effectiveness. Others are warning that there’s a danger of ‘regrettable substitution’, where industry simply swaps a banned chemicals for a similarly harmful (but not banned) substance. Even given this risk, it’s a big step forward, especially as the size of the EU will inevitably cause the repercussions to ripple out globally.
The US Department of Energy has officially signalled the end of the incandescent lightbulb in the country, with a full ban coming in July 2023. The regulation stipulates new bulbs must produce at least 45 lumens per watt, pushing lightbulb technology firmly to LEDs. The DoE estimates the change will save the average household $100 per year, totalling some $3bn across the US.
Events that move the needle in the wrong direction
New analysis from S&P Ratings suggests that by 2050, low and lower-middle income nations will be around four times more exposed to climate risks than wealthier countries. Equatorial countries and small island nations are particularly at risk, as they tend to have poorer, less diversified economies and weaker institutions. It once again drives home the enormous need for more and better climate finance for developing nations.
On that note, the IMF have once again failed to come through with significant relief for poorer countries, many of whom are struggling under huge debt burdens. The IMF recently unveiled the Resilience and Sustainability Trust, which was designed to funnel more money to these countries. However, due to its design it ends up essentially tying the money to paying down existing debt rather than actually addressing the issues these nations are currently struggling with. International climate finance is a thorny issue, but the system is currently very much biased towards wealthier nations.
It’s looking increasingly likely that Joe Manchin won’t agree to any concessions that the White House might make on the massive bill currently stalled in the US legislative process. After months of back-and-forth, insiders suggest that the chances of agreement are looking increasingly slim. Given that Democrats are slipping in polls, there’s a good chance that the GOP will regain a majority in one or both houses in the midterms, which would likely kill the bill for good.
As a result, Joe Biden’s vaunted climate ambitions are looking less and less likely. Of course, it’s not just one bill that has stalled US climate progress – the war in Ukraine (and related fuel price crisis) has complicated matters, and the ongoing case in the Supreme Court over the EPA’s jurisdiction on power plant emissions could further limit action. Biden could play hardball and use his executive authority to push through bills, but given his history and methods, that seems unlikely.
Interesting deep-dives into climate-related topics
Buildings play a huge part not only in generating emissions but also mitigating them, as well as adapting to the changes in weather that come with a warming world. Bloomberg interviewed Burkinabè architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, who recently won the esteemed Pritzker prize, about how he weaves sustainability and climate adaptation into every design he makes. He also talks about the differing dynamics of designing for African nations, the power of local materials, and much more. A fascinating read!
Whilst solar and wind farms are now a well established part of the renewables landscape, perhaps less well known are ‘hybrid’ plants. These can consist of many mixes of technologies, but dominating of late are solar and battery hybrids, which enable operators to balance out the inherent variability of the sun. However, adding in batteries changes the dynamics of these systems, and due to their newness, rules are still evolving, making planning such systems complex at times. However, due to their increased flexibility, such hybrids are rapidly becoming the new norm in many areas.
Some quick climate news nuggets to sate your appetite
The US has earmarked $500m for what could be the world’s largest clean hydrogen hub, outputting over 300GWh of clean energy per year.
California’s Attorney General has opened an investigation into the deception of the fossil fuel industry around the viability of plastics recycling.
Texas now has 34% of electricity generation coming from wind and solar, with solar installations more than doubling last year.
Apple has launched ‘Self Service Repair’, and is likely to be joined by other tech giants as companies reluctantly shift closer to a repair-first model.