Making water the engine for climate action

Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity  for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.

Meike van Ginneken, Water Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.

Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.  

Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.

First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.

In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.  

Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.

Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.

To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.

One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action. 



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Climate action or distraction? Sweeping COP pledges won’t touch fossil fuel use

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A torrent of pollution-slashing pledges from governments and major oil companies sparked cries of “greenwashing” on Saturday, even before world leaders had boarded their flights home from this year’s global climate conference.  

After leaders wrapped two days of speeches filled with high-flying rhetoric and impassioned pleas for action, the Emirati presidency of the COP28 climate talks unleashed a series of initiatives aimed at cleaning up the world’s energy sector, the largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

The announcement, made at an hours-long event Saturday afternoon featuring U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, contained two main planks — a pledge by oil and gas companies to reduce emissions, and a commitment by 118 countries to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double energy savings efforts. 

It was, on its face, an impressive and ambitious reveal. 

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, the oil executive helming the talks, crowed that the package “aligns more countries and companies around the North Star of keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach than ever before,” referring to the Paris Agreement target for limiting global warming. 

But many climate-vulnerable countries and non-government groups instantly cast an arched eyebrow toward the whole endeavor.

“The rapid acceleration of clean energy is needed, and we’ve called for the tripling of renewables. But it is only half the solution,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands. “The pledge can’t greenwash countries that are simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production.” 

Carroll Muffett, president of the nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law, said: “The only way to ‘decarbonize’ carbon-based oil and gas is to stop producing it. … Anything short of this is just more industry greenwash.”

The divided reaction illustrates the fine line negotiators are trying to walk. The European Union has campaigned for months to win converts to the pledge on renewables and energy efficiency the U.S. and others signed up to on Saturday, even offering €2.3 billion to help. And the COP28 presidency has been on board. 

But Brussels, in theory, also wants these efforts to go hand in hand with a fossil fuel phaseout — a tough proposition for countries pulling in millions from the sector. The EU rhetoric often goes slightly beyond the U.S., even though the two allies officially support the end of “unabated” fossil fuel use, language that leaves the door open for continued oil and gas use as long as the emissions are captured — though such technology remains largely unproven.

Von der Leyen was seen trying to thread that needle on Saturday. She omitted fossil fuels altogether from her speech to leaders before slipping in a mention in a press release published hours later: “We are united by our common belief that to respect the 1.5°C goal … we need to phase out fossil fuels.” 

Harris on Saturday said the world “cannot afford to be incremental. We need transformative change and exponential impact.” 

But she did not mention phasing out fossil fuels in her speech, either. The U.S., the world’s top oil producer, has not made the goal a central pillar of its COP28 strategy. 

Flurry of pledges  

The EU and the UAE said 118 countries had signed up to the global energy goals.

The new fossil fuels agreement has been branded the “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter” and earned the signatures of 50 companies. The COP28 presidency said it had “launched” the deal with Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest oil exporter and one of the main obstacles to progress on international climate action.

Among the signatories was Saudi state energy company, Aramco, the world’s biggest energy firm — and second-biggest company of any sort, by revenue. Other global giants like ExxonMobil, Shell and TotalEnergies also signed.

They have committed to eliminate methane emissions by 2030, to end the routine flaring of gas by the same date, and to achieve net-zero emissions from their production operations by 2050. Adnan Amin, CEO of COP28, singled out the fact that, among the 50 firms, 29 are national oil companies.  

“That in itself is highly significant because you have not seen national oil companies so evident in these discussions before,” he told reporters.

The COP28 presidency could not disguise its glee at the flurry of announcements from the opening weekend of the conference.

“It already feels like an awful lot that we have delivered, but I am proud to say that this is just the beginning,” Majid al-Suwaidi, the COP28 director general, told reporters. 

Fred Krupp, president of the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund, predicted: “This will be the single most impactful day I’ve seen at any COP in 30 years in terms of slowing the rate of warming.” 

But other observers said the oil and gas commitments did not go far beyond commitments many companies already make. Research firm Zero Carbon Analytics noted the deal is “voluntary and broadly repeats previous pledges.”

Melanie Robinson, global climate program director at the World Resources Institute, said it was “encouraging that some national oil companies have set methane reduction targets for the first time.” 

But she added: “Most global oil and gas companies already have stringent requirements to cut methane emissions. … This charter is proof that voluntary commitments from the oil and gas industry will never foster the level of ambition necessary to tackle the climate crisis.” 

Some critics theorized that the COP28 presidency had deliberately launched the renewables and energy efficiency targets together with the oil and gas pledge. 

The combination, said David Tong, global industry campaign manager at advocacy group Oil Change International, “appears to be a calculated move to distract from the weakness of this industry pledge.”

The charter, he added, “is a trojan horse for Big Oil and Gas greenwash.” 

Beyond voluntary moves 

A push to speed up the phaseout of coal power garnered less attention — with French President Emmanuel Macron separately unveiling a new initiative and the United States joining a growing alliance of countries pledging to zero out coal emissions.

Macron’s “coal transition accelerator” focuses on ending private financing for coal, helping coal-dependent communities and scaling up clean energy. And Washington’s new commitment confirms its path to end all coal-fired power generation unless the emissions are first captured through technology. U.S. use of coal for power generation has already plummeted in the past decade. 

The U.S. pledge will put pressure on China, the world’s largest consumer and producer of coal, as well as countries like Japan, Turkey and Australia to give up on the high-polluting fuel, said Leo Roberts, program lead on fossil fuel transitions at think tank E3G. 

“It’s symbolic, the world’s biggest economy getting behind the shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. And it’s sending a signal to … others who haven’t made the same commitment,” he said. 

The U.S. also unveiled new restrictions on methane emissions for its oil and gas sector on Saturday — a central plank of the Biden administration’s climate plans — and several leaders called for greater efforts to curb the potent greenhouse gas in their speeches. 

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a “global methane agreement” at COP28, warning that voluntary efforts hadn’t worked out. Von der Leyen, meanwhile, urged negotiators to enshrine the renewables and energy efficiency targets in the final summit text. 

Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, warned delegates not to get distracted by nonbinding pledges. 

“We need to remember COP28 is not a trade show and a press conference,” he cautioned. “The talks are why we are here and getting an agreed fossil fuel phaseout date remains the biggest step countries need to take here in Dubai over the remaining days of the summit.”

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting.



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Kamala Harris at climate summit: World must ‘fight’ those stalling action

DUBAI — The vast, global efforts to arrest rising temperatures are imperiled and must accelerate, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told the world climate summit on Saturday. 

“We must do more,” she implored an audience of world leaders at the COP28 climate talks in Dubai. And the headwinds are only growing, she warned.

“Continued progress will not be possible without a fight,” she told the gathering, which has drawn more than 100,000 people to this Gulf oil metropolis. “Around the world, there are those who seek to slow or stop our progress. Leaders who deny climate science, delay climate action and spread misinformation. Corporations that greenwash their climate inaction and lobby for billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies.” 

Her remarks — less than a year before an election that could return Donald Trump to the White House — challenged leaders to cooperate and spend more to keep the goal of containing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. So far, the planet has warmed about 1.3 degrees since preindustrial times.

“Our action collectively, or worse, our inaction will impact billions of people for decades to come,” Harris said.

The vice president, who frequently warns about climate change threats in speeches and interviews, is the highest-ranking face of the Biden White House at the Dubai negotiations.

She used her conference platform to push that image, announcing several new U.S. climate initiatives, including a record-setting $3 billion pledge for the so-called Green Climate Fund, which aims to help countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. The commitment echoes an identical pledge Barack Obama made in 2014 — of which only $1 billion was delivered. The U.S. Treasury Department later specified that the updated commitment was “subject to the availability of funds.”

Meanwhile, back in D.C., the Biden administration strategically timed the release of new rules to crack down on planet-warming methane emissions from the oil and gas sector — a significant milestone in its plan to prevent climate catastrophe.

The trip allows Harris to bolster her credentials on a policy issue critical to the young voters key to President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign — and potentially to a future Harris White House run. 

“Given her knowledge base with the issue, her passion for the issue, it strikes me as a smart move for her to broaden that message out to the international audience,” said Roger Salazar, a California political strategist and former aide to then-Vice President Al Gore, a lifetime climate campaigner. 

Yet sending Harris also presents political peril. 

Biden has taken flak from critics for not attending the talks himself after representing the United States at the last two U.N. climate summits since taking office. And climate advocates have questioned the Biden administration’s embrace of the summit’s leader, Sultan al-Jaber, given he also runs the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned oil giant. John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, has argued the partnership can help bring fossil fuel megaliths to the table.

Harris has been on a climate policy roadshow in recent months, discussing the issue during a series of interviews at universities and other venues packed with young people and environmental advocates. The administration said it views Harris — a former California senator and attorney general — as an effective spokesperson on climate. 

“The vice president’s leadership on climate goes back to when she was the district attorney of San Francisco, as she established one of the first environmental justice units in the nation,” a senior administration official told reporters on a call previewing her trip. 

Joining Harris in Dubai are Kerry, White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi and John Podesta, who’s leading the White House effort to implement Biden’s signature climate law. 

Biden officials are leaning on that climate law — dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act — to prove the U.S. is doing its part to slash global emissions. Yet climate activists remain skeptical, chiding Biden for separately approving a series of fossil fuel projects, including an oil drilling initiative in Alaska and an Appalachian natural gas pipeline.

Similarly, the Biden administration’s opening COP28 pledge of $17.5 million for a new international climate aid fund frustrated advocates for developing nations combating climate threats. The figure lagged well behind other allies, several of whom committed $100 million or more.

Nonetheless, Harris called for aggressive action in her speech, which was followed by a session with other officials on renewable energy. The vice president committed the U.S. to doubling its energy efficiency and tripling its renewable energy capacity by 2030, joining a growing list of countries. The U.S. also said Saturday it was joining a global alliance dedicated to divorcing the world from coal-based energy. 

Like other world leaders, Harris also used her trip to conduct a whirlwind of diplomacy over the war between Israel and Hamas, which has flared back up after a brief truce.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Harris would be meeting with “regional leaders” to discuss “our desire to see this pause restored, our desire to see aid getting back in, our desire to see hostages get out.”

The war has intruded into the proceedings at the climate summit, with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas both skipping their scheduled speaking slots on Friday. Iran’s delegation also walked out of the summit, objecting to Israel’s presence.

Kirby said Harris will convey “that we believe the Palestinian people need a vote and a voice in their future, and then they need governance in Gaza that will look after their aspirations and their needs.”

Although Biden won’t be going to Dubai, the administration said these climate talks are “especially” vital, given countries will decide how to respond to a U.N. assessment that found the world’s climate efforts are falling short. 

“This is why the president has made climate a keystone of his administration’s foreign policy agenda,” the senior administration official said.

Robin Bravender reported from Washington, D.C. Zia Weise and Charlie Cooper reported from Dubai. 

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.



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The state of the planet in 10 numbers

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM.

The COP28 climate summit comes at a critical moment for the planet. 

A summer that toppled heat records left a trail of disasters around the globe. The world may be just six years away from breaching the Paris Agreement’s temperature target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, setting the stage for much worse calamities to come. And governments are cutting their greenhouse gas pollution far too slowly to head off the problem — and haven’t coughed up the billions of dollars they promised to help poorer countries cope with the damage.

This year’s summit, which starts on Nov. 30 in Dubai, will conclude the first assessment of what countries have achieved since signing the Paris accord in 2015. 

The forgone conclusion: They’ve made some progress. But not enough. The real question is what they do in response.

To help understand the stakes, here’s a snapshot of the state of the planet — and global climate efforts — in 10 numbers. 

1.3 degrees Celsius

Global warming since the preindustrial era  

Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been driving global temperatures skyward since the 19th century, when the industrial revolution and the mass burning of fossil fuels began to affect the Earth’s climate. The world has already warmed by about 1.3 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of that warming has occurred since the 1970s. In the last 50 years, research suggests, global temperatures have risen at their fastest rate in at least 2,000 years.  

This past October concluded the Earth’s hottest 12-month span on record, a recent analysis found. And 2023 is virtually certain to be the hottest calendar year ever observed. It’s continuing a string of recent record-breakers — the world’s five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015. 

Allowing warming to pass 2 degrees Celsius would tip the world into catastrophic changes, scientists have warned, including life-threatening heat extremes, worsening storms and wildfires, crop failures, accelerating sea level rise and existential threats to some coastal communities and small island nations. Eight years ago in Paris, nearly every nation on Earth agreed to strive to keep temperatures well below that threshold, and under a more ambitious 1.5-degree threshold if at all possible. 

But with just fractions of a degree to go, that target is swiftly approaching — and many experts say it’s already all but out of reach.

$4.3 trillion  

Global economic losses from climate disasters since 1970  

Climate-related disasters are worsening as temperatures rise. Heat waves are intensifying, tropical cyclones are strengthening, floods and droughts are growing more severe and wildfires are blazing bigger. Record-setting events struck all over the planet this year, a harbinger of new extremes to come. Scientists say such events will only accelerate as the world warms. 

Nearly 12,000 weather, climate and water-related disasters struck worldwide over the last five decades, the World Meteorological Organization reports. They’ve caused trillions of dollars in damage, and they’ve killed more than 2 million people.  

Ninety percent of these deaths have occurred in developing countries. Compared with wealthier nations, these countries have historically contributed little to the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming – yet they disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change.  

4.4 millimeters  

Annual rate of sea level rise

Global sea levels are rapidly rising as the ice sheets melt and the oceans warm and expand. Scientists estimate that they’re now rising by about 4.4 millimeters, or about 0.17 inches, each year – and that rate is accelerating, increasing by about 1 millimeter every decade.

Those sound like small numbers. They’re not.  

The world’s ice sheets and glaciers are losing a whopping 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year. Those losses are also speeding up, accelerating by at least 57 percent since the 1990s. Future sea level rise mainly depends on future ice melt, which depends on future greenhouse gas emissions. With extreme warming, global sea levels will likely rise as much as 3 feet by the end of this century, enough to swamp many coastal communities, threaten freshwater supplies and submerge some small island nations.  

Some places are more vulnerable than others. 

“Low-lying islands in the Pacific are on the frontlines of the fight against sea level rise,” said NASA sea level expert Benjamin Hamlington. “In the U.S., the Southeast and Gulf Coasts are experiencing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world and have very high future projections of sea level.”  

But in the long run, he added, “almost every coastline around the world is going to experience sea level rise and will feel impacts.”

Less than 6 years

When the world could breach the 1.5-degree threshold

The world is swiftly running out of time to meet its most ambitious international climate target: keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Humans can emit only another 250 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and maintain at least even odds of meeting that goal, scientists say. 

That pollution threshold could arrive in as little as six years.

That’s the bottom line from at least two recent studies, one published in June and one in October. Humans are pouring about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, with each ton eating into the margin of error.  

The size of that carbon buffer is smaller than previous estimates have suggested, indicating that time is running out even faster than expected.  

“While our research shows it is still physically possible for the world to remain below 1.5C, it’s difficult to see how that will stay the case for long,” said Robin Lamboll, a scientist at Imperial College London and lead author of the most recent study. “Unfortunately, net-zero dates for this target are rapidly approaching, without any sign that we are meeting them.”

43 percent 

How much greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 2030 to hit the temperature target

The world would have to undergo a stark transformation during this decade to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement’s ambitious 1.5-degree cap. 

In a nutshell, global greenhouse gas emissions have to fall 43 percent by 2030, and 60 percent by 2035, before reaching net-zero by mid-century, according to a U.N. report published in September on the progress the world has made since signing the Paris Agreement. That would give the world a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. 

But based on the climate pledges that countries have made to date, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to fall by just 2 percent this decade, according to a U.N. assessment published this month

Governments are “taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis,” U.N. climate chief Simon Stiell said in a statement this month. “This means COP28 must be a clear turning point.” 

$1 trillion a year 

Climate funding needs of developing countries

In many ways, U.N. climate summits are all about finance. Cutting industries’ carbon pollution, protecting communities from extreme weather, rebuilding after climate disasters — it all costs money. And developing countries, in particular, don’t have enough of it. 

As financing needs grow, pressure is mounting on richer nations such as the U.S. that have produced the bulk of planet-warming emissions to help developing countries cut their own pollution and adapt to a warmer world. They also face growing calls to pay for the destruction wrought by climate change, known as loss and damage in U.N.-speak. 

But the flow of money from rich to poor countries has slowed. In October, a pledging conference to replenish the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund raised only $9.3 billion, even less than the $10 billion that countries had promised last time. An overdue promise by developed countries to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to rising temperatures was “likely” met last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said this month, while warning that adaptation finance had fallen by 14 percent in 2021. 

As a result, the gap between what developing countries need and how much money is flowing in their direction is growing. The OECD report said developing countries will need around $1 trillion a year for climate investments by 2025, “rising to roughly $2.4 trillion each year between 2026 and 2030.”

$7 trillion 

Worldwide fossil fuel subsidies in 2022

In stark contrast to the trickle of climate finance, fossil fuel subsidies have surged in recent years. In 2022, total spending on subsidies for oil, natural gas and coal reached a record $7 trillion, the International Monetary Fund said in August. That’s $2 trillion more than in 2020. 

Explicit subsidies — direct government support to reduce energy prices — more than doubled since 2020, to $1.3 trillion. But the majority of subsidies are implicit, representing the fact that governments don’t require fossil fuel companies to pay for the health and environmental damage that their products inflict on society. 

At the same time, countries continue pumping public and private money into fossil fuel production. This month, a U.N. report found that governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the 1.5-degree target. 

66,000 square kilometers

Gross deforestation worldwide in 2022

At the COP26 climate summit two years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, nations committed to halting global deforestation by 2030. A total of 145 countries have signed the Glasgow Forest Declaration, representing more than 90 percent of global forest cover. 

Yet global action is still falling short of that target. The annual Forest Declaration Assessment, produced by a collection of research and civil society organizations, estimated that the world lost 66,000 square kilometers of forest last year, or about 25,000 square miles — a swath of territory slightly larger than West Virginia or Lithuania. Most of that loss came from tropical forests. 

Halting deforestation is a critical component of global climate action. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that collective contributions from agriculture, forestry and land use compose as much as 21 percent of global human-caused carbon emissions. Deforestation releases large volumes of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, and recent research suggests that carbon losses from tropical forests may have doubled since the early 2000s.  

Almost 1 billion tons

The annual carbon dioxide removal gap 

Given the world’s slow pace in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, scientists say a second approach is essential for slowing the Earth’s warming — removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The technology for doing this is largely untested at scale, and won’t be cheap.  

A landmark report on carbon dioxide removals led by the University of Oxford earlier this year found that keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less would require countries to collectively remove an additional 0.96 billion tons of CO2-equivalent a year by 2030.

About 2 billion tons are now removed every year, but that is largely achieved through the natural absorption capacity of forests. 

Removing even more carbon will require countries to massively scale up carbon removal technologies, given the limited capacity of forests to absorb more carbon dioxide. 

Carbon removal technologies are in the spotlight at COP28, though some countries and companies want to use them to meet net-zero while continuing to burn fossil fuels. Scientists have been clear that carbon removal cannot be a substitute for steep emissions cuts. 

1,000 gigawatts 

Annual growth in renewable power capacity needed to keep 1.5 degrees in reach  

The shift from fossil fuels to renewables is underway, but the transition is still far too slow to meet the Paris Agreement targets. 

To keep 1.5 degrees within reach, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that the world needs to add 1,000 gigawatts in renewable energy capacity every year through 2030. By comparison, the United States’ entire utility-scale electricity-generation capacity was about 1,160 gigawatts last year, according to the Department of Energy.

Last year, countries added about 300 gigawatts, according to the agency’s latest World Energy Transitions Outlook published in June. 

That shortfall has prompted the EU and the climate summit’s host nation, the United Arab Emirates, to campaign for nations to sign up to a target to triple the world’s renewable capacity by 2030 at COP28, a goal also supported by the U.S. and China.

“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable,” International Energy Agency boss Fatih Birol said last month. “It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us.”

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM. The article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.



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PTFE ban: The hidden consumer costs and employment losses

As part of the EU’s landmark Green Deal package, the 2020 Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability called for an ambitious concept: achieving a toxic-free environment by 2030. A central pillar of this ambition is the proposal for a universal PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — restriction, addressing contamination and emissions from the controversial family of substances sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals’.

Action to tackle this family of chemicals is overdue, and European industry is ready to do its part. As the president of the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Houseware Industries (FEC), I welcome the initiative. FEC members pride themselves on providing safe and durable products to consumers, and were early to phase out these problematic substances. Despite this, the current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects, impacts on carbon emissions and circularity.

While many elements of the proposed restriction are well justified, some risk damaging the EU industry’s competitiveness and hindering progress on the green and digital transitions, all while banning substances which are known to be safe. The European authorities need to understand the impacts of the proposal more thoroughly before making decisions which will harm consumers and the European workforce, and perhaps even result in worse environmental outcomes.

The current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts, and take the time to clearly understand the unintended environmental and socioeconomic impacts on every sector.

The PFAS restriction proposal is broad, covering over 10,000 substances, many of which were not considered part of the PFAS family in the past. In an effort to catch all possible problematic chemicals that could be used in the future, the member countries which proposed the restriction have cast a net so wide that it also includes substances which pose no risk. Even the OECD, the source of the broad scope used by the authorities, concedes that its definition is not meant to be used to define the list of chemicals to be regulated.

In addition to the legacy PFAS substances, which have serious concerns for human health and the environment, the proposal also includes fluoropolymers in its scope, which are not mobile in the environment, not toxic and not bioaccumulative — a stark contrast to the controversial PFAS substances at the center of contamination scandals across Europe and around the globe.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety, and unlike legacy PFAS, technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Fluoropolymers are not only safe, their safety is a primary reason for their widespread use. They provide critical functionality in sensitive applications like medical devices, semiconductors and renewable energy technology. They are also used in products we all use in our day-to-day lives, from non-stick cookware to electrical appliances to cars. While in some cases there are alternatives to fluoropolymers, these replacements are often inferior, more expensive, or have even more environmental impact in the long run. Where alternatives aren’t yet identified, companies will need to spend large sums to identify replacements.

In the cookware industry, for example, fluoropolymers provide durable, safe and high-performing non-stick coatings for pots, pans and cooking appliances used by billions of people across Europe and around the globe. Decades of research and development show that not only are these products safe, but their coatings provide the most high-performing, durable and cost-effective solution. Continued research and development of these products is one of the reasons that the European cookware industry is considered a world leader.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety and … technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy. In the cookware industry alone, the restriction could cost up to 14,800 jobs in Europe, reduce the economic contribution of the sector to the GDP by up to €500 million, and result in a major shift of production from Europe to Asia, where the products would be made under much less stringent environmental rules. Consumers will also suffer, with new alternatives costing more and being less durable, requiring more frequent replacement and therefore resulting in a larger environmental impact.

Beyond this, companies that enable the green transition, deliver life-saving medical treatments, and ensure our technology is efficient and powerful will all be required to engage in expensive and possibly fruitless efforts to replace fluoropolymers with new substances. What would be the benefit of these costs and unintended consequences, when fluoropolymers are already known to be safe across their whole lifecycle?

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy.

The scale of the PFAS restriction is unprecedented, but so are the possible unintended consequences. Industry has contributed comprehensive evidence to help fill in the blanks left by the initial proposal, it is now up to the institutions to take this evidence into account. With such a far-reaching initiative, it is essential that the EU institutions and the member countries thoroughly consider the impacts and ensure the final restriction is proportional, preserves European competitiveness and does not undermine the broader strategic objectives set for the coming years.

Founded in 1952, FEC, the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Housewares Industries, represents a strong network of 40 international companies, major national associations and key suppliers spread over Europe, including in Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Our mission is to promote cooperation between members, and to provide expertise and support on economic and technical topics.



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Poland turns toward bets on offshore wind

The development of offshore wind farms in Poland has never before taken place on such a large scale. The PGE Group is the biggest investor in offshore wind farms in the Polish part of the Baltic Sea in terms of wind turbine capacity. As part of its offshore program, the PGE Group is currently implementing three offshore wind farm projects.

Two of them are the offshore wind power plants Baltica 2 and Baltica 3, which comprise the Baltica Offshore Wind Farm with a total capacity of 2.5GW. PGE is implementing this project together with the Danish partner Ørsted. Both phases of the Baltica offshore wind farm have location decisions, environmental decisions, and grid connection agreements with the operator, and have been granted the right to a Contract for Difference (CfD).

As part of its offshore program, the PGE Group is currently implementing three offshore wind farm projects.

Last April, PGE and Ørsted took a major step in the Baltica 2 project. They signed the first of the contracts for the supply of wind turbines. Subsequently, they also signed a contract for the supply of offshore substations in June. Baltica 2 is expected to start producing green energy in 2027, while the entire Baltica Offshore Wind Farm will be completed within this decade.

Independently of the Baltica Offshore Wind Farm, the PGE Group is developing a third project, Baltica 1. Commissioning is scheduled after 2030 and its capacity will be approximately 0.9GW. The project already has a location permit and a connection agreement. In May 2022, wind measurement studies for this project started, followed by environmental studies in autumn 2022. The energy produced by all three farms will supply nearly 5.5 million households in Poland.  This means that more than a third of all Polish households will be provided with energy from wind power.

Baltica 2 is expected to start producing green energy in 2027, while the entire Baltica Offshore Wind Farm will be completed within this decade.

At the same time, the PGE Group has received final decisions on new permits for the construction of artificial islands for five new areas to be developed in the Baltic Sea, which will enable the construction of further offshore wind power plants in the future. The total capacity potential from the new areas provides PGE with more than 3.9GW. Considering the projects currently under development (Baltica 2, Baltica 3 and Baltica 1) with a total capacity of approximately 3.4GW, PGE Capital Group’s offshore wind portfolio may increase to over 7.3GW by 2040.

Offshore wind — a new chapter for the Polish economy

A long-term vision for the development of the Polish offshore wind sector, based on the carefully assessed potential of this technology, will support the development of the energy sector in Poland. The benefits of offshore wind development in Poland should be considered in several aspects — first and foremost, due to their total capacity, offshore wind farms will become a very important new source of clean, green energy for Poland in just a few years.

“Offshore wind energy will make a significant contribution to Poland’s energy mix. The three projects currently under construction by the PGE Group, with a total capacity of almost 3.5GW, will generate electricity for almost 5.5 million households. All the investments planned for the Baltic Sea are crucial for strengthening Poland’s energy security. Regarding the Polish economy, in particular the economy of the entire Pomerania region, the construction of offshore wind farms will provide a strong development stimulus. This is not only about businesses closely related to wind energy, such as companies supplying components for offshore wind power plants. Jobs will also be created by businesses willing to join the development of this new sector and take advantage of the opportunities it brings,” said Wojciech Dąbrowski, president of the management board of PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna S.A.

All the investments planned for the Baltic Sea are crucial for strengthening Poland’s energy security.

The construction of offshore wind farms will ensure Poland’s energy security

The development of offshore wind is also crucial to Poland’s energy security and independence. Thanks to the production of energy from renewable sources, there is no need to import fossil fuels from abroad or rely on dwindling domestic coal resources.

This means that Poland will not be dependent on external fuel suppliers or various international developments. The ability to generate electricity independently contributes to strengthening the country’s energy sovereignty.

Energy, environmental and social benefits

Poland has ambitions and capabilities to become one of the leaders in offshore wind energy development in the Baltic Sea and even in Europe. We have plenty of resources for the development of offshore wind farms because of our favorable geographical location and natural conditions — strong, stable winds and the relatively shallow considerable area of the Baltic Sea, located in the exclusive economic zone. The Baltic Sea has some of the best wind conditions not only in Europe but also in the world, which are comparable to those in the North Sea.

Offshore wind energy is a key element of sustainable development. For Poland, green wind energy means savings, security and energy independence at the same time. Electricity from renewable sources is less expensive than that generated from fossil fuels. By choosing green energy, consumers can save on their electricity bills while at the same time supporting the development of a green energy sector. As a zero-emission energy source, it contributes to achieving climate policy goals and minimizing negative environmental impact. It is a huge step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The creation of an infrastructure for the construction of alternative energy sources with wind farms will ensure the diversification of energy sources.



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Decline, fear and the AfD in Germany

Mathias Döpfner is chairman and CEO of Axel Springer, POLITICO’s parent company.

In Germany today, the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is maintaining a stable 20 percent in opinion polls — coming in two to four points ahead of the ruling center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and running hard on the heels of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

In some federal states, the AfD is already the strongest party. In Thuringia, for example, it has reached 34 percent, meaning the party has three times as many supporters there as the SPD. And in some administrative districts, around half of those eligible to vote are leaning toward the AfD. According to one Forsa survey in June, the AfD is currently the strongest party in the east of Germany — a worrying trend with elections due this year in Bavaria and Hesse, and next year in Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg. And, of course, there are also the European Union elections in 2024.

However, this rapid rise should come as no surprise. The writing has been on the wall for a long time. And more than anything else, the party’s recent advances are a result of an increasing sense among broad swathes of the population that they aren’t being represented by traditional political and media elites.

This disconnect was first accelerated by the refugee crisis of 2015, then increased during the pandemic, and has since escalated in response to the increasing high-handedness of the “woke movement” and climate politics. Just a few weeks ago, a survey by the German Civil Service Association revealed trust in the government’s ability to do its job is at an all-time low, with 69 percent saying it is deeply out of its depth.

Meanwhile, opinion polls show the government fares particularly badly in Germany’s east. A rising number of people — including the otherwise stable but also staid middle classes — now feel enough is enough, and no other party is as good at exploiting this feeling as the AfD.

The problem, however, is the AfD isn’t a normal democratic party.

The regional offices of Germany’s domestic intelligence services in the federal states of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemberg have all classified their local AfD associations as “organizations of interest.”

And the same applies at the federal level. The national office of the domestic intelligence service, the remit of which includes protecting the German constitution, has also classified the national party of the AfD as “of interest.”

These concerns about the party’s commitment to the constitution aren’t unjustified. In a 2018 speech at the national conference of the party’s youth section, Junge Alternative, former AfD chairman Alexander Gauland said that “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in a thousand years of successful German history.”

When speaking about the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Björn Höcke, group chairman of the AfD in Thuringia, said on 2017 that “We Germans — and I’m not talking about you patriots who have gathered here today. We Germans, our people, are the only people in the world to place a monument of shame in the heart of our capital city.”

And in a speech in the Bundestag in 2018, party boss Alice Weidel bandied about terms like “headscarf girls” and “knife-wielding men,” while her co-chairman Tino Chrupalla speaks of an “Umvolkung” — that is, an “ethnicity inversion” — which comes straight out of Nazi ideology.

This small sample of public statements leaves no doubt that such utterings aren’t slips of the tongue — they reflect these leaders’ core beliefs.

And while many vote for the AfD out of protest, more than anything else, the party feeds off resentment and fear, exploiting and fueling anger, hate and envy, pushing conspiracy theories to hit out at “those at the top,” as well as foreigners, Jews, the LGTBQ+ community or just about anyone who might be deemed different. And the party leaders’ blatant admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin exposes their reverence for autocracy.

Failure to prevent the AfD’s rise could potentially first corrode, then shatter democracy and rule of law in Germany.

But how can a party like this, which is getting stronger in the polls, be dealt with? Is a ban the right way to go? They are always difficult to deal with, and it isn’t even an option at this stage. What about joining the AfD to form a coalition and temper the party? That is even more difficult, as it is unreasonable to argue that the AfD should be treated like other parties. The Nazis and Adolf Hitler had also been democratically elected when they seized power in 1933.

So, what options remain? Many politicians and journalists say we need to confront the AfD with critical arguments. Sounds good on the face of it. But people have already been doing that for a decade — with scant success.

This is why the only remaining option is to attempt what neither the AfD nor many politicians from established parties have been able to do: Start taking voters’ most important concerns and issues seriously, and seek to find solutions.

The fears that have allowed the AfD to become as big as it is today are clearly identifiable. When a recent survey by Infratest Dimap asked “What topics most influence your decision to vote for the AfD at the moment?” 65 percent said immigration, 47 percent said energy policies and 43 percent named the economy.

And in their handling of all three of these key issues, the older parties have demonstrated moral cowardice and a lack of honesty.

This is especially apparent when it comes to immigration.

Why is it so hard for centrist politicians to just come out and say a few simple truths? Germany is a land of immigration, and it must remain so if it wants to be economically successful. And modern migration policy needs a healthy balance between altruism and self-interest.

According to economists’ most recent estimations, Germany needs to bring in 1 to 1.5 million skilled individuals per year from abroad. What we need is an immigration of excellence and qualified workers. People from war zones and crisis regions should obviously be taken in. But beyond that, we can only take the migrants we need, the ones who will benefit us.

This means the social welfare benefits for immigrants require critical rethinking, with the goal of creating a situation where every immigrant would be able to and would have to actually start working immediately. Then add to this factors that are a matter of course in countries with a successful history of integration: learning the local language and respecting the constitution and the laws. And anyone who doesn’t must leave — and fast.

Germany’s current immigration policy is dysfunctional. Most politicians and journalists are fully aware of this, but they just won’t say it out loud. And all this does is strengthen the AfD, as well as other groups on the left and right that have no true respect for democracy.

Not speaking out about the problem is the biggest problem. Indeed, when issues are taboo, it doesn’t make the issues any smaller, just the demagogues stronger.

We’re seeing the same with energy policy. Everyone knows that in the short term, our energy needs can’t be met by wind and solar power alone. Anyone interested in reality knows decarbonization without nuclear power isn’t going to be feasible any time soon. And they know heat pumps and cutting vacation flights won’t solve the global carbon challenge — it will, however, weaken the German economy.

We need only look at one example: While just over 2 percent of global carbon emissions come from aviation, almost a third are caused by China — an increasing amount of which comes from coal-fired power stations. Ordinary Germans are very much aware the sacrifices they’re being asked to make, and the costs being piled on them, make no sense in the broader scheme of things, and they’re understandably upset.

In some cases, this makes them more likely to vote for the AfD.

This brings us to the third and final reason why people are so agitated. The EU, and above all Germany, has broken its promise about advancing prosperity and growth. Fewer young people now see a future for themselves in Germany; more and more service providers and companies are leaving; and the increasing number of immigrants without means is reducing the average GNP per capita. Germans aren’t becoming more prosperous — they’re becoming poorer.

Traditional politicians and political parties unable to offer change are thus on very shaky ground. They have disconnected themselves from their voters, and they are paving the way for populists who use bogeyman tactics and offer simplistic solutions that solve nothing.



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High-quality recycling loops are best for circular economy

On Europe’s journey to a circular economy, high quality recycling is essential. In fact, the recycling of fibre-based packaging constitutes one of the best examples. If you put your used paper products in the right recycling bin, you can count on them making their way to a facility that will recycle those materials so they can be used again many times to make packaging for breakfast cereal, boxes to carry your online deliveries, newspapers, and a whole host of other useful products.

Currently, about 75 percent of the raw materials used for the fibres in our packaging come from recycling. The rest comes from sustainably-managed forests. Our packaging helps keep fossil fuels in the ground, playing its part in making our planet greener. This is why fibre-based materials are widely recognized as one of the most sustainable choices available for packaging.

This is why fibre-based materials are widely recognized as one of the most sustainable choices available for packaging.

The EU’s packaging waste regulation: a key chance to enhance recycling systems

At Fibre Packaging Europe we believe the upcoming Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) has a key role in making recycling even better. We now have a chance to set an ambitious 90 percent separate collection target for all EU member countries.  Here separate collection means transferring materials from your paper and board bin to the recycling plant. There is no better way to ensure that our packaging reaches recyclers after it has been used, and it will further increase an already-remarkable 81.5 percent recycling rate (Eurostat, 2020), higher by volume than plastic, metal and glass combined.

Where we see a risk in the PPWR is if the regulation gets the definition of ‘high-quality’ recycling twisted by restricting it only to what it calls ‘closed loops’. A closed loop means a cereal box would need to be recycled into another cereal box. When fibres are allowed to be recycled universally into any paper and board application and product, it is effective, it is resource efficient, and it reduces CO2 emissions through avoided transportation (to that cereal box factory). Most importantly, it is a good and simple way to continue increasing recycling rates.


Brought to you by Fibre Packaging Europe

Don’t get the loop twisted: why material loops make most sense for paper

But don’t just take it from us. We spoke to seasoned professionals in the recycling business that Fibre Packaging Europe represents to hear first-hand their thoughts on closed loops, the real challenges recyclers face and what can be done to overcome them.

Does closed-loop recycling have a role to play for fibre-based packaging? John Melia, strategy development and innovation director at DS Smith’s Recycling Division, is very clear on this point. “Closed-loop recycling of paper packaging would make no sense in a mature, well-functioning recycling system built on a thriving market for secondary raw materials. It would bring disruption to the market, reduce the quality and lifespan of fibre, and increase the use of fossil fuels in the supply chain. This would be a significant step back from the high-performing recycling system we have today.” 

Recycling systems based on ‘material loops’, on the other hand, mean that the raw materials we get from recycling processes are used in way that is far more versatile. They can be used to make a wide range of sustainable products that we use every day. The system works, and there is already in Europe a unique, thriving market for secondary raw materials in the fibre-based industry. In 2020, 56 million tons of ‘Paper for Recycling’ collected were transformed into equally high-quality new paper and board products.

If fibres get to the right recyclers, they have the tools to do the job

So how to make a high-quality recycling system even better? It all starts with collection.

“All fibre-based packaging is recyclable if, through collection and sorting, the material is guided to the right type of recycling mill”, explains Michel Willems, European Business Coordinator at Smurfit Kappa Recycling. ‘Separate’ collection systems, ones where non-paper materials such as plastic, metal and glass are collected separately from used paper products, can make it much easier to sort and send the material to the right recycling facilities. When it comes to fibre-based packaging products that are discarded by households, there’s an opportunity to further increase recycling rates.

So how to make a high-quality recycling system even better? It all starts with collection.

As a general principle, the more homogenous a fibre-based waste stream is, the easier it is to find the correct mill to do the recycling. Nonetheless, the great advantage of fibre packaging recycling is that a homogenous waste stream is not an absolute necessity for the majority of paper-based products. Most can easily be collected in the same bin, for example, at home. Such a stream, following standard quality checks, is ready for immediate recycling at many mills throughout Europe”, said Michel.

“Our business is built around reducing the environmental impact of packaging on the planet, improving supply chains for billions of people. We have an excellent, high-performance recycling system for cardboard with the highest recycling rate of any packaging material in Europe. Corrugated board packaging occupies a very special place because it has been the most recycled product forever. We recycle a box a minimum of 25 times in its life. At the end, it just returns to nature. Our environmentally friendly product is 100 percent renewable, recyclable and biodegradable”, added Michel.

For John Melia, this point is far more important to a successful circular economy than looking at changing recycling systems. “The EU should be focusing on what we know will bring rates of paper recycling even higher: better recycling infrastructure including increased segregation of recycling raw materials through separate collection of municipal waste,” he says. “We in the industry are doing our part, but achieving the full potential of the fibre recycling system will only be possible through government policies that focus on what we know will make a difference.”

So, when we look to complete the loop on the circular economy, let’s listen to the recyclers themselves. Let’s build on the high-quality recycling that already exists to build a greener Europe with the packaging products we know are sustainable.



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This summer is what climate change looks like, scientists say

The blistering heat threatening lives and fueling wildfires across Southern Europe and North America this July would have been “virtually impossible” without man-made global warming, scientists said on Tuesday. 

Their findings come as the planet’s ocean and land temperatures hit new records in recent weeks, with waters around Florida and the Mediterranean coast surpassing 30 degrees Celsius and parts of the Northern Hemisphere baking in heat of 45C or more. 

Scientists have long warned climate change would make heat waves hotter, longer and more frequent. Tuesday’s study found that this month’s extreme temperatures are no longer an outlier now that humans have warmed the Earth by about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels.  

In fact, “it could well be that this is what will be a cool summer in the future unless we rapidly stop burning fossil fuels,” said study co-author Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London. “This is not the new normal. As long as we keep burning fossil fuels, we will see more and more of these extremes.”  

The study was published by the World Weather Attribution (WWA) consortium of scientists, which uses peer-reviewed methods to conduct rapid analyses of the role climate change plays in extreme weather events. 

The researchers found heat waves like those seen in mid-July can now be expected roughly once a decade in Southern Europe and every 15 years in North America. But if the global average temperature rises to 2C above pre-industrial levels, the upper limit of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, “events like this will become even more frequent, occurring every 2-5 years,” the researchers said. 

Current climate policies put the planet on track to warm at least 2.4C by the end of this century. 

China, which registered a new temperature record of 52.2C in mid-July, can already expect such heat waves to occur every five years, the WWA study found. Climate change made the Chinese heat wave 50 times more likely to occur, according to their models. 

But global warming hasn’t just made such heat waves more likely. It’s also made them more intense. 

The study found the European, North American and Chinese heat waves were 2.5C, 2C and 1C hotter, respectively, than they would have been without climate change.

On the ground, these abstract-seeming numbers translate into record-smashing temperatures. In the U.S., the city of Phoenix saw three weeks above 43C; across the Atlantic, Catalonia and Rome hit new heat records last week. Sardinia reached 46C. 

Such extreme heat is dangerous to human health. More than 60,000 Europeans died in last summer’s heat waves, a recent study found. Italian hospitals reported an uptick in hospitalizations last week; doctors in the southwestern U.S. are warning of an increase in severe, and sometimes deadly, burns from extreme surface temperatures. 

In countries like Canada and Greece, the heat contributed to tinderbox conditions allowing wildfires to spread with ease. The smoke from Canada’s fires continues to choke North American cities, while dramatic evacuation efforts are underway on several Greek islands. 

“The Mediterranean has seen a dramatic increase in the frequency of the hot-dry conditions that were considered extreme at the end of the last century, and these increases are expected to accelerate for each added degree of warming in future,” said Matthew Jones, a fellow at East Anglia University’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. 

NASA scientists expect this July to become the world’s hottest month on record. 

Other parts of the Northern Hemisphere have seen flash flooding, record-breaking hail, intense storms or a combination of all three this month. Last week, a hail storm sent a flood of ice through the northern Italian town of Seregno. 

While scientists say that climate change will fuel extreme precipitation or flash flooding in some parts of the globe, not all such events are attributable to global warming. A WWA study earlier this year, for example, found that climate change had no significant impact on deadly spring floods in Italy. 

Attributing heat waves to climate change is a more straightforward matter, and numerous studies have found a clear link. 

“It’s a very boring study, from a scientific point of view,” said Otto. “We see exactly what we expected to see.”

She also said that the arrival of El Niño — the warming cycle of a naturally occurring phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean — contributed very little to the high temperatures seen across the Northern Hemisphere. 

“Increased global temperatures from burning fossil fuels is the main reason the heat waves are so severe,” the study authors noted. 

Scientists have also said that El Niño, whose full warming effect won’t be felt until later this year, also isn’t to blame for current sea temperature anomalies in the North Atlantic. 

Coastal waters in Florida have reached about 35C — an existential threat to coral reefs — while last month, the sea around the British Isles registered temperatures 5C above normal. 

The EU’s Copernicus climate change service, which described the North Atlantic heating as “off the charts,” says a mix of global warming and “unusual” atmospheric circulation is driving the anomaly. Scientists also point to a reduction in shipping pollution and an absence of Saharan dust over the Atlantic as contributing factors. 

While the North Atlantic’s temperature spike looks especially dramatic, global sea surface temperatures have hit record highs in recent months. 

The arrival of El Niño will fuel warming both in the oceans and on land, boosting the likelihood of extreme weather events, according to the World Meteorological Organization, whose scientists have warned that the planet is entering “uncharted territory.” 

As the Northern Hemisphere’s extreme summer goes on, all’s not well on the other side of the planet, either. 

Antarctica’s sea ice is in sharp decline, setting new records at such a pace that scientists are increasingly fearing for its capacity to recover in the winter. 

Oceanographer Edward Doddridge told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this weekend the unprecedentedly low sea ice extent “is a five-sigma event. So it’s five standard deviations beyond the mean. Which means that if nothing had changed, we’d expect to see a winter like this about once every 7.5 million years.” 

Doddridge added the root cause of the decline is likely climate change, although he cautioned that other factors can’t yet be ruled out. 

But there’s no doubt that ice loss at the poles further accelerates climate change. The bright ice caps reflect the sun’s warming rays back into space, while the dark polar waters absorb them. Less ice means the planet absorbs more heat. 

Earlier this year, a study found the rapidly melting Antarctic ice is slowing deep ocean currents, with potentially devastating consequences for ecosystems and the broader climate. 

The authors of Tuesday’s heat study stressed that governments now have to take urgent action on two fronts — reducing emissions to avoid disastrous climate change and enacting measures to adapt to rising temperatures. 

“Even if we stop burning fossil fuels today, temperatures will not go down. They will just stop getting even higher,” said Otto. “And so the heat waves we are seeing now, we definitely have to live with that.”



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A quarter of Americans live with polluted air, with people of color and those in Western states disproportionately affected, report says | CNN



CNN
 — 

About 1 in 4 people in the United States – more than 119 million residents – live with air pollution that can hurt their health and shorten their lives, according to a new report from the American Lung Association. People of color are disproportionately affected, as are residents of Western cities.

Since President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, emissions of outdoor air pollutants have fallen 78%, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. But Wednesday’s 2023 State of the Air report, which focuses on ozone and particle pollution, shows that millions put their health on the line every time they step outside.

To capture pollution levels at the county level, researchers analyzed data collected by the EPA’s Air Quality System, a repository of ambient air quality data from more than 10,000 monitors. They characterized the hourly average ozone concentration and the 24-hour average particle pollution concentration for 2019-21 at each monitoring site and factored in year-round pollution information from the EPA.

There were significant improvements in some areas. Generally, 17.6 million fewer people were breathing unhealthy air than in last year’s report, due largely to falling levels of ozone in some regions.

Ozone pollution is the main ingredient in smog. It comes from cars, power plants and refineries. Exposure to ozone can immediately exacerbate asthma symptoms, and people with long-term exposure to higher levels face a significantly higher risk of death from respiratory diseases than those who live with cleaner air.

Around 25% more counties got an A grade in the report for lower levels of ozone pollution. Some of that improvement can be attributed to the Clean Air Act, according to Katherine Pruitt, author of the report and the American Lung Association’s national senior director for policy.

Emission controls have helped, she said, as has the country’s continuing move away from its reliance on coal for its energy needs. Even something simple as the increase in the number of people who work from home has played a role.

“The Biden administration has set themselves a good, strong to do list of things that will help with environmental justice and climate protection,” Pruitt said. “They’re moving kind of slow, though. So we’d like them to pick up the pace.”

Despite the progress, not everyone was lucky enough to live in a county with good ozone levels. More than 100 million people live in counties that get an F for ozone smog, the report says.

Western and Southwestern cities are the most ozone-polluted, with 10 of the 25 most-polluted cities in California. New York, Chicago and Hartford, Connecticut, were the only three on that list east of the Mississippi River.

The five metropolitan areas with the worst ozone pollution are Los Angeles-Long Beach, California; Visalia, California; Bakersfield, California; Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California; and Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona.

Particle pollution, the other form of pollution tracked in the report, still seems to be a significant issue for the US.

Often hard to see, particle pollution is a mix of solid and liquid droplets that may come in the form of dirt, dust, soot or smoke. Coal- and natural gas-fired power plants create it, as do cars, agriculture, unpaved roads, construction sites and wildfires.

Particle pollution is so tiny – 1/20th of a width of a human hair – that it can travel past your body’s usual defenses.

Instead of being carried out when you exhale, it can get stuck in your lungs or go into your bloodstream. The particles cause irritation and inflammation and may lead to respiratory problems. Exposure can cause cancer, stroke or heart attack; it could also aggravate asthma, and it has even been associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety, studies show.

The new report says the number of people living in counties with failing grades for daily spikes of particle pollution was the highest it has been in a decade. Nearly 64 million live with these kind of unhealthy spikes in counties that get failing grades.

One driver of the high amounts of particle pollution are the wildfires that have consumed hundreds of thousands of acres. In 2021 alone, there were 14,407 fires, many in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. There used to be a wildfire season, experts say, but now they happen year-round.

Those fires are why the regions with the highest concentrations of air pollution are largely in the West.

When the American Lung Association started producing its report in 2004, 106 counties in 30 states got failing grades for daily spikes in particle pollution. Fewer than half were in eight states west of the Rocky Mountains. Today, 111 counties in 19 states got Fs for spikes in particle pollution, and all but eight counties are in the West, the report says.

Urban centers in the Rust Belt and the industrialized East had gotten the most failing grades in the early 2000s, but many have cleaned up and now get passing grades.

Bakersfield, California, displaced Fresno as the metropolitan area with the worst short-term particle pollution, but Fresno did not suddenly develop cleaner air. That city still had the most-polluted label for year-round particle pollution, tied with Visalia, in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley.

Los Angeles is still the city with the worst ozone pollution, according to the report, as it has been for all but one of the years included in the report.

California has some of the more progressive environmental legislation in the country, but the climate crisis has not been kind to the state, said Tarik Benmarhnia, an air pollution and wildfire researcher at the University of California, San Diego, who did not work on the new report.

“All these cities like Bakersfield and Visalia are in a valley near the forests that are seeing big fires. There’s also intense agricultural and industrial work there, so they unfortunately have all the worst conditions for air pollution,” Benmarhnia said.

There are some newcomers to the list of the 25 areas with the most particle pollution, including Denver and Fargo, North Dakota. Reno, Nevada; Yakima and Spokane, Washington; and Boise, Idaho; all made the worst list this year.

San Luis Obispo, California; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle and Bellingham, Washington; all moved off the list of worst 25 cities.

Residents in the cities ranked worst for particle pollution are living with more of it, the report says. In the top 25 cities with the worst air, the average number of days residents were exposed to high levels of fine particle pollution increased to a weighted average of 18.3, up from 16.5 in last year’s report.

East of the Mississippi, Pittsburgh and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were the two worst metropolitan areas in the country, posting more days high in fine particle pollution in this year’s report.

Not everyone experiences pollution the same way in the US. Regardless of the region, communities of color bear the brunt of the problem.

Specifically, although people of color make up 41% of the overall US population, they are 54% of the nearly 120 million people living in counties with at least one failing grade for unhealthy air. And in the counties with the worst air quality, 72% of the 18 million residents are people of color, the report said.

Other research has also shown this trend. On maps that lay out areas with high levels of air pollution and where communities were redlined – areas where Black people were forced to live – they line up perfectly, Pruitt said.

“Then, the other aspect is, when you have a community of color that is a voluntary community, people aren’t forced to live there, those are communities that tend to have less of a voice, so decision makers place polluting sources in those communities because there’s not as much howling by people with power when they do. So those communities get the highways; they get the landfills; they get the fence lines,” she said.

There’s a myth that only poor communities live with disproportionate pollution levels, says Chris Tessum, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of the University of Illinois. Tessum, who was not involved in the new report, says race really is the determining factor.

“The thinking is that people with more money will buy better property, which has lower air pollution and that’s just the way of the world or whatever, but that’s just kind of emphatically not, not true,” he said.

Communities need to play a key role in making decisions to help clean air, Tessum said.

“People that have the power will use that power to benefit themselves and not the people that have been historically overburdened,” he said.

The new report says government and residents can make a difference. One suggestion is to leverage Inflation Reduction Act funding to help reduce emissions at ports and to invest in zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles and in infrastructure that would improve air quality monitoring.

States can also use the Clean Air Act authority to adopt the California zero-emissions standards for cars and trucks, the report says.

At the federal level, agencies must finalize stronger limits on air pollution to truly protect public health and advance environmental justice, the report says, including standards to move the country toward zero-emissions vehicles. The EPA also has to set stronger national standards for particle pollution and ozone, the researchers say.

Pruitt said she knows firsthand how better policies can work. She said growing up before the Clean Air Act, pollution was so high that she could see it every time she stepped outside. Today, the pollution is not nearly as visible.

“I’m in my mid-60s, and of course, air pollution was very tangible when I was young, but these days, thank goodness it isn’t. Most people don’t see it,” she said. Unless a person has a lung condition, they may not even feel it.

But just because you can’t see it or feel it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Pruitt encourages people to remember that no level of pollution is safe. The World Health Organization estimates that the combined effects of ambient air pollution and household air pollution are associated with 6.7 million premature deaths annually.

“People don’t really recognize that what they’re breathing is impacting their health,” Pruitt said.

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