This month’s Bearing Witness to Climate Change provides a summary of news from around the world during December 2022 about the changing climate and its impact on people and the planet.
The Global Carbon Project predicts that emissions from fossil fuels in 2022 will end up surpassing a record 37 billion tons. After the pandemic, scientists hoped that emissions would start falling into a continual decline. That sadly will not be the case. While emissions are relatively stable or declining in the US and EU, they are still rising in India and China.
The good news is that the transition to renewables is happening faster than many scientists and policy experts had expected. Power from renewables is predicted to overtake that from coal and then double by 2027. China is expected to install about half of all new renewable energy capacity during this time frame.
Emissions from India are rising the fastest of all developing economies. While the country has signaled support for reducing emissions, leaders there have said they will not sacrifice the availability of power from coal for economic growth. But the good news is that renewables already make up 40% of the country’s installed power capacity and are predicted to grow to over 60% by 2030. This will not be an easy task as they continue to bring on new coal-fired power plants.
Climate Lab journalists at The Washington Post along with researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research Impact examined over 1,000 different scenarios for how carbon emissions and climate change may play out in the next century. Most of the possible pathways predicted temperatures peaking mid-century above the previously agreed to 1.5 deg C increase, with some as high as 5 deg. Less than 10% of the scenarios modeled resulted in meeting the 1.5 deg goal.
The first auction of leases for floating offshore wind farms along the west coast has been successful in the US. The cost of offshore wind has been falling rapidly, some 60%, as have other renewable energy sources. President Biden had previously announced a goal of 30 GW of offshore wind power by 2030.
Lobbyists and policy think tanks funded by the oil and gas industry are reported to be working behind the scenes to slow down the transition to renewables, spreading disinformation and suing federal agencies. The executive director of one such Texas-based public policy organization was quoted as tweeting out “Today, I’m proud to live a high carbon lifestyle and wish the rest of the world could too.” and that “decarbonization is dangerous and deadly.” God, forgive us as I hope his children will forgive him.
A US House of Representatives committee has uncovered a trove of documents outlining how the oil industry giants were misleading the public with greenwashing while attempting to slow down actions to reduce carbon emissions.
ExxonMobil is suing the EU to stop a new windfall tax on excess oil profits due largely to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The war caused shortages and price hikes which caused additional suffering across Europe and the rest of the world all while oil company profits and shareholder returns soared.
Plans for the largest green hydrogen plant using renewable energy have been announced in Texas. Some $4 billion dollars will be invested in the new plant which is projected to produce over 70,000 metric tons of hydrogen a year, making it one of the top 10 such plants in the world. The plant will be located on the site of a retired coal plant and will use wind and solar power to make the energy-intensive hydrogen.
Public utilities in the Canadian province of Quebec want to move away from selling cheap hydroelectric electricity to power crypto mining operations. Until recently, Canada had been the fourth largest producer of bitcoin behind the US, China, and Kazakhstan.
The Arctic is experiencing another unseasonably warm start to winter. Record high temperatures are being set in some regions of the Arctic that are averaging over 10 degrees F warmer than averages. A village in Greenland reported high temperatures over 30 degrees F warmer than normal for early December.
A new Arctic Report Card from NOAA details how communities, ecosystems, and wildlife are being impacted due to warmer, rainier, and stormier weather. As example, more precipitation is falling as freezing rain, instead of snow, which makes transportation more treacherous for humans and foraging for food more difficult for animals. Multi-species die-offs of birds from starvation are occurring more frequently due to changes in the food chain from climate change. Sea ice has disappeared from large regions of the Arctic near the North Pole. The Arctic is warming at nearly 4 times the rate of the rest of the globe.
In the Russian Siberian Arctic, researchers have found previously unknown pathogens in permafrost that is thawing due to climate change. Virologists are worried that once-extinct viruses buried tens of thousands of years ago could reemerge threatening human and wildlife populations.
The rising cost of insurance in Florida is changing the economics of building homes, apartments, condominiums and resorts. Developers and owners are facing increasing premiums which are rising at double digit rates due to the increase in weather-related disasters.
The largely unregulated market for voluntary carbon credits, valued at about $2 billion, is attracting more interest from financial markets and private investors. A new fund with the goal of raising another $1B has been announced to allow buyers a simpler and safer way to purchase credits.
A draft UNESCO report finds that the Australian Great Barrier Reef, which continues to be threatened by climate change, should be placed on the list of world heritage sites in danger. Mass bleaching events are occurring more often in the warming ocean waters. Marine scientists say that 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs.
Back on land in Australia, conservationists are relocating endangered animals from national parks under stress due to increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfalls. In the first reported case of moving wildlife threatened by climate change, rare swamp turtles that can live to 100 years old are being moved several hundred miles into new habitats.
The US has proposed to the EU the creation of a coalition to promote metals made with reduced carbon emissions. The draft trade agreement would also place tariffs on imports of some metals from countries that did not participate. The mining and production of metals is one of the largest industry sources of emissions, nearly 10%.
The EU has announced an agreement to place carbon tariffs on imports from high-emitting industries like cement, steel, and chemicals. While the intent is to encourage producers of these materials to use renewable energy in their production, some argue this will just penalize the developing world and make it more difficult for them to raise capital investment in renewables.
While Americans are buying EVs at record pace, the availability of rapid-charging stations is not keeping up and could slow the green energy transition. There are less than 12,000 public charging stations across the US compared to nearly 150,000 gas facilities. The power distribution infrastructure to power thousands of new road-side charging stations is also missing. Across the US, there is growing competition between public utilities, gas stations, convenience stores, truck stops, and other businesses who seek funding for building out the infrastructure that will be needed.
More public utilities in the US are accelerating their move to cleaner energy to take advantage of hundreds of billions of investment dollars and tax credits passed this summer by the Biden Administration. This is a policy about-face for the industry which until recently was fighting regulations that would have forced them to move faster.
DOE researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California announced a milestone breakthrough in a fusion reaction that produced more energy than it took to ignite it. For decades scientists have been trying to use fusion to generate more energy than it consumed to start it. Despite many hurdles, if fusion power can be economically scaled it could one day produce limitless carbon-free energy. There’s a long way to go, but this still is a very big advancement toward a low carbon future.
Across the US, the divide between urban and rural voters on climate change continues to loom large. Less than 15% of rural and small-town Republicans approve of the Biden Administration’s handling of climate change, including the massive IRA act passed earlier this year. This compares to 60% of all urban voters who approve. Not surprising, Republicans in the next US House are expected to support the increase of oil and gas production across the country while fighting rule-making authority of federal agencies in the courts.
A new EU study says that contrails from aircraft may be as significant a contributor to global warming as emissions from their burning of fuel. Most commercial aircraft flying at altitude generate some contrails, but the science of how persistent they are or whether they form clouds that help cool during the day or warm during the night is just now being investigated.
Agricultural scientists at Stanford University are working to genetically manipulate the traits of plants to make them more tolerant to the threats of climate change such as droughts, heat, and floods.
It is well known that the burning of fossil fuels is turning oceans warmer and more acidic as they absorb carbon. Now scientists believe that big lakes around the world are facing the same threat. Marine biologists are still studying the effects on freshwater ecosystems.
Some 190 nations from around the world approved the UN agreement on biological diversity to protect 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030. Many of the 17 environmental targets to protect nature will also help with climate change. However, ever so sadly the US was just one of two countries not a signatory due largely to Republican obstructionism.
The Biden Administration issued new rules that aim to cut emissions of the greenhouse gas, nitrogen oxide, from trucks, buses, and vans by nearly 50% by 2045. Some activists were disappointed that the new regulations do not go as far as the 60% reduction proposed by the EPA earlier in the year.
The US Postal Service announced that it will invest nearly $10B to acquire over 65,000 electric vehicles within the next 5 years. As part of the plan, hundreds of facilities will be upgraded with charging stations. The service has more than 230,000 vehicles currently in service, nearly all gas-powered. They will stop purchasing gas-powered vehicles after 2026.
Climate-related disasters across the world were down by over 10% in 2022 but total costs were still over $250 billion. The disasters included flooding in Pakistan, hurricanes in the US, droughts and wildfires across Europe and the American west. There were nearly 30 billion-dollar disasters across the world and 15 in the US last year making it one of the top three worst years.
As winter starts, the US experiences a once-in-a-generation winter “bomb cyclone” storm bringing record arctic-like record low temperatures, winds, and snowfalls across the entire nation. Dozens died some from being stranded in cars or lost in blizzard conditions when seeking help outside their homes. Transportation, commerce, and holiday travel across much of the nation came to a standstill with hundreds of thousands affected and millions without power.
Weather scientists say that a destabilized and wobbling artic vortex bought the jet stream deep into the US pulling temperatures well below zero with windchills as low as 50 degrees below. Meteorologists think that a rapidly warming Arctic may be responsible for disruptions and gyrations that allowed the polar vortex.
Despite the record sale of EVs, auto executives are expressing some caution about the rate of future adoption. Expectations for the proportionate sale of EVs in the US by 2030 have fallen well below 50%, a goal previously set by President Biden.
As greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, climate tech investor Bill Gates has warned that “our grandchildren will grow up in a world that is dramatically worse off if we don’t fix climate change.” He added that getting to zero will be the hardest thing humans have ever done.
As the year ends, many climate scientists and activists believe that 2022 was an inflection or tipping point in an unstoppable green transition. It was especially a pivotal year for growth in renewable energy all around the world. Despite all the bad news, there has been remarkable environmental progress that should be celebrated. It includes the following:
Featured image is from The Washington Post Climate Lab article on global warming scenarios at https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2022/global-warming-1-5-celsius-scenarios/.