This month’s Bearing Witness to Climate Change provides a summary of news from around the world during January 2023 about the changing climate and its impact on people and the planet.
Organizations from across the world have released preliminary findings that 2022 was one of the Earth’s hottest years. As CO2 in the atmosphere is now 50% higher than it was in preindustrial times, temperatures have risen 2 degrees F on average.
NOAA proclaimed 2022 was the world’s 6th hottest year on record. They also reported that global ocean heat content was at a record high and polar sea ice the second lowest on record. Researchers think that about 90% of the excess heat in the atmosphere generated by GHG emissions ends up in the ocean thru a depth of about a mile.
NASA scientists reported that their data indicated it was the fifth warmest, tying 2015, making the last nine years the warmest years since modern recordkeeping. The Arctic region was said to have experienced the strongest warming trend at a rate nearly 4 times faster than the rest of the planet.
The UN World Meteorological Organization concurred that 2022 would end up being the 5th or 6th hottest year and once again warned that overshooting the Paris Accord limit of 1.5 deg C is likely to occur.
European Copernicus scientists confirmed that Europe experienced its hottest summer on record in 2022 as dozens of major cities in Europe broke their all-time highs during the summer.
Scientists believe that 2022 would have even been even warmer had it not been for the cooling effects of La Nina which caused lower temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. They added it was still the hottest La Nina year on record.
As chronicled throughout 2022 in this Bearing Witness to Climate Change blog, the planet and its inhabitants experienced record heat waves, floods, wildfires, and drought across the globe from the Arctic to Antarctica. Over two dozen countries reported national record-high temperatures. The US experienced 18 climate-related disasters over $1B each in cost. and totaling over $150B in damages.
A new report says that by 2024, renewable energy in the US is forecasted to surpass 25% of the country’s total electricity generation for the first time. Energy from coal is expected to drop slightly to 17% and that from natural gas also drop to 37%. Nuclear would remain unchanged at 19%.
Global investment in transitioning to low-carbon energy was reported to have surpassed $1 trillion in 2022, a new record of a good kind. Investments in renewables was about half of that amount while investments in electrification infrastructure rose rapidly to challenge it for the lead spot.
However, even with the growth of renewables, GHG emissions from the US continued to climb in 2022. The Rhodium Group research firm estimates that emissions grew by 1.3%, putting the country off track to meet the Biden Administrations goals which require about a 5% annual decrease. Some emissions like those from homes and buildings have returned to pre-pandemic levels. The good news is that this was down from the over 6% increase of 2021 as the economy recovered from the COVID lockdown.
Parts of Europe are experiencing their warmest January days ever while the US comes out of an Arctic freeze in December. Some record high temperatures were over 35 deg F above normal temperatures. The good news is that the severe energy crisis expected this winter across Europe is appearing less likely with warmer temperatures that require less energy for heating homes and businesses.
A study reported on in Nature found that the 2000s were the warmest decade on record for Greenland for 1,000 years. Ice cores indicated that there has been a dramatic warming in Greenland, like much of the Arctic. Until recently, scientists believed that Greenland was warming slower that the Arctic, but it now appears to be catching up which threatens the melting of its massive ice sheet.
According to NOAA, the US experienced 18 climate-related disasters in 2022 that caused at least $1B in damages, totaling over $165B. One hurricane, Ian, was responsible for over $100B in damages. The rest of the carnage was attributed to droughts, wildfires, tornados, heat waves, flooding, and other extreme weather events which scientists say climate change has supercharged.
Yet another climate-related disaster strikes the US in the start of the new year. The historic decades long drought across the American West has quickly turned into an epic flooding event from a relentless pattern of atmospheric rivers coming off the Pacific Ocean. Massive rainfalls measured in double digits of inches produced flooding, mud slides, power outages, road closures, evacuations, states of emergencies, homes lost, businesses shuttered, and deaths across the state of California. And similar to other disasters, landscapes have been changed due to the loss of thousands of trees as well as changes to rivers and lakes. More are saying out loud that adaptation may mean having to move out of regions of the west which have become just too vulnerable, dangerous, or costly due to climate change.
Across the country, New York City is close to setting a record for the most days without snow. It has been over 330 days, nearly a year, without a snowfall. As the planet warms, NYC like many other locales is now getting more rainfall in the winter instead of snow. This January so far has been the third warmest on record.
Scientists have evidence that climate change is making atmospheric rivers more intense and damaging since warmer air holds more moisture, and warmer oceans add more energy into the atmosphere. Some models predict that because of global warming, atmospheric rivers will become more frequent and increase rainfall from these events by up to 40% in the years to come. Other scientists think that a worst-case scenario of global warming would increase precipitation from storms by nearly a third.
Historians, preservationists, museum directors and librarians are having to plan to safeguard their records and collections from climate change. Changes in temperature extremes, humidity, flooding, damaging winds, wildfires, and power outages are all threatening the irreplaceable treasures of these institutions.
Hundreds of people in Australia have been sickened by eating spinach that was contaminated by the explosion of a toxic weed, thornapple, whose growth in farm fields was fueled by recent record rains and flooding.
As part of its commitment to EVs, auto manufacturer Mercedes-Benz has announced it will build a network of 2,500 charging stations in the US by 2027 with many to be powered by solar energy. They will join Tesla among others with building out a private charging network. The effort to install public charging stations across the US has yet to begin in earnest and threatens to slow the adoption of EVs.
The climate activist group Extinction Rebellion has said it will pause disruptive protests which have caused public backlash. The group has been condemned by other environmental organizations for acts of civil disobedience it conducted last year that included throwing food at famous artworks and blockading major highways.
Extreme rainfall and cloudburst events in the Indian Himalayas are causing a wave of climate-fueled migration. As landscapes, towns, buildings, homes and roads are impacted time and time again, some residents are fleeing to safer more predictable regions.
UN scientists report good news that the ozone hole of the Antarctica continues to shrink and is expected to return to 1980s levels by mid-century. The progress is due to the 1987 Montreal Protocol agreement which was approved by every country in the world. The 2016 Kigali Amendment added restrictions of another greenhouse gas, chlorofluorocarbons, which will also help with climate change.
A new study published in the journal Science predicts that half of the world’s glaciers outside of the polar regions are threatened by global warming. Over 100,000 of the more than 200,000 mountain glaciers and icecaps are at risk of melting and contributing to ocean level rise. The loss of glaciers will do more harm than raising ocean levels as so many regions around the world depend on them for water, agriculture, recreation, and tourism.
Extreme heat is causing an epidemic of illnesses for migrant workers in equatorial regions of the planet. Workers from India, Pakistan, and Nepal who travel to find employment in other countries are reporting an increase in serious illnesses such as renal disease and kidney failure precipitated by heat and dehydration.
As a result, some countries and cities are establishing Chief Heat Officers, like in the African equatorial country of Sierra Leone, that are being funded by foundations. Heat there is impacting the health of families, workers, shop owners, and especially open-air markets.
North Africa is becoming an attractive target to EU investment in renewable energy projects such as solar power and green hydrogen. North African states are said to have great potential to help the EU become he first net-zero economy while raising the standard of living of North Africa’s residents.
A new study has found that university textbooks published in the last decade in the US have less content related to climate change and global warming than those published in the preceding decade. Some activists rightfully fear this is due to the politicization of science and climate change by mostly conservative Republicans in local, state, and US legislative bodies.
Researchers in Florida are experimenting with a geoengineering project to deacidify ocean waters that have become warmer and more acidic due to global warming. Oceans are said to absorb about 30% of annual carbon emissions. Using a method called ocean liming, they are injecting lime into the water to neutralize its CO2 which allows the water to actually uptake even more carbon. Other marine scientists are worried about unintended consequences of this and other geoengineering experiments.
The climate tech startup Climeworks announced it has successfully pulled carbon out of the air and stored it underground at its prototype facility in Iceland. It is reported that businesses around the world have already agreed to purchase carbon credits for 700,000 metric tons of carbon to be removed from the air by climate tech companies like Climeworks. However, some climate activists say that the level of investment to remove any substantial amount of CO2 would be better placed in technologies that keep the carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere in the first place.
A new study on The State of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) reports that carbon capture currently collects about 2 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. But most of that is by traditional low-tech means such as reforestation and other agricultural practices. Researchers warn that novel CDR technologies must be deployed more rapidly to make up the shortfall in what is needed to meet the Paris Accord targets.
A new investigation alleges that unverified forest carbon offset credits voluntarily used by some of the world’s biggest companies are reported to be nearly worthless and not effective at reducing emissions nor saving forests.
The UN COP28 climate talks later in this year in Dubai will be chaired by an executive of one of the world’s largest oil producing companies. Not surprisingly, green groups have protested the announcement. US climate envoy John Kerry went on record in support of the UAE appointment.
More evidence has emerged that decades ago research scientists at Exxon not only agreed about climate change but also accurately predicted how fast the burning of fossil fuels would warm the planet. A review of Exxon documents indicates that some of their forecasts were as accurate if not more so than that of independent researchers and government agencies.
The Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank has declared that it does not have a role in using monetary policy in helping the country to transition to a greener economy. Up to now, the Fed has said its only responsibility was to monitor the risks to financial system due to climate change, but not make any policies that can mitigate them. Others argue that means while banks continue to invest and make profits from a fossil-fuel based economy, others will be left in the future to experience then pay for all the damage done.
The Fed has its work cut out for them especially when you look at the systemic risk and complexity of insurance reinsurance markets. Property insurance companies increasingly rely on reinsurance firms to protect them against catastrophic events. Now the reinsurance providers are redistributing their risks to others in the form of reinsurance instruments for the reinsurers. All while some markets are experiencing billion-dollar losses which raise insurance and reinsurance rates by double digits. What could possibly go wrong as this sounds familiar to the housing mortgage industry of the 2000’s.
International firms are moving production of renewable energy components to the US to take advantage of the recent IRA act funding and tax credits. A Korean solar company is the latest to announce billion-dollar investments for a solar panel plant in Georgia that will bring thousands of new jobs.
ESG investing has come under fire from conservative Republicans who rail against it as woke capitalism and irrelevant. But more ESG professionals are going on the offense in pressing the case that how a business manages its sustainability, climate risks, and human resources is a financially material issue of which investors should have knowledge.
A legislative bill has been proposed in the conservative coal-producing state of Wyoming to ban the sale of electric vehicles, largely in response to liberal California wanting to ban the sale of gasoline powered cars. Meanwhile, Democrats in Minnesota are working to move their state to 100 percent clean energy by 2040.
In Europe, tens of thousands protested the expansion of a coal mine in Germany where climate activist Greta Thunberg was detained and carried off by police. The small German village of Lutzerath is set to be demolished to facilitate further growth of an open pit mine. Prior to the current European energy crisis caused by the Russian war in Ukraine, it was hoped that coal mining at this site would cease, but now it has been extended to 2030.
The propane industry is using social media to greenwash its image and fight the move to electrification. While burning propane produces less emissions than coal, its production, transportation, and use still adds up, especially compared to renewable energy from the sun or wind.
Other lobbyists, think tanks, and politicians funded by dark money are spreading Orwellian type disinformation that natural gas is clean green energy, resembling the early days in the fight against big tobacco.
Ecuador once had an ambitious plan to wean itself off of fossil fuels and curb oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest. The country previously asked the world to establish a $3.6 billion fund that they claimed represented about half of the revenues which would be lost from abandoning oil extraction. Now, the current president of Ecuador says the time has come to extract every last drop of oil to benefit the country before it is too late because markets have turned away from fossil fuels.
World leaders and business moguls met in Davos this month, most flying in on private jets with business as usual, for their annual World Economic Forum gathering. Climate activists, including Greta Thunberg who was arrested the previous week in Germany, slammed the meeting as being hijacked by fossil fuel interests.
Al Gore agreed by saying we are failing badly as emissions continue to rise nor are acting nearly fast enough with some organizations like the World Bank failing to lead while reducing oil and gas use is not even on the agenda.
Elsewhere in the Swiss Alps ski resorts, along with businesses and communities who depend on them, are dealing with decreasing snowfalls. Switzerland is warming at about twice the rate of the rest of the world. Scientists are warning that if global warming continues, locales below 6,500 feet will face a future without much snow.
The Biden Administration has announced it will add the value of the environment and natural assets to economic metrics. Taking the health and damage to natural ecosystems into account, which is called natural capital accounting, has long been advocated by environmental activists along with many economists.
The Biden administration also announced that it was reinstating a ban on roads and logging on 9 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass Forest. Much of it is old-growth forest with trees hundreds of years old sequestering huge amounts of carbon.
Some Europeans are calling a trade foul on the US policies for what they consider unfair government funding and subsidies of alternative energy. They argue that tax credits and other subsidies on equipment and vehicles made in America put European manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.
Global aviation is estimated to be responsible for around 1 gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions each year, or about 2% of total emissions. Major airlines who have pledged to become net zero by 2050 are supporting the development of new technologies to achieve a goal many think impossible. These include more efficient if not radical aircraft designs, hydrogen-powered engines, electric aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels, and hydrocarbon extraction from air which are all being researched.
Auckland, New Zealand reported receiving over 10 inches of rain, causing a state of emergency with flooded roadways and international airport closure. It was said to be the equivalent of a whole summer’s worth of rainfall.
The polar vortex that struck the US last month has moved into northern Asia countries of China, Korea, and Japan with temperatures as low as 63 deg F below zero. Scientists speculate that global warming destabilizes the polar vortex due to a warming Arctic.
Changes to weather patterns in the US are affecting where and how often lightning strikes. Lightning has decreased in the upper Midwest and plain states as more severe storms and tornados have shifted to the Southeast and coastal states. A drier and hotter West and Midwest is thought to be a contributing factor.
Featured image is from NOAA at https://www.noaa.gov/news/2022-was-worlds-6th-warmest-year-on-record.