Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US: Tail end of Hurricane Ida kills at least 45 in catastrophic flooding
- Climate change: UK says it's 'on track' to vaccinate all COP26 delegates ahead of UN talks as inclusivity fears persist
- US climate envoy Kerry tells Chinese leaders: climate not about politics
- Study: Warmer Arctic led to killer cold in Texas, much of US
- UK’s top climate adviser says criticism of net-zero goal is ‘defeatist’
- India’s green projects to get UK funds
- Climate change is winning the battle over our coastlines
- Linking Arctic variability and change with extreme winter weather in the United States
- How does partial substitution of chemical fertiliser with organic forms increase sustainability of agricultural production?
The remains of Hurricane Ida “created a deadly emergency” in New York and the northeastern US yesterday, reports the Times, “drowning people in their homes, trapping commuters in cars and subway trains, and deluging city streets”. At least 45 people were killed, the paper reports, with states of emergency being declared in New York and New Jersey “in response to record rainfall, catastrophic flooding and tornados”. The paper adds: “Search and rescue operations continued last night. In Pennsylvania, rescuers took boats to first-floor windows to extract people stranded in their homes. The scale of the damage brought into grim focus the increasing urgency of the global climate crisis, prompting new warnings about the consequences of inaction.” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said “we have to recognise is the suddenness, the brutality of storms now”, reports the Financial Times. He added: “It is different…This is the biggest wake-up call we could ever get. We’re going to do a lot of things differently and quickly.” BBC News adds: “At least 3in (8cm) of rain fell in just one hour in New York’s Central Park. Almost all New York City subway lines have been closed, and non-emergency vehicles banned from roads. Many flights and trains out of New York and New Jersey have been suspended.” Reuters notes that “New York officials blamed much of flooding on the high volume of rainfall in a short space of time, rather than the daily total, which was within predictions”. Politico reports that the National Weather Service office in New York declared its first-ever set of flash flood emergencies in the region Wednesday night, an alert level that is reserved for “exceedingly rare situations when a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage from a flash flood is happening or will happen soon”. Reuters reports that Ida’s rainfall “stuns New Yorkers in its sheer intensity”, while Climate Home News reports that the floods show that the city’s “subway systems must be prepared for climate change”. The Independent also covers the floods, while Associated Press has an explainer on why Ida was so deadly in the northeastern US even though Ida made landfall more than 1,000 miles away.
Jim Kenney, the mayor of Philadelphia, also noted the impact of a warming climate, reports the New York Times, saying: “While the storm continues to wreak havoc across the region just as it has throughout other parts of the country…we must also note that extreme weather events like Ida are not isolated incidents. They are another indication of the worsening climate crisis.” In remarks yesterday, President Biden acknowledged the challenge ahead, reports another New York Times article. He said: “The past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here…We need to do – be better prepared. We need to act.” Dr Friederike Otto, who co-leads the World Weather Attribution initiative, tells CNN that “we do note that when hurricanes occur, the rainfall associated with them is more intense because of human-induced climate change, and Ida will not be an exception”. And Prof Aiguo Dai, a professor of atmospheric science at the University at Albany, tells the New York Times that “storm intensity is increasing much faster than the average change in precipitation…and it’s the intensity that really matters, because that’s what we design our infrastructure to handle”.
New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warned that the deaths highlight how the “climate crisis creates an inequality crisis”, reports the Hill. She tweeted: “Among the people MOST at risk during flash floods here are those living in off-the-books basement dwellings that don’t meet the safety codes necessary to save lives…These are working class, immigrant, and low-income people and families.” The New York Times reports on how the “storm turned basement apartments into death traps”, while the Washington Post covers new analysis by the US Environmental Protection Agency that warns that “racial minorities in the US will bear a disproportionate burden of the negative health and environmental impacts from a warming planet”. The New York Times also has a feature on how “repeated shocks from hurricanes, fires and floods are pushing some rural communities, already struggling economically, to the brink of financial collapse”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “shattered communities” in Louisiana are still assessing storm damage from Ida “as floodwaters had yet to recede in many places four days after the hurricane knocked out power to a million homes and businesses”. Another Reuters article says oil and gas companies are struggling to get offshore operations up and running after “Ida’s 150-mile-per-hour (240kph) winds delivered a direct hit to US energy infrastructure”. It adds: “Exxon Mobil’s Baton Rouge refinery will get 1.5m barrels of crude from US emergency stocks to produce gasoline, the Department of Energy said after President Joe Biden directed the department to use all tools, including the strategic petroleum reserve, to keep gasoline flowing.” Reuters also reports that Biden will visit Louisiana today to “get a first-hand look at the destruction wrought”.
Finally, Reuters reports that Storm Larry has strengthened into a hurricane over the eastern tropical Atlantic and could intensify further into a major hurricane by Friday night.
A COP26 spokesperson has said the UK is “on track” to vaccinate all delegates who need it ahead of the climate summit in Glasgow in November, Sky News reports. The outlet says it has “spoken to civil society organisations around the world who were concerned that, with little over eight weeks before the talks commence, few had received a single vaccine dose or much communication about the process”. However, the spokesperson “has now confirmed first doses of AstraZeneca will commence from next week”, the outlet reports, adding: “In the case of AstraZeneca or any other double dose vaccine, second doses will follow in mid-October, allowing a two-week period for the vaccine to kick in before the recipient travels to Glasgow.” The spokesperson noted the UK’s offer to vaccinate COP26 attendees was “part of a wider package of measures we will have in place to be able to host a safe COP26 with in-person participation”. However, Sky News also reports that concerns remain “about inclusivity at the climate talks”. Sara Shaw, climate justice co-coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, tells the outlet that “there is a lot of disquiet and concern amongst Global South participants – including delegates – about participation and access generally beyond vaccines – including around quarantining costs and general high costs in Glasgow”.
In other COP26 news, the Scotsman reports that the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has announced that staff of Scottish railway service ScotRail are being consulted over potential strike action “during the whole duration of the COP26 conference” after being offered no pay increase. The newspaper notes that “the decision to take soundings before deciding whether to press ahead with a strike ballot suggested its leaders may be unsure of the level of support for industrial action”. An editorial in the Scotsman comments: “There are many things wrong with life in modern Scotland that need to be addressed, but they are dwarfed by climate change. So it is not anti-union or right-wing to oppose strike action during COP26. And it is not a judgement on the disputes themselves. It is a plea to give this vitally important summit the best possible chance of success. We are sure many union members will share this view and they should contact their leaders to make their opinions known.”
Finally, DeSmog reports that the UK government has appointed a law firm with a history of defending fossil fuel companies over environmental disasters to provide legal services for the climate summit. And the latest episode of the BBC Newscast podcast includes “a history of previous COP summits with former US special envoy for climate change Todd Stern”.
US special climate envoy John Kerry said he urged Chinese leaders to reach for the “highest ambition” in order to curb temperature rises, saying that climate change was not about politics, reports Reuters. It continues: “Senior Chinese diplomats told Kerry during his visit to China that the issue of climate change could not be separated from the broader political disputes between the two sides.” Kerry told reporters during a conference call that his response was “look, climate is not ideological, not partisan, and not a geostrategic weapon”. He added that, while China has made important strides in areas such as renewable energy, they could still “do more”, reports the Washington Post. Kerry said: “We’ve said that very clearly. I said that to every leader I’ve spoken to in the last few days.” State news agency Xinhua also reports on the talks between Han Zheng, China’s vice-premier, and Kerry, which were held via video link from Beijing yesterday. (Kerry is visiting China from Tuesday to Friday and is staying in Tianjin, a city near Beijing. Read this week’s China Briefing newsletter by Carbon Brief for more.) Among other things, Han said that tackling climate change is “an important part” of China-US relations and should be “based on trust”, according to Xinhua. He expressed hope that the US “will follow the spirit of the call between the two heads of state and create a good atmosphere for the cooperation on climate change between the two sides”, the state-run newswire added. CCTV, the state broadcaster, has run a 90-second clip of the virtual meeting between Han and Kerry in Xinwenlianbo, the prime-time daily news programme. CGTN, the English arm of the state broadcaster, cites Han as saying that China-US cooperation on climate change “must be based on the foundations of the Paris Agreement”. BBC News, the Wall Street Journal, AP and Reuters all report on the talks.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that China has approved a 960m yuan ($149m) coalbed methane pipeline project linking the northern provinces of Shanxi and Shaanxi.
New research suggests that rapid warming of the Arctic due to climate change has increased the number of polar vortex outbreaks, when frigid air from the far north hits the US, reports the Associated Press. It explains that “the polar vortex normally keeps icy air trapped in the Arctic. But warmer air weakens the vortex, allowing it to stretch and wander south”, adding that “the number of times it has weakened per year has more than doubled since the early 1980”. The study is the first to show the connections between changes in the polar region and February’s deep freeze in Texas that triggered widespread power outages, killed more than 170 people and caused at least $20bn in damage, the newswire notes. (See Carbon Brief‘s coverage at the time.) The Guardian says that “scientists have long wrestled with the connection between the uptick in such severe winter weather events as powerful snowfalls and atypical cold snaps across the northern hemisphere, and accelerated Arctic warming, or Arctic amplification, one of the hallmarks of global warming”. It adds that the new study “has helped to clarify that connection”. (See Carbon Brief’s Q&A for more on potential links between a warming Arctic and extreme weather in the mid-latitudes.) Dr Judah Cohen, the lead author of the study, tells BBC News that “we’re arguing that melting sea ice across northwest Eurasia, coupled with increased snowfall across Siberia is leading to a strengthening of the temperature difference from west to east across the Eurasian continent…We know when that temperature difference increases, that leads to more disruptions of the polar vortex. And when it’s weakened, that leads to more extreme winter weather such as the Texas cold wave last February”. And Cohen tells the New Scientist: “If you expected global warming to help you out with preparing for severe winter weather, our paper says the cautionary tale is: don’t necessarily expect climate change to solve that problem for you…This is an unexpected impact from climate change that we didn’t appreciate 20 years ago.” Inside Climate News and Bloomberg also cover the study.
Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has pushed back strongly against “defeatist” criticism that the country’s net-zero target is expensive, and urged the Treasury to pick up the currently “incremental” pace of decarbonisation, the Guardian reports. Stark urged the debate over net-zero to be framed in a more positive light, the paper says. “It can be done,” he said. “It is worth it…I hope we can move away from thinking about the cost and see it as a mission to modernise the economy.” The paper notes that “there has been a wave of criticism by rightwing commentators that the costs are too high, which has put the spotlight on which side of the debate the Treasury will back”. Stark said there “are some big decisions to be had” in the cabinet, adding: “We cannot keep inching forward on all this. The incremental pace we have seen in some policies over the past 12 months is not going to cut it. This is a big moment. That moment is coming ahead of COP26. There will be a lot of focus on what that strategy contains.” BusinessGreen notes the Stark was speaking at an event hosted by the thinktank Onward. He said: “There is such a positive story of progress to tell here…I really feel it should be shouted – we should be shouting it from the rooftops – and I would love to see the chancellor embrace this more explicitly.” The Daily Telegraph leads with Stark’s comments on heat pumps, reporting that he said that the electric boiler alternatives were “very expensive” and policy changes were needed to make them realistic. Stark said: “I don’t think heat pumps are ready for the mass market just yet. But they could be, and that’s the important thing.“
In other UK news, DeSmog reports that UK government lawyers have argued that greenhouse gas emissions produced from burning oil are “not relevant” to granting a North Sea drilling permit, in a landmark case being heard this week. Bloomberg says it has seen documents that show “Abu Dhabi National Energy Co has begun a process to sell its oil and gas assets in the Netherlands and the UK”. The Financial Times reports on its frontpage that “Centrica, owner of British Gas, has warned of soaring prices caused by a global supply crunch that could raise household bills and force energy-intensive businesses in the UK and Europe to curb activity this winter”. And, finally, the Sun reports that “just 3,000 homes have been upgraded” in nearly a year under the government’s flagship green homes scheme.
The UK government has announced a $1.2bn package to support India’s climate change efforts, Livemint reports. It says the money is to support “public and private investment in green projects and renewable energy”. The publication explains that the package includes $1bn of investment in “green projects” over five years, from the CDC, the UK’s development finance institution, as well as a “new $200m private and multilateral investment into the joint UK-India Green Growth Equity Fund which invests in Indian renewable energy”. Mint adds: “New Delhi has been seeking technology and funds to achieve its climate change goals and lower emissions of greenhouse gases.” BusinessGreen says the money was announced alongside a new Climate Finance Leadership Initiative (CFLI) India.
Meanwhile, the Hindustan Times reports that “since 2019, [the state of] Maharashtra has paid at least ₹14,000 crore [$1.9bn] – about 18% of the state’s fiscal deficit for financial year (FY) 2020-21 – as direct compensation to those affected by extreme weather events”. The paper says the figure is “a gross underestimation of the total cost of recent climate disasters in the state” that have included “Cyclones Kyarr, Nisarga and Tauktae, last year’s floods in Vidarbha and the recent Konkan floods”. It quotes a government official saying the “real cost of the disasters is of course much higher because a lot of money has to also be allocated toward infrastructure repairs”. Separately, Down To Earth reports: “Aridity would have likely covered at least 87% of [India] by 1 September, according to [the] aridity anomaly outlook index issued by India Meteorological Department (IMD).” It continues that “at least 150 districts were in the grip of a ‘severe’ degree of dryness” last week. Press Trust of India reports that the eastern state of “Odisha recorded its highest rainfall deficiency this monsoon in over two decades”, with “a shortfall of 29%”.
Writing in the New York Times, Dr Robert S Young – a professor of geology at Western Carolina University and director of the programme for the study of developed shorelines – warns that the “hardest” lesson from Hurricane Ida is that “no matter what you spend in vulnerable coastal areas, you can’t protect everything from every storm”. He continues: “Quite simply, it is impossible to stop land loss and guarantee the safety of people so long as the climate continues to change, sea level continues to rise and warming seas create supercharged storms. It is impossible even if you spend lots of money and do it the right way, as Louisiana has done.” Outside of Alaska, the US has about 61,000 miles of ocean and estuarine shoreline, notes Young: “It is safe to say that it would cost trillions of dollars just to try to keep up with current vulnerability. And then, we will still get storms like Hurricane Ida that can overwhelm the best-laid plans.” He “is not suggesting that we do not attempt shoreline protection anywhere”, Young says: “I am simply asking that we acknowledge that we can’t provide that protection everywhere…The only way to truly guarantee the safety of our citizens and infrastructure in the near term is to get out of harm’s way.” He suggests that “we must seriously discuss how we can take measured, gradual steps to move people and homes away from the hazards”, but, “ultimately, we must also recognise that the coastal zone will be in ever increasing peril until we tackle the changing climate in a meaningful way. All this resilience spending is just a Band-Aid, not a cure. We can build all the sea walls, dunes, beaches and marshes we want, but the problem long-term is not what we put on the ground. It is what we put in the air”.
Elsewhere in the US, New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman comments on reports that “Walt Disney Company, along with other corporate titans, including ExxonMobil and Pfizer, is reportedly gearing up to support a major lobbying effort against President Biden’s $3.5tn investment plan – a plan that may well be our last chance to take serious action against global warming before it becomes catastrophic”. Krugman notes that the opposition comes because “Democrats are proposing to offset new spending partly with higher taxes on corporate profits, and to a lesser extent by using the government’s bargaining power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs”. He says that the opposition is “understandable”, but “also unforgivable”. In related news, the Hill reports that Democratic senator Joe Manchin “faced swift criticism from progressives after he urged Democrats to ‘hit the pause button’ on a $3.5tn spending package”.
A new study says that atmospheric circulation changes due to warming in the Arctic is “likely contributing” to the increasing number of severe winter storms in the US. Using observational data and climate models, scientists establish a link between changes in the “polar vortex” and snow and sea-ice cover in the Arctic. They find that the frequency of polar vortex “stretching” events is increasing, and that these “are a cooling influence across North America”. This study, the researchers say, shows that “[p]reparing for only a decrease in severe winter weather can compound the human and economic cost when severe winter weather does occur”.
Partially substituting chemical fertilisers for organic ones – such as pig manure – can reduce the environmental impacts of vegetable-growing by nearly half, new research shows. Researchers conduct a field experiment using different proportions of chemical and organic fertilisers on vegetable crops and measure several environmental variables. They find that a 50% substitution of manure for chemical fertiliser can reduce nitrous oxide emissions and soil acidification, while increasing crop yields. Moving to a strategy of mixed fertiliser use, the authors say, provides “economic benefits for farmers, reduced environmental damage and an efficient way for organic waste disposal”.
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