Delegates representing 200 countries are just half way through their two-week long climate change conference in Katowice, Poland and they are already finding that fighting climate change is not the only battle they are confronting.
Known as COP24, this is the most important international meet since the signing of the Paris Climate Accord in 2015. The purpose being to hammer out the details of the “how and when” of limiting each participating country’s impact on climate change. It has not been easy.
Greenhouse Gases at Record Levels
In the midst of these negotiations, representatives were confronted with more bad news. Greenhouse gas emissions for 2018 are projected to increase by more than 2 percent to “a record new high.”
As reported in the Global Carbon Budget 2018 this rise followed, a lull in emissions over the last three years. A period that scientists had hoped was a high in global emissions and would mark the beginning of a downtrend. Apparently that is not to be. India’s emissions rose 6.3%, China’s rose 4.7% and the rise was 2.5% in the U.S. Only in the EU do researchers project a fall in emissions. These four countries alone produce nearly 60% of the world’s carbon emissions. The culprits are increased vehicular use and a resurgence in the burning of coal.
“We are not seeing action in the way we really need to. This needs to change quickly,” said Corinne Le Quere a professor at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the new study. See more in EcoWatch.
Ice Melt in Overdrive
A second “bad news” report was published by glaciologists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and indicates that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is in overdrive. That translates into the fastest rate of sea level rise in over 350 years “if not thousands of years.”
“From a historical perspective, today’s melt rates are off the charts, and this study provides the evidence to prove this,” said WHOI glaciologist and study author Sarah Das. (photo – James Balog, Getty Images)
Climate scientist Edward Hanna summed it up this way, “Greenland is a bit like a sleeping giant that is awakening. Who knows how it will respond to a couple of more degrees of warming? It could lose a lot of mass very quickly.”
Climate Change Effects Closer to Home.
The just released National Climate Assessment shows that winters in the northeastern states of the U.S. have warmed three times faster than temperatures during the summers. The result is less winter snowpack which protects and insulates tree roots and healthful organisms in the soil from deep freezing temperatures.
The study, one of the longest-running, was conducted over six decades and indicates that if this trend continues, forests will be exposed to more harmful freeze-thaw cycles and frost will penetrate deeper into the soil.
Among the results of this root damage may be a loss of carbon dioxide from the soil, or fewer necessary nutrients being drawn from the soil into the trees.
The world-famous forests of New England dominated by oak, sugar maple and yellow birch and transformed by their vibrantly colored fall foliage could be seriously threatened. Climate models project that if less snowpack trends continue these forests could be diminished 95% by the end of the century.
The landscape would be irrevocably changed as well as decimating the area’s sugar maple, skiing and winter tourism industries.
All Things Coal
Or so it seems, with the main focus of the COP24 talks on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the corresponding reduction in the use of fossil fuels, it is ironic that coal was ever present at the summit.
Two coal companies were selected to sponsor the event, which was hosted in the coal mining town of Katowice, in a country that generates 80% of its energy from fossil fuels. Michael Kurtyka the president of COP24 stated that having the event in Katowice was a “strategic decision” highlighting the need for transition. (photo – Sean Gallup – Getty)
“How does one tell a region of 5 million people —to just move on, your world is that of the past?”
Unfortunately, Poland seems intent on building new coal powered plants rather than “transitioning” to cleaner fuels. As Poland’s president Andrzej Duda has said “we have coal deposits that will last 200 years….It would be hard to expect us to give up on it totally.”
In response to all of the talk about a soft transitioning of coal workers, Anabella Rosemberg, of Greenpeace explains. “Small islands feel like the ‘just transition’ conversation is only happening vis a vis workers who might lose their jobs…Yes they will lose jobs, but we are sinking.”
What is the US doing about coal?
The US delegation seemed more interested in trumpeting the virtues of “clean coal” than participating in the summit discussions. Trump recently said that he loves “clean air” and “clean water” and at COP24 his delegates focused on carbon capture and the storage of CCS.
All peculiarly at odds with what Trump’s EPA was simultaneously doing back home. Director Andrew Wheeler, previously a coal industry lobbyist, just announced plans to reduce regulation on coal-fired power plants. The Obama era laws required carbon capture and storage of CCS emissions, the very things that the US delegation in Katowice was saying was in the bright future for the coal industry. (photo – Huffpost)
All of this huffing and puffing seems purely symbolic since it appears that contrary to Trump’s desire there are no plans to build new coal-powered plants in the US. Power company executives can’t rationalize investing in coal plants that cost more to operate than those powered by natural gas or the increasingly competitive wind and solar.
Coal’s Bottom Line
It’s clear that coal mining is a very emotional issue in communities that have a strong history and tradition of mining. However, is it a a disservice to those communities to try to resuscitate a dying 19th century industry rather than do everything possible to make a transition into a growing 21st century industry like clean energy?
No where was this choice more stark than in Great Britain, a country that built an empire on railroads and ships powered by coal. At its height 1.2 million were employed in British coal mining and as recently as six years ago coal still supplied a third of the country’s energy needs.
Yet today Britain aims to totally eliminate coal in the production of electricity by 2025 and the country leads the world in the production of off-shore wind energy.
What made this about-face possible? Jobs in coal had been diminishing for years while over the last decade the implications of climate change were entering the public and political dialogue. “There was a real sea-change in attitude toward climate change,” says, Bryony Worthington, member of parliament and co-author of the UK’s Climate Change Act, the most sweeping law of its kind in the world, as reported in PRI, Public Radio International. (photo – final shift in a Yorkshire coal mine, Nigel Roddis/Pool, Reuters)
The new reality is “It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations,” said UK Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd. “Let me be clear: this is not the future.”
Why has coal in the US followed a different path? In Britain, “there were not the same level of climate skeptics that we see (in the US) today, we didn’t have that very well-resourced, very highly organized opposition,” explains Worthington. In certain key US states, a few big coal companies still have an out-sized political influence, which was obviously exercised in the last presidential election, But how long can it last?
As Mary Anne Hill of the Sierra Club said, “Coal use is at its lowest level in nearly four decades and the Trump Administration can’t stop this country from continuing to move beyond coal,
Another Setback in Fighting Climate Change
Brazil’s new far right government of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s left no doubt about his skepticism on climate change. Bolsonaro cancelled his country’s proposal to organize and host the next round of climate change talks planned to be held on the 11th to 22nd of November 2019.
Good News from the World Bank
The first big news out of the COP24 Summit was an announcement by the United Nations that they will double their investment in the Green Climate Fund to US$200 Billion. The fund will help the poorest developing nations adapt in the face of climate change.
“Climate change is an existential threat to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. These new targets demonstrate how seriously we are taking this issue, investing and mobilizing $200 billion over five years to combat climate change,” said Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank.
“People are losing their lives and livelihoods because of the disastrous effects of climate change. We must fight the causes, but also adapt to the consequences that are often most dramatic for the world’s poorest people,” said Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank CEO.
While Kim was urging other wealthy countries to increase their commitments, the Trump administration had announced their intention to cut funding. Obama had delivered $1 Billion of the US commitment of $3 Billion. Trump then cancelled any future payments saying that it would eventually cost “billions and billions and billions” of dollars.
California to Require Solar on New Homes
We have been following California as it breaks new ground in fighting climate change. Now a new law will require solar panels on all new homes built in the state. At first it will be more expensive for home owners but should pay off in energy savings, over the longer term. In the mean-time the measure should help to offset nearly 40% of the state’s daily energy demand.
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