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The fight for worker safety protection heats up at the Phoenix airport

Grist - Wed, 09/13/2023 - 01:30

 This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live. 

Janae Van de Kerk works as a passenger service assistant at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It’s demanding work, requiring her to push wheelchair-bound passengers wherever they need to go — through terminals and jetways, on tarmacs, into parking lots. During the city’s record-breaking hot streak this summer, Vandekirk spent most days nursing a headache or feeling sweat soak her uniform as she slogged through temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit. 

By way of protection, the airport gave her and her coworkers a 10-minute briefing on the basics: Drink fluids. If you’re not feeling well, sit down. 

Ah, but there’s a catch. 

“We’re not allowed to sit down unless we’re on an official break,” said Van de Kerk, and those come few and far between. By the time workers who request a breather get to the one break room available to them, their 20-minute allotment is all but over. 

On August 24, Van de Kerk and 11 of her fellow airport service workers — from passenger service assistants like her to baggage handlers and cabin cleaners — filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. The employees, supported by Service Employees International Union, requested an inspection of working conditions they say leave them vulnerable to heat illness and exhaustion.

It is the first heat-related OSHA complaint from U.S. airport workers. The move comes after years of increasingly unbearable summers in Arizona and the Southwest that have seen temperatures increasingly ascending well into triple digits, but it could have ramifications much farther afield. Advocates hope it could motivate the agency, which governs workplace safety, to consider a blanket federal extreme heat standard for American workers. Such calls have come to a head in the record-shattering summer of 2023 and follow protests in Phoenix and beyond. A thirst strike in Washington, D.C., led by Texas Representative Greg Casar called attention to similar workers’ plights in his home state, while airport service workers at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport have spoken out about their conditions.   

In July, the Biden administration took steps to address the mounting problem, introducing an OSHA enforcement initiative on extreme heat that would ramp up workplace inspections in high heat areas and issue hazard alerts to employers. Phoenix airport workers hope their complaint will push the agency to rigorously enforce these regulations.

In the complaint, workers also reported a lack of adequate medical attention for workers experiecing obvious heat illness. “The time that I suffered from extreme fatigue weakness I told my supervisor,” Linda Ressler, a cabin cleaner, reported in the written complaint. “She told me that I can either go home or she can get me an ambulance. I didn’t want to get the ambulance, because I don’t have money to pay. I was also in and out of conscious[ness] and was confused and didn’t know what to do.”

Read Next In Phoenix, emergency room doctors confront the dangers of extreme heat

Workers like baggage handlers and runway signalers who direct aircraft on the tarmac are obviously most at risk from dangerous heat exposure. But cabin cleaners can experience stifling conditions when plane engines and air conditioning are turned off during layovers and the jet feels like a superheated aluminum can.

“They definitely are the invisible people,” Van de Kerk said. “Passengers don’t see them.” 

According to Service Employees International Union, inflation-adjusted wages for airport service workers have not risen in 20 years. Unlike flight attendants, these employees are not often unionized, instead contracted by the airline to work in a specific terminal, despite the fact that the airline controls the conditions of their workplace. These folks also are disproportionately people of color, and many are immigrants. 

Van de Kerk, for example, is not an official employee of the Phoenix airport or any specific airline. She is a contract worker for Prospect Airport Services. Arizona is a low-bid state, so the airport hired the company that required the least amount of money. Employees earn minimum wage. And the company, as a third party, doesn’t fall under most basic protections for workers. “Contract workers have nothing,” Van de Kerk said. “We have no voice.” 

Phoenix has been so hot this summer that people have received third-degree burns from touching asphalt. Local emergency rooms have been inundated with patients exhibiting signs of heat-related illnesses. At the airport, cabin cleaners describe drinking water from the bottles passengers leave behind just to stay cool as the cabins they worked in reached unimaginable temperatures. 

Prospect Airport Services did not respond to a request for comment.

Advocates say there is a chance to change things within the airline industry soon. The Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization deadline is less than a month away. Labor unions consider it a chance for Congress to require better wages and sick leave for airport service workers. If argued right, that could also include developing safety protocols for workers in dangerously hot conditions. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The fight for worker safety protection heats up at the Phoenix airport on Sep 13, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Study: Lead exposure killed more than 5 million people in just one year

Grist - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 14:43

There is no safe level of lead. The naturally occurring metal is so toxic that the Environmental Protection Agency began banning its use in paint and gasoline in the 1970s, following the lead of other countries. Since then, a growing body of research has confirmed the health effects of lead exposure, including heart and kidney diseases. The effects are particularly pronounced in children. Exposure to lead in the first five years of life has been shown to hinder brain development, stunting a child’s ability to learn, focus, and control their impulses. 

A new study from the World Bank tallies the staggering worldwide toll: 5.5 million deaths from heart diseases because of exposure to lead in 2019 alone. Researchers also found that exposure to lead in children under five years old led to a loss of more than 750 million IQ points — a standardized measure of intellectual ability. People in low and middle income countries, where blood lead levels are higher on average than in high income countries, were hit hardest. The overall cost of exposure was $6 trillion in 2019, the equivalent of nearly 7 percent of the world’s economic output.  

“There has been this idea that since the phase out of lead in gasoline [in the 1970s], the problem has more or less been solved,” said Bjorn Larsen, a consultant with the World Bank and lead author of the study. “Our estimate indicates that the health effects and the cost of lead exposure is possibly as large as the health effects and costs of fine particulate ambient air pollution and household air pollution combined. That is enormous.”

The study, published in the journal Lancet Public Health on Monday, relied on blood lead level estimates in a 2019 study that aggregated data sources on health and mortality outcomes worldwide. Larsen and his co-author then used existing research on the effects of lead to calculate IQ loss in children and deaths from cardiovascular disease in adults. They also estimated the economic costs of the loss in IQ and deaths. The findings were “surprising,” Larsen said. 

IQ losses were about 80 percent higher and the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease was six times higher than previous estimates. Larsen attributed the difference to improvements in our understanding of the effects of lead exposure and a more comprehensive methodology that better captured how exposure could cause cardiovascular diseases. 

Blood lead levels in American children have dropped dramatically in the last few decades. In the 1970s, kids between the ages of one and five years old were found to have 15 micrograms of lead in each deciliter of blood. That figure dropped to 0.6 micrograms in 2017. But in low and middle income countries the researchers found that the average is still about 4.6 micrograms per deciliter, which Larsen said drove the findings on IQ loss and cardiovascular disease.

There are many factors causing higher levels of blood lead levels in lower income countries. Lead battery recycling units may contaminate the air, water, or soil in and around population centers. Aluminum pots and pans might be tainted with lead that eventually leaches into food. Leaded paint is also still used in many countries, and lead has been found in phosphate fertilizers, which could be contaminating crops. It’s unclear which of these sources are driving elevated levels of blood in lower income countries. 

Larsen said that governments and aid organizations should routinely test children to get a better understanding of lead exposure. And that, in turn, could help identify hot spots and potential sources of the toxic metal. 

“The understanding of these sources is very incomplete,” said Larsen. “We are decades behind on lead, because it has been a neglected area up until now.” 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Study: Lead exposure killed more than 5 million people in just one year on Sep 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Major victory against false “gas certification” proves industry and government need to do far more to protect people and climate

EarthBlog - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 12:18

First things first, extreme weather and toxic air pollution are impacting communities right now and it will not be stopped until the whole world stops expanding and manages the decline of fossil fuels. In the meantime, we must do everything we can to cut pollution from existing oil and gas facilities. This includes calling out and ground truthing “false solutions” designed to preserve record industry profits while perpetuating harm to communities and climate.  

In April of this year, Earthworks and Oil Change International did just that (read the report here): we called out “gas certification” as untested, inadequate and, at worst, potentially intentionally deceptive. 

Two weeks ago, the climate movement scored a major victory on that front when Project Canary, one of the leading gas certification companies and the target of our Certified Disaster report, announced it would be parting ways with its founder and CEO Chris Romer and shifting the company strategy away from certification. 

Why it’s Significant:

Our Certified Disaster report put Project Canary’s claims of “altering the course of climate change” under the microscope. The 60 plus page report found major issues, the most startling of which was that their pollution monitors weren’t actually catching pollution. According to Bloomberg, it was these findings, in part, that put Project Canary under pressure for change.

The changes that Project Canary announced are monumental shifts. Chris Romer has been an outspoken and often controversial figurehead since he founded the company in 2019. His public persona and charisma are deeply woven into the Project Canary brand and are evident in the bold marketing campaigns that likely overstated the company’s capabilities at the time. 

The most significant change though is Project Canary’s decision to shift away from certification. Up until that announcement, the company had centered its identity around its Trustwell certification platform which it acquired when it merged with Independent Energy Standards in 2020. The acquisition allowed Canary to self-brand as the only certification platform to combine “real-time, on-site monitoring with trusted, independent verification and analysis.

These shifts happened in part because of our Certified Disaster report which uncovered concerning issues including:

  • The company’s self manufactured monitors were consistently allowing pollution events to go unnoticed giving the false impression of emissions reductions.
  • Conflicts of interests with private equity capital that had stake in both Project Canary and its clients
  • Marketing and advertising that made unsubstantiated claims about the capabilities of the company’s offerings.

It is important to note that these changes do not address most of the concerns we highlight in our report – most importantly, the company still has not put its monitoring technology through transparent and independent testing. But it is a victory for exposing “gas certification” as highly problematic and in need of severe scrutiny by government regulators.

What’s Next

Industry has made bold claims to be doing better at reducing pollutants–oftentimes with governments complicit in endorsing questionable practices. This victory emphasizes just how important ground truthing those claims can be – the industry will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being held accountable to their climate commitments and continue to sell methane gas as a false climate solution. Because of this, the climate movement must continue to scrutinize monitoring schemes, like Project Canary, which aim to reward companies or governments for “progress” on climate. The only true climate solutions focus on reducing the production of fossil fuels.

The post Major victory against false “gas certification” proves industry and government need to do far more to protect people and climate appeared first on Earthworks.

Categories: H. Green News

What would happen if the world cut meat and milk consumption in half?

Grist - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 11:35

Cows are often described as climate-change criminals because of how much planet-warming methane they burp. But there’s another problem with livestock farming that’s even worse for the climate and easier to overlook: To feed the world’s growing appetite for meat, corporations and ranchers are chopping down more forests and trampling more carbon-sequestering grasslands to make room for pastures and fields of hay. Ruminants, like cattle, sheep, and goats, need space to graze, and animal feed needs space to grow. The greenhouse gases unleashed by this deforestation and land degradation mean food systems account for one-third of the world’s human-generated climate pollution. 

Environmental advocates have long argued that there’s a straightforward solution to this mess: Eat less meat. Convincing more people to become vegetarians is a very effective way to limit emissions. Getting rid of meat is one question; replacing it is another. A paper published on Tuesday seeks to address both, finding that giving up meat in favor of meat-like plant products would yield significant benefits for the climate, biodiversity, and even food security in coming decades. 

Swapping 50 percent of the world’s beef, chicken, pork, and milk consumption with plant-based alternatives by mid-century could effectively halt the ecological destruction associated with farming, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, China, and Southeast Asia, according to the study in Nature Communications. Such a dietary shift could also lead to a 31 percent reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the study found. That’s the equivalent of not burning 1.8 trillion pounds of coal each year between 2020 and 2050.

Climate policies and investment focus heavily on fossil fuels and the energy sector, but slashing agricultural emissions is also crucial to keeping planetary warming below catastrophic levels, said Lini Wollenberg, the study’s co-author.

“There’s enough evidence to show that if we don’t shift our diets, then we will not meet the 1.5 degree Celsius target by 2100,” said Wollenberg, who researches climate change and food systems at CGIAR and the University of Vermont. “Agriculture has to be addressed.” 

Most of the emissions saved by a shift to plant-based foods, like oat milk and Impossible Burgers, would come from staving off agricultural expansion and preserving land. Under a model that assumes the status quo continues, demand for meat would continue to rise globally, and overall land devoted to agriculture would grow by 4 percent —  219 million hectares, about seven times the size of Germany — by 2050. But if people replace half of the meat and milk that they eat with analogs made from plants over the same time period, land used for feeding and keeping livestock would shrink by 12 percent — 653 million hectares, roughly twice the size of India. Sparing that land also would help limit biodiversity loss and conserve water, the researchers found. 

“It was interesting to see how powerful this dietary change can be and to see all these impacts across the spectrum of sustainability outcomes or objectives,” said Marta Kozicka, an agricultural economist at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and the paper’s lead author. 

The study doesn’t provide a detailed roadmap for overhauling the world’s diet. The United Nations projects that people around the world will be eating 14 percent more meat in 2030. Even as plant-based foods take up more shelf space at grocery stores in the United States than they did five years ago, the foods still make up less than 2 percent of the meat sold in the United States (though a bit more – 15 percent – of the country’s milk). 

The paper’s authors acknowledge that replacing half the world’s meat and milk consumption by 2050 “will be challenging and may require a range of technological and policy interventions,” though they conclude that such a scenario “is a realistic one, especially if the novel plant-based alternatives may be combined with traditional plant-based products and other novel meat substitutes, whether cell-based or insect-based.”

Raychel Santo, a food and climate researcher at the World Resources Institute who was not involved in the study, pointed to three areas where people are working to help ease global demand for meat: getting public schools, prisons, and other institutions to substitute meat on their menus with more climate-friendly options; adding labels to food products to indicate their carbon (or methane) footprints; and increasing public funding for research and development of alternative proteins. 

“Right now there is very limited public investment in alternative proteins,” Santo said, noting that other climate solutions, like renewable energy and electric cars, have gotten considerably more financial backing from the U.S. government. Santo called the goal of cutting the planet’s meat consumption in half by 2050 a “tall order,” but she also pointed out that previous research has found that just lowering the consumption of ruminant meat alone could halt agricultural expansion and deforestation. That leaves room for replacing red meat with chicken — a shift that many Americans have made in recent decades, mostly due to health concerns. 

Some advocates hope that advances in technologies like fermentation and cultivated meat will help displace demand for animal flesh. Chicken patties grown in labs may pick up where beet-bleeding burgers left off.  

“Writing off alternative proteins today would be like writing off solar power in the 1980s or writing off electric vehicles in the early 2000s,” said Emma Ignaszewski, associate director at the Good Food Institute, a think tank that promotes meat and dairy alternatives, in an email to Grist. “Transforming the $1 trillion dollar global meat market will take time and continued innovation. Getting to 50 percent market share by 2050 would be a moonshot. But by no means would it be impossible.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline What would happen if the world cut meat and milk consumption in half? on Sep 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Climate Change Hurting Water Quality in Rivers Worldwide, Study Finds

Yale Environment 360 - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 07:12

Bouts of intense rainfall and drought are hurting water quality in rivers around the globe, according to a sprawling new analysis.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

How community feedback can improve the green energy transition

Grist - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 07:00

When Mike Quigley heard about a new energy transmission line the federal government was considering from Arizona to California in 2018, his feelings were mixed. Quigley serves as the Arizona state director of the conservation organization The Wilderness Society, and supports looking to public lands for the multiple roles they can play in addressing climate change. So in 2018, he supported a shift toward renewables to fight climate change. But the proposed transmission route bisected a wildlife refuge that offered important habitat to several desert species, and also threatened a beloved canyon.

This was a problem. To him, the role of public lands in the climate fight goes beyond their renewable energy potential, or reducing the oil, gas and coal emissions that stem from them. Quigley says healthy public lands naturally clean air and water, support natural carbon storage, and help buffer communities against both the physical and emotional impacts of living with climate change. 

And he wasn’t the only one concerned. Officials said the 500kV powerline was needed to connect substations in Tonopah, Arizona, and Blythe, California, in order to provide more renewable energy in the Southwest. But the 125-mile Ten West Link electrical transmission line initially faced significant opposition because of its preliminary proposed route, which cut through Johnson Canyon and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge near Yuma, Arizona. 

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Mason Cummings

The 665,400-acre refuge offered crucial habitat for endangered species between the Kofa Mountains and Castle Dome Mountains. Among them were the Sonoran pronghorn antelope. In the early 2000s, “you could count on both hands the number of Sonoran pronghorn left in the United States,” Quigley says. 

Since then a successful breeding program had built the population back up. It worked particularly well in the Kofa refuge, where mountain lions were a less prevalent predator than in other areas. Other wildlife, like the desert horned lizard, red-spotted toad, desert iguana, chuckwalla, the elusive Gila monster, and the western diamondback rattlesnake, were among the 702 different species of animals and plants officially found within Kofa. Migratory birds such as white-winged doves, cactus wrens, northern flickers, canyon towhees, Gambel’s quails, and golden eagles would also pass through the refuge in significant numbers in spring and fall. 

Hikers and birdwatchers came out in force to see the migrations. The local community worried that the project would harm tourism to the desert region. JC Sanders, a retiree and off-highway vehicle enthusiast, was among those concerned. Sanders particularly loved taking his all-terrain vehicle on Kofa’s open travel routes and through the nearby Johnson Canyon. “It gives populations like me, the elderly, an opportunity to see isolated areas and the animals,” he says. “Bighorn sheep have very little fear of vehicles out there in the wilderness.”

A series of public meetings revealed deep community opposition to the project. Sanders is vice-chair of the Arizona Peace Trail, a coalition of 14 Southwestern off-highway vehicle groups advocating for a 675-mile trail from Bullhead City to Yuma. He and his counterparts met multiple times with the project engineers, even taking them to the prized Johnson Canyon site. 

A group of off-highway vehicle enthusiasts at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Mason Cummings

To overcome the impasse, The Wilderness Society, federal agencies, and locals worked together to identify an alternative route for the transmission line along Interstate 10. A conservation nonprofit called the Sonoran Institute, which had been trying to identify promising energy corridors, had previously studied this route. It runs parallel with I-10 along the West-wide Energy Corridor to avoid Kofa, then joins an existing power line route once it gets west of the wildlife refuge.

This new path avoids environmentally sensitive areas like the Kofa refuge, recreation areas, populated regions, significant cultural resources, and the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation. As an added bonus, it utilizes existing infrastructure, minimizing the project’s environmental impact. “It fulfills its primary purpose of taking non-carbon-emitting energy to market, and it does it in the least environmentally damaging way possible,” Quigley says. “This is an example of how that can work in practice.”

The project broke ground this spring, with Vice President Kamala Harris and other federal officials in attendance. Power is expected down the line by 2024. 

While the new route may be slightly less direct, it will likely save money by avoiding litigation when a project is publicly opposed, says Justin Meuse, The Wilderness Society’s director of government relations for climate and energy. He says the Ten West Link project shows it is possible to responsibly develop renewable energy projects and transmission on public lands by ensuring meaningful public participation from the outset. 

Vice President Kamala Harris receives a briefing at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Ten West Link transmission line. AP

Sanders, a retired civil engineer himself, says maintaining good relationships between officials, groups, and members of the public is key to working out mutually agreeable solutions. “Rather than standing up and opposing a proposal, get to know the people and let them know what your specific concerns are,” he says. “Work on alternatives — help them out. Help them achieve the ultimate goal. Public involvement is critical on any project like this.”

The ultimate goal, environmental experts explain, is to bring more decarbonized energy online— without replicating some of the environmental injustices practiced by the fossil fuel industries. “We want to reach our clean energy future, but we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past,” Meuse says, particularly when it comes to community involvement. 

That means providing sufficient time for public comment periods for proposed projects, Meuse says. In his experience, a standard 45-day public comment period often passes without communities or neighborhoods even knowing it has opened. 

Longer response times are “worth it in the long run,” he says. “You see a lot of the discourse about community opposition to wind and solar site location that could be addressed with more time to comment—and early and effective outreach—rather than just jamming the project through.”

Advocates believe that the positive solutions found for Ten West Link can be replicated elsewhere. The Biden administration, for instance, is currently updating and expanding a plan for solar in the western United States that was developed in 2012. When complete, the plan could incorporate an additional five states, and focus on identifying low-conflict areas for development based on wildlife habitat, distance from cultural resources, and proximity to existing infrastructure. 

The 200-megawatt Dry Lake Solar Energy Project in Nevada is another example of this success. The area to be developed—some 1,635 acres of public land near Las Vegas—was pre-screened by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management as a low-conflict area. Meuse says that, as a result, the project’s permitting time has been about half its typical length. 

Ensuring that federal agencies have enough resources will facilitate these kinds of community-oriented approaches. While the Inflation Reduction Act included $1 billion for conducting national environmental policy analyses, more is needed on a regular basis for historically underfunded agencies, Meuse says. 

“It’s the kind of model that takes investment, time, and engagement,” he says. “That’s what we prioritize — ensuring that nobody’s getting steamrolled in the name of our clean energy future.”

The Wilderness Society has been working since 1935 on uniting people to protect America’s wild places. With more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect nearly 112 million acres of wilderness in 44 states and ensure sound management of public lands. We believe that public lands can and should be a critical part of the solution to the climate crisis and a healthy future for all. We work to rapidly and fairly phase out fossil fuel development, responsibly ramp up renewable energy development, and protect and restore natural carbon sinks – like old-growth forests – on public lands and waters.


This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How community feedback can improve the green energy transition on Sep 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

The end of summer vacation

Grist - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 06:00

Hello, and welcome to this week’s edition of Record High. I’m Jake Bittle, and today we’re going to talk about not having fun in the sun.

We recently asked Record High readers to tell us about how extreme heat has changed the way they approach travel, outdoor sports, and other recreation. For many of us, these experiences are deeply important for our own health and our relationships with loved ones. One reader wrote back with a response that stuck with me.   

“Our favorite vacation spot is Disneyland, California,” they said. “In the 1970s through 1990s, we were able to go there in the summer, but not now. It’s too hot and the air conditioning in the park makes the outdoor walkways even hotter. It’s also hotter in Phoenix where our daughter lives, so we see her and her family less often.”

Thousands of people in the United States and globally have had to make similar adjustments as the world endures its hottest summer on record. Travelers have canceled trips to places like Italy and Greece as triple-digit temperatures scorch Southern Europe, organizers have called off concerts and sporting events from Arizona to Long Island, and hikers have collapsed or even died on trails like those in Utah’s Mount Olympus, where officials had to conduct an emergency heat rescue back in July.

In sunny states like California and Florida, many of the most popular recreational activities take place outdoors, fueling a booming tourism industry. A few decades ago, summer was the best time of year to go on a hike, take out your boat, or visit a theme park, but now it’s almost unbearable.

A hiker finishes her hike early to beat high temperatures on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Phoenix. The city experienced 110 degree F temperatures for a month straight this summer. AP Photo / Matt York

Disney’s iconic theme parks have taken this shift on the chin. The entertainment giant saw overall attendance numbers at its Florida theme park slump this summer during a period when the heat index at the park reached an astonishing 112 degrees Fahrenheit. That was in line with a broader slowdown in central Florida tourism that affected SeaWorld and Six Flags as well. 

Even blogs that are devoted to the company’s attractions published articles about crowds waiting in the hot sun for rides and offered “Tips for Surviving Disneyland When it’s Super Hot.” Part of the problem, as our reader pointed out, is that the company runs huge AC units to keep its indoor offerings cool, and these units leak heat exhaust into outdoor areas, making it even more unpleasant to walk around.

At least you can go inside at Disney World. Other forms of outdoor recreation, such as running and hiking, are even more dangerous when the temperature gets high because the body never gets a respite from the heat of the sun. By this July, at least seven people had died in national parks while hiking outdoors, according to data CNN obtained from the National Park Service. Most of these deaths were in the dry Southwest where the unrelenting sun can cause heatstroke in a matter of hours. 

“Unfortunately, Ms. Lindstrom was in town from Oregon, where it doesn’t get this hot.

Scott Douglas, captain of the Phoenix Fire Department, after a hiker died on a city trail

This heat can sneak up fast on people who aren’t prepared for it. Jessica Lindstrom, a 34-year-old nurse and mother of four, was visiting Phoenix from Oregon last month when she went for a hike in the Deem Hills Recreation Area in the city’s northern suburbs. Lindstrom was reported missing at around 8:30 a.m., and Phoenix police found her dead about nine hours later. She had grown up in Arizona, but the local fire chief attributed her death to a shock of extreme heat.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Lindstrom was in town from Oregon, where it doesn’t get this hot,” Scott Douglas, the captain of the Phoenix Fire Department, said in a press conference at the time. The temperature in Phoenix that day reached a high of 113 degrees.

In theory, it’s incumbent on theme park owners and local government agencies to communicate with visitors about the risks of extreme heat, and shut down facilities when necessary, but doing so can put them in an economic bind. A city like Orlando nets about $31 billion from tourism every year, equivalent to 20 percent of its total economic output, and shareholder-driven companies like Disney have every financial incentive to keep parks open even if attendance numbers are low.

In the meantime, more families will likely do what our reader’s family did, and just stay home.

By the numbers

Data from the city of Phoenix shows that average foot traffic on the city’s trails tends to plummet during the summer months as temperatures reach triple digits and officials shut down city parks. This data is from 2020 and 2021, so they don’t reflect trends from this year’s killer summer.

Data Visualization by Clayton Aldern

What we’re reading

The limits of survival: A new study in the journal Science Advances found that parts of the world have already become too hot for human health as heat and humidity in the Persian Gulf and South Asia cross critical thresholds. My colleague Zoya Teirstein breaks down the study and what it means for the future toll of extreme heat.

Read more

Threats to rainforest photosynthesis: In additional research news, scientists have found that plants in the Amazon rainforest cannot perform photosynthesis at temperatures above 116 degrees Fahrenheit. As my colleague Katie Myers reports, if the Amazon reaches that temperature on a continuous basis, its lush, biodiverse jungle could collapse and give way to a drier, savannah-like environment.

Read more 

Students get “heat days”: As the Northeast faced down a grueling heat wave last week, some school districts let students stay home until temperatures abated. CNN’s Rachel Ramirez wrote about the rise in “heat days,” a climate-fueled mirror image of the beloved Northeast snow day, and examined how heat disrupts childhood learning.

Read more 

States withhold cooling money: While the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has almost always been used to help households pay for heating costs, the money can technically also help pay for air conditioning. But as Thomas Frank of E&E News reports, the states that administer the program haven’t caught up with the new reality of climate change, and most haven’t released any money for that purpose.

Read more 

Heat wave roasts the U.S. Open: The world’s greatest tennis players had to play through humid, 90-degree conditions during the later rounds of last week’s U.S. Open in New York City. The muggy weather made it difficult to hit big serves and forced players to change sweaty shirts several times. Players had a range of responses to the heat. Serbian great Novak Djokovic, who ended up winning the men’s tournament, said it was “not easy, but you’ve got to fight.” Russian phenom Daniil Medvedev, who played Djokovic in the final match, issued a more serious warning, saying that “one player is going to die and you are going to see.”

Read more 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The end of summer vacation on Sep 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

A look inside the plan to store carbon at the bottom of the Black Sea

Grist - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 01:45

Whenever Ram Amar explains his idea for mitigating climate change, people usually look at him strangely and ask if he’s crazy. It’s easy to see why. 

His startup, Rewind, wants to sequester a gigaton of carbon each year — about 10 percent of what climate scientists deem necessary each year to reach net zero by 2050 — in a remarkably simple way. The elevator pitch goes like this: Gather millions of tons of agricultural waste and send it to the bottom of the Black Sea, where it won’t decay. Wilder still, an ancient Greek ship that sank 2,400 years ago helped inspire the idea.

At first glance, the proposal might seem counterintuitive. The carbon that plants absorb from the atmosphere through photosynthesis is released when they decompose (or, alas, are compressed over eons to make fossil fuels). This is where the Black Sea comes in. Unlike most other large bodies of water, it is mostly anoxic, meaning there is precious little oxygen — and almost none at all at depths beyond 300 feet or so. It takes a long time for anything to biodegrade down there, which explains why dozens of intact shipwrecks litter its floor.

After selling his software company to Google in 2019, Amar pondered growing seaweed to sequester carbon, but realized that anything it captured would eventually return to the atmosphere. He put the sequestration idea aside until he met Peter Kroust, a German marine biologist who suggested stashing carbon in the Black Sea — something that occurred to him after cycling along the Danube and seeing tons of agricultural waste headed downriver. “And at that point, it was just like a click,” Amar said with a laugh. After getting initial funding (he wouldn’t say how much), they launched Rewind in Tel Aviv last year. 

It’s an intriguing idea, and Rewind, which employs 12 people, just wrapped up a yearlong experiment in the Black Sea and the Sea of Galilee (portions of which are anoxic) that suggests it could work. The research team left a bit more than 650 pounds of hardwood submerged in a linen bag at a depth of 820 feet. The material retained 97 percent of its biomass over the 12 months that followed. “We saw that there is some degradation over the first three months, and then from three months on it stayed mostly consistent,” Amar said. “That’s really great.” 

In their control of pine submerged in normal water, the researchers recorded 10 percent degradation in six months. The reduced rate of decay in anoxic water can be attributed to lignin, a key organic polymer, found in the tissue of most plants, that does not break down without oxygen. Amar’s team plans further experiments at depths of 3,200 feet, followed by two deposits to be made more than a mile down.

Kobi Kaminitz, the chief technology officer at Rewind, prepares an underwater camera for testing organic matter in the sea. Photo courtesy of Rewind

Similar tests with wheat stalk, corn stover, and grapevines revealed varying levels of decay, but Amar said this small amount of degradation won’t be a problem 7,200 feet beneath the surface. “Whatever does break down will stay in the deep Black Sea and will not mix and float back up into shallower layers where it can come in contact with the air,” he said.

According to Amar, carbon dating shows that the deepest parts of the Black Sea haven’t had contact with the air in two millennia, making it an excellent carbon (and methane) sink. The company is confident the science stacks up, but because Rewind hopes to fund the project by selling carbon credits, its process must be vetted by independent experts to ensure it works.

There are several potential pitfalls, the biggest of which is carbon sequestration being difficult to measure. There also is little recourse should something go wrong. “Once you put material in the deep sea, it is almost impossible to get it back again without a huge expense,” said Martin Palmer, a geochemistry professor at the National Oceanography Center in South Hampton, England. “So you need to be 100 percent confident that the process is safe.”

Palmer also notes that although organic matter is better preserved in anoxic environments, it still undergoes degradation that results in some level of methane production. “You would need to be very sure that you would not exceed the methane solubility in the Black Sea waters, or there could be problems,” particularly in an area that is seismically active, Palmer told Grist.

And then there are the logistical challenges, including where to source so much biomass. However, the Black Sea is bordered by six agriculturally productive countries that generate a lot of waste. Much of it is usually burned, or shipped down the Danube and dumped into the sea at depths above the anoxic zone, where it degrades and releases carbon. Given the existing infrastructure for moving all that material, Rewind calculates that the carbon needed to transport it far from shore to dump it at an appropriate depth would amount to no more than 3 percent of the carbon that could be sequestered. With a volume of more than 131,000 cubic miles, there is plenty of space to do the job.

However, stashing a gigaton of carbon a year will require such large quantities of biomass that it will demand geopolitical coordination. That means convincing politicians, policymakers, and the public. Communicating the idea that his startup isn’t simply dumping waste in the sea — something Amar calls the “understanding gap” — won’t be easy, especially in such a politically tense region. Rewind remains in the early phases of those discussions with government agencies and officials, but is confident it can sell them on the idea.

“As humanity, we’re a huge intervention to the planet,” he said. “So we’re trying to fix the biggest intervention we’ve made, with a smaller intervention.”

His idea, though perhaps counterintuitive, may not be as crazy as it first sounds.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A look inside the plan to store carbon at the bottom of the Black Sea on Sep 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Their water is undrinkable. So these West Texas residents have taken matters into their own hands.

Grist - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 01:30

This story was first published by the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

During a community meeting in July, residents of four unincorporated communities south of the Texas Panhandle held mason jars filled with brown, cloudy water — visual evidence of the water quality issues that have for decades plagued the more than 300 residents of these rural West Texas communities.

Situated in the outskirts of Lubbock and Shallowater, residents of the four developments have received regular notices of water quality violations from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental agency. Elevated levels of fluoride, arsenic, perfluoroalkyl, and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals have made the water undrinkable for nearly two decades, according to TCEQ records, leaving residents to rely on bottled water.

About 65 residents attended the July meeting to create the South Plains Water Supply Corporation, a collaborative public entity that makes the four housing developments eligible to compete for regional, state, and federal funding. The newly formed organization, run by a board of directors who represent all four subdivisions, is working quickly to meet an Aug. 31 deadline to apply for approximately $3.3 million from the Texas Water Development Board.

If they receive it, the board plans to use the money to repair broken water treatment and filtration systems.

The regions’ water issues are not unique. A 2016 report found that 65 Texas water systems contained excessive levels of arsenic, exposing about 51,000 Texans to the contaminant. Most of those systems were clustered in rural parts of West Texas.

Financial help is on the way. Texas has been allocated approximately $2.5 billion in federal funding earmarked for water infrastructure through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. And the state also allocated more than $2 billion to increase water supplies, fix failing infrastructure, and prevent flooding. One billion of that will go toward the New Water Supply for Texas Fund and the Texas Water Fund if voters approve the idea in the fall election.

“Every so often, water systems need capital improvements,” said Ken Rainwater, a Lubbock-based civil engineer who is serving as an engineering consultant for the new corporation. “A big city can just pay for it out of use fees or by selling municipal bonds, but these little systems need access to grant funds or low interest loans.”

Part of the problem stems from the 2021 Winter Storm Uri. The freeze caused some of the communities’ water issues because their treatment plants were not properly weatherized, Rainwater said. Other contamination issues have existed for longer and became a problem when TCEQ lowered the maximum allowable levels of arsenic and fluoride.

Before the South Plains Water Supply Corporation formed, the state stepped in after an April 2021 investigation revealed that the owner and operator of the four water systems had died and that the new operator had suffered a medical emergency. Since then, TCEQ has appointed an independent company to temporarily manage the deteriorating, abandoned water systems. Emergency orders to appoint temporary managers are uncommon, a TCEQ spokesperson said. And a temporary manager does not own the utility; instead, they are only given the powers and duties necessary to provide continuous and adequate service.

“They aren’t even a local entity so they aren’t motivated to improve the situation for us,” Deborah Hunt, a resident of Town North Estates and secretary-treasurer of South Plains Water Supply Corporation, said of the temporary manager. “And so now we’ve come together to try to get quality water.”

Hunt said she hasn’t drank the water in years because of its poor taste and that she and her neighbors have also dealt with low water pressure.

The South Plains partnership was inspired in part by work in Florida, where small water utilities have worked together to improve their systems.

“What nobody can afford to do now is wait,” said Robert Sheets, who founded the Florida Governmental Utility Association, an entity that provides water and wastewater services across 14 Florida counties. Sheets is now assisting the South Plains Water Supply Corporation to address their water issues. “We have to take a quilt approach and get the local governments to work together in a collaborative fashion to address their issues.”

During the most recent legislative session, Sheets was part of an effort to pass House Bill 2701, which would allow public water and wastewater utilities to join forces to save money and create efficiencies, similar to the one Sheets created in Florida. The bill made it out of the House but died in the Senate.

Sheets believes that regionalization and consolidation can help Texas address some of their water issues, including aging water infrastructure, leaking pipes, and recurring boil-water notices. Texas has a proliferation of small, rural water systems that struggle with limited budgets and personnel. They are also disqualified from certain loans because they don’t have sufficient funds to repay the loan, and they often don’t have enough personnel to complete time-intensive grant applications.

Although HB 2701 did not pass, Sheets and Carlos Rubinstein, a former chair of the Texas Water Development Board, said they plan to reintroduce the legislation during the next regular session.

In the meantime, they said they’ll do what they can to support small water systems — including the new South Plains Water Supply Corporation.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Their water is undrinkable. So these West Texas residents have taken matters into their own hands. on Sep 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

What are the real impacts on Burning Man’s playa?

High Country News - Tue, 09/12/2023 - 01:00
Viral attention on Black Rock City’s annual festival highlight environmental consequences.
Categories: H. Green News

2023 has already broken the US record for billion-dollar climate disasters

Grist - Mon, 09/11/2023 - 14:53

Four months before the close of 2023, the United States has already broken its record for the number of weather and climate disasters with damages exceeding $1 billion in a calendar year.

There have been 23 “billion-dollar disasters” to date this year, according to a monthly report issued Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA. The last calendar-year record was set in 2020, with 22 disasters costing $1 billion. (NOAA adjusts its count of past years’ billion-dollar disasters to account for inflation.) This year’s 23 disasters have cost Americans a total of nearly $58 billion and caused at least 253 deaths. 

The events include Hurricane Idalia, the strongest hurricane to hit Florida’s Big Bend region in 125 years, and the Lahaina fire storm, the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century. A winter storm in the Northeast, flooding in California and Vermont, and 18 severe storm events — including thunderstorms, tornado outbreaks, and hail storms — also contributed to the record.

The 23 billion-dollar disasters to date this year included a hurricane, a wildfire, two floods, a winter storm, and 18 severe storm events. Courtesy of NOAA

With 12 weeks remaining in the Atlantic hurricane season and autumn wildfires common in the West, the U.S. is likely to end the year with an even higher number of billion-dollar disasters. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, much of the country faces above-normal risk of significant wildfires in September, though parts of southern California are expected to have below-normal potential.

In a statement released Monday, Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the NOAA report “sobering,” and “the latest confirmation of a worsening trend in costly disasters, many of which bear the undeniable fingerprints of climate change.”

Cleetus said the staggering financial losses underscored the need for more funding and attention toward climate resilience and adaptation. “It’s imperative that U.S. policymakers invest much more in getting out ahead of disasters before they strike rather than forcing communities to just pick up the pieces after the fact,” she said. 

The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included nearly $50 billion for climate resilience projects and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act added several billion more, including $2.6 billion for coastal communities, $235 million for tribes, and $25 million for Native Hawaiians.

It will be years before the country sees the possible benefits of those investments. In the meantime, the federal government is struggling to keep up with the immediate impacts of natural disasters.

As part of a supplemental funding request that Congress is currently considering, the Biden administration requested $16 billion dollars in additional funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to get the agency’s disaster relief fund through the fiscal year, which closes at the end of September. 

As climate change contributes to more intense storms and larger and more frequent fires, the price of adaptation and recovery efforts will only grow.

“The science is clear that adapting to runaway climate change is an impossible feat,” said Cleetus, “so we must also sharply curtail the use of fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline 2023 has already broken the US record for billion-dollar climate disasters on Sep 11, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Small islands slam ‘endless’ climate talks at landmark maritime court hearing

Climate Change News - Mon, 09/11/2023 - 08:42

The heads of small island states most vulnerable to climate change have criticised “endless” climate change negotiations at the start of an unprecedented maritime court hearing.

During the opening of a two-week meeting in Hamburg today to clarify state duties to protect the marine environment, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne told the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) that it was time to speak of “legally binding obligations, rather than empty promises that go unfulfilled, abandoning peoples to suffering and destruction”.

Antigua and Barbuda formed an alliance with Tuvalu in 2021 called the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS), which has since been joined by Palau, Niue, Vanuatu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the Bahamas.

They have asked the tribunal for its formal opinion on state responsibilities on climate change under the UN maritime treaty that it is responsible for upholding – the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

G20 leaders strike renewables deal, stall on fossil fuels

The group of small islands wants the tribunal to clearly set out their legal obligations to protect the marine environment from the impacts of climate change, including ocean warming, acidification and sea level rise.

“Empty promises”

During the first day of oral hearings, Kausea Natano, prime minister of Tuvalu, said vulnerable nations had tried and failed to secure action to cut global greenhouse gas emissions during years of international climate talks.

“We did not see the far-reaching measures that are necessary if we are to avert catastrophe,” said Natano. “This lack of political will endangers all of humankind, and it is unacceptable for small island states like my own, which are already teetering on the brink of extinction.”

Browne told the tribunal it now had the opportunity to issue a “much-needed corrective to a process that has manifestly failed to address climate change. We cannot simply continue with endless negotiations and empty promises.”

Speaking after a summer of record-breaking temperatures on both land and sea, Browne said small island nations had come before the tribunal “in the belief that international law must play a central role in addressing the catastrophe that we witness unfolding before our eyes”.

Influential opinion

COSIS members hope that a strong opinion from the tribunal will prompt governments to take tougher action on climate change. While not legally binding, the opinion could also form the basis of future lawsuits.

The alliance stresses that it is looking to the court to explain existing state obligations, rather than creating new laws.

UN says more needed ‘on all fronts’ to meet climate goals

ITLOS does not have as high a profile as the International Court of Justice, which earlier this year was tasked by the UN to provide an advisory opinion on climate change and human rights. Nor are there as many states under its jurisdiction; the US is notable by its absence.

But the tribunal is expected to come to a conclusion much earlier – potentially within the next year. And experts say its opinion could influence that of other courts including the ICJ as well as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has been asked by Chile and Colombia to provide a similar advisory opinion.

Thirty states that have signed the law of the sea, as well as the EU, submitted written statements to ITLOS before the deadline.

China is the only one to explicitly challenge the tribunal’s jurisdiction. It does not consider ITLOS to have the power to issue advisory opinions, but only to resolve disputes.

While expressing its “heartfelt compassion for developing countries including small island developing States…. confronting our common climate change challenge” China maintains that the UNFCCC is the only proper channel for addressing it.

The UK does not dispute the tribunal’s jurisdiction, but it does warn ITLOS to have “particularly careful regard to the scope of its judicial function”. The country also raised concerns about the fact that the request for an advisory opinion was raised by only a small number of states.

Limited reach

Written responses show general agreement among states that greenhouse gas emissions are a form of pollution and that they will have a serious impact on the health of the marine environment and its ability to act as a carbon sink.

But they disagree on the extent to which they are required to act on this.

In its statement, COSIS notes that the law of the sea requires states to adopt and implement “all measures that are necessary to prevent, reduce, and control pollution of the marine environment”.

Under the EU’s interpretation, however, this does not totally ban pollution of the marine environment or require states to immediately stop all pollution.

It points to existing international cooperation under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement and says the law of the sea does not require more stringent action.

Nearly all world’s population hit by global heating last quarter – study

COSIS, however, is keen to focus on the science, saying this shows the necessity of keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5C.

Experts speaking at the tribunal outlined the ways in which climate change was already affecting the world’s oceans and how these are likely to worsen in future.

“Science has long confirmed these realities, and it must inform the content of international obligations,” said Arnold Loughman, attorney general of Vanuatu.

The post Small islands slam ‘endless’ climate talks at landmark maritime court hearing appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News

What’s Next for the EU‘s Green Agenda?

Green European Journal - Mon, 09/11/2023 - 03:55

With a crucial EU election only a few months away, Europe’s green agenda seems to have run out of steam. In this week’s State of the Union address, the last one under her current term in office, Ursula von der Leyen has the opportunity to relaunch the continent’s climate ambitions. Here’s what she should not forget.

It’s not just another start of the school year. We come from an unprecedented, tumultuous past few months. Over one-fifth of the people in the EU continued to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2022, energy poverty is on the rise, and high corporate-led inflation has been eroding people’s purchasing power – with more severe impacts in Central and Eastern Europe.  Russia’s war in Ukraine is reinforcing these trends, and causing immense suffering and environmental damage. 

Meanwhile, climate change-fueled droughts, wildfires, flooding and heatwaves have hit the continent this summer, harming its people, livelihoods, infrastructure and biodiversity. No matter where we find ourselves in the political spectrum, climate, energy and environmental crises are adversely impacting every aspect of our lives, from food price increases to destruction of life and infrastructure; from lower productivity and premature mortality to massive pressure on health systems; from water scarcity to the undermining of entire sectors of the economy. 

But these dreadful events don’t come out of nowhere. There are many things policy-makers can and should do, and citizens with their votes and pressure can shape the future and hold governments accountable. Despite recent elections in several European countries showing a worrying backlash against social and environmental measures, all is not lost. The EU polls in 2024 will profoundly shape the lives of people in the EU and beyond. 

For all these reasons, Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union address this week won’t just be another speech. While her Commission can be proud of its unprecedented achievements for a greener future under the European Green Deal, much more needs to be done to build a sustainable economy based on a better sharing of wealth and limited natural resources, compatible with planetary boundaries and leaving no one behind.

Despite recent elections in several European countries showing a worrying backlash against social and environmental measures, all is not lost.

In the coming months, politicians must acknowledge the imperative to deeply transform the economy to face the challenges of today and tomorrow. This transformation needs to be built with the people and for the people through robust democratic and participatory pathways. Von der Leyen’s handover notes should therefore point towards a bold climate agenda, addressing key policies that should be at the core of the debate for the upcoming election, and hopefully at the top of the next Commission’s priorities. 

Votes and political courage

First, rather than seeking to preserve the illusion of sovereign tax power, member states should shift from unanimous to qualified majority voting in the European Council to end the race to the bottom on taxation matters. The EU should make sure companies’ excess profits are taxed (especially fossil fuel companies), impose wealth taxes on billionaires (who happen to pollute most) across the EU, and close tax havens. Without these resources, inequality will keep rising and funding the transition away from fossil fuels will not be possible. But this is not enough: it is time to consider additional options, such as a frequent flyers levy – so that people taking many flights every year – i.e. the wealthiest and biggest polluters – pay a commensurate tax. An ambitious financial transaction tax would also hit the richest and reduce damaging speculation on the financial markets. Such additional resources would notably help make sure local authorities have the resources they need to engage and accompany workers and citizens in the changes ahead.

Second, the EU should remove the red carpet for a fossil gas exit. While progress has been made on coal phase-out, the next priority must be a well-structured, EU-wide plan to progressively shift away from fossil gas by 2035, which was the main driver of soaring energy prices last year. The transition towards renewables will strengthen energy security, and protect Europeans from energy poverty. New installations of solar and wind energy have already saved consumers €100bn since 2021 – the benefits are undeniable. But a socially just phase-out requires cutting fossil fuel interests out of politics and ending polluting subsidies in a socially just manner. The EU must stop the expansion of fossil gas pipelines and manage the decommissioning of infrastructure that is no longer needed.

A just transition also entails listening to the calls from countries in the Global South. Politicians should commit to a fairer global financial and trade architecture by reforming the IMF and the World Bank, adopting fairer global taxation rules, cancelling the debt of developing countries most exposed to climate change, and reforming the rules of global trade. This is necessary to ensure countries in the Global South have the means to protect their people against climate change and transform their economies in compliance with the Paris Agreement. Climate change and inequality are global challenges that require concerted responses. The EU should engage collaboratively in international discussions such as COP28 and the Africa Climate Summit to end the era of fossil fuels, set up compensation mechanisms for losses and damages due to climate change, and take measures to mitigate and adapt to global warming.

To achieve a sustainable economy, high social and environmental standards should be a prerequisite for public support to the private sector.

Effective climate action also requires changes in our production and consumption habits. This primarily means reducing energy waste, particularly through inefficient buildings, but also restricting luxury consumption through regulation, pricing and taxation. The EU must address programmed obsolescence, and reduce overproduction and overconsumption. Products need to be designed with repair, reuse and recycling in mind. Such a circular economy would generate opportunities for workers in sectors that will have to progressively shrink or disappear.

To achieve a sustainable economy, high social and environmental standards should be a prerequisite for public support to the private sector, especially large corporations. Gender equality, workers’ participation, and a ban on dividend payments for companies that get public subsidies are good starting points. Moreover, subsidies should only be granted to sectors and activities that do not harm climate and environment, and should be tied to tangible emissions cuts, a reduction in resource consumption, and circular economy outcomes. 

Climate inaction, scapegoating, lies, and isolationism are easy diversions from the existential threats we are facing. Blaming Brussels is easy too. But it disregards the fact that every EU law is the result of a delicate compromise between the political forces represented in the elected EU Parliament and national governments. Cooperation, listening, finding consensus across different political and geographic sensitivities – that’s what the EU is about. And this’s what makes EU elections so important.

The measures listed above should be the centre of any platform for Europe that takes the climate emergency seriously, whatever the political colour. The tangible threat of climate change can translate into eco-anxiety, paralysis and inward-looking attitudes. But the current context must also serve as a wake-up call to avoid that people already struggling to make ends meet see their quality of life deteriorate further. It is possible to meet everyone’s needs and rights while respecting planetary boundaries. In the coming months, civil society organisations in Europe will press political leaders, listen to the people and trust the power of mobilisation and campaign to remind EU citizens how deeply the upcoming elections will affect their present and future. Votes from citizens, courage from politicians: this is the recipe to improve the wellbeing of people, and protect the health of the planet.

Categories: H. Green News

Stop calling people ‘climate refugees’

Climate Change News - Mon, 09/11/2023 - 02:30

Despite the rejection of the term “climate refugee” by the United Nations refugee agency, and the International Organization on Migration, the term persists in popular media. On Wednesday, the phrase was even added to

At first glance, the growing informal use of the term might look like a shift towards recognising and protecting populations displaced by the adverse impacts of climate change.

After all, there is growing evidence of displacement of people due to weather-related disasters. There were nearly 22 million internal displacements due to floods and storms in 2021.

Climate mobility also happens across borders. For example, citizens from the Marshall Islands have migrated to the United States due to the risk of sea level rise, and the increasing pressure of floods and droughts on their homes and livelihoods.  

Mexico’s ruling party picks climate scientist for presidential run

It’s increasingly clear that climate change stressors are leading to both voluntary and forced displacement.

So why shouldn’t the term “refugee” be extended to such populations, leveraging its historical precedence to grant vulnerable populations with international protection?

While its growing popularity might have good intentions behind it, the term is unable to capture the diversity of experiences of those on the move due to climate change, which can lead to more exclusive policies. 

Why does language matter? 

In international law, labels serve to standardise policies and thereby become instrumental tools. The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention was drafted in response to the Holocaust with the aim of ensuring international protections for populations being persecuted.

A policy decides not only who deserves protection, but also by extension who doesn’t. The term “climate refugee” implies that populations displaced by climate change are protected by the Refugee Convention. They are not. Experiencing environmental changes does not fall under the ambit of persecution.

Perhaps it is time to expand our definition of “refugee” to include these vulnerable populations?

Nearly all world’s population hit by global heating last quarter – study

But opening up the Refugee Convention risks weakening the protections it does offer. Especially with the growing antagonism against immigrant and refugee populations, both in society and in planned policies that leverage security concerns to tighten up border control.

Labels and their definitions create a common language and understanding of issues. However, they are not immune to these changing attitudes in societies.

Unfortunately, “refugee” is increasingly being used to describe people as either victims with little agency or as security threats.

It’s for similar reasons that some people from Tuvalu, an island nation threatened by sea level rise, reject the term “climate refugee”.  

 Attributing climate change to human mobility now defines a “climate refugee” as “a person who has had to flee their home due to the negative effects of climate change”.

Climate change, unfortunately, has many negative effects. It might be clear that those fleeing an extreme weather event, such as storms or flooding, require emergency protections.

Here, it’s easy to attribute the cause of displacement to climate change. But the task is more difficult when the impact develops over time, for example when droughts lead to land degradation and the loss of economic opportunities.  

Rich countries sink billions into oil and gas despite Cop26 pledge

Climate change is also a threat multiplier, meaning it exacerbates existing vulnerabilities. The decision to leave one’s home is usually based on multiple factors.

At what point can we say climate change is the driving factor of displacement? And if moving is only partially motivated by climate change, does that mean the people affected are not deserving of safe migration routes and protection?   

Rather than try to reduce the experience of climate mobility into one, provocative, label, we need discussions and international policies capable of creating comprehensive labels that recognise the diversity of experiences and address the context-specific needs of people on the move due to climate change. 

Kalia Ruth Barkai is a German Chancellor Fellow from South Africa, based at the University of Potsdam.

The post Stop calling people ‘climate refugees’ appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News

Companies are claiming to be ‘plastic neutral.’ Is it greenwashing?

Grist - Mon, 09/11/2023 - 01:45

For years, companies have been trying to offset their greenhouse gas emissions with carbon credits. Now, they want to do the same thing for their plastic pollution.

A growing number of companies are claiming “plastic neutrality” through the purchase of so-called plastic credits, tradable units that typically each represent 1 metric ton of plastic waste that’s been removed from the environment. These credits, sold by dozens of unregulated businesses and nonprofits, are supposed to complement companies’ internal plastic reduction strategies while also funding waste collection in the developing world. 

Companies as varied as Burt’s Bees, Nestlé, and the pet food brand Nature’s Logic have vowed to neutralize at least some of their plastic footprint using credits. The beauty product company Davines, for example, says that for every piece of plastic it sells to consumers, it funds the removal of an equivalent amount of plastic from coastal areas in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Brazil. 

“We are reaching a 1:1 balance between the plastic we use and the plastic we remove from the environment,” the company says on its website

But does plastic waste collection in one part of the world really “offset” the impacts from ongoing plastic production, use, and disposal somewhere else? Some experts and environmental groups are skeptical. They worry that plastic credits place a disproportionate emphasis on managing, rather than reducing, plastic garbage. Some say credits are just a way for polluters to burnish their reputations without taking responsibility for the plastic they produce.

“Frankly, it’s all greenwashing,” said Kevin Budris, advocacy director for the nonprofit Just Zero. “The only real solution to the full suite of plastic pollution problems is to stop making so much plastic in the first place.”

If you look at most of the plastic crediting initiatives out there — and there are a lot — most of them offer a similar value proposition: Plastic credits can help fund waste collection in the developing world.

Here’s how they work: A crediting organization funds a project that purports to collect plastic pollution, or prevent it from escaping into the environment. This could be a beach or river cleanup that collects low-value, nonrecyclable plastic waste and disposes of it in a controlled landfill. Or it could be a program to pay “waste pickers,” the uncontracted workers who make their living by collecting refuse from dump sites and the natural environment and selling it to recyclers. The main requirement is that activities funded by plastic credits would not have taken place otherwise: They have to be “additional,” in the industry parlance.

That crediting initiative then measures the amount of waste collected and posts the appropriate number of credits in a registry, usually one credit per metric ton. Companies buy those credits, and by doing so they support the underlying plastic collection activity.

Waste pickers collect plastic and other refuse at a dump in Sylhet, Bangladesh. Md Rafayat Haque Khan / Eyepix Group / Future Publishing via Getty Images

According to Peter Hjemdahl, co-founder of the plastic crediting initiative Repurpose Global, this financing from the private sector is “critical” for cleaning up plastic waste and “empowering” waste pickers. After all, many parts of the world lack formal waste management infrastructure to deal with domestically generated trash, let alone the 14 million metric tons of plastic that enters the ocean each year and may wash up on their shores.

Hjemdahl claims companies want to fund these activities because their employees have “moral consciousness.” But there are other, more practical reasons companies might want to buy plastic credits: According to Thierry Sanders, co-founder and director of the crediting company Circular Action BV, polluters that have to comply with “extended producer responsibility,” or EPR, laws — policies that make companies financially responsible for dealing the pollution they cause — can use plastic credits to demonstrate that a certain percentage of the plastic they sell is ultimately collected and recycled. In Vietnam, for example, an EPR law enacted last year set mandatory recycling targets for a range of products, including plastic packaging. Any company wanting to sell plastic packaging could use plastic credits to prove that the required percentage of its sales was eventually recycled. (At least, they could prove that a certain amount of plastic was recycled; it would be nearly impossible to prove it was their plastic that was collected and turned into new products.)

The current reality, however, is that most parts of the world don’t have EPR laws — which leads to the third and perhaps most salient reason companies are interested in plastic credits: for their marketing value. Credits are “more for corporations that want to make specific claims,” said Vincent Decap, co-founder of a crediting initiative called Zero Plastic Oceans.

Indeed, many plastic crediting programs have a prominent section of their website explaining how companies can use credits to make green marketing claims, or affix proprietary labels to their products. Repurpose Global notes on its website that eco-friendly labels help products “scale significantly faster.” PCX, another crediting organization, encourages brands to “wear your badge with pride,” because doing so will help consumers “know you’re the real deal.”

Most of these badges and labels involve some kind of offsetting language, like “plastic neutral,” “net circular plastic,” and “net-zero plastic to nature.” Similar to carbon credits, these claims generally mean that a company has purchased enough plastic credits to “offset” whatever plastic pollution it contributes to the world. In this way, the impact of one plastic bag sold to the public — and potentially littered into the ocean — is supposedly neutralized by the collection of an equivalent amount of plastic pollution by weight.

Some 14 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Mladen Antonov / AFP via Getty Images

The problem, however, is that not everyone believes those neutrality claims are the real deal. First is an equivalency concern: Unlike with carbon molecules, which one can reasonably assume will all behave similarly in the atmosphere, not all plastics are created equal. Plastic film is the most lethal form of plastic to marine life and is extremely difficult to remove from the environment and recycle. Plastics labeled with a number 3, 6, or 7 may be more likely than others to release hormone and endocrine disruptors. Meanwhile, PET water bottles, labeled with the number 1, aren’t as dangerous to natural environments and tend to get recycled. Yet crediting programs may ignore these differences, using the collection of one polymer to ostensibly neutralize the impact of another.

More broadly, there are concerns that neutrality will be used to justify ongoing plastic use and production, since the phrase implies that plastic production can be impact-free as long as it is “canceled out” with credits. To the contrary, plastic — which is made from fossil fuels — causes harms at every stage of its life cycle. Oil and gas extraction can create air and groundwater pollution that harms people living nearby. Manufacturing can release additional pollution that disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color, and plastic products sitting on supermarket shelves can leach toxic chemicals into people’s food and beverages. 

According to Alejandra Warren, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Plastic Free Future, these impacts are by no means erased when a plastic producer in one country pays for garbage to be removed from another country’s shoreline. “Plastic credits do not address the ongoing and future environmental injustices caused by the plastics industries around the world,” she told Grist. 

Plastic crediting organizations are not oblivious to these concerns, especially as the carbon market has become engulfed in controversy over alleged greenwashing and “phantom” carbon credits that don’t actually cancel out ongoing greenhouse gas emissions. By selling potentially fraudulent carbon offsets, some lawyers say carbon crediting organizations have put themselves at risk of a “wave of litigation” from consumer protection lawsuits. According to the legal nonprofit ClientEarth, plastic creditors may be exposing themselves to the same risks.

Some crediting organizations are trying to distance themselves from those controversies by moving away from neutrality claims and toward something called a “contribution model,” in which companies pay for plastic credits without the goal of claiming plastic neutrality. Rather than bearing a “net-zero plastic” label, a product might read, “This company paid for the removal of 5 tons of plastic litter in 2022.”

That kind of label describes “what’s actually happening,” said Alix Grabowski, director of plastic and material science for the nonprofit WWF, “versus this vague term of ‘neutral,’ which no one knows what it really means.” She said it would be helpful for regulators like the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces the United States’ consumer protection laws, to step in with some clearer guidelines on these kinds of environmental claims. Others are hopeful that an initiative called the Plastic Footprint Network, composed of consulting groups, plastic crediting initiatives, and a small number of nonprofits, will rally the industry around a common set of standards.

Plastic bottles at a junk shop in Manila, Philippines. Ezra Acayan / Getty Images

Decap, whose organization Zero Plastic Oceans offers companies a label that reads “ocean-bound plastic neutral,” said he hopes to switch to contribution-based labels by sometime next year. That way, he said, “we will not have this stain from what’s happening in the carbon market, which is honestly pretty ugly.” Hjemdahl also said more contribution-based language is needed, although he didn’t say whether or when Repurpose Global would phase out its plastic neutrality labels.

Regardless of the kinds of claims companies make about plastic credits, they remain controversial. Credits represent a waste management approach to addressing the plastic pollution crisis, rather than the strict controls on plastic production that many experts and environmental advocates would prefer to focus on. 

Hjemdahl, with Repurpose Global, said reducing plastic production needs to be prioritized “first and foremost,” but also said that choosing one over the other creates a “false dichotomy” that is “actively allowing polluters to thrive amid the lack of clarity from practitioners.” According to him, plastic reduction “is not going to have an impact by itself if there is no infrastructure to actually collect waste in the first place.”

Environmental advocates, on the other hand, say it’s the other way around: Even the sincerest efforts to ramp up waste collection and recycling will be futile in the face of the plastic industry’s plans to triple plastic production by 2060 — a scenario that’s expected to generate 44 million metric tons of plastic pollution annually. “If reduction and cleanup efforts are pursued simultaneously, but cleanup efforts are getting even an equal amount of attention, then those are resources and efforts that are misplaced,” said Budris, with Just Zero.

He and others argue that cleanups like those encouraged by plastic credits align with the petrochemical industry’s “sophisticated greenwashing” strategy to build good will among consumers and policymakers so they can justify not imposing caps or reductions on the production of plastic. This dynamic has played out prominently in negotiations for a global plastics treaty, in which oil-producing nations have called for more cleanups and recycling as an alternative to a cap on plastic manufacturing. It’s also manifested in industry-led cleanup initiatives like the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, whose fossil fuel and petrochemical company members, including Exxon Mobil and Shell, have a vested interest in keeping the world dependent on plastics. 

Budris called it “preposterous” to frame plastic credits as a way to support waste pickers in the developing world. So much of the plastic waste that pickers deal with, he said, can be traced to the fact that they’re “drowning in a tide of single-use plastic” whose production they had no say in or control over.

“If these companies really want to do something to improve waste management in the Global South,” he added, “they need to just stop making so much plastic. That’s the easiest route to addressing so many of these issues.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Companies are claiming to be ‘plastic neutral.’ Is it greenwashing? on Sep 11, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Fossil fuel emitters mapped

Ecologist - Mon, 09/11/2023 - 01:18
Fossil fuel emitters mapped Channel News brendan 11th September 2023 Teaser Media
Categories: H. Green News

Environmental groups sue Utah over crisis at the Great Salt Lake

High Country News - Mon, 09/11/2023 - 01:00
Plaintiffs invoke the public trust doctrine to restore the lake to a healthy level.
Categories: H. Green News

From Carbon Sink to Source: The Stark Changes in Arctic Lakes

Yale Environment 360 - Mon, 09/11/2023 - 00:24

For millennia, lakes in Greenland’s tundra have locked up huge loads of carbon in their sediment. But as the Arctic becomes warmer and wetter, scientists believe these lakes could be turning into sources of carbon, which would have important consequences for the world’s climate.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

Private equity profits from climate disaster clean-up – while investing in fossil fuels

Grist - Sun, 09/10/2023 - 06:00

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Private equity firms are increasingly profiting from cleaning up climate disasters in the United States, while failing to better protect workers and often also investing in the fossil fuels that are causing the climate emergency, new research has found.

The demand for skilled disaster restoration or resilience workers, who are mostly immigrants and refugees from Latin America and Asia, is soaring as greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels heat the planet, provoking more destructive storms, floods and wildfires.

As the industry has become more profitable, at least 72 companies that specialize in disaster cleanups and restoration have been acquired by private equity firms since 2020, according to the research, by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PSEP) and Resilience Force, a labor rights organization with thousands of members.

Wage theft, lack of protective clothing, and other unsafe conditions are rampant across the industry at the expense of workers, communities and climate, according to the report, Private Equity Profits from Disasters, shared exclusively with the Guardian.

At risk are tens of thousands of resilience workers, traveling from disaster to disaster cleaning up and rebuilding American communities while facing hazards such as unstable buildings, ash and other toxins, and water-borne diseases.

Researchers found that an increasingly complex web of franchises, contractors and subcontractors, insurance providers, labor brokers, and agencies and mostly temporary jobs makes it difficult for workers to know who is ultimately accountable for violations.

“Disasters have become more intense and destructive, and rebuilding has become more profitable. As the money started pouring in, companies started consolidating, and private equity started circling and buying up these companies,” said Saket Soni, director of Resilience Force. “Wage theft and health and safety violations are deeply endemic … and private equity is failing to establish higher standards.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recorded 194 violations at private-equity owned restoration companies and their franchises between January 2015 and January 2022, the report found.

Most violations were classified as serious, and included failures to protect workers from asbestos, respiratory problems, and falls. (The true number of health and safety violations is likely to be higher given the small number of OSHA compliance officers).

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It is impossible to say precisely what proportion of the disaster workforce is currently controlled by private equity, but acquisitions are gathering pace, with 14 in the first six months of this year compared to 13 during the entire course of 2020. Acquisitions included companies from 28 states, but most were in Florida and Texas – states hit by multiple billion-dollar climate disasters in recent years.

“This is the latest example of a disturbing trend where we see private equity coming into industries where there is a lot of money – and indeed a lot of federal investment – in order to pad their pockets by cutting costs,” said the Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. “This is already a dangerous industry … cutting costs will cut quality, and increase the threats to essential workers – who are already extremely vulnerable to greedy employers. Those who put up the money, in this case private equity, are ultimately responsible.”

Overall, the number and cost of weather and climate disasters in the US is rising due to a combination of population growth, development and the influence of human-caused global heating on extreme events like floods, drought, and fires. Over the past seven years (2016 to 2022), 122 separate billion-dollar disasters have killed at least 5,000 people and cost more than $1 trillion in damage, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Historically, the disaster restoration industry was made up of smaller, independent businesses handling local projects. But after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, private equity firms saw an opportunity to consolidate the market by buying up smaller companies, and some estimates value the US restoration industry as high as $200 billion. The Restoration Industry Association, whose board includes three private equity executives, did not respond to the Guardian.

Taxpayer dollars increasingly pay for restoration costs – involving public buildings like schools and hospitals, and for folks without insurance. Yet the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, does not attach mandatory labor or health and safety standards to its payouts, while private equity firms have a track record in cost cutting to maximize profits.

Private equity refers to an opaque form of private financing in which funds and investors buy and restructure companies, including troubled businesses and real estate, using money from wealthy individuals and institutional investors such as university endowments and state employee pension funds.

In recent years, some private equity firms have become major greenhouse gas polluters, often acquiring risky oil, gas, and coal projects with minimal public scrutiny or regulatory oversight – which means firefighters, nurses, and teachers have little way of knowing if their retirement nest egg is financing police surveillance equipment, disaster companies, or leaky pipelines.

Construction workers try estore services in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, on November 2, 2022, after Hurricane Ian devastated the area in September 2022. EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images

Researchers found a third of the private equity companies with disaster restoration company investments are also backing fossil fuel-linked projects – ostensibly profiting from the cause and effect of the climate emergency.

The Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm, which manages over $1 trillion, backs 21 energy companies, of which 52 percent are fossil-fuel projects. In 2020, Blackstone’s power plants produced 18.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere – equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 4 million gas-powered vehicles.

Blackstone’s institutional investors include Los Angeles, Maine, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, New York state, and Oregon public sector worker pensions.

In March 2019, Blackstone acquired a majority share in Servpro Industries, a damage restoration company with more than 2,000 independently owned and operated franchises across the US and Canada. Servpro franchises helped with restoration efforts after Hurricanes Harvey, Matthew, and Sandy – some of the most devastating storms to hit the US mainland in recent years.

Higher temperatures and sea level rise caused by burning fossil fuels are making storms more intense and destructive.

In Massachusetts, a Servpro franchise in 2022 settled claims by the state that its restoration work at an elementary school led to asbestos contamination, forcing the school to close for months. In November 2019, a Servpro franchise in Boynton Beach, Florida, was forced to pay more $200,000 in back wages to almost 150 restoration workers after a department of labor investigation.

In another example the commercial restoration firm BlueSky, which operates in more than 40 states, is owned by two private equity companies including Partners Group, whose portfolio also includes gas pipeline companies in the US and Europe.

“Firms like Blackstone are using the public’s money to personally profit off both sides of disasters,” said Azani Creeks, PESP research coordinator and co-author of the report.

“Public employees have a right to know that their pension dollars are being used to purchase fossil-fuel plants that are contributing to climate disasters – and companies that profit off of these very disasters, most often off the backs of wage workers with little health and safety protections.”

A Blackstone spokesperson rejected the report’s findings as “cherry-picking,” and said that some of the cases related to matters prior to their investment – and that there was no evidence that the alleged shortcomings were related to private equity ownership.

“As a franchisor, Servpro Industries does not control or direct the operations of its independent local franchises, nor does it employ their workers … Since Blackstone’s investment, the company has expanded the training resources available to its franchisees – including worker safety related to OSHA compliance and use of personal protective equipment, among other areas – and continually evaluates ways to further expand and enhance those efforts.”

Blackstone had invested more than $20 billion in the energy transition, the spokesperson said: “Legacy exploration and production investments today total less than 1 percent of our overall fair market value portfolio.”

According to the 2022 state of the industry report, the biggest issues facing the disaster restoration industry is finding – and retaining – skilled workers, and increasing wages for certified employees.

Information about the disaster workforce is limited, but more than 100,000 people are estimated to work occasionally or full time in the industry, according to Resilience Force. Most workers are concentrated in southern states prone to natural disasters like Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, but are often deployed thousands of miles away for weeks or months at a time. It is a male-dominated industry, but also includes thousands of women, with Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, India, and the Philippines among some of the most common countries of origin.

While the work is predominantly done by immigrants who are often undocumented or have temporary residency status, the workforce also includes current and ex-incarcerated people and US-born people of color – also groups which have historically faced discrimination and poor working conditions.

In one case, migrant workers who helped rebuild luxury hotels destroyed by Hurricane Irma in Florida Keys in 2017, were forced to sue Cotton Commercial, acquired by the private equity firm Sun Capital in 2020, and a temp agency to recover more than $280,000 in back pay and damages.

A spokesperson for Cotton said: “All Cotton contracts include provisions on subcontractors’ responsibility for payment to their personnel in accordance with all applicable employment laws and regulations, as well as strict safety requirements.”

The need for climate resilience workers is likely to continue rising, and next month Jayapal will re-introduce the 2022 Climate Resilience Workforce Act which would help create a well-trained, fairly paid workforce to help the US prepare for the climate emergency – and ease the transition to a green economy.

Soni, the director of Resilience Force, said: “Disaster restoration is a public good, and we need a strong sustainable workforce as disasters increase. Many people deeply love the work and are dedicated … but the work gets more dangerous year after year, because there are no standards. We’re depleting the workforce when we ought to be building it.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Private equity profits from climate disaster clean-up – while investing in fossil fuels on Sep 10, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

G20 leaders strike renewables deal, stall on fossil fuels

Climate Change News - Sat, 09/09/2023 - 09:54

Leaders of the world’s largest economies have backed efforts to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030, but failed to make any progress towards a commitment to phase out fossil fuels.

Following fraught negotiations, G20 countries clinched an agreement in India’s capital New Delhi on Saturday afternoon.

Raising the bar on climate targets was a priority of India’s G20 presidency, which had placed big stakes on the event’s success. Across Delhi, it was impossible to escape the gaze of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his face alongside motivational slogans on huge billboards.

His main negotiatior Amitabh Kant hailed the agreement as the “most ambitious document on climate action” so far, striking a triumphant figure during the press conference.

But deep fault lines remain on fossil fuels ahead of the Cop28 climate summit later this year.

Renewables breakthrough

The G20 member countries together account for over three-quarters of global emissions and gross domestic product, and a cumulative effort by the group to decarbonise is crucial in the global fight against climate change.

The big breakthrough was on renewables. The final text includes a commitment to “pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity” by 2030. That target is vital to keep the goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C within reach, according to the International Energy Agency.

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The European Union and the United Arab Emirates, the Cop28 hosts, have made it a centerpiece of their respective battle plans for the climate summit. When it was first announced, experts thought the pledge would find broad consensus. But at the G20 energy ministers’ meeting in July, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China blocked a deal.

One and half months later leaders broke the deadlock. It is welcome news for the Cop28 president-designate Sultan Al-Jaber, who said “the G20 has made important progress” and he was “grateful for the commitment made” on the renewable energy target.

Carbon-capture caveat

Getting the leaders to unite behind it in Delhi has come alongside concessions on other fronts. In the same paragraph, the declaration says G20 countries will “demonstrate similar ambition with respect to other zero and low-emission technologies, including abatement and removal technologies”.

UN says more needed ‘on all fronts’ to meet climate goals

The language covers controversial carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, favoured by oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

CCS remains expensive and unproven at large scale. Many climate campaigners call it a “distraction” that gives fossil fuel companies a licence to keep extracting more climate-harming coal, oil and gas.

Phase-out failure

G20 leaders also failed to move the needle on commitments to phase out polluting fossil fuels. This was referred to as “indispensable” to achieve a net-zero goal by the United Nations climate body in the first Global Stocktake report published on Friday.

The Delhi declaration urges countries to accelerate “efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power”. That is a carbon copy of what leaders agreed at their previous meeting in Bali ten months ago, following a landmark deal on coal at the 2021 climate summit in Glasgow.

Madhura Joshi, an analyst at E3G, told Climate Home News the language “just maintains the status quo” and “bolder action” is needed from leaders. “Increasing renewables must be backed by phasing down fossil fuels – both are indispensable”, she added.

Rich countries sink billions into oil and gas despite Cop26 pledge

The outcome is a disappointment for India which has been advocating for this pledge since Cop27 last year. India is still largely reliant on coal for its electricity generation, so it has been attempting to put equal pressure on producers of oil and gas.

In his speech, Sultan Al-Jaber said a fossil fuel phase out is “essential” and “inevitable”. The spotlight is now on his team’s attempts to bridge divisions and garner support for it on the road to Dubai.

The G20 leaders also called for a steep increase in climate finance, moving “from billions to trillions of dollars globally” to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. A key driver of the scale-up will be reforms of multilateral development banks, which – the G20 believes – could free up $200 billion over the next decade.

The post G20 leaders strike renewables deal, stall on fossil fuels appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News


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