CANADA’S PANDEMIC RESPONSE SENDS $16 BILLION TO FOSSILS, JUST $300 MILLION TO CLEAN ENERGY, GLOBAL ENERGY POLICY TRACKER SHOWS

Flcelloguy/Wikimedia Commons

Canada’s pandemic response to date has sent just C$300 million to clean energy, compared to more than $16 billion to fossil fuels, according to new data released this week by Energy Policy Tracker, a joint effort by multiple civil society organizations including the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The totals include C$13.55 billion (listed as US$10.05 billion on the site) for 42 policies that deliver unconditional support to fossil fuel companies, C$1.59 billion for three fossil support policies that carry environmental conditions, plus C$300.5 million for unconditional clean energy funding.

“A considerably larger amount of public money committed to supporting the economy and people of Canada through monetary and fiscal policies in response to the crisis may also benefit different elements of the energy sector,” the tracker states. “However, these values are not available from official legislation and statements and therefore are not included in the database.”

The Canadian numbers are just one segment of a wider data summary, which “shows that at least US$151 billion of bailout cash has been spent or earmarked so far to support fossil fuels by the G20 group of large economies,” with only one-fifth of that total “conditional on environmental requirements such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions or cleaning up pollution,” The Guardian reports. “The G20 countries are directing about US$89 billion in stimulus spending to clean energy, despite most of those governments being publicly committed to the Paris agreement on climate change.”

The United States is lavishing $58 billion on fossil industries, compared to about $25 billion invested in clean energy, the research shows.

“At this point in history it’s clear that investing in fossil fuels is as lethal to global economies as it is to life on Earth,” tweeted Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu. “Yet Canada has funnelled at least US$11.86 BILLION to fossils in recent months, while directing only $222.78 million to clean energy.”

“The COVID-19 crisis and governments’ responses to it are intensifying the trends that existed before the pandemic struck,” concluded IISD Energy Policy Tracker lead Ivetta Gerasimchuk.

“National and subnational jurisdictions that heavily subsidized the production and consumption of fossil fuels in previous years have once again thrown lifelines to oil, gas, coal, and fossil fuel-powered electricity,” she said. “Meanwhile, economies that had already begun a transition to clean energy are now using stimulus and recovery packages to make this happen even faster.”

Other organizations involved with the tracker include the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Oil Change International, the Overseas Development Institute, the Stockholm Environment Institute, and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

The Canadian figures show the federal government has been “completely captured by the oil industry,” Greenpeace Canada Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart told The Canadian Press. “They just don’t understand how the world is changing.”

CP cites an internal Natural Resources Canada briefing, obtained by Greenpeace through an access to information request, that showed the pandemic “wreaking havoc right across the energy sector, including fossil fuels and renewables,” as early as mid-April. “This will challenge Canada’s climate and energy transformation agendas,” stated the document prepared for Deputy Minister Christyne Tremblay.

“An attached presentation deck from Tremblay’s department outlines the impacts, including the collapse in oil prices, plummeting demand for both oil and electricity, and a cleantech industry being brought to its knees,” CP writes. Cleantech “is heavily dominated by start-up enterprises and those in the research and development phase that are heavily reliant on capital investments,” the news agency adds, and “the onset of the pandemic threw ice water on those investments, including from the oil and gas sector itself as its own revenues dried up.”

CP says Clean Energy Canada Executive Director Merran Smith called on the government “to ensure this sector’s survival by making sure it is a big part of the COVID-19 recovery stimulus programs. She said that doesn’t mean investing just in things that generate clean power, like wind and solar farms and technology, but also in promoting the use of cleaner power, such as by electrifying cars and public transportation.”

The Guardian notes that the tracker results were released ahead of a G20 finance ministers’ meeting this weekend where post-pandemic economic stimulus will be on the agenda. “Some of the spending on fossil fuels is likely to be designed to quickly stabilize hard-hit industries, preserving jobs and preventing a worse recession,” the UK-based paper states. “However, green campaigners are concerned that so much of the money is flowing to companies with no conditions to force them to take even basic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or other pollution,” in spite of the “green strings” demanded by civil society groups and introduced by some countries.

“Economists and energy experts have already shown that green spending can [create] jobs and a higher return on investment in the short and longer term,” The Guardian notes. At the same time,  “as the data studied by Energy Policy Tracker is focused on the energy sector, the figures may not capture all of governments’ green spending. For instance, governments have been urged to spend on many ‘shovel-ready’ non-energy issues, such as cycle lanes, tree-planting, nature restoration, flood resilience, and enhanced broadband networks to help people work at home, all of which will also contribute to a green recovery.”

“We have some anecdotal evidence on these sectors which suggests that total green recovery numbers can be higher,” Gerasimchuk said. “Similarly, global environmentally harmful recovery numbers can be higher as there are measures leading to deforestation, land degradation, overfishing, etc. A lot of government support policies remain unquantified.”

Last week, the Corporate Europe Observatory warned that “fossil fuel fingerprints” were beginning to accumulate on the much-touted European Green Deal (EGD).

“Its mere existence is a positive first step; but is the deal really as good as they want us to believe?” the Observatory asks. “The fingerprints of industry, and in particular the fossil fuel industry, can be seen all over the EGD. Carbon trading will continue to allow big polluters to slow the transition, emissions reductions targets are too modest and too slow, fossil gas is kept as a transitional fuel, and public money will finance industry ‘false solutions’. The fossil fuel lobby is taking advantage of its privileged access to policy-makers, as well as the corona-crisis, to secure these gains.”

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Record Locust Swarms Hint at What’s to Come with Climate Change

Warming oceans that feed cyclones have also bred record-breaking swarms of desert locusts. Such plagues could grow bigger and more widespread with climate change.

The locust attacks of 2019–2020 are the worst of the past 30 years. Credit: Sarwar Panhwar

In mid-June, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a threat level warning to countries across East Africa and southwest Asia: Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) are swarming. A severe outbreak that started in 2019 has spread across the Horn of Africa and the Middle East before moving on to western Asia. Scientists say climate change has played a role in this invasion.

This year’s locust attacks, which spread from Kenya to Pakistan and India, are the worst in the past 30 years.

Usually solitary, locusts become gregarious, or swarm, when there are heavy rains in an arid region. Desert locust swarms are highly destructive, sparing no greenery in sight.

This mango tree in Hyderabad, Pakistan, is devoid of its leaves, which were consumed by a swarm of desert locusts. Credit: Sarwar Panhwar

 

This year’s locust attacks, which spread from Kenya to Pakistan and India, are the worst in the past 30 years and may be the most economically destructive since the 1960s, said Chaudhry Inayatullah, a former research scientist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya. The swarms are expected to peak this month, as a wetter-than-normal monsoon arrives, and to flourish as the rains continue through October.

Inayatullah and other locust experts fear that these attacks will only get worse. Climate change is altering the dynamics of pest control and reproduction, said Keith Cressman, the FAO’s senior locust forecaster. Changes in climate have led to increases in cyclones, which feed locust swarms with water and warmth.

Recent research also shows that human-induced warming may be intensifying a regional variability in an Indian Ocean pattern of warming and cooling called the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), sometimes nicknamed the “Indian Niño.” A more intense IOD could cause more frequent tropical storms and heavy rains. These rains create perfect conditions for locust breeding, with more water and warmth ideal for increased plant biomass to feed the locusts—which is what happened in 2019, when a record IOD led to above-average rainfall in the coastal areas of Somalia, Yemen, and some regions bordering the Red Sea.

During droughts, locust outbreaks do not occur in the region, mostly because of a lack of plants for the insects to eat. But higher temperatures associated with climate change coupled with increased availability of plants for food could speed up the locusts’ maturation and incubation during spring, Inayatullah said. This year, warmer temperatures have already allowed an extra generation of breeding to occur in northwest Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and southwest Asia, amplifying the overall risk of a locust plague, the most serious category of locust threat identified by the FAO.

Perfect Storms for Locusts

An increased number of cyclones in the past 3 years in the Indian Ocean played a role in the current upsurge in locust activity.

“If this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in [the] Indian Ocean continues, then certainly, that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa,” said Cressman. An increased number of cyclones in the past 3 years in the Indian Ocean played a role in the current upsurge. “In 2018, two cyclones dumped heavy rain on the uninhabited portion of the Arabian Peninsula known as the Empty Quarter. There, locusts can breed and reproduce freely. Three generations of breeding occurred in 9 months in the Empty Quarter, causing locust numbers to increase by 8,000 times.” Cressman said that outbreak is the source of the East Africa upsurge the FAO is warning about now.

The swarms can jump oceans, and they leapt over the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to the Horn of Africa late last year. “There, another cyclone in December 2019 triggered yet another spasm of reproduction that could give rise to two more generations of breeding—400 times the locusts,” Cressman said.

Close-up of a desert locust
Climate anomalies have allowed desert locust populations to have “reproductive spasms” several times this year. Credit: Sarwar Panhwar

Heavy rains in Yemen and Saudi Arabia prompted the spread of locusts into Iran and Pakistan. They have also managed to breed in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province adjacent to Iran, are currently sweeping across the country’s southern agricultural belt, and have entered India across the Rajasthan desert. Drifting with the wind, some individuals have even been captured in Nepal. The FAO says the spring-bred swarms along both sides of the Indian-Pakistan border were poised to mature and lay eggs in early July, and new swarms will arrive from the Horn of Africa in mid-July.

Already, some farmers in Pakistan have reported up to 50% losses of their cotton crops. Ghulam Sarwar Panhwar, who owns two farms on around 120 hectares of land in the Hyderabad District of Sindh, said three locust attacks hit his farm in the past 3 months.

“Each time it is like a black cloud descending from the sky. There are millions of them, and they attack the cotton and other crops, eating all the green leaves in just 3–4 hours’ time before moving on,” Panhwar said. “Half of my cotton crop is gone. We chase them off by beating drums and banging metal plates. What else can we do?”

Aside from eating cash crops, the locusts are also consuming fodder plants, which will affect livestock.

Climate Controls

Meanwhile, the FAO has asked Pakistan and India to remain on high alert. India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan are all part of FAO’s Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in South-West Asia. “Intercountry cooperation is needed to tackle the locust threat. Where they fly next depends on wind direction, speed, and other weather parameters,” Inayatullah said.

A farmer holds one locust out of the thousands that have ravaged crops in Pakistan. Credit: Sarwar Panhwar

 

Accurate wind forecasts could be helpful to understand possible new landing sites, where aerial and ground spraying operations for pesticide applications could be readied in advance. Spraying in desert breeding areas in Pakistan has been underway since February, the region’s early spring, and could have its own set of ecological impacts.

The locust swarms eventually will dwindle in the cooler and drier winter months. No longer gregarious, “they will change back to their solitary phase,” Inayatullah said, “but by then they would have spread over vast areas and would have enough fat in them to stay alive even without food—until warmer weather arrives. This would be the ideal time to monitor and control them.”

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—Rina Saeed Khan (@rinasaeed), Science Writer

Going on an Energy Diet

Ed. note: Excerpted from The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can by Stan Cox with permission of the publisher. Published by City Lights.

Green New Deal and BeyondIf fossil fuels are rapidly eliminated during the transition to non-fossil energy, the pool of energy available to society will shrink. How much it shrinks will depend on how fast the new energy capacity and a new electric grid can be developed. And if the transition succeeds, the handy liquid fuels that for a century have powered road travel, farming, freight hauling, and air travel will be flushed out of society forever. Operating buildings, transportation, and industry mostly on electricity will be much more complicated. But adapting to a leaner energy diet does not have to be a grim ordeal; in fact, it will provide opportunities to scale back the environmental and societal damage that potent, portable en- ergy sources, especially liquid fuels, have empowered us to inflict.

The United States can reduce its energy consumption by first starving the harmful and wasteful parts of the economy that should have been curtailed already on other grounds. The cutting can start in the U.S. military, which produces more greenhouse emissions than most entire countries do—a huge quantity of it from jet fuel. The cuts should extend to demilitarizing law enforcement and abolishing mass incarceration. We can slash the energy allowance of the nation’s most affluent people, who account for a disproportionate share of energy consumption and emissions; by one estimate, households having more than $1 million in investment assets are contaminating the Earth’s atmosphere with ten times more greenhouse emissions than the average household. Cutting harm and waste can get us some distance toward eliminating emissions, but it won’t be enough. A lower-energy economy will need to produce fewer goods and services overall—still enough necessary products to go around, just less production of goods that contribute little more than profits to the seller and waste to the landfill.

Living with lower energy consumption doesn’t have to mean a life of deprivation and hardship. On this point, some international comparisons may be useful. Let’s say we cut this country’s total energy consumption in half. Today, five countries consume approximately half as much energy per capita as the United States does: Denmark, Japan, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland. All are well-functioning societies with good quality of life. And, according to the United Nations, they all rank higher on the Human Development Index scale than the United States does.

Looking lower down the energy scale, where countries consume about one-fourth as much energy per capita as we do, we find Argentina, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania. These countries rank slightly lower in Human Development Index than the United States, but all are within the U.N.’s “High” or “Very High” categories. Some of these countries would clearly be better places to live than others, but the larger point is that consuming 75 percent less energy per person than the United States doesn’t require a society to adopt a monastic lifestyle.

When it’s pumping up elite lifestyles, renewable energy is not green energy. Hickel makes a convincing case that “reducing inequality needs to be at the very heart of climate policy.” A less unequal society will also be a happier society overall. The purpose of consumption is supposedly to satisfy needs and make us happy, but our brains evaluate the satisfaction we derive from our own consumption by comparing it with the consumption of those around us. An increase in the income or wealth of our friends and neighbors makes us feel less affluent ourselves; on the other hand, seeing those around us build better social relationships makes us more, not less, satisfied with our own personal networks.

Don Fitz has painted an encouraging picture of a society living with less energy and less production. A society that has stopped investing labor and energy in mass incarceration and militarism, he says, will be more humane. Walkable, livable communities will be free of private-vehicle traffic; air, noise, and light pollution; and other dangers. A transformed food system will ensure better nutrition for all. Free neighborhood public and community clinics will provide preventive medical care, reducing by several sizes the economic and environmental footprint of today’s profit-driven medical industries. “The concept of changing consciousness is empty if we are forced to participate in harmful production with no power to curb it,” Fitz writes. “Every group of working people needs to ask if what they are producing is good or harmful. Should it be increased, changed, reduced or abolished? If they decide that what they produce needs to be reduced or halted, how should the changes be made and what alternative jobs should they have?”

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We Can Solve the Climate Crisis by Tracing Pollution Back to Its Sources. A New Coalition Will Make It Possible.

Today [July 15] we launch ‘Climate TRACE’ — a coalition building a tool to track human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from every corner of the planet.

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Today, just like every day before it, humans collectively spewed 152 million tons of planet-warming pollution into our thin shell of atmosphere as if it were an open sewer. The extra heat energy trapped in our atmosphere by these accumulated greenhouse gases (GHGs) is equal to what would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs detonating on Earth every single day.

The consequences of that extra heat energy are growing startlingly clearer. 2019 was the second hottest year on record (just behind 2016) and 2020 is likely to be the warmest ever. Stronger cyclonic storms batter our coasts; “rain bombs” lead to more destructive floods and mudslides; deeper and longer droughts cut agricultural output; devastating wildfires are the new norm; sea levels are rising more rapidly as the ice of Greenland and Antarctica melts faster; and the list goes on. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading scientific body on the climate crisis, we need to cut global GHG emissions roughly in half by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to avoid the worst effects.

With our world in a moment of upheaval, this can feel like a daunting and overwhelming challenge. How will we do it in time?

Today, we are honored to announce that a powerful new tool will soon be joining the climate fight. Along with us — Al Gore and Gavin McCormick of WattTime — we join leading organizations Blue Sky Analytics, CarbonPlan, Carbon Tracker, Earthrise Alliance, Hudson Carbon, Hypervine, OceanMind, and Rocky Mountain Institute as founding members to unveil Climate TRACE, a coalition creating a high-tech solution to independently detect emissions and where they’re coming from, everywhere in the world, in real time. It’s a feat that’s never before been possible — until now.

What is Climate TRACE?

Climate TRACE — which stands for Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions — comprises organizations from the tech sector that have pioneered some of the most-powerful software-based emissions-monitoring solutions in the world, in part using artificial intelligence (AI) and remote sensing. As the climate crisis deepens and our technology advances, we felt the time was ripe to join together and put these resources to work in powerful new ways.

Our first-of-its-kind global coalition will leverage advanced AI, satellite image processing, machine learning, and land- and sea-based sensors to do what was previously thought to be nearly impossible: monitor GHG emissions from every sector and in every part of the world. Our work will be extremely granular in focus — down to specific power plants, ships, factories, and more. Our goal is to actively track and verify all significant human-caused GHG emissions worldwide with unprecedented levels of detail and speed.

Through Climate TRACE, we will equip business leaders and investors, NGOs and climate activists, as well as international, domestic, and local policy leaders with an essential tool to fully realize the economic and societal benefits of a clean energy future, while ensuring that no one — corporation, country, or otherwise — will ever again have the ability to hide or fake their emissions data. Next year, every country in the world will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, to enhance their commitments to the Paris Agreement and raise collective ambition in line with what the world’s scientists tell us is necessary. We at the Climate TRACE coalition hope to support these COP26 climate talks with the most thorough and reliable data on emissions the world has ever seen.

Why is global emissions monitoring necessary?

To move faster on solutions to the climate crisis, we need a better system to track emissions; we can only manage what we can measure. And unfortunately, the current state of the art is a bottom-up system that relies heavily, no matter how well implemented, on infrequent self-reporting by countries and companies, using a patchwork variety of methods. A lack of dependable, independent, third-party verification can create uncertainty on whether the data are reliable and accurate. And the long time lags in reporting reduces the ability to make that information actionable. Countless countries, companies, and leaders worldwide want to solve the climate crisis, but lack the tools to do so quickly and effectively.

Climate TRACE will reveal the “where,” “when,” and “who” behind GHG emissions. Why does that matter? It allows us to…

● Verify numbers and ensure everyone is getting the truth: Self-reported data can make it too easy for dishonest polluters to break the rules that more-honest players are following. Others desire better data but lack the capacity to measure emissions, leaving some players with nothing but rough estimates. But when monitored by global sensor networks including satellites and ground- and sea-based instruments, all connected to a purpose-built AI engine, emissions have nowhere to hide. This new machine learning/AI tool will make it possible for everyone — from scientists and regulators, to the news media and citizen activists, to investors and business leaders — to see exactly who is responsible for GHG pollution in real time, where it’s coming from, and whether the amounts from each significant source are increasing or decreasing. We believe this can lead to a new era of transparency and accountability.

● Support the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement: Nearly every country in the world committed to major emissions reductions to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We know that better monitoring will help countries hold each other — and emitters within their own borders — accountable. Independent, global monitoring available to all can help.

● Empower companies, consumers, and investors to do good: Despite a few government leaders denying the climate crisis, most understand and accept the science and the need to act, and thousands of corporate and subnational actors are already slashing their carbon footprints in line with the Paris Agreement. From companies looking to select cleaner manufacturing suppliers, to investors seeking to divest from polluting industries, to consumers making choices about which businesses to patronize, one thing is clear: a reliable way to measure where emissions are coming from is necessary. Climate TRACE will empower all of these actors.

● Spot opportunities to save money by going green: The majority of fossil-fuel plants around the world are already less profitable than wind or solar power, and companies and governments deserve to know which ones. Additionally, companies interested in investing in carbon offset markets to support sustainable forestry and regenerative agriculture need a way to verify that each project genuinely reduces carbon. Even many oil and gas companies are actively seeking to reduce leakage of highly polluting methane emissions into the atmosphere, but they need better ways to detect those leaks. Climate TRACE will make it all possible.

How will the technology work?

In the era of coronavirus, we’ve seen that it’s one thing to spot the overall consequences of the pandemic, but it’s far more actionable to immediately know exactly who is infected and where they are, in order to get them medical care and trace the people with whom they have been in contact. Similarly, it’s one thing to measure the global concentration of CO2 and other GHGs, but the ability to immediately trace where emissions are coming from and in what amounts provides information that allows us to act.

So, why is this difficult? Some emissions, such as methane, are relatively easy to spot with the right type of camera. But others, including CO2, are a common background part of our planet’s atmosphere even under healthy conditions. And worse, natural fluctuations of CO2 occur all the time. That’s why it’s long been possible for climate scientists to measure total CO2 in the atmosphere, but tracing where it comes from has been a whole different ballgame.

Solving these types of problems requires an integrated AI framework — something we’ll explore more in future posts. But to give you a sneak peek: the Climate TRACE system takes in many different types of imagery (e.g., visible light, infrared) from many different remote sensing networks (e.g., satellites, radar) all over the world. The AI then can be “trained” to spot even extremely complex and subtle hints of what pollution looks like by using countless records of when, where, and how emissions came about in the past, collected from ground- and sea-based physical emissions sensors, government environment ministries, corporate disclosure forms, and other sources.

Then, all of this information can be matched and verified against multiple redundant data sets from different actors, so we can be sure it’s reliable. It’s very similar to how AI experts “train” self-driving cars to make sense of and mutually fact-check their many different types of sensors. But this time, we’re applying these well-understood Big Data techniques to a problem that affects us all: the climate crisis.

What makes Climate TRACE possible?

We’ve known for years that a project like Climate TRACE would make a massive difference in the fight against the climate crisis, and we’ve both been exploring the topic of global emissions monitoring for a long time. But our announcement comes now because we’ve hit a crucial turning point: it’s finally possible.

Solving a scientific problem this complex requires many different advanced components. For example, developing a smaller version of this project to measure power plant emissions required combining imagery from multiple satellite constellations (like the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 mission), AI algorithms from experts in computer vision (such as Pixel Scientia Labs), data pipeline engineering (Google.org), power plant databases (World Resources Institute), remote sensing (Valence Strategic), power systems modeling (WattTime), weather adjustments and power plant cooling systems (Carbon Tracker), and many more features and collaborators. And that was just one sector!

Recent years have seen an explosion of technological advancements at various organizations capable of individual pieces of the puzzle. We’ve found the growing urgency of the climate crisis has inspired more and more organizations to collaborate more actively than ever before. That’s already made it possible to build prototypes of emissions-monitoring technologies we hadn’t expected to be possible until 2025 or later. Now, we’re unveiling the project to the world in order to start moving even faster.

Where are we headed?

We envision a future in which low- and zero-carbon energy is the norm, where every company has the resources it needs to be successful without endangering the environment, and every leader has the tools to confidently make the best choices possible for both people and planet. We believe Climate TRACE will be an integral part of making that future become reality, and we’re getting right to work, with the goal of releasing our first full emissions report and real-time visualization well before the UN’s COP26 climate conference in 2021.

Make no mistake, we know this is an ambitious effort with an aggressive timeline. But our species can’t wait until 2030 to get this problem right, and we don’t have to. If nine organizations working together can bring the climate action timeline forward by years, think about what dozens of organizations working together can achieve.

So, as we launch the Climate TRACE coalition today, we issue a call to action: If you’re working in a field that touches on emissions monitoring — whether you have AI expertise, satellite sensor networks, or other global sensor or emissions data networks — we want to hear from you. We know that collaboration and participation are critical to getting this right. The climate crisis threatens us all, and the scale of the problem demands more of us. Let’s get to work.

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Former US Vice President Al Gore is the cofounder and chairman of Generation Investment Management, and the founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit devoted to solving the climate crisis. He is also a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a member of Apple Inc.’s board of directors. He is the subject of the documentary movie An Inconvenient Truth, which won two Oscars in 2006, and a second documentary in 2017, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. In 2007, Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change.”

Gavin McCormick is the founder and executive director of WattTime, the nonprofit tech startup that first developed Automated Emissions Reduction (AER) technology and which launched an initiative in 2019, with support from Google.org, to measure GHG emissions from all the world’s power plants. WattTime’s mission is to make energy choice a reality for everyone everywhere — a charter Gavin and the team work hard every day to deliver.

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A Plunge in Mass Transit Ridership Deals a Huge Blow to Climate Change Mitigation

Transit agencies ask Congress for relief as commuters return to their cars and fare revenues tank. Meanwhile, driving direction requests—and carbon emissions—soar.

People wearing masks are seen crowded together on a subway platform at the Fulton Street Subway Station on July 8, 2020 in New York City. Credit: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Before the pandemic, Hailey Vogel lived an itinerant life enabled by the Big Apple’s robust transit system.

A research manager at New York University, Vogel—like many New Yorkers—used mass transit daily to get to and from work, to visit friends and to run errands of all sorts before stay-at-home orders and a lingering fear of catching Covid-19 in enclosed spaces brought the city to a virtual standstill.

But even though New York City’s infection rates have waned and the city slowly began to reopen its economy in June, the 26-year-old Brooklynite has yet to step foot on a public bus or take a subway line since March.

“I’m not there yet,” Vogel said. “I’m not confident that things are clean enough to make regular train riding part of my routine.”

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Vogel’s sentiment appears to be playing out across the country as transit agencies from coast to coast report lost revenues ranging from hundreds of millions of dollars to several billion. And in some of the nation’s biggest cities, budget deficits are hitting agencies so hard that they’re considering permanent cuts to subway and bus lines.

In California, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is projecting an estimated $568 million revenue loss over the next four years. The agency has already reduced service by 30 percent and said it may be forced to permanently cut 40 bus lines without additional federal aid. And New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is facing such an alarming budget deficit—a $10.3 billion loss over the next two years—that one analysis estimates the authority would have to cut half of the city’s bus and subway lines to make up the difference.

In fact, many of the nation’s transportation agencies, including all 85 transit operators in California, are now calling on Congress to inject fresh aid into local and state public transportation systems or risk service reductions in the coming years—a move that experts say would have enormous consequences for efforts to curb climate change as demand for transportation returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Congress provided some relief when it issued $25 billion in the CARES Act for transit agencies back in March. But transportation advocates say that funding is now clearly inadequate to address the scale of the economic crisis the industry faces. The financial impact Covid-19 has wreaked on all U.S. transit agencies is estimated to be more than $40 billion through April 2021, according to a recent analysis by TransitCenter, a national public transportation advocacy group.

Officials from California to Illinois to New York have all said that cutting service would be a last resort. Still, some agencies, including New York’s MTA—which operates the nation’s largest public transit system—have said all options are on the table as they face an unprecedented hit to revenues.

“To be clear, this is a four-alarm fire,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye at an agency board meeting back in June. “We are facing the most acute financial crisis in the history of the MTA.”

Less Mass Transit a ‘Big Concern’ for the Climate

For years, environmentalists and other mass transit advocates have pointed to public transportation as a way to reduce pollution and help curb climate change. But as cities across the country come out of lockdown, and people begin moving around again, commuters by the thousands appear to be choosing driving over public transportation.

One recently updated study found that traffic, and carbon emissions, quickly rebounded across the world in early June as lockdowns began lifting. And in the United States, phone and other device data suggest that while all of the nation’s traffic plunged during the height of the pandemic in April and May, only public transit use remains below pre-pandemic levels as states reopen.

Requests for driving directions surged more than 50 percent above pre-pandemic levels in early July after hitting a low in April of roughly 60 percent below them, the data from Apple Maps shows. Conversely, requests for public transit directions remain about 50 percent below pre-pandemic levels in July after plunging as low as 80 percent in April.

If that trend continues, it means even more traffic congestion—and carbon emissions—than before the pandemic, said Elizabeth Irvin, a senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

As the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the transportation sector is responsible for nearly a third of the nation’s total emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But when compared to cars and trucks that burn gasoline for fuel, mass transit’s carbon emissions are far lower. Trains and buses move more people with relatively less power and in some cases can operate on the electrical grid rather than burning gasoline.

“In much of the country, transportation is already the largest source of climate emissions,” Irvin said. “(Mass) transit is a big part of mitigating that.”

recent analysis that Irvin helped put together found that buses produce about one-quarter fewer carbon emissions than private vehicles per trip-mile, and rail produces about 80 percent fewer emissions.

That’s why reducing public transportation in any way will inevitably lead to more carbon emissions as long as people have a need to travel, Irvin said. “In the long term, when we finally have a vaccine and we return to some form of normal, it’s a really big concern if everyone is afraid to ride transit and we see a permanent decline in transit ridership,” she said.

Transit Agencies Look to Congress

As transit agencies struggle to maintain current operations, capital projects meant to expand transit or make public transportation systems more green are also at risk of being cut.

In its June announcement calling for an immediate infusion of an additional $4 billion in federal aid, New York City’s MTA said it was also suspending indefinitely the $54.8 billion in capital projects that its board had approved earlier in the year. Those projects included plans to modernize transit infrastructure and facilities to make them more energy efficient and reduce emissions.

And with some agencies reporting that they have already burned through most of the funding received from the CARES Act, transit officials are again looking to Congress to provide additional support for both operational expenses and capital projects.

The nation is at a critical juncture in which it may have to decide how robust its transit systems are over the next several decades, said Laura Calderon, the executive director for the Illinois Public Transportation Association.

As in other states, Illinois’ transit agencies saw a dramatic drop in ridership and revenue this year. The Chicago Transit Authority has lost over $1 million per day of farebox revenues alone during the pandemic, the agency said.

But Illinois has been insulated from hits to revenue for its transportation capital projects, Calderon said, because state lawmakers passed a major infrastructure bill late last year. That legislation increased the state’s gas tax, dedicating $45 billion over six years to capital projects, including expanding the state’s transportation systems and making them more environmentally friendly.

If state lawmakers hadn’t passed that legislation, Calderon said, Illinois transit agencies would be having much harsher conversations regarding their budgets right now.

At the federal level, House Democrats have been responsive to the industry’s pleas. In May, the House passed the HEROES Act, which included funding for transit agencies, such as the additional $4 billion in aid requested by MTA. And in June, House Democrats also passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, known as the Moving Forward Act, that earmarked $500 billion for transportation needs, including funding for green infrastructure projects, such as helping transit agencies transition to fully-electric vehicles.

But both bills face a significant uphill battle in the Republican-led Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been reluctant to support any federal aid proposed by Democrats.

Calderon said she doesn’t expect the Senate to pass either of the bills, especially in an election year. Still, passing a federal infrastructure plan “would really be the saving grace that is needed” to support struggling transit agencies and repair the country’s crumbling public transportation infrastructure, she said.

SOURCE

 

‘Chance to seek justice’ after First Nations’ water advisories lawsuit certified as class action: lawyer

Manitoba lawsuit seeks billions in damages for First Nations that lack access to safe drinking water

Currently, there are 61 First Nations in Canada under long term drinking water advisories. (CBC)

A recent court decision could mean billions of dollars for First Nations without access to safe drinking water — if a class-action lawsuit is successful.

A Manitoba lawsuit seeking compensation from the federal government for First Nations under drinking water advisories was certified as a class action this week.

Tuesday’s decision by Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal opens the door for a potentially huge number of First Nations members across Canada to join in the lawsuit, first filed in November of last year.

The class will be made up of any member of a band whose land was subject to a water advisory that lasted at least one year, at any point from Nov. 8, 1995, until the present.

There are currently 61 long-term water advisories in effect on First Nations in Canada.

Michael Rosenberg, a partner at the Canadian law firm McCarthy Tétrault and the lead lawyer in the suit, said the decision is an “important day for class members.”

“[They] will now have a chance to seek justice on the merits of their claims,” wrote Rosenberg in a prepared statement after Tuesday’s decision.

“Access to clean drinking water is a fundamental right, and all Canadians can understand the urgency of this case.”

Suit seeks more than $2B

Rosenberg previously told the CBC it was unclear how many potential class members could join the suit, which names the attorney general of Canada as the defendant.

Along with the members of the First Nations currently under advisories, there are many other communities, such as Pauingassi and Hollow Water First Nations in Manitoba, that were under advisories for years before they were lifted.

“It would be a significant number. This is a long-standing problem,” Rosenberg said in December.

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau promised to lift all drinking water advisories by 2021. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

 

The lawsuit also seeks to force the government to immediately construct, or approve and fund the construction of, appropriate water systems for the class members.

The proposed class-action lawsuit filed last year alleged the government violated the Charter rights of a large class of First Nations people for decades by failing to provide them with safe drinking water.

“Although Canada was advised of the devastating human consequences of these failures, its response to this human catastrophe was — and continues to be — a toxic mixture of inertia and incompetence,” the lawsuit says.

“It conducted its affairs with wanton and callous disregard for [the] interests, safety and well-being” of people living under the advisories.

The suit seeks $1 billion in damages for the breach of the Charter rights, $1 billion for negligence of fiduciary duty and $100 million in punitive damages.

A request for comment from Indigenous Services Canada was not returned at the time of publication.

Feds promise to end advisories by 2021

The lead plaintiff in the class action is Tataskweyak Cree Nation Chief Doreen Spence.

The northern Manitoba reserve has been under an official boil water advisory since 2017.

“Tataskweyak Cree Nation has been unable to trust the water from its taps for years.  We can no longer turn a blind eye to a water crisis that affects so many people in this country,” Rosenberg wrote in his statement after Tuesday’s decision.

Tataskweyak, about 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is one of three First Nations in Manitoba currently under long-term boil water advisories, along with Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation in northwestern Manitoba and Shamattawa in northern Manitoba.

The federal Liberals ran on a campaign promise in 2015 to have all boil-water advisories lifted by March 2021.

“Class members are now counting on the federal government to follow through on that commitment by ensuring that reserve communities have access to clean drinking water, and by paying compensation for the undue hardships that class members have endured,” Rosenberg’s statment said.

Tataskweyak is slated to be one of the last First Nations to have its advisory lifted in March 2021, according to the government’s tracking website for advisories.

The other two Manitoba First Nations were slated to have their advisories lifted by June of this year, a deadline the federal government missed.

Canada’s attorney general consented to the class-action certification, which Rosenberg called “an important step toward reconciliation.”

Joyal’s brief oral decision was delivered Tuesday with a fulsome written decision expected to be released in the next few weeks.

SOURCE

Kristin Annable is a member of CBC’s investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at kristin.annable@cbc.ca

Treat the Climate as a Crisis. Greta Thunberg’s Appeal to the EU

Greta Thunberg and other young activists, together with 150 scientists and numerous celebrities, have signed an appeal addressed to the European Union.

“We ask you to stop pretending to solve the climatic and ecological emergency without treating it as a crisis “. The Swedish activist Greta Thunberg –   together with three other young ecological militants: the German Luisa Neubauer and the Belgian Anuna de Wever and Adelaide Charlier – has launched a new appeal addressed to the leaders of the European Union .

Greta Thunberg’s requests: stop to fossil fuels, CO2 ceilings and defense of the most vulnerable

On Thursday 16 July, the four activists published an open letter online to the heads of state and government of the 27 EU member countries, accompanied by the hashtag #FaceTheClimateEmergency. The text calls for the implementation of a series of concrete measures . Or the “first steps” to “avoid a disaster”.

Greta Thunberg a Strasbourg © European Union 2019 – Source: EP

The petition calls, among other things, to immediately stop investments in the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels , the introduction of mandatory greenhouse gas emission ceilings and the adoption of climate policies capable of protect workers and the most vulnerable .

“Climate inaction is a capitulation”

But it is also asked to work to ensure that the ecocide is recognized as a crime before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. As well as a change of economic route, which allows us to move towards a “totally zero-emission system , focused on the well-being of all individuals and on the natural world”. Avoiding maintaining a lack of ambition on the part of European leaders, as has happened so far according to the activists, which would amount to “a capitulation”.

Especially in this period, since, according to the letter, the response to the coronavirus pandemic “showed that the climate crisis was never treated as such, neither by politicians, nor by the media, nor by the business world, nor by that of the finance”. In addition, the document highlights dinner the importance of taking social and racial issues into consideration: “Climate justice cannot be done if we continue to ignore other injustices.”

The actor Leonardo DiCaprio © Alex Wong / Getty Images

The letter also signed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and Coldplay

The appeal of the young ecologists was also signed by 150 scientists, including names such as ans Joachim Schnellnhuber, Kevin Anderson and Michael Mann. But also famous people such as the American actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix , the New Zealander Russell Crowe , the French Juliette Binoche or the members of the British band Coldplay .

SOURCE

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Cities Are Becoming Climate Death Trap

A new era of heat waves is here. We aren’t ready.

A man cools off in the spray of a fire hydrant during a heat wave in Philadelphia. JESSICA KOURKOUNIS/GETTY IMAGES

As the coronavirus pandemic continues throughout the United States, another deadly pandemic comes out to strike in the summer: extreme heat. Year after year, more people are dying because it’s simply too hot. As of right now, both this country and others lack even an accurate way of counting those deaths—let alone a comprehensive plan to reduce them. Thanks to climate change, it’s about to get much worse.

For the past week, the American South and Southwest have been experiencing record-breaking temperatures. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted above-average heat for nearly the entire U.S. this summer. Unprecedented, early-summer heat waves roasted the Middle East in May and Siberia in June, setting the latter on fire. Arizona had its earliest-ever hundred-degree heat wave in April—and another 110 degree heat wave in May. Spain endured 105 degree heat this month.

When the heat index, a “feels-like” combination of temperature and humidity, reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit indoors or out, human body temperature risks rising above the typical roughly 99 degrees Fahrenheit. When body temperature rises above 104 degrees, the consequences can be fatal within 30 to 60 minutes.

“Heat-related deaths are notoriously difficult to track because the role of heat isn’t always obvious. One 2017 study found that extreme heat can kill people in 27 different ways,” Juanita Constible, senior advocate, climate and health at the National Resources Defense Council, told me. “If someone dies of a heart attack during a heat wave, there’s a good chance that’s how their death will be recorded by officials, even if high temperatures were the trigger.”

Many scientists argue that official heat-death counts underestimate substantially. According to the World Health Organization, 166,000 people died due to heat waves between 1998 and 2017, but the true figure may be far higher. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only count deaths where heat illness is explicitly noted, so the official CDC count of heat-triggered deaths sits at just around 600 per year. Epidemiologists estimate that the real figure may be closer to 12,000—20 times higher than the official count.

Climate change is making heat waves longer, hotter, and more deadly. Scientists estimate that 80 percent of record-breaking heat waves would not have occurred without human-caused warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. And urban areas, in particular, face special risk of heat deaths because of the heat island effect, in which dark pavement, roofs, and concrete absorb additional heat, making temperatures much hotter than the reported weather in any given city.

In the U.S., heat deaths have more than doubled in Arizona in the last 10 years. Last year, a dangerous heat wave hit while storms left residents in the D.C. and New York City metro areas without power. Power outages can be deadly in a heat wave because without air conditioning, many people can’t cool off. In two heat deaths in a 2018 Arizona heat wave, the deceased were found indoors with a broken air conditioning unit that they couldn’t afford to fix.

“Some people won’t use their air conditioning because they’re afraid of the bills,” Patricia Solís, executive director of the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience at Arizona State University, told National Geographic. “They think they’re OK without it, but that’s how people die.”

“There are huge policy gaps in the U.S. with respect to extreme heat protections,” Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told me. “We found that without real action on climate change, by midcentury more than 250 cities across the U.S. are projected to experience 30 or more days with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This includes many cities that historically haven’t experienced this level of extreme heat.”

Low-income communities are especially vulnerable. A 2020 study in Environmental Research Letters found that residents in low-income census tracts were less likely to use air conditioners when temperatures got hot. Heat wave exposure also disproportionately affects communities of color that have faced housing discrimination. Researchers at Portland State University and the Science Museum of Virginia found that urban neighborhoods denied municipal services during the mid-twentieth century are now the hottest areas in 94 percent of the 108 cities analyzed.

Extreme heat is a labor issue, as well. “One of the most urgent needs is an enforceable heat health standard for all workers from the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration],” said Constible. The current rule “has too much wiggle room for employers.” Licker pointed to the proposed Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2019, which has yet to get out of the House Committee on Education and Labor, as a potential solution. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Representative Judy Chu of California, is named after Asuncion Valdivia, a California farmworker who died of a heat stroke in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 hours in 100 degree weather. The U.S. Postal Service has also received criticism for its role in workers’ heat deaths, for example in a troubling report from HuffPost this past week.

But killer heat is a worldwide phenomenon. In Europe, heat waves killed as many as 70,000 in 2003 and more than 1,500 last year. Good heat wave adaptation measures—such as handing out water at train stations, asking people to check on the elderly, and opening air-conditioned shelters for residents—likely contributed to the substantial reduction in deaths from 2003 to 2019. Accurate weather forecasting also allowed for greater preparedness. Still, just 5 percent of European households are air conditioned and scientists estimate that three degrees Celsius of warming could kill an additional 86,000 people each year in the EU.

While China and Japan are used to some sweltering-hot summers, record-breaking heat waves have nevertheless proved deadly. Consecutive heat waves in 2018 and 2019 in Japan hospitalized tens of thousands and killed hundreds. Japan doesn’t use excess mortality to calculate heat-related deaths like Europe does, which means that, as in the U.S., these numbers may be huge undercounts. In China, extreme heat combines with poor air quality to produce harmful ozone. Scientists estimate that three degrees of global warming could kill an additional 30,000 people each year in China.

Meanwhile, the impact of extreme heat on the global south remains underreported in Western media. Since developing countries tend to lack the cooling infrastructure present in North America and East Asia, regions in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan could soon face regular summer heat waves that are impossible to survive. A recent Tokyo Institute of Technology study shows that heat-related deaths in Jakarta are expected to increase by 15 times by 2060. And while some regions of Africa are used to heat waves as a regular occurrence, the heat island slums of large cities such as Nairobi can create fatal conditions. A 2017 John Hopkins study found that temperatures in Kibera, one of the largest “slum” settlements in Nairobi, were typically 5 to 10 degrees higher than the official weather report.

The dual threat of extreme heat and the coronavirus makes for an especially challenging summer for policymakers and city-dwellers. Many cities this year and for each additional year that the pandemic persists will have to choose between opening public cooling centers and risking transmission of Covid-19 or keeping them closed and risking preventable heat-related deaths.

And the coronavirus also complicates the labor aspect of extreme heat. The current U.S. heat standard, for example, which is only a recommendation that employers take precautions when temperatures reach a certain threshold, was created in pre-Covid times. “A heat standard is especially important this summer because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Constible. “The masks and other protective gear needed to slow transmission of the virus have the potential to trap heat and increase heat-health risks to some workers.”

Faced with record temperatures, many cities in the U.S. have taken aggressive adaptation measures. “Dozens of cities and some counties and states have mandatory, incentivized or city-led initiatives using features such as cool roofs, cool pavements, and trees,” Laura Brush, resilience fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told me. “However, funding is a significant barrier for many communities, especially during the pandemic.”

“More diverse funding sources and innovative finance mechanisms are needed to invest in resilience projects. These could include a national infrastructure bank, loan programs, and tax incentives for companies and individuals,” Brush said. Brush points to Louisville, Kentucky’s regional climate and health assessments and cool roof rebate and installation programming as one effective example of a city taking action.

The tragedy of heat-related deaths is that they are almost always preventable. Distributing free air conditioners, paying residents’ summer cooling bills, and simply encouraging people to check in on vulnerable relatives or neighbors can save lives. All of these are extremely feasible policy measures. At the same time, nothing will slow the urban heat-death pandemic like climate mitigation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), for example, could save 2,700 lives per year in New York City alone, according to recent estimates. What’s known for sure is that ignoring either approach—the immediate or the long-term—will come with a body count.

SOURCE

We’re all in hot water now

Heat waves, droughts, flash flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and water shortages will only become more extreme due to climate change, writes Tricia Clarkson

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