Climate change
April 29, 2021

The Senate on Wednesday voted 52-42 to restore regulations on methane gas leaks in oil and gas production that the Trump administration had loosened last summer. Three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and Rob Portman (Ohio) — voted with the Democrats to overturn former President Donald Trump's rule using the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that lets Congress kill recently adopted regulations. Curbing methane emissions is a key element of President Biden's push to fight climate change.

The House has not yet voted to restore the methane rules, instituted by former President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency in 2016. The oil and gas industry had originally lobbied against the methane rules, which require oil and gas companies to monitor their equipment for leaking methane and repair any breaches. But many large oil and gas producers, and their main lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute, now support regulating methane emissions.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it drives more than 25 percent of global warming, mostly from leaks during the production and transportation of natural gas, The Wall Street Journal explains. "Combating methane emissions can create a more immediate effect than cutting carbon because methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon over a 20-year period, although it degrades faster in the atmosphere compared to carbon, which lingers for 100 years."

"Regulating methane is the low-hanging fruit of climate action," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). "It's the most significant immediate thing we can do." Peter Weber

April 22, 2021

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg sees climate change as "a defining challenge for our generation and a crisis multiplier," and wants the alliance to play a key role in understanding the best way to fight it while also adapting operations and reducing military emissions, he writes in Politico Europe.

Stoltenberg says climate change is "making the world a more dangerous place." Rising sea levels and extreme weather are "devastating communities, increasing competition for scarce resources, and fueling tensions and conflict," he added. "That's why it's so crucial that NATO sets the gold standard on climate change and security, and then takes action to address it. Climate change threatens global security, so NATO must be part of the response."

On Thursday, Stoltenberg attended the U.S. Leaders Summit on climate change at the invitation of President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. NATO allies agreed to an "ambitious agenda on climate and security" in February, Stoltenberg said, and he expects NATO leaders to approve an action plan at a summit later this year.

The plan would task NATO with using its "unique capacities and expertise to monitor and track climate change," Stoltenberg said, investing in more research and sharing data. NATO soldiers and equipment are facing extreme heat and cold, with critical infrastructure also exposed — the Pentagon has found that climate change threatens the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, which also houses NATO commands.

There will be an assessment of the impact of climate change on NATO assets and installations, Stoltenberg said, and training and exercises will be adapted. NATO will also decrease its dependence on fossil fuels and prioritize sustainable technologies. "Climate change is a generational challenge that requires a global solution, and NATO is a powerful platform for Europe and North America to tackle shared security challenges together," Stoltenberg said. Catherine Garcia

April 22, 2021

In order to tackle climate change, it has to be "at the center of a country's national security and foreign policy," Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told world leaders during a virtual global climate summit on Thursday.

Haines said the United States is taking this approach moving forward, adding that climate change "needs to be fully integrated with every aspect of our analysis in order to allow us not only to monitor the threat but also, critically, to ensure that policymakers understand the importance of climate change on seemingly unrelated policies."

On Thursday, the CIA said it is adding a new environmental category to its World Factbook, which will provide data on climate, pollution, infectious diseases, and food security for different countries. The intelligence community's most recent worldwide threat assessment said that the extreme weather caused by climate change will likely force people to leave areas as they become inhabitable, and this could lead to a possible surge in migration and instability. All of this would "exacerbate political instability and humanitarian crises," the report states. Catherine Garcia

April 21, 2021

Brazil says it will cut back on deforestation — for a price.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has sent a proposal to the Biden administration that involves reducing deforestation by 40 percent in exchange for $1 billion, The Wall Street Journal reports. Bolsonaro is often criticized as a "negligent steward" of the vulnerable Amazon rainforest, the Journal notes, but he and others, including residents of the Amazon region, have argued the only way to save the rainforest is by funding "nascent bio-industries" like fish farming "that would provide alternatives to poor farmers who slash and burn to raise crops and cattle."

Ricardo Salles, Brazil's environment minister, said $1 billion is a "reasonable" amount, especially since President Biden mentioned during his campaign last year that he would work to gather $20 billion from around the world to help Brazil fight forest destruction. Salles told the Journal that one-third of the money would finance "specialized battalions" to enforce environmental laws, while the rest would go to the aforementioned sustainable economic activities.

Per the Journal, Brazil believes foreign aid would end deforestation by 2030, but not everyone is buying the talk. "The [Brazilian] government's credibility to collect funds from other governments is entirely damaged," Carlos Rittl, a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability in Germany, told the Journal. "This is a blackmail discourse."

Bolsonaro will be one of around 40 heads of state to participate in a virtual climate summit hosted by Biden on Thursday and Friday. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

April 18, 2021

It's rare that China and the United States are on the same page these days, but it appears the two powers made some progress when it comes to addressing climate change this past week.

In a joint statement on Sunday, Washington and Beijing announced they have agreed to cooperate with each other and other countries to "tackle the climate crisis." They will keep discussing "concrete actions in the 2020s to reduce emissions aimed at keeping the Paris Agreement-aligned temperature limits within reach."

Prior to the release of the statement, John Kerry, the Biden administration's climate envoy, traveled to Shanghai last week to meet with his Beijing counterpart, Xie Zhenhua. Kerry said Sunday that his discussions were productive, noting that "this is the first time China has joined in" calling climate change a "crisis." He also expressed optimism about the Chinese delegation saying the issue must be met with "urgency" and the fact that they talked about "enhancing" their emissions reduction goals. The language, at least, is "strong," Kerry said.

Li Shuo, the senior climate adviser for Greenpeace, said the joint statement "is as positive as the politics would allow," given that before its release the message of cooperation between the two countries was not one "we could assume."

President Biden will host a virtual climate change summit this week, with many world leaders expected to attend. Chinese President Xi Jinping has not formally confirmed his participation, but people familiar with the matter said he'll be there, The Wall Street Journal reports. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

March 9, 2021

Republicans, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), have relied heavily on a study by a University of Wyoming professor to counter President Biden's climate change plan, but public records suggest the analysis was influenced by the oil and gas industry, The Guardian reports.

Per The Guardian, the records, obtained by Documented and shared with Floodlight (which partners with The Guardian) and Wyoming Public Media, show the Western Energy Alliance — which represents 200 oil and gas companies in the western United States — encouraged Wyoming's Tim Considine to write a proposal about his research for state officials, tried unsuccessfully to provide matching dollars for the state-funded study, and stayed involved throughout the process.

Industry-backed research is not uncommon, The Guardian reports, and Considine said his conclusions were not affected by the comments from the Western Energy Alliance. Still, transparency advocates have grown concerned that climate change studies are "increasingly being used to produce conclusions favorable to oil and gas companies in order to shape public opinion." Records show Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon's office was aware of the Western Energy Alliance's involvement, but never disclosed it.

That said, Considine's analysis — which predicts Biden's plan will kill 18,000 Wyoming jobs and cost the state education, healthcare, and infrastructure funding — hasn't only been called into question because of concerns about a lack of independence. He modeled two scenarios, including a complete drilling ban, which Biden is not proposing, and a freeze on new leases. Biden has temporarily implemented the latter, but Considine reportedly acknowledged in early emails with the Western Energy Alliance that it was difficult to estimate the outcome based on existing data. Laura Zachary, the co-director of Apogee Economics and Policy, estimates the study exaggerates the economic fallout of Biden's climate plan by 70 to 85 percent. Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

February 6, 2021

Back in December, reports warned that a 1,620-square-mile iceberg, which broke off from the Antarctic peninsula, was on course to collide with South Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic. In doing so, scientists feared, it would crush coral, sponges, and plankton on the sea floor and also cut off seals and penguins from their normal hunting grounds, forcing them to make long and dangerous detours. As it turns out, The Wall Street Journal reports, "warmer waters and the torque of the current have shattered" the iceberg, known as A68a, into a dozen pieces, which look like they'll drift farther north and miss South Georgia Island.

If that's the case, the penguins and seals will be spared from the collision, and the drifting icebergs may instead cause more problems for humans, possibly obstructing shipping lanes. Still, there are significant risks to marine life, the Journal reports. As the icebergs melt, there would be an influx of cold fresh water into the ocean, potentially killing off phytoplankton and throwing the food chain off kilter. Without phytoplankton, the krill that feed on them would starve, which would in turn lead to "depleting populations" of fish, seals, penguins, and whales.

A research team from the British Antarctic Survey is on its way to study the affects the icebergs have on the area's marine ecology and get a sense of what to expect should more icebergs break off from the Antarctic ice shelf amid rising global temperatures. "Everyone is pulling out all the stops to make this happen," Povl Abrahamsen, an oceanographer and research team leader, told the Journal. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

December 10, 2020

With the coronavirus pandemic causing people to cut back on commuting and traveling, the world's carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 7 percent in 2020, the Global Carbon Project said.

The Global Carbon Project is a group of international scientists who track emissions. In a study published Thursday in the journal Earth System Science Data, the researchers write that preliminary figures show the world will have put 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air during 2020, down from 40.1 billion tons in 2019. This is the biggest drop ever, the authors said.

The decrease is due to car and plane travel plummeting, but even with this drop, the world on average put 1,185 tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air every second this year. Emissions were reduced 12 percent in the United States, 11 percent in Europe, and 1.7 percent in China, where there was an earlier lockdown and less of a second wave of coronavirus infections, The Associated Press notes.

Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, told AP even though emissions are expected to rise once the pandemic is over, "I am optimistic that we have, as a society, learned some lessons that may help decrease emissions in the future. For example, as people get good at telecommuting a couple of days a week or realize they don't need quite so many business trips, we might see behavior-related future emissions decreases." Catherine Garcia

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