Climate, Health and Equity Brief
A nuclear fusion breakthrough and renewables set to surpass coal
December 22, 2022
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.
Hot Topic: The future of renewables. While much of the energy news this year has focused on countries increasing their reliance on fracking and coal in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a new analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the crisis also motivated countries to make unprecedented investments in renewables like solar and wind to reduce reliance on fossil fuels imported from Russia.
In fact, the IEA’s 2022 renewables forecast report predicts that renewables will surpass coal to become the largest source of electricity globally by 2025. According to the IEA, renewables will account for more than 90% of global electricity expansion over the next five years and grow by 2400 gigawatts (GW), 30% higher than was forecast just a year ago.
This week also saw a major milestone for a potential emissions-free power source: nuclear fusion. Researchers at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced that they achieved net energy gain from nuclear fusion. Unlike existing nuclear power plants that break atoms apart to create energy in a process called fission, nuclear fusion collides two hydrogen particles at high speeds to create helium, losing a small amount of mass in the process that becomes energy.
Historically it has taken more energy to fuse hydrogen atoms than the reaction releases. But this week, researchers were able to create 1.5 times the energy used for the reaction. As exciting as this milestone is, it does not mean we’ll see nuclear fusions powering the grid next year – it’s likely 10-20 years from commercial viability.
While this is not enough progress on renewable energy to achieve the level of emissions reduction we need to stave off climate change, the news this week does show the progress that can be made when we commit to policies and investments focused on transitioning to clean energy. As we head into the New Year, we are hopeful that we will see continued investment and policymaking to accelerate the transition to a net-zero emissions future.
— Matt and Traci, GMMB
Programming note: The Brief is taking a holiday hiatus and will be back in your inboxes on January 7. Wishing you and yours a safe and happy holiday!
Despite having some of the strongest environmental regulations in the world, air quality conditions are severely worsening in the Western U.S. as a deadly stew of fires and droughts—along with industrial and agricultural pollution—degrade air quality and health. (Nature)
A new study suggests that climate change will impact the distribution of two top allergens across the U.S., with estimates that by 2050, airborne pollen loads will significantly increase, with some of the largest surges occurring in areas where pollen is historically uncommon. (Science Daily)
As climate change continues to make extreme precipitation more common, a Washington Post investigation found that FEMA’s flood maps often failed to warn Americans about flood risk, leaving residents unprepared to make insurance and development decisions. (The Washington Post)
A climate change induced multi-year drought has put the Horn of Africa on the brink of a “raging food catastrophe,” with 26 million people currently facing severe hunger or famine, livestock dying off, migrant flows surging, and food and shipping costs increasing. (Inside Climate News)
Despite hope from scientists that fossil fuel emissions had peaked in 2019 and a 5% drop in emissions during the pandemic in 2020, carbon emissions from fossil fuels are expected to reach 37.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2022, the highest ever recorded. (The Washington Post)
The new Arctic Report Card found that, among other dramatic impacts, global warming has caused snow cover to decline at an alarming rate of about 20% per decade and the Arctic to continue to warm four times faster than the rest of Earth. (CNN)
At the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to supporting the expansion of clean energy on the continent to support climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, which also include natural resource conservation, climate adaptation and a just energy transition. (E&E News)
A new report showcases mixed progress on staff diversity among environmental groups, with the percentage of non-White staff increasing from 25% to 36.5% on average since 2017, but progress amongst senior ranks has slowed, with the average number of senior staff additions among people of color declining from three to two between 2021 and 2022. (Bloomberg Law)
Politics & Economy
A new report found that sustainable aviation fuels have the potential to dramatically cut aviation sector emissions—which account for 7% of transportation emissions in the U.S.—while also providing new job opportunities and reducing air pollution. (Axios)
A new report calls out Big Tech’s impact on climate change, with researchers warning that the industry’s current surveillance advertising-based business model is fuelling climate change by driving emissions and consumerism while amplifying political division. (Inside Climate News)
Many Wall Street firms have backed out of their commitments to net-zero principles through the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ) amid pressure from Republican attorneys general who have accused firms of “woke capitalism.” (Grist)
Life as We Know It
A new poll found that among Americans ages 18 to 45, climate change has made 23% of Americans ages 18 to 45 reconsider having a biological child, 23% consider having fewer children, and 12% consider adoption instead of having a biological child. (ABC News)
Extreme weather induced by climate change has hit ranchers and farmers especially hard, though some farmers are turning to controlled-environment agriculture to grow crops in an indoor environment that boosts sustainability and crop yields. (The Washington Post and Bloomberg)
In their latest report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that renewables will become the largest source of global energy by early 2025, surpassing coal and accounting for nearly 40% of worldwide electricity output in 2027. (CNBC)
Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced a breakthrough in nuclear fusion research, achieving a net energy gain that proved fusion power can provide a nearly endless source of clean energy, though the technology still needs many years of development before its widespread commercialization. (MIT Technology Review)
G7 nations have created a global “climate club” that aims to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the transition to clean energy and the development of emission-reduction measures while helping developing nations get the support they need to transform their industries. (PBS)
San Diego and Los Angeles joined hundreds of jurisdictions around the country in banning the distribution of single-use expanded polystyrene—a group of plastic foams that includes Styrofoam—because of its microplastic makeup, production reliant on fossil fuels, and inability to be recycled. (Grist)
Is your New Year’s resolution to reduce your personal greenhouse gas emissions? Take this quiz from The New York Times and see how you stack up—the answers may surprise you.
There can be no sustainable development without sustainable energy development.” — Margot Wallstrom, Former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team— Thomas, Baer, Aaron Benavides, Stefana Hendronetto, Sharde Olabanji and Quincy Tichenor, Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.