Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Shifting sands on coal and natural gas
July 11, 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: Fossil fuels. On the heels of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits Federal authority to regulate power-sector emissions, another major decision—this time from the European Parliament—has dealt a blow to climate progress. The governing body voted to categorize nuclear power and natural gas—the latter of which is a fossil fuel that produces planet-heating emissions—as “climate friendly,” fueling concerns about Europe’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050.
Once this decision is enshrined into law, natural gas will be added to the EU’s “taxonomy” policy, which, paradoxically, aims to combat greenwashing by requiring financiers to evaluate potential government investments based on their level of sustainability. In other words, billions of dollars that could have gone towards advancing the development and deployment of fully clean sources of power could potentially be diverted toward natural gas in the years ahead.
That possibility seems to contradict the EU’s own climate commitments, including its target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. While proponents argue that natural gas emits 50% less CO2 than coal and is a necessary stopgap on the transition to a fully renewable economy, scientists and climate activists warn that this decision will unnecessarily prolong Europe’s reliance on planet-warming fossil fuels as the climate crisis intensifies.
Beyond the European Parliament’s decision, a resurgence of coal in some countries looms as another climate threat. Aiming to jumpstart a sluggish economy and avoid blackouts in the face of increasing heatwaves, China has increased coal production by 13% since 2020. Also facing intense energy demand in the face of rising heat, India is forecast to increase its coal production by 20% between 2021-2024. And Germany, which is Europe’s largest economy and was closing its coal-fired power plants prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is now reviving the facilities to help allay energy demand.
One bright spot in the forecast? The United States, where—despite judicial and GOP efforts to impede climate progress—coal production has been on the general decline since 2008 and experts predict will drop by an additional 45% between now and 2030.
—Matt & Traci, GMMB
More than six weeks’ worth of rain inundated Sydney, Australia, in just four days, causing the city’s fourth major flood in 18 months, forcing hundreds of rescues, leaving tens of thousands without power and requiring 50,000 people to evacuate. (The Washington Post)
Officials in Italy declared a state of emergency due to exceptional drought and heat, which are to blame for both a glacial collapse in the Alps that killed nine people and a precipitous drop in the Po river, which has caused a 50% reduction in hydroelectric power, a 30% drop in seasonal harvests, and the need for several towns to ration their water consumption. (Bloomberg and CBS News)
Catastrophic flash flooding in Bangladesh in recent weeks has washed away entire towns, submerged more than 400 community clinics, hobbled remaining health facilities amid an outbreak of waterborne disease, and resulted in 68 deaths. (The Guardian)
A new study found that warming tropical wetlands, melting arctic ice, and more frequent and intense wildfires are now contributing to a rapid rise in methane in the atmosphere, which itself contributes to more warming—a vicious feedback loop that only promises to intensity the climate crisis. (The Guardian)
The swift deadline set by the federal Bureau of Reclamation requiring six western states to reduce their water consumption from the Colorado River—driven to dangerous lows by severe drought—has reopened feuds and complicated agreements among the states already strained by previous cutbacks to water use. (Politico)
It is neither credible, ambitious nor knowledge-based.”
– Austrian climate minister Leonore Gewessler on the EU “gas as green” proposal
A year into its launch, the federal Office of Climate Change and Health Equity is still understaffed and hobbled by a lack of funding and support, raising concerns about the office’s ability to meet its mandates, including working with disadvantaged communities that suffer disproportionately from climate impacts. (CNN)
Politics & Economy
Following more than a year of intense lobbying from governments and industries, the European Parliament voted to categorize nuclear power and natural gas—the latter of which is a fossil fuel that produces planet-heating emissions—as “climate friendly,” fueling concerns about Europe’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. (Reuters)
Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s ruling limiting the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions, Republican attorneys general and conservative legal activists now plan to challenge other environmental regulations in an effort to undermine the federal government’s ability to address the climate crisis. (The New York Times)
In Texas, the State Board of Education voted down a proposal that would have required students to learn about human-caused climate change, a development that could have a broader impact across the U.S. due to Texas’ enormous textbook buying power, which results in its influence over curricula in other states. (Scientific American)
The Biden administration has offered a new plan that would prohibit new oil and gas leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans while allowing them in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet, a move that has frustrated the fossil fuel industry and climate advocates alike. (The New York Times)
Life as We Know It
A new investigation forecasts an uncertain future for outdoor tennis after climate models estimated that heat waves could push temperatures over 100 °F at major tournaments in the coming decades, underscoring the need for the sport to develop innovative strategies to keep players safe. (FiveThirtyEight)
U.S. coal output fell 35 percent between 2015 and 2021, and some national energy producers are still on pace to eliminate all coal powered energy production by 2035, indicating that market factors like the cost of fossil fuels are pushing the industry toward cleaner energy production. (The Washington Post)
Curious about global coal usage? Check out the Global Energy Monitor’s Global Coal Plant Tracker, which tracks more than 13,000 coal-fired power generating “units” around the world.
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team— Elke Cortes, Devin Della Maggoria, Sharde Olabanji and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.