Climate, Health and Equity Brief
War, energy and global consequences
March 3, 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: Crisis in Ukraine. The world watched in awe this week as Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by land, sea and air. Hundreds of people have been killed and 100,000 have fled as of this writing, with some estimating that a prolonged conflict could result in tens of thousands of deaths and millions of Ukrainian refugees seeking asylum in nearby countries.
Fears about Putin’s plans have contributed to oil price increases for weeks, and the invasion itself caused prices to spike 9% to $105 per barrel on Thursday, the highest since 2014. Given that Russia is one of the biggest suppliers of oil in the world, their attack on Ukraine has global implications for a global economy already challenged by the pandemic, supply chain disruptions and global inflation.
Europe gets about a third of its energy supply from Russia, and the threat of Putin turning off the taps to that supply has experts concerned about some countries shifting focus from reducing emissions and meeting climate targets to increasing energy security and ramping up production of fossil fuels to help fill the gap.
And conflict also has more immediate environmental implications. Ukraine makes up just 6% of the European land mass, but holds 35% of its biodiversity—and nearly one-sixth of Ukraine is covered by forests. Munitions can leach toxic chemicals into the soil, rivers and groundwater, threatening all forms of life. Military fire and explosions increase the risk of expansive forest fires. And if Russia strikes one of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear power reactors—either as a strategic move to hamstring Ukraine’s energy supply or unintentionally in the chaos of war—thousands of surrounding miles could become radioactive.
As the world keeps the lives and safety of Ukrainian citizens top of mind, this conflict is yet another reminder that everything on planet Earth is connected—and linear progress toward humanity’s goal of a livable planet remains tenuous at best.
—Matt & Traci, GMMB
Politics & Economy
Experts fear that policymakers around the world will backslide on national efforts to decrease the use of fossil fuels given a renewed emphasis on energy independence and national security in light of the war in Ukraine. (The New York Times)
As geopolitical tensions cause oil prices to surge past $100 per barrel for the first time since 2014, concerns over energy security are causing a global spike in the production of planet-warming fuels like coal and threatening to disrupt long-term efforts toward a clean energy transition. (CNBC, The New York Times)
A Trump-appointed U.S. district judge shot down the Biden administration’s attempt to raise the social cost of carbon—the estimated economic damage of emitting one additional ton of CO2 into the atmosphere—from $7 to $51, a move that is likely to skew any cost-benefit analysis in favor of industry. (Associated Press)
A new report found that one in ten homes in the U.S. were impacted by natural disasters last year alone, resulting in nearly $60 billion in property damage. (The Washington Post)
A recent Stanford simulation revealed that a 100 percent clean energy transition in the U.S. would prevent widespread blackouts due to the greater efficiency of renewables, while also creating millions of new jobs and improving air quality and public health. (The Washington Post)
A new report found that even as major global corporations set emissions reduction goals, their political contributions often support candidates that oppose climate policies and regulations. (The Washington Post)
A new UN report revealed that air pollution and environmental toxins are the biggest contributors to premature death around the world, causing at least nine million fatalities annually, or twice as many as the COVID-19 pandemic so far. (The Hill)
In the face of increasingly extreme and unpredictable temperature fluctuations, a new report warns that predicting infectious disease outbreaks will become increasingly difficult due to the relationship between host pathogens and temperatures. (Phys.org)
An estimated 13 million people in the Horn of Africa are facing severe food insecurity as the region experiences its worst drought since 1981, which has drastically cut grain production and killed more than 1.5 million livestock. (Bloomberg)
Persistent droughts in Syria have compounded the region’s instability, ravaging its agricultural heartland and leaving over 50 percent of its population without adequate food supplies. (The New York Times)
A new UN study estimates that extreme wildfires will become 50 percent more common by the end of the century unless national leaders drastically increase funding for fire prevention. (Axios)
Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war.”
– 2nd U.S. President John Adams
New research found that the world’s poorest nations—which also contribute the least to climate change—will face two to five times greater risk from heat waves than wealthier nations by the 2060s due to a lack of funding for climate adaptation. (PBS)
A new analysis found that low-income communities and communities of color in the U.S. face disproportionate exposure to extreme weather events due to the concentration of affordable housing in high-risk areas. (Fast Company)
A new screening tool unveiled by the Biden administration to guide the allocation of climate resources is facing harsh criticism from environmental justice advocates due to its exclusion of race as a factor when identifying disadvantaged communities most impacted by environmental hazards. (Associated Press)
Life as We Know It
A new study found that more than 50 heritage sites along the coasts of Africa—including vital cultural and archeological sites used to study human evolution—face flooding and erosion at risk from rising sea levels. (Carbon Brief)
As the effects of planetary warming force ski resorts to rely on expensive, artificial snow, costs are being passed down to visitors through higher lift tickets and resort prices, threatening to make skiing an increasingly exclusive and less diverse sport. (Fast Company)
The Biden administration has announced a string of environmental actions aimed at decarbonizing heavy-pollutant industries including concrete, aluminum, steel and transport, which account for over 30 percent of greenhouse emission rates globally. (World Economic Forum)
More than 70 environmental groups launched a campaign calling on the Biden administration to protect mature trees and forests on federal lands as a simple solution to prevent greenhouse gas emissions. (The Washington Post)
Watch this video explainer on the potential environmental impact of war in Ukraine.
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Aaron Benavides, Elke Cortes, Sharde Olabanji, Adrian Plaisance and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.