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Climate Change Is Inevitable. Here’s How We Must Adapt

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Eighty years ago, the American government began the mammoth scientific undertaking of developing fully operational nuclear weapons. At its peak, the Manhattan Project employed 130,000 people, and its total cost ran to $2 billion (equivalent to $23 billion today). Nowadays, global efforts to mitigate climate change are reaching an even greater scale. Governments are pledging to slash greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050, investments into renewable energy now account for 70% of funding for new electricity generation, economies are being restructured around the taxation and trading of carbon emissions, climate tech accounts for 6% of early-stage VC funding, and geo-engineering projects may modify our atmosphere to reflect solar radiation or change the biological composition of our oceans to better capture and store carbon.

These are the new Manhattan Projects–aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change. But as existentially necessary as they are, they are insufficient at adapting us to the inevitable climate shocks already unfolding. Our environment is a complex system, always changing in new directions, not snapping back to familiar parameters from centuries past. It will not adapt to us–we will have to adapt to it.

The case for adaptation

The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement and recent COP-26 summit in Glasgow represent a sea-change in commitments to mitigating climate change. 191 nations have pledged to make all efforts to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees celsius, and more than $100 billion has been pledged to help developing countries transition their economies. Still, the fact remains that climate conditions will get worse before they get better–if they ever recover at all.

The most recent IPCC report states that we are on track to exceed the 1.5 degree target by 2040, if not sooner. Already, extreme weather phenomena such as cyclones and heat waves are becoming mass casualty events. The impending collapse of crucial oceanic currents coupled with irreversible sea level rise are a stark warning that there are effects from our past behavior already baked into our future irrespective of today’s mitigation efforts.

By focusing almost exclusively on mitigation strategies that will take decades to have impact, policy makers are acting myopically. Building wind farms in America and Europe does little to help flood victims in Mississippi or Henan. Closing coal plants in China doesn’t stop sea level rise in the Bay of Bengal. Much of the world population needs some form of adaptation policy now, not after we bring emissions under control.

Climate adaptation–efforts to build defenses against climate effects in our infrastructure, or to relocate populations to climate resilient areas–cannot remain the neglected sibling of climate mitigation any longer. Currently, such measures represent an alarmingly low 5-6% of total climate-related finance. For climate change policy to be humane, it must recognise that climate change already exists, and that we have a pressing need to adapt to it.

What is (and isn’t) being done?

Climate mitigation investments do not have to be expensive to be effective. For example, high albedo surfacing has lowered temperatures in buildings and on roads. In New York City, 9.2 million square feet of rooftops have been painted white in order to reflect more sunlight and reduce local temperature rise. The greenhouse saturated town of Almeira, Spain, is cooler than the surrounding region due to its significant sunlight reflection. Building insulation materials such as those deployed by Knauf and other companies can make homes and offices warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The U.K. government announced a scheme in 2020 to provide GBP2 billion in grants to low-income households to re-insulate their homes.

James Peterson with Bio Neighbors applies a coating of Acrymax to the roof of a row home in Philadelphia in August 2010. The idea of painting roofs white has become something of a social movement, one that many believe could be a huge help in stopping global warming.

Matt Rourke–AP

In addition to harnessing renewable solar and wind resources for local energy production, the latest battery cell technologies can also power more reliable power grids so that poor populations can benefit from cooling technologies. For example, Vanadium flow batteries (pioneered by RedT Energy, VFlow Tech, and Vizn) last 4-5 times longer than solid state batteries, making them ideal for grid energy storage. Such projects can be used on both small and large scale projects. Global Himalayan Expeditions, a social impact tourism firm, has electrified 22 villages in India’s Himalayas. The 95 microgrids they established rely heavily on harnessing solar energy, and subsequently storing it in batteries to provide a consistent flow of electricity to 5,130 Himalayan community residents, and paving the way for them to install heating in their homes.

As megadroughts and drying rivers afflict everywhere from the American southwest to much of the Middle East and Asia, water desalination and atmospheric water generation are also crucial technologies that can enable adaptation for billions of people. Together with the UAE’s utility DEWA, MIT is leading a drive to develop renewable powered water desalination that can create long-term, sustainable water supplies. Labourie, a small village in St. Lucia, implemented the Eastern Caribbean’s first mobile solar-powered desalination plant, successfully stabilising the island’s water supply. Smaller, off-grid, solar-powered atmospheric water generation panels are already commercially available, though more research is needed for these to be viable on a larger scale. Jalimudi, a village of 600 in Andhra Pradesh, India, has been supplied for over 12 years with water generated by atmospheric water generation. Previously, villagers had had to travel miles on a daily basis to fetch drinking water.

We could also engineer a new Green Revolution. Vertical farming, hydro and aquaponic agriculture, and plant and cell-based protein are fast-growing industries that allow for far more localized and “circular” food production rather than our far-flung agricultural supply chains that currently account for nearly 15 percent of global emissions. Vertical farming allows up to ten times more crop growth in a given area and fourteen times more growth cycles than traditional farming. AeroFarms, an indoor agriculture company based in New Jersey, is developing aeroponics, a cutting edge technique which uses mists to deliver nutrients to exposed plant roots. The technique could reduce water use by 98%, fertilizer use by 60%, and pesticide use by 100%. Within the next decade, cultured meats are due to reduce the energy and land required to produce meat by 45 and 99 percent, respectively. These developments allow us to control our food production more closely, freeing us from the mercy of the weather in growing our food. And even where farmers remain exposed to meteorological volatility, genetically modified seeds capable of producing crops under water-stressed conditions can help them weather difficult growing seasons.

Read More: Hello from the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change But Everything Is Different

Approximately 2.4 billion people live within 100 kilometers of a shoreline, with a density three times greater than non-coastal areas, making greater investments in coastal defenses an essential adaptation measure. Allowing mangrove forests to re-grow and designating areas as floodplains can absorb and direct rising tides. In Senegal, the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development has made funds available for the reforestation of mangroves in the country’s Fatick region. The benefits of this project are threefold, as mangroves protect against coastal flooding, stop soil erosion that makes these areas uninhabitable, and promote the development of marine communities.

The Netherlands’ Delta Works and 9-kilometer long Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier have been called the eighth wonder of the world, while South Korea’s Saemangeum Seawall protects residents of Gunsan City while also expanding fertile land. Despite the returns on investment from adequate coastal protection, iconic cities such as Venice have made only sub-par efforts such as the floating barrier called MOSE which has failed to prevent significant flooding of St. Mark’s Square. Miami has delayed serious investments in a seawall for cosmetic reasons, even though it would protect $145 billion worth of real estate currently threatened. The extreme scenario is represented by megacities such as Indonesia’s Jakarta, which plans to relocate itself as the country’s capital to the island Borneo. Sir David King, chairman of the U.K.’s Climate Crisis Advisory Group, believes that London will have to relocate as well.

Migration as adaptation

If we can move cities, we can certainly move people. I argue in my new book that the most significant climate adaptation measure is large-scale population resettlement to climate resilient areas. An estimated 150,000 people die every year due to climate change related events, and of the 40.5 million new displacements in 2020, 30.7 million came from natural disasters, whereas only 9.8 million were caused by conflict and violence.

The World Bank’s series of “Groundswell” reports, as well as estimates from the WHO, suggests that more than 700 million people will be internally displaced due to climate phenomena by 2040. For every one degree temperature rise, scientists predict that one billion people are displaced from the optimal “climate niche” of latitudes to which we have become acclimated.

Yet very few countries take climate migration seriously. Only this year has the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stepped up funding for its Hazard Mitigation Assistance program, and together with the Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began to examine large-scale resettlement programs such as the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. Larger resettlement grants to individual families can help to offset the collapse in property values in affected areas, but people can also be relocated to climate resilient states such as Michigan that have become more affordable as they’ve become more depopulated.

Either adapt proactively, or we will, down the line, be forced to act reactively. The recent floods in Germany, causing EUR2 billion Euros of property damage, 196 deaths, and thousands of displaced people, prove this point. The German government cannot prevent future flooding, but it can undertake adaptive measures such as moving residents to higher ground and reinforcing flood defenses to ensure that when it does recur, people are protected.

China has already undertaken comprehensive resettlement programs for vulnerable areas such as Guizhou province, which has faced extensive deforestation, soil erosion, and extreme weather, relocating 2 million people between 2012 and 2020. Even though domestic climate migrants face short-term challenges such as higher unemployment, skills training programs have contributed to restoring social mobility. In the long run, people are better off having relocated than being trapped in survival mode.

Nowhere on the COP-26 agenda will you find migration as a critical solution to the challenge of climate adaptation, even though it is the single most obvious and effective measure we can take right now. This is of course because sovereign governments don’t want to see their borders overwhelmed by climate refugees. But the world’s two largest countries by landmass–Canada and Russia–would both benefit from having more migrants reinforce their ailing demographics and efforts at economic diversification. Canada is already doing so, bringing in 400,000 new residents each year, with a plan to more than double its population to 100 million in the coming decades. Unless Russia does the same, Canada would have a larger population than Russia by late this century.

It is a cruel irony that some of the world’s most rapidly depopulating countries have become our greatest agricultural breadbaskets. As of this year, Russia is the world’s largest wheat producer. As temperatures rise, its vast terrain is becoming more livable (if less predictable). If gradually undertaken and well-managed, Russia and the world would benefit from the country learning from Canada’s example.

Read More: Seven Takeaways from COP26

There are many other “climate oasis” zones in the world. rom the Great Lakes to eastern Turkey, and the Upper Mekong to Japan, there are more than enough climate resilient locations on Earth to which to resettle the 2-3 billion people who may require it in the turbulent era to come.

The UN commitment to mobilise $100 billion of climate finance for developing countries is an important step in helping them leapfrog over the path of hydrocarbon powered industry towards renewable energy, but it does not address the need to provide equivalent support for societal resilience. A recent World Bank report found that spending just $1.8 trillion on adaptive measures in the next decade could produce $7.1 trillion worth of benefits. Ignoring these measures only raises the costs that countries face by an estimated $70-$100 billion annually by 2050. Adaptation, therefore, is a sound investment.

Adaptation measures should also be incorporated into future climate agreements, both in order to create metrics for progress as well as a forum for sharing best practices in protecting vulnerable populations. Not focusing on climate adaptation is a mistake that could cost millions of lives in the coming century. It may well be too late to future-proof much of our industry and infrastructure against the wrath of climate change, but we can still future-proof ourselves.

Adapted from Parag Khanna’s new book, Move: The Forces Uprooting Us

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Moderna Says New Vaccine for Omicron Variant May Be Ready in Early 2022

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Bloomberg — Moderna Inc. Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said he suspects the new omicron coronavirus variant may elude current vaccines, and if so, a reformulated shot could be available early in the new year.”We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks,” Burton said Sunday on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”

“If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities,” he said. “The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, the Moderna platform, is that we can move very fast,” he said.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company mobilized “hundreds” of staff early on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., after news of the omicron variant spread.

Protection should still exist, depending on how long ago a person was vaccinated, and for now the best advice is to take one of the current Covid-19 vaccines, Burton said.

“If people are on the fence, and you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he said. “This is a dangerous looking virus, but I think we have many tools in our armamentarium now to fight it.”

The emergence of the omicron strain has seen countries rush to clamp down on travel from southern Africa. Fears that it could exacerbate a winter Covid surge in the northern hemisphere and undermine a global economic recovery sent a wave of risk aversion across global markets Friday that continued Sunday when the Middle East opened for the week.

Moderna said in a release on Friday that it was working rapidly to test the current vaccine against the omicron variant, and studying two booster candidates.

“Since early 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy to anticipate new variants of concern,” the company said. “The company has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to advance new candidates to clinical testing in 60 to 90 days.”

(C) 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Europe’s Energy Crisis Is About to Get Worse As Winter Arrives

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Bloomberg — Energy prices in Europe are repeatedly breaking records even before winter really kicks in, and one of the most damaging cost crunches in history is about to get worse as the temperature starts to drop.A super price spike in the U.K. last month forced some industrial companies to cut production and seek state aid, a harbinger for what could play out widely in Europe just as it contends with a resurgence of the coronavirus. For governments, it could mean tension with neighboring countries by moving to protect supplies. For households, it could mean being asked to use less energy or even plan for rolling blackouts.

The trouble is that any fix is unlikely to come from the supply side any time soon, with exporters Russia piping only what it has to and Qatar saying it’s producing what it can. The energy industry is instead faced with relying on “demand destruction,” said Fabian Roenningen, an analyst at Rysted Energy.

“We have seen it over the last couple of months already, and in many industries, it will most likely continue and even increase,” he said from Oslo. “It’s just not profitable to operate for a lot of the players in the current market conditions.”

The outlook adds to the sense of foreboding in Europe. The region is back at the epicenter of the pandemic again with Covid-19 cases surging and fears about a new variant identified in South Africa swirling the globe. Restrictions are being tightened in some countries, while household budgets are being squeezed by rampant inflation. On top of that, freezing weather could mean the lights going out. A return to lockdown like in Austria would help curb power demand, though few governments want to do that.

France, Europe’s second biggest economy, is particularly at risk. The possibility of a chill in January and February is causing concern for the nation’s grid operator. Availability at nuclear stations, the workhorse of the French power system, is low after the pandemic delayed the maintenance of some reactors, according to a report on Nov. 22.

Power prices there are the highest since 2012 as a cold blast creeps into France and is expected to take hold by Monday when workday demand starts to rise.

Last winter, the grid operator appealed to households to use less energy at peak times and activated some demand reduction contracts with manufacturers when things got really tight. The next step would be to reduce voltage across the network and then rolling blackouts of two hours per region as a last resort. All that would come ahead of a presidential election.

“If there’s a deep cold snap and there’s no wind, things could become tight given the lesser availability of nuclear plants and the recent closure of dispatchable generation assets using coal,” said Nicolas Goldberg, a senior manager in charge of energy at Colombus Consulting in Paris. “If it’s getting really cold and there’s no wind, it may become a problem.”

France is also a key exporter of electricity to neighboring countries, meaning that the effects of a crisis would reverberate in Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain. Maximum demand is expected to be 80.7 gigawatts on Monday, still some way off the record 102 gigawatts from February 2012.

The situation is already so dire this early in the winter season because of a blistering rally in natural gas prices. Stores of the fuel, used to heat homes and to generate electricity, are lower than usual and are being depleted quickly. Analysts have warned that gas stores could drop to zero this winter if cold weather boosts demand.

Rolling blackouts are a possibility, warned Jeremy Weir, chief executive officer of Trafigura Group, a Swiss commodity trading house on Nov. 16.

“If the weather gets cold in Europe there’s not going to be an easy supply solution, it’s going to need a demand solution,” said Adam Lewis, partner at trading house Hartree Partners LP.

On the supply side, what Russia does next will be key. President Vladimir Putin signaled he would help Europe with more supplies to stabilize the market, but while shipments have recovered after a slump at the start of November, they are low compared with last year. How much gas Russia sends to Europe in December remains an even bigger mystery.

QuicktakeHow Europe Has Become So Dependent on Putin for Gas

The long-awaited start of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany from Russia would ease the continent’s energy crunch. The project is finished, but has run into regulatory hurdles and it’s unclear when flows will start.

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, says it’s already producing gas at full capacity. The Gulf nation, which has low production costs thanks to an abundance of easy-to-extract fuel, has ordered six more LNG ships from South Korea on top of four tankers purchased from China in October.

If things get really bad, countries could resort to curbing sales of natural gas to other regions. An even more extreme scenario could see them halt flows of gas and power to one another, sparking political acrimony and hitting economies.

The European Union has what it calls solidarity principles that are supposed to prevent any state blocking exports of power or gas and leaving another member short, especially when it comes to supplies for households.

The solidarity, though, has never been tested in a wide-scale crisis and grid operators say that they’re allowed to stop or alter power flows through inter-country cables if they have security of supply issues. When the nicknamed “Beast from the East” hit at the end of February 2018, it was quite late into the heating season. This year, it’s likely that a less severe weather event could have a similar impact.

“It shows how exposed Europe’s power system is to the volatility in commodity prices,” said Roenningen in Oslo. “In the short term, there’s not a lot that can be done.”

(Updates with demand forecast in 10th paragraph.)

-With assistance from Francois De Beaupuy and Will Mathis.

To contact the author of this story:
Rachel Morison in London at rmorison@bloomberg.net

(C) 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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How Germany’s New Government Plans to Be the Greenest One Yet

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Among environmentalists, hopes have been running high for Germany’s new government. At elections this September, growing concern about climate change, boosted by the worst floods to hit the country in 500 years, helped the German Greens double their parliamentary seats.

Though the Greens’ performance wasn’t enough to win them the chancellorship, it gave them significant clout in coalition negotiations, which they promised to use to push through parts of their radical climate action program.

They have delivered–partly. On Wednesday the party unveiled a three-way coalition agreement with economic liberals the Free Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats, whose leader, Olaf Scholz, will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor. The deal contains a raft of measures to slash Germany’s greenhouse emissions, which remain high compared to many European neighbours because of its heavily industrial economy and greater reliance on coal.

The measures include a commitment to massively expand renewable energies, turning over 2% of national territory to the cause; a target to phase out coal by 2030, eight years earlier than previously planned; and a plan to weaponize foreign policy to drive shifts on climate abroad.

The Greens won the right to appoint the foreign minister, which will be party co-leader and former chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, and the head of a “super ministry” for the economy and climate protection, which will be her co-leader Robert Habeck. They will also get to pick the ministers for agriculture and environmental conservation. “We are in charge of all key energy and climate ministries,” says Sven Giegold, a Green member of the European parliament, who was on the party’s core coalition negotiating team, “and we have a whole roadmap for a post-fossil future based on renewable energy.”

But some climate campaigners said they were frustrated by a lack of clarity on the timeline for Germany’s promised phase-out of fossil fuels. For example, many had hoped the agreement would set an end date for the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel that Germany and other European countries are increasingly using as a “bridge fuel” to reduce reliance on more-polluting coal and oil in the short-term. The European Environmental Bureau, a network of activist groups and NGOs, called the gas commitments “highly disappointing” and “a missed chance for Germany to give clear indications” to energy markets.

Gielgold says the new government is focused on ramping up renewables and their supporting technologies as fast as possible so that they can replace fossil fuels, rather than on the exact dates those fuels will leave the mix in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. “Honestly, it’s not the phasing out, but the phasing in, which will inspire others to act,” he said.

Here are the four key points in the German coalition’s plan on climate, and how they could affect the rest of the world:

Expanding renewable power

The coalition pledged to make the expansion of renewable energies “a central project” of its government. By 2030, the agreement says, 80% of Germany’s power generation will come from renewables–up from around 40% today. Experts say the target is comparable to the U.K.’s goal of reaching net zero on electricity generation by 2035, and the U.S.’ of hitting “100% carbon pollution-free electricity” by 2035.

To achieve it, the government plans to increase Germany’s solar capacity five-fold to 200GW, and off-shore wind more than four-fold to 40GW by 2030, with a mandate to accelerate designation of land for onshore wind power. The agreement also calls for a costly overhaul of Germany’s electricity grid geared towards solar, wind, and hydrogen.

Germany’s renewables push could be decisive for the rest of the E.U., restoring faltering cooperation on offshore wind and pressuring others to ramp up national spending in line with the bloc’s climate goals, according to Lisa Fischer, an energy transition expert at European climate think tank E3. “[The Greens] have sort of gone on the offensive: focusing on getting real ambition on renewables deployment, and perhaps they haven’t used their energy on putting in negative criteria on gas and coal as much,” Fischer says. “And the ambition level there is great. I do think it’s a game changer for Europe.”

Phasing out coal

Germany is the world’s fourth largest consumer of coal and has lagged far behind its western European neighbours on phasing it out, due to its large reserves of lignite coal, which it has historically relied upon to ensure its energy independence. Coal made up more than a quarter of German power production in the first half of 2021

The agreement says Germany will bring forward its coal exit from the 2038 date the previous government had set. “Ideally, this will be achieved by 2030,” it reads. Though some campaigners were frustrated by the lack of a firm commitment, energy experts say the worsening economic case for coal in Europe–due to E.U. regulations and market shifts– makes it likely the 2030 date will be met.

The accelerated timeline on coal will help pile pressure on Eastern and Central European countries who are aiming for later dates. Germany has historically wielded economic and political influence over those countries, but its message on coal has been muddled by its domestic reliance. “A 2030 German coal exit leaves nowhere to hide for Poland, Czechia and Bulgaria,” climate non-profit Ember said in a statement. “Those left behind will face high electricity prices, an uncompetitive economy, and increasing pressure to act.”

Cutting reliance on natural gas

Germany, like much of the rest of Europe, is highly reliant on natural gas for heating, a sector which makes up 12% of the E.U.’s carbon dioxide emissions. Countries face a costly drive to retrofit buildings to use renewable-powered electricity, or other renewable technologies, for heat.

The coalition agreement says that “all newly installed heating systems must be operated with 65% renewable energy by 2025”, but it is unclear how fast buildings will be expected to replace their systems. Meanwhile, an existing plan to build hydrogen-ready gas power plants, combined with the lack of an end date for natural gas use, leaves the door open to gas remaining part of electricity production for years to come.

Campaigners hope the German government will strengthen its gas targets next year, as part of a promised raft of new climate legislation, and as it participates in a long-awaited E.U. review of subsidies and taxes for the fuel.

Putting climate at the center of government

Some of the brightest lights in the coalition agreement come not from policies, but from the way that climate is positioned in the structure of the German government, with Green-leadership of “the traditionally important parts of German decision-making, like agriculture, foreign policy and the economy,” Fischer says.

In an interview with TIME before the September election, Baerbock said that her priority in coalition negotiations would be overhauling the current “totally stupid” situation where “every ministry does what they want and the environment ministry does the environment.” As foreign minister, Baerbock has pledged to align trade and aid with climate goals, and to use Germany’s leadership of the G7 in 2022 to encourage other wealthy countries to accelerate their investment in clean energy infrastructure.

But perhaps the most important ministry remains out of Green control. The Greens lost the battle to appoint the finance minister–one of the fiercest of the coalition negotiations–to the Free Democrats, whose leader Christian Linder will now take the post.

An influential industry lobby group said on Tuesday that the next government would need to spend some 860 billion euros by 2030 to trigger the emissions reductions it is calling for across the economy. It may be hard to extract that much from fiscal hawks the Free Democrats. Giegold, though, says that the consensus-based nature of German politics gives him confidence that the other two parties will stump up the money to meet their commitments. “Normally in Germany, we are dull, gray, and boring,” he says. “And that means we stick to what we have agreed.”

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