Over the past two weeks, Asia has played host to the most intense sequence of multilateralsummits since the pandemic began, as national leaders gathered for meetings organized by ASEAN, the G20 and APEC. Although overshadowed by geopolitical tensions, the meetings marked a welcome return to in-person summitdiplomacy, and the better-than-expected outcomes show hope yet for multilateralism.
As leaders moved on to Bali for the Group of 20summit, expectations were low after ministerial meetings in the run-up had failed to produce consensus. Earlier in the year, given fractures in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there was a question mark over whether the G20 could even go ahead or survive in its existing form.
In the end, the summit surpassed expectations by producing a joint declaration after intense negotiations, with leaders finding the compromises necessary to unite in declaring that “today’s era must not be of war” and pledging to uphold the multilateral system.
Reflecting on these three summits, three takeaways give reason for cautious optimism that multilateralism can yet be revived and play a major role in solving our challenges.
First, and perhaps most obviously, the return of in-person summitdiplomacy is a welcome uplift for global cooperation. Virtual formats played a useful interim role at the height of the pandemic but were never a substitute for getting leaders in the same room. That is especially when it comes to interactions on the sidelines, often as important as the main event.
China’s return to diplomacy at the highest level was a further boost, both for the nation and the rest of the world.
Leaders got to meet their new counterparts for the first time or build on existing relationships, which can only help global cooperation.
The second takeaway is that as grave as our challenges are, the threat of escalating conflict and severe economic pressures on all nations seem to be focusing minds and increasing the willingness to engage and cooperate—out of necessity if nothing else.
The G20summit was the second major one this year to surpass expectations after the 12th World Trade OrganizationMinisterial Conference in June surprised observers by agreeing on a plan to reform the organization and its dispute settlement mechanism. The G20 statement reiterated support for this WTO reform plan, which will be critical to get the free trade agenda back on track and provide a much-needed boost for the global economy.
Third, and perhaps most significantly for the long term, the recent summits marked an acceleration of the trend towards multi-polarization in international diplomacy, and in particular, the rising influence of non-aligned “middle powers” to shape multilateral outcomes.
The middle powers represented at ASEAN, the G20 and APEC have huge stakes in avoiding a bifurcation of the global economy that might result from a new cold war. They don’t want to be forced to pick sides and many show a growing willingness and ability to build bridges and restore positive momentum for multilateralism.
Indonesia is a prime example. The country’s strategic heft and non-aligned credibility make it well-placed to bridge different camps. PresidentJoko Widodo made a big political bet on the success of the G20 and has won praise for the deft diplomacy that kept the organization alive and got it to a joint statement.
There is scope for this trend to continue next year as middle powers continue to rise in stature, and India and Indonesia take over the presidency of the G20 and ASEAN, respectively. Brazil will host the G20 the year after.
Over in Sharm el-Sheikh at the COP27 UN climate summit, another middle power—the host Egypt—also won praise for helping to shepherd a historic financing deal for poor countries affected by climate change. But the ultimate failure to reach a commitment to phase down fossil fuels was a sobering reminder of the huge difficulties that remain in forging the global consensus needed to overcome our shared challenges.
The state has had multiple mine disasters and the subsequent contamination of nearby fields and streams. As early as 1883, the explorer and adventure travel writer Willard Glazer wrote that Pittsburgh’s industry was “rendered possible by the coal which abounds in measureless quantity in the immediate neighborhood of the city”—and which contributed to the poisoning of many of the area’s waterways and the despoiling of the air. As late as 1940, 81 percent of the city’s dwellings burned coal. The emissions from the steel mills that helped the country win two world wars and build a robust mass-consumer economy only added to the environmental distress.
This duality is part of, defines all of, Pennsylvania’s natural and political history. It is embedded in the origin story of Pennsylvania and reinforced in contemporary history. In the WPA Guide to Pennsylvania, the writers of the New Deal-era product of the Federal Writers Project spoke in 1940 of how the main plant of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in Ford City, Pennsylvania, “extends for a mile along Third Avenue in a series of long squat units composed of red brick,” and how the state’s Red Hills were exceeded only in Belgium as “the finest farm section in the world.” Precisely three-quarters of a century ago, in his classic 1947 book, Inside U.S.A., the journalist John Gunther wrote, “To a degree the story of Pennsylvania is the story of iron, coal, and steel. Yet of its 26 million acres, almost half is forest!”
Not that there haven’t been efforts. “A generalized good always takes a back seat to a specific interest,” Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, told me in an interview for this article. “We all benefit from a healthy environment, but there are specific interests that are specifically harmed if we do the right thing. Those specific interests have a lot of power in places like Harrisburg.”
The frequent result of these countervailing impulses and competing interests: paralysis on environmental matters, even as the latest United Nations report, published in April, warned that the world was on a path to a rate of global warming more than double the 2.7-degrees Fahrenheit set as the preferred global goal in 2015 in Paris.
U.N. Secretary GeneralAntónio Guterres warned that the result would be “unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals,” adding, “This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies.”
A City (and State) in Crisis
As man proceeds toward his announced goal of the conquest of nature, he has written a depressing record of destruction, directed not only against the earth he inhabits but against the life that shares it with him.
In the past half century, the city’s average temperature has risen by 2.8 degrees, according to figures compiled by Climate Central—a jarring result for a city where the local political grandees like to emphasize how the area has moved beyond its heavy-manufacturing past. Even with the dramatic decline in the steel industry, Pittsburgh remains the 10th worst city in the country in terms of the presence of short-term particulate matter, and the Breathe Meter indicator that monitors the area’s air has found that 88.5 percent of metro areas in the country have cleaner air. Moreover, a study by Community Partners in Asthma Care found that the rate of asthma in Pittsburgh-area school children is nearly three times the national average.
For generations, no essay on the environment of Pennsylvania was complete without citing Charles Dickens’ characterization of mid-19th centuryPittsburgh as “hell with the lid lifted,” or Lincoln Steffens’ complaint about the city’s “smoky gloom” and the “volcanic light upon the cloud of mist and smoke” that appeared with the periodic opening of the blast furnaces. When my wife and I bought a house in Pittsburgh two decades ago—when almost the entire steel industry had closed down in the area—we paid thousands of dollars to have a century’s worth of soot blasted from the brick facade.
“There is gas in the ground and people have been taking it out of the ground since before I was governor,” Wolf said in the interview. “If I could snap my fingers, we would go completely to wind and solar. I haven’t figured out how to do this. The job is to manage the transition to that energy future.”
Republicans in recent years have sought to deregulate the natural gas industry, expand drilling, ease stipulations for gas permits, open state parklands for energy extraction and open new opportunities for gas pipelines, having the state subsidize them.
And yet the Keystone State has not been entirely a conscientious objector to environmental initiatives.
At a time when there was so much soot in the air that Pittsburgh kept its street lights on all day long and businessmen were forced to change their soiled shirts after returning from a walk to a lunch appointment, Mayor David Lawrence undertook a dramatic anti-smoke campaign in 1946 that greatly improved the air quality in the city. “I am convinced that our people want clean air,” the mayor said in his first inaugural address. “There is no other single thing which will so dramatically improve the appearance, the health, the pride, the spirit of the city.”
“At the beginning of my administration, I issued a challenge to Pennsylvania to become a national leader in finding new ways to protect our environment while promoting economic progress, to provide for the needs of the present without compromising the ability for future generations to meet needs of their own, and to think in terms of sustainability, with both the economy and our environment,” Ridge told me.
The governor was fond of quoting the adage, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” As governor, he said that,“I would often remind myself that the air we breathe and the water we drink should never be taken for granted.”
Much to be Done and an Election That Matters
The fact that a man is to vote forces him to think.
Ordinarily, the multi-interest collision of jobs and climate, energy and environment, might be top-shelf issues in a state that ranks second only to Texas in energy production and that had the largest increase in natural-gas production in the last decade. But that collision is a side show rather than the main event.
“All of these candidates need to speak up and tell us what they would do about the energy situation and the climate crisis that is growing more critical by the minute,” said Larry Schweiger, a former president of the National Wildlife Federation, PennFuture and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. “It is very frustrating to see candidates for governor and the Senate not making an effort to say how they would address these urgent issues. Both parties are guilty of this, and it is a big omission and a big problem.”
The four will face questions about their commitment to climate change with new urgency—and new stakes. And the pressure may well come from a newly critical group of voters: young people.
A Harris Poll survey conducted with 4-H found just fewer than half of teenagersbelieve political and global leaders are taking meaningful action to protect the environment. There is reason to believe that the top tier of teenagers, eligible to vote, and their older brothers and sisters will be motivated and perhaps mobilized by these issues.
“There’s no question that environmental issues are far more critical for younger voters,” said Steven Farnsworth, the political scientist who is director of University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies in Virginia. “This has been going on since the first Earth Day. It has to do with the fact that younger people are going to be on this planet longer than older people.”
As the state’s DemocraticSenate candidate, Lt. Gov. Fetterman speaks of the climate issue as an “existential crisis” and argues that the jobs-versus-environment calculus represents a false choice. “We still need to make stuff in this country, you know?” A onetime advocate of a moratorium on new fracking sites, he now sees a rationale for a limited, perhaps temporary, expansion. “I have been steadfastly talking about how important it is that we retain the manufacturing jobs and the energy jobs in Pennsylvania that currently provide our energy security,” he said at a debate at Carnegie Mellon University, but added, “We also must acknowledge and recognize that we have to trend …. away from these.”
If there is one symbol of the tensions, perspectives, history and impulses of Pennsylvania in environmental matters it is not the gentle Audubon, who nurtured a love of birds in the heart and mind of the nation, nor the hard-faced leaders of power plants and coal mines. It is not the passionate Carson nor the resolute lobbyists who besiege the legislative chambers in Harrisburg. All are part of the Keystone State culture, but none of them personifies the colliding interests in this vital and emotional area of political conflict.
And yet Pinchot does not wear an unblemished hero’s halo in history. Until recent damaging disclosures, that belonged to his chief rival, John Muir, his one-time ally and patron, though the shine on Muir was darkened in 2020, when Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club that Muir helped found in 1892, cited him for having “made derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes, though his views evolved later in his life.”
But in the long-ago conflict between Muir and Pinchot that spanned the period 1908 to 1913 and spilled over into later years is a story that captures the conflict at the heart of the environmental issue in the nation—and in Pinchot’s home state.
In the perspective of today, Pinchot had an ability, in the phrasing of his biographer, Char Miller, “to maintain what might seem like contradictory impulses—the desire to live simultaneously and within nature, to exult in its splendors while exploring its resources.” But in his titanic clash with Muir, Pinchot was cast as the bête noire of the movement he plausibly could claim to have helped create.
It was, as the Library of Congress would characterize it a century later, “a division between those committed to preserving the wilderness and those more interested in efficient management of its use.” The two combatants had conflicting profiles: Pinchot was an insider, Muir was an outsider. Thus Muir claimed the moral high ground as the protector of the outdoors. The battle between the two men had its origins in Muir’s evolution to a view that, as Miller characterized it in his monumental 2001 Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism, “the practice of forestry and the preservation of wilderness were incompatible, a tentative conclusion that would harden into conviction in the first years of the new century.” The result was temporarily to place Pinchot, politically if not emotionally—and supremely awkwardly—in the same camp as his traditional opponents, business executives with a lust for land and lucre.
Pinchot saw this issue as a struggle between “the extreme desirability of preserving the Hetch Hetchy in its original beauty” against the legitimate water needs of San Francisco and other communities in the Bay area. Muir, in a letter to Pinchot, said the proposal to flood the valley to provide water for “the dear people” was “full of graft,” later characterizing it as a moral outrage and a mortal threat to wilderness values. It was a classic confrontation between a master of the political world and a mystic of the natural world.
The struggle wore on for years. Later Pinchot would tell a congressional hearing that “injury to Hetch Hetchy by substituting a lake for the present swampy shore of the valley…is altogether unimportant when compared with the benefits to be derived from its use from a reservoir.”
The crosswinds of the Hetch Hetchy controversy—the issues it raised, the passions it ignited, the arguments it prompted—now blow as a gale through Pinchot’s home state. They are the prevailing winds of Pennsylvania.
A Step in the Right Direction
A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.
Pennsylvania has more than 86,000 miles of streams, more than any state in the lower 48. The miles of these waterways that can support brook trout are dwindling, in part because of climate change and in part because the invasion of the hemlock wooly adelgid insect has infected the shoreline hemlock trees that otherwise would provide shade for the streams.
This is only the latest incarnation of the centuries-long decline in the health of the state’s waterways. In the 18th century, the British army captain Harry Gordon pronounced the site of the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers as “the most healthy, the most pleasant, the most commodious, the most fertile spot of Earth known to European people.” A century later, another British observer said that in Pittsburgh, “Man befouled the streams, bedraggled their banks, ripped up the cliffs, hacked down the trees, and dumped refuse in their stead.”
The result was opposition by an unusual coalition of Republicans and labor unions, who argued that the governor’s plan would reduce jobs in the state.
“The ‘jobs-versus-environment’ framework is almost always part of these debates,” said Christopher Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. “Environmental laws are for the public good—to protect the health and well being of individuals—so it is hard to argue against that. So what do you use as your argument? Jobs. It is sometimes a false choice, and often the environmentally sensitive approach can be a good economic choice. But politically, it is very powerful argument even if the reality isn’t the case.”
Last December, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a resolution that would halt the governor’s effort to join RGGI. The governor then exercised his veto, citing technicalities in the resolution and arguing that joining the group “is a vital step for Pennsylvania to reduce carbon emissions and achieve our climate goals.” When a stay issued by the Commonwealth Court expired in late April, the Wolf administration went ahead and published the regulation, and in less than a day the odd-couple coalition of coalunions and coal companies went to court to fight the order, which required operators of power plants fired by coal and natural gas to buy allowances for every ton of carbon dioxide they emitted.
In a separate interview, state Sen. Wayne Fontana, the chairman of the chamber’s DemocraticCaucus and a member of the Game and Fisheries Committee, described the resistance mounted by Republicans in the legislature as “a wedge to use against the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the fall.” He said the state has taken substantial steps to address environmental threats, arguing, “We have done a lot with lead in the water, we have beaten up air and water polluters.”
A Lack of Urgency
And so we live in a time when change comes rapidly—a time when much of that change is, at least for long periods, irrevocable. This is what makes our own task so urgent. It is not often that a generation is challenged, as we today are challenged. For what we fail to do—what we let go by default, can perhaps never be done.
This past year did not have a silent spring when it came to the climate change issue. Indeed, the reports were more dire, the warnings more urgent, the lack of substantial attention more dangerous. The world, and Pennsylvania, face dramatic alternative outcomes from their actions or inaction. One choice might redound to cities underwater or lower energy consumption as a result of the creation of, in the characterization of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of “compact, walkable cities.” Another might be a continued reliance on private, gasoline-powered automobiles, trucks and buses or the “electrification of transport in combination with low-emission energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature.”
The April report of the IPCC, the United Nations group that assesses science in relation to global warming, was sobering if not chilling. The bottom line: Net emissions are continuing to rise. “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C [2.7°F] without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the working group that produced the latest report, “it will be impossible.”
That will require what the IPCC working group co-chair Priyadarshi Shukla described as “the right policies, infrastructure and technology…to enable changes to our lifestyles and behavior.” And it will require a combination of policies and planning.
The researchers say 12 of the athletes’ brains showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition associated with a range of psychiatric problems, ranging from mood and behavior disorders to cognitive impairment and dementia.
“CTE was identified in the brains of older former professionals with long playing careers, but also in younger, non-professional sportsmen and in recent professionals who had played under modern concussion guidelines,” the authors found.
“Screening for CTE in all deaths by suicide is probably impractical, but our finding suggests it should be undertaken if a history of repetitive head injury is known or suspected,” the authors say.
The authors note that brains donated to the bank are more likely to show signs of trauma because donation is often done when an athlete’s family have concerns about the role head trauma may have played in a person’s death or condition.
Nonetheless, they say: “Our findings should encourage clinicians and policymakers to develop measures that further mitigate the risk of sport-related repetitive head injury.”
One Step Closer to Hydrogen-Fueled Planes
Airbus to Test Zero-Emissions Aircraft, but How Does It Work?
But while engineers have promoted hydrogen as a possible transport fuel since at least the 1920s, real-world technologies are still in their infancy, thanks to the destructive dominance of fossil fuels over the last century.
Airbus’ announcement, then, marks an important early step in a move towards making the sector compatible with net-zero.
“This is the most significant step undertaken at Airbus to usher in a new era of hydrogen-powered flight since the unveiling of our ZEROe concepts back in September 2020,” said Sabine Klauke, Airbus Chief Technical Officer, in a statement.
“Our ambition is to take this aircraft and add a stub in between the two rear doors at the upper level,” said Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus’ Vice President of Zero Emissions Aircraft, in a promotional video on YouTube. “That stub will have on the end of it a hydrogen powered gas turbine.”
There will be instruments and sensors around the hydrogen storage unit and engine, to monitor how the system functions both in ground tests and in-flight. Up in the cockpit, instruments will need to be modified with a new throttle to change the amount of power the engine operates at, and a display for pilots to monitor the system.
Why Hydrogen Fuel?
Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the Universe, burns cleanly, and can be produced using renewable energy through the electrolysis of water (though it can be produced using fossil fuels, too).
Given that it’s so abundant, can be made from water, and combusts to produce water vapor, it can be a closed-loop energy system; the definition of renewable.
It’s also highly reactive: hydrogen gas, made up of two hydrogen atoms, can combust at extremely low concentrations. It can combust in response to a simple spark, and it’s even been known to combust when exposed to sunlight or minor increases in temperature. That’s why it’s a suitable replacement fuel for kerosene, but it’s also why the system needs to be tested for safety.
“Aviation is one of these things that everyone agrees needs hydrogen for decarbonization, because it’s not going to be possible to electrify long distance air travel in the next few decades,” explains Fiona Beck, a senior lecturer at ANU and convener of the Hydrogen Fuels Project in the University’s Zero-carbon energy for the Asia Pacific grand challenge. “We just don’t have the battery technologies.
“One kilogram of hydrogen has 130 times the energy of one kilogram of batteries, so in something like air travel, where weight is really important, there’s just no way you’re going to get batteries light enough to directly electrify air travel.”
That’s a very high-profile incident in which hydrogen proved deadly, but a proverbial boatload of hydrogen gas encased within a fabric covering is nothing like the fuel cells proponents of hydrogen fuel are creating in the modern era.
Nonetheless, the incident demonstrates why it’s important to ensure the safety and impregnability of fuel storage; a single spark can prove fatal (though that’s the case with existing fuels, too).
“The key will be to have really good storage containers for the hydrogen, and you’re going to have to re-engineer all the fuel delivery lines,” says Beck, “because you can’t assume that the systems that deliver kerosene safely to an engine are going to be suitable for delivering hydrogen.”
Ultimately, Beck says pre-existing, sophisticated hydrogen technologies, even if they aren’t derived from aviation, mean engineers aren’t going into this blind.
“We already use quite a lot of hydrogen in industry, which is very different than flying a plane full of hydrogen, but still, we know how to handle it relatively safely.
“So, it’s just about designers and engineers making sure that they consider all the safety aspects of it. It’s different, but not necessarily more challenging.”
Two Paths to a Hydrogen Fueled Future of Flight?
Beck notes that Airbus aren’t the only commercial entity exploring hydrogen as a fuel type. In fact, Boeing are incorporating hydrogen into their vision of a cleaner future, but in a different way.
“There’s a difference between just getting hydrogen and burning it in a modified jet engine and what Boeing are doing, which is using sustainable air fuels,” she says.
“The difference is that instead of getting fossil fuels and refining them, you start with hydrogen, which you would hope comes from green sources, and then you take some carbon dioxide captured from another industrial process, and you’re cycling the carbon dioxide one more time before it gets released.”
So, CO2 is still released into the atmosphere, but the individual flight is not adding its own new load of greenhouse gases to the amount. Instead, it essentially piggy-backs off a pre-existing quantity of emissions that were already produced somewhere else.
The type of fuel that wins out remains to be seen.
“It’ll be really interesting to see which approach we go for in the longer term,” Beck muses. “With synthetic air fuels, your plane engine doesn’t need to change at all, nothing about the demand side needs to change–it’s just kerosene.
Some commentators see Boeing’s bet on SAFs as a more pragmatic approach that may help us usher in a less polluting age, quicker. On the other hand, if successful, the Airbus system can be fully carbon-neutral from fuel production through to combustion.
“Climate Adaptation by Itself Is Not Enough”: The Latest IPCC Report Installment
The Second of Three Reports Shows Our Vulnerabilities and How We Can Protect Them.
In the next part of its Sixth Assessment Report, released today, the IPCC has examined the world population’s vulnerability to climate change, and what must be done to adapt to current and future changes.
It’s the second of three sections of this report (Working group II)–Working Group I’s section, released last August, demonstrates that anthropogenic climate change is continuing, while Working Group III’s component, on mitigation, will be released in April. An overall report is coming in September.
The IPCC reports represent a phenomenal amount of work from hundreds of researchers and government officials. It synthesizes information from over 10,000 studies, with over 62,000 comments from expert peer reviewers.
Literally every sentence of the summary for policymakers has been agreed upon by consensus from a group of experts and government delegations–the line-by-line approval process alone takes a fortnight. The report in its entirety is a product of several years.
Given the time and expertise involved in making the report, its conclusions aren’t revelatory: the world is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, poorest people are often the most at risk, and adaptation to these effects will force changes in our lifestyle, infrastructure, economy and agriculture.
While adaptation is necessary, it’s also insufficient. “It’s increasingly clear that the pace of adaptation across the globe is not enough to keep up with climate change,” says Professor Mark Howden, Working Group II’s vice-chair and director of the Institute for Climate, Energy & Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University.
“Depending on which of those trajectories we go on, our adaptation options differ,” says Howden.
On our current, business-as-usual trajectory, we can’t avoid the crisis, no matter how much we change our human systems to prepare for or recover from the ravages of climate change.
“Climate adaptation, risk management, by itself is not enough,” says Howden.
The report comes at a pertinent time for Australia, as southern Queensland and northern New South Wales experience dramatic flooding from high, La Niña-related rainfall.
“One of the clear projections is an increase in the intensity of heavy rainfall events,” says Professor Brendan Mackey, director of National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University, and a lead author on the Australasian chapter of the report.
Mackey also notes that he has extended family members in Lismore, NSW, who today needed to be rescued from their rooftops as the town floods.
Howden says that while it’s hard to link individual disasters to climate change as they occur, he agrees that there are more floods projected for northern Australia.
“I think we can say that climate change is already embedded in this event,” adds Howden.
“These events are driven by, particularly, ocean temperatures, and we know very well that those have gone up due to climate change due to human influence.”
He points out that flooding is a common side effect of a La Niña event, of which more are expected as the climate warms.
Flooding is not the only extreme weather event that can be linked to climate change.
“Interestingly, [we’ve observed] more rainfall in the north, less winter rainfall in the southwest and southeast, and more extreme fire weather days in the south and east.”
All of these trends are expected to continue, especially under high-emissions scenarios.
For Australians, the predictions the IPCC has made with very high or high confidence include: both a decline in agricultural production and increase in extreme fire weather across the south of the continent; a nation-wide increase in heat-related mortality; increased stress on cities, infrastructure and supply chains from natural disasters; and inundation of low-lying coastal communities from sea level rise.
The final high-confidence prediction is that Australian institutions and governments aren’t currently able to manage these risks.
“Climate change impacts are becoming more complex and difficult to manage,” says Professor Lauren Rickards, director of the Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform at RMIT, also a lead author on the Australasian chapter.
“Not only are climatic hazards becoming more severe–including, sometimes, nonlinear effects such as, for example, tipping over flood levees that have historically been sufficient–but also those climatic hazards are intersecting in very, very complex ways. And in turn, the flow-on effects on the ground are interacting, causing what’s called cascading and compounding impacts.”
She adds that many local and state governments and the private sector have both recognized the importance of changing their practices to prepare for or react to climate extremes.
“We’ve seen a really significant reduction in the research into what actions different individuals, communities, sectors, can take,” says Howden.
“And what that means is we don’t have the portfolio of options available for people in a way that is easily communicable, and easily understood, and easily adopted.”
Without this research, as well as work from local and Indigenous experts, some adaptations can even risk worsening the impacts of climate change.
“The evidence that we’ve looked at shows really clearly that adaptation strategies, when they build on Indigenous and local knowledge and integrate science, that’s when they are most successful,” says Dr. Johanna Nalau, leader of the Adaptation Science Research Theme at Cities Research Institute, Griffith University.
While the risks Australia faces are dramatic, things are much worse for other parts of the world. Nalau, who was a lead author on the report’s chapter on small islands, says that “most of the communities and countries are constrained in what they can do in terms of adaptation”.
In April, we will have access to the IPCC’s dossier on mitigating climate change and emissions reduction. But in the meantime, Working Group II’s battalion of researchers advocate for better planning for climate disaster, more research into ways human systems can adapt, sustainable and just development worldwide, and rapid emissions reduction.
“Adaptation can’t be divorced from mitigation, conceptually or in practice,” says Rickards.
“We need adaptation to enable effective mitigation. We need effective mitigation to enable adaptation to give it a chance of succeeding. At present, we’re not on track and we need to pivot quickly.”
Piecing Together Pandemic Origins
New Research Asserts Market, Not Laboratory, Is the “Unambiguous” Birthplace of SARS-CoV-2
by Jamie Priest
Now in our third year of woe, most of us are naturally focused on the end of the pandemic. The global death toll is approaching 6 million, and the world is desperately searching for signs the ordeal’s over.
But amid the future watching, a team of researchers have turned their attention back to the beginning, tackling the question that was once on everyone’s lips: where did SARS-CoV-2 originate?
Outlining their evidence in two preprints, researchers assert an “unambiguous” origin in the Huanan market in Wuhan, spilling over not once, but twice into the human population and kicking off a global health crisis.
The paired papers, which have yet to undergo peer review and publication in a scientific journal, critically undermine the competing, and controversial, alternative origin story that involves a leak–intentional or otherwise–from a nearby Wuhan virology lab where scientists study coronaviruses.
The Huanan market was an immediate suspect when COVID first emerged in late 2019. Workers at the market were amongst the first individuals to present with the pneumonia that was quickly linked to a novel coronavirus, and Chinese officials, fearing a repeat of the 2002 SARS epidemic that killed 774 people, were quick to close the market down.
But by the time Chinese researchers descended on the Huanan market in 2020 to collect genetic samples, they found no wildlife present at all. Although they were able to detect traces of the virus in samples taken from surfaces and sewers in the market, the lack of direct evidence of infection in market animals sparked a debate over whether this truly was the epicenter of the outbreak. Alternative theories centered around the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In the face of this absence of evidence, researchers working on the new reports turned to alternative information sources.
Using data pulled from the Chinesesocial media app Weibo, they were able to map the location of 737 COVID-positive Wuhan residents who turned to the app to seek health advice during the first three months of the outbreak.
Plotting the geographic concentrations of cases through time, the researchers clearly identified the market as the centre of origin, with the virus spreading radially through surrounding suburbs and across the city as time progressed. Through statistical analysis, the researchers demonstrated that the chances of such a pattern arising through mere chance was exceedingly unlikely.
However, the pattern alone was open to interpretation, with questions remaining about pathways of introduction to the market–was the virus carried in inside a caged animal, on the coat of an unwitting scientist, or via some as-yet unidentified vector?
To dig further into the mystery, the researchers looked at the genetic samples obtained from market surfaces in January 2020 by Chinese scientists, tracing the locations of individual positive samples to their exact location within the market complex.
This second map revealed a strong concentration of positive samples in one corner of the market, a sector that had been previously documented to house a range of wild mammals that are considered potential coronavirus hosts.
Finally, the researchers created an evolutionary family tree of the earliest coronavirus lineages that emerged in the first few panicked weeks of the pandemic.
Even in its very earliest stages SARS-CoV-2 was a variable beast, with evidence of two distinct lineages, dubbed A and B. Looking closely at the mutations that separate the two, the researchers found something surprising–rather than one descending from the other, it appears that they had separate origins and entries into the human population, with lineage B making the leap in late November and lineage A following suit shortly afterwards.
Initial studies of the Huanan market genetic samples found only lineage B, but this latest investigation detected the presence of lineage A in people who lived in close proximity to the market–a finding corroborated by a recent Chinese study that identified lineage A on a single glove collected from the market during the initial shutdown.
Questions remain about the identity of the intermediary animal host species. But by narrowing research focus to the most likely centre of origin, this research will significantly aid efforts to understand the process that saw COVID-19 enter the world, and hopefully help avert future pandemics.
Fake Viral Footage Is Spreading alongside the Real Horror in Ukraine—Here Are 5 Ways to Spot It
Manipulated or Falsified Videos and Images Can Spread Quickly—but There Are Strategies You Can Take to Evaluate Them.
By TJ Thompson, Daniel Angus and Paul Dootson
Amid the alarming images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over the past few days, millions of people have also seen misleading, manipulated or false information about the conflict on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.
One example is this video of military jets posted to TikTok, which is historical footage but captioned as live video of the situation in Ukraine.
Visuals, because of their persuasive potential and attention-grabbing nature, are an especially potent choice for those seeking to mislead. Where creating, editing or sharing inauthentic visual content isn’t satire or art, it is usually politically or economically motivated.
Disinformation campaigns aim to distract, confuse, manipulate and sow division, discord, and uncertainty in the community. This is a common strategy for highly polarized nations where socioeconomic inequalities, disenfranchisement and propaganda are prevalent.
How is this fake content created and spread, what’s being done to debunk it, and how can you ensure you don’t fall for it yourself?
What Are the Most Common Fakery Techniques?
Using an existing photo or video and claiming it came from a different time or place is one of the most common forms of misinformation in this context. This requires no special software or technical skills—just a willingness to upload an old video of a missile attack or other arresting image, and describe it as new footage.
Another low-tech option is to stage or pose actions or events and present them as reality. This was the case with destroyed vehicles that Russia claimed were bombed by Ukraine.
Using a particular lens or vantage point can also change how the scene looks and can be used to deceive. A tight shot of people, for example, can make it hard to gauge how many were in a crowd, compared with an aerial shot.
Taking things further still, Photoshop or equivalent software can be used to add or remove people or objects from a scene, or to crop elements out from a photograph. An example of object addition is the below photograph, which purports to show construction machinery outside a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine. The satirical text accompanying the image jokes about the “calibre of the construction machinery”—the author suggesting that reports of damage to buildings from military ordinance are exaggerated or untrue.
Close inspection reveals this image was digitally altered to include the machinery. This tweet could be seen as an attempt to downplay the extent of damage resulting from a Russian-backed missile attack, and in a wider context to create confusion and doubt as to veracity of other images emerging from the conflict zone.
Journalists and fact-checkers are also working to verify content and raise awareness of known fakes. Large, well-resourced news outlets such as the BBC are also calling out misinformation.
Social media platforms have added new labels to identify state-run media organisations or provide more background information about sources or people in your networks who have also shared a particular story.
They have also tweaked their algorithms to change what content is amplified and have hired staff to spot and flag misleading content. Platforms are also doing some work behind the scenes to detect and publicly share information on state-linked information operations.
What Can I Do about It?
You can attempt to fact-check images for yourself rather than taking them at face value. An article we wrote late last year for the Australian Associated Press explains the fact-checking process at each stage: image creation, editing and distribution.
Here are five simple steps you can take:
Examine the metadata
This Telegram post claims Polish-speaking saboteurs attacked a sewage facility in an attempt to place a tank of chlorine for a “false flag” attack.
But the video’s metadata—the details about how and when the video was created—show it was filmed days before the alleged date of the incident.
To check metadata for yourself, you can download the file and use software such as Adobe Photoshop or Bridge to examine it. Online metadata viewers also exist that allow you to check by using the image’s web link.
One hurdle to this approach is that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter often strip the metadata from photos and videos when they are uploaded to their sites. In these cases, you can try requesting the original file or consulting fact-checking websites to see whether they have already verified or debunked the footage in question.
If old content has been recycled and repurposed, you may be able to find the same footage used elsewhere. You can use Google Images or TinEye to “reverse image search” a picture and see where else it appears online.
But be aware that simple edits such as reversing the left-right orientation of an image can fool search engines and make them think the flipped image is new.
Look for inconsistencies
Does the purported time of day match the direction of light you would expect at that time, for example? Do watches or clocks visible in the image correspond to the alleged timeline claimed?
You can also compare other data points, such as politicians’ schedules or verified sightings, Google Earth vision or Google Maps imagery, to try and triangulate claims and see whether the details are consistent.
Ask yourself some simple questions
Do you know where, when and why the photo or video was made? Do you know who made it, and whether what you’re looking at is the original version?
Using online tools such as InVID or Forensically can potentially help answer some of these questions. Or you might like to refer to this list of 20 questions you can use to “interrogate” social media footage with the right level of healthy skepticism.
Ultimately, if you’re in doubt, don’t share or repeat claims that haven’t been published by a reputable source such as an international news organization. And consider using some of these principles when deciding which sources to trust.
By doing this, you can help limit the influence of misinformation, and help clarify the true situation in Ukraine.
The U.S. and the EU owe more than half the cost of repairing future damage says the report, authored by Civil Society Review, an independent group that produces figures on what a “fair share” among countries of the global effort to tackle climate change should look like.
“The poorer countries are bearing the overwhelming majority of the human and social costs of climate change. Consider only one tragic incident—the Cyclones Idai and Kenneth—which caused more than $3 billion in economic damages in Mozambique alone, roughly 20% of its GDP, with lasting implications, not to mention the loss of lives and livelihoods” argues the report. “Given ongoing and deepening climate impacts, to ensure justice and fairness, COP25 must as an urgent matter operationalize loss and damage financing via a facility designed to receive and disburse resources at scale to developing countries.”
An April 2019 report from ActionAid revealed the insurance and other market based mechanisms fail to meet human rights criteria for responding to loss and damage associated with climate change. The impact of extreme natural disasters is equivalent to an annual global USD$520 billion loss, and forces approximately 26 million people into poverty each year.
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently warned that the climate crisis is the greatest ever threat to human rights. It threatens the rights to life, health, housing and a clean and safe environment. The UN Human Rights Council has recognized that climate change “poses an immediate and far reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.” In the Paris Agreement, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledged that they should—when taking action to address climate change—respect, promote and consider their respective obligations with regard to human rights. This includes the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, the empowerment of women and intergenerational equity. Tackling loss and damage will require a human-rights centered approach that promotes justice and equity.
Across and within countries, the highest per capita carbon emissions are attributable to the wealthiest people, this because individual emissions generally parallel disparities of income and wealth. While the world’s richest 10% cause 50% of emissions, they also claim 52% of the world’s wealth. The world’s poorest 50% contribute approximately 10% of global emissions and receive about 8% of global income. Wealth increases adaptive capacity. All this means that those most responsible for climate change are relatively insulated from its impacts.
In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions, including the inundation of entire low-lying countries, the disappearance of specific ecosystems or habitat destruction, destructive floods, the inundation of low-lying farmland, and widespread water stress.
Nevertheless, the same companies and countries have pursued high reliance on GHG emissions, often at the expense of communities where fossil fuels are found (where oil spills, pollution, land grabs, and displacement is widespread) and certainly at the expense of public understanding, even as climate change harms and risks increased. Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell together are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1966. They originated in the Global North and its governments continue to provide them with financial subsidies and tax breaks.
Responsibility for, and capacity to act on, mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage varies tremendously across nations and among classes. It must also be recognized that the Nationally Determined Contributions (climate action plans or NDCs) that have thus far been proposed by the world’s nations are not even close to being sufficient, putting us on track for approximately 4°C of warming. They are also altogether out of proportion to national capacity and responsibility, with the developing countries generally proposing to do their fair shares, and developed countries proposed far too little.
Unfortunately, as Kevin Anderson (Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and a former Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) has said: “a 4°C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation,’ is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”
The report assess countries’ NDCs against the demands of a 1.5°C pathway using two ‘fair share’ benchmarks, as in the previous reports of the Civil Society Equity Review coalition. These ‘fair share’ benchmarks are grounded in the principle-based claims that countries should act in accordance with their responsibility for causing the climate problem and their capacity to help solve it. These principles are both well-established within the climate negotiations and built into both the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.
To be consistent with the UNFCCC’s equity principles—the wealthier countries must urgently and dramatically deepen their own emissions reduction efforts, contribute to mitigation, adaptation and addressing loss and damage initiatives in developing countries; and support additional sustainable actions outside their own borders that enable climate-compatible sustainable development in developing countries.
For example, consider the European Union, whose fair share of the global emission reduction effort in 2030 is roughly about 22% of the global total, or about 8 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2eq). Since its total emissions are less than 5 GtCO2eq, the EU would have to reduce its emissions by approximately 160% per cent below 1990 levels by 2030 if it were to meet its fair share entirely through domestic reductions. It is not physically possible to reduce emissions by more than 100% domestically. So, the only way in which the EU can meet its fair share is by funding mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage efforts in developing countries.
Today’s mitigation commitments are insufficient to prevent unmanageable climate change, and—coming on top of historic emissions—they are setting in motion devastating changes to our climate and natural environment. These impacts are already prevalent, even with our current global average surface temperature rise of about 1°C. Impacts include droughts, firestorms, shifting seasons, sea-level rise, salt-water intrusion, glacial retreat, the spread of vector borne diseases, and devastation from cyclones and other extreme weather events. Some of these impacts can be minimized through adaptation measures designed to increase resilience to inevitable impacts.
These measures include, for example, renewing mangroves to prevent erosion and reduce flooding caused by storms, regulating new construction so that buildings can withstand tomorrow’s severe weather, using scarce water resources efficiently, building flood defenses, and setting aside land corridors to help species migrate. It is also crucial with such solutions that forest dwelling and indigenous peoples be given enforceable land rights, for not only are such rights matters of basic justice, they are also pragmatic recognitions of the fact that indigenous peoples have successfully protected key ecosystems.
Tackling underlying social injustices and inequalities—including through technological and financial transfers, as well as though capacity building—would also contribute to increasing resilience. Other climate impacts, however, are unavoidable, unmanageable or unpredictable, leading to a huge degree of loss and damage. Experts estimate the financial damage also will reach at least USD$300-700 billion by 2030, but the loss of locally sustained livelihoods, relationships and connections to ancestral lands are incalculable.
Failure to reduce GHG emissions now—through energy efficiency, waste reduction, renewable energy generation, reduced consumption, sustainable agriculture and transport—will only deepen impacts in the future. Avoidable impacts require urgent adaptation measures. At the same time, unavoidable and unmanageable change impacts—such as loss of homes, livelihoods, crops, heat and water stress, displacement, and infrastructure damage—need adequate responses through well-resourced disaster response plans and social protection policies.
For loss and damage financing, developed countries have a considerable responsibility and capacity to pay for harms that are already occurring. Of course, many harms will be irreparable in financial terms. However, where monetary contributions can help restore the livelihoods or homes of individuals exposed to climate change impacts, they must be paid. Just as the EU’s fair share of the global mitigation effort is approximately 22% in 2030, it could be held accountable for that same share of the financial support for such incidents of loss and damage in that year.
The table below provides an illustrative quantification of this simple application of fair shares to loss and damage estimates, and how they change if we compute the contribution to global climate change from the start of the industrial revolution in 1850 or from 1950.
Table 1: Countries’ Share of Global Responsibility and Capacity in 2019, the time of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, as illustrative application of a fair share approach to Loss and Damage funding requirements.
The advantage of setting out responsibility and capacity to act in such numerical terms is to drive equitable and robust action today. Responsible and capable countries must—of course—ensure that those most able to pay towards loss and damage repairs are called upon to do so through domestic legislation that ensures correlated progressive responsibility. However, it should also motivate mitigation action to ensure that harms are not deepened in the future.
In the Equity analysis used here, capacity—a nation’s financial ability to contribute to solving the climate problem—can be captured by a quantitative benchmark defined in a more or less progressive way, making the definition of national capacity dependent on national income distribution. This means a country’s capacity is calculated in a manner that can explicitly account for the income of the wealthy more strongly than that of the poor, and can exclude the incomes of the poorest altogether. Similarly, responsibility—a nation’s contribution to the planetary GHG burden—can be based on cumulative GHG emissions since a range of historical start years, and can consider the emissions arising from luxury consumption more strongly than emissions from the fulfillment of basic needs, and can altogether exclude the survival emissions of the poorest. Of course, the ‘right’ level of progressivity, like the ‘right’ start year, are matters for deliberation and debate.1
The report acknowledges “the difficulties in estimating financial loss and damage and the limited data we currently have,” but it recommends nevertheless “a minimal goal of providing at least USD$300 billion per year by 2030 of financing for loss and damage through the UNFCCC’s Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM).” Given that this corresponds to a conservative estimate of damage costs, the report further recommends “the formalization of a global obligation to revise this figure upward as observed and forecast damages increase.”
The new finance facility should provide “public climate financing and new and innovative sources of financing, in addition to budget contributions from rich countries, that can truly generate additional resources (such as air and maritime levies, Climate Damages Tax on oil, gas and coal extraction, a Financial Transaction Tax) at a progressive scale to reach at least USD$300 billion by 2030.” This means aiming for at least USD$150 billion by 2025 and ratcheting up commitments on an annual basis. Ambition targets should be revised based on the level of quantified and quantifiable harms experienced.
Further, developing countries who face climate emergencies should benefit from immediate debt relief–in the form of an interest-free moratorium on debt payments. This would open up resources currently earmarked for debt repayments to immediate emergency relief and reconstruction.
Finally, a financial architecture needs to be set up that ensures funding reaches the marginalized communities in developing countries, and that such communities have decision making say over reconstruction plans. Funds should reach communities in an efficient and effective manner, taking into account existing institutions as appropriate.
As late as 2006, average emissions for new passenger vehicles registered in the EU were around 161 g/km. As cars became smaller and lighter, that figure fell to 118 g/km in 2016. But this average crept back up, owing to an increase in the market share of gasoline engines, which emit more CO2 than diesel engines do. By 2018, the average emissions of newly registered cars had once again climbed to slightly above 120 g/km, which is twice what will be permitted in the long term.
The implication is that if an auto company’s production is split evenly between EVs and ICE vehicles that conform to the present average, the 59 g/km target will be just within reach. If a company cannot produce EVs and remains at the current average emissions level, it will have to pay a fine of around €6,000 ($6,600) per car, or otherwise merge with a competitor that can build EVs.
But the EU’s formula is nothing but a huge scam. EVs also emit substantial amounts of CO2, the only difference being that the exhaust is released at a remove—that is, at the power plant. As long as coal– or gas-firedpower plants are needed to ensure energy supply during the “dark doldrums” when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, EVs, like ICE vehicles, run partly on hydrocarbons. And even when they are charged with solar– or wind-generated energy, enormous amounts of fossil fuels are used to produce EV batteries in China and elsewhere, offsetting the supposed emissions reduction. As such, the EU’s intervention is not much better than a cut-off device for an emissions control system.
Adding further evidence, the Austrian think tank Joanneum Research has just published a large-scale study [PDF, in German] commissioned by the Austrian automobile association, ÖAMTC, and its German counterpart, ADAC, that also confirms those findings. According to this study, a mid-sized electric passenger car in Germany must drive 219,000 kilometers before it starts outperforming the corresponding dieselcar in terms of CO2 emissions. The problem, of course, is that passenger cars in Europe last for only 180,000 kilometers, on average. Worse, according to Joanneum, EV batteries don’t last long enough to achieve that distance in the first place. Unfortunately, drivers’ anxiety about the cars’ range prompts them to recharge their batteries too often, at every opportunity, and at a high speed, which is bad for durability.
As for EU lawmakers, there are now only two explanations for what is going on: either they didn’t know what they were doing, or they deliberately took Europeans for a ride. Both scenarios suggest that the EU should reverse its interventionist industrial policy, and instead rely on market-based instruments such as a comprehensive emissions trading system.
With Germany’s energy mix, the EU’s regulation on fleet fuel consumption will not do anything to protect the climate. It will, however, destroy jobs, sap growth, and increase the public’s distrust in the EU’s increasingly opaque bureaucracy.
Rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system are needed to put the world on a path to a secure and sustainable energy future
Deep disparities define today’s energy world. The dissonance between well-supplied oilmarkets and growing geopolitical tensions and uncertainties. The gap between the ever-higher amounts of greenhouse gasemissions being produced and the insufficiency of stated policies to curb those emissions in line with international climate targets. The gap between the promise of energy for all and the lack of electricity access for 850 million people around the world.
The World Energy Outlook 2019, the International Energy Agency’s flagship publication, explores these widening fractures in detail. It explains the impact of today’s decisions on tomorrow’s energy systems, and describes a pathway that enables the world to meet climate, energy access and air quality goals while maintaining a strong focus on the reliability and affordability of energy for a growing global population.
As ever, decisions made by governments remain critical for the future of the energy system. This is evident in the divergences between WEO scenarios that map out different routes the world could follow over the coming decades, depending on the policies, investments, technologies and other choices that decision makers pursue today. Together, these scenarios seek to address a fundamental issue – how to get from where we are now to where we want to go.
The path the world is on right now is shown by the Current Policies Scenario, which provides a baseline picture of how global energy systems would evolve if governments make no changes to their existing policies. In this scenario, energy demand rises by 1.3% a year to 2040, resulting in strains across all aspects of energymarkets and a continued strong upward march in energy-related emissions.
The Stated Policies Scenario, formerly known as the New Policies Scenario, incorporates today’s policy intentions and targets in addition to existing measures. The aim is to hold up a mirror to today’s plans and illustrate their consequences. The future outlined in this scenario is still well off track from the aim of a secure and sustainable energy future. It describes a world in 2040 where hundreds of millions of people still go without access to electricity, where pollution-related premature deaths remain around today’s elevated levels, and where CO2emissions would lock in severe impacts from climate change.
The Sustainable Development Scenario indicates what needs to be done differently to fully achieve climate and other energy goals that policy makers around the world have set themselves. Achieving this scenario – a path fully aligned with the Paris Agreement aim of holding the rise in global temperatures to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C – requires rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system. Sharp emission cuts are achieved thanks to multiple fuels and technologies providing efficient and cost-effective energy services for all.
“What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s World Energy Outlook is there is no single or simple solution to transforming global energy systems,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future.”
In the Stated Policies Scenario, energy demand increases by 1% per year to 2040. Low-carbon sources, led by solarPV, supply more than half of this growth, and natural gas accounts for another third. Oil demand flattens out in the 2030s, and coal use edges lower. Some parts of the energy sector, led by electricity, undergo rapid transformations. Some countries, notably those with “net zero” aspirations, go far in reshaping all aspects of their supply and consumption.
However, the momentum behind clean energy is insufficient to offset the effects of an expanding global economy and growing population. The rise in emissions slows but does not peak before 2040.
Shale output from the United States is set to stay higher for longer than previously projected, reshaping global markets, trade flows and security. In the Stated Policies Scenario, annual U.S. production growth slows from the breakneck pace seen in recent years, but the United States still accounts for 85% of the increase in global oil production to 2030, and for 30% of the increase in gas. By 2025, total U.S.shale output (oil and gas) overtakes total oil and gas production from Russia.
“The shale revolution highlights that rapid change in the energy system is possible when an initial push to develop new technologies is complemented by strong market incentives and large-scale investment,” said Dr. Birol. “The effects have been striking, with U.S. shale now acting as a strong counterweight to efforts to manage oilmarkets.”
The higher U.S. output pushes down the share of OPEC members and Russia in total oil production, which drops to 47% in 2030, from 55% in the mid-2000s. But whichever pathway the energy system follows, the world is set to rely heavily on oil supply from the Middle East for years to come.
Alongside the immense task of putting emissions on a sustainable trajectory, energy security remains paramount for governments around the globe. Traditional risks have not gone away, and new hazards such as cybersecurity and extreme weather require constant vigilance. Meanwhile, the continued transformation of the electricity sector requires policy makers to move fast to keep pace with technological change and the rising need for the flexible operation of power systems.
“The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change,” said Dr. Birol. “Our Sustainable Development Scenario is tailor-made to help guide the members of such a coalition in their efforts to address the massive climate challenge that faces us all.”
A sharp pick-up in energy efficiency improvements is the element that does the most to bring the world towards the Sustainable Development Scenario. Right now, efficiency improvements are slowing: the 1.2% rate in 2018 is around half the average seen since 2010 and remains far below the 3% rate that would be needed.
Electricity is one of the few energy sources that sees rising consumption over the next two decades in the Sustainable Development Scenario. Electricity’s share of final consumption overtakes that of oil, today’s leader, by 2040. Wind and solarPV provide almost all the increase in electricity generation.
Putting electricity systems on a sustainable path will require more than just adding more renewables. The world also needs to focus on the emissions that are “locked in” to existing systems. Over the past 20 years, Asia has accounted for 90% of all coal-fired capacity built worldwide, and these plants potentially have long operational lifetimes ahead of them. This year’s WEO considers three options to bring down emissions from the existing global coal fleet: to retrofit plants with carbon capture, utilisation and storage or biomass co-firing equipment; to repurpose them to focus on providing system adequacy and flexibility; or to retire them earlier.
About the IEA: The International Energy Agency, the global energy authority, was founded in 1974 to help its member countries co-ordinate a collective response to major oil supply disruptions. Its mission has evolved and rests today on three main pillars: working to ensure global energy security; expanding energy cooperation and dialogue around the world; and promoting an environmentally sustainable energy future.
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