The 2021 international conference on climate change is underway in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s a tense moment. Nations have convened annually for 25 years but this year’s meeting is particularly urgent because it is the deadline for countries to present their plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep planetary warming below 1.5℃. If the parties fail to achieve the necessary reductions, the world will blow past that cap and face severe consequences. Scroll down for a compelling graphic that shows what this could mean for the continental United States.
Success won’t be easy. With national negotiators facing glaringly high political and financial hurdles – and with target pledges so easily missed – October saw plenty of bleak forecasts for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. But that’s not the whole story. October also saw human ingenuity in overdrive. From the U.S. military to U.S. farmers, entrepreneurs, and technologists – and including innovators around the world – we take heart in the emergence of ideas, startups, and prototypes that might have sounded like plots for a new Iron Man movie just a few years ago.
Fueling jet planes from thin air? Race cars running on low-carbon fuel? It may happen sooner than you think. And those are just two of the ideas under development right now, right here. None of them is a silver bullet. Not all will work. But taken together – and sitting on top of enormous strides already made in renewable energy, batteries, and other climate solutions – we’ve rarely felt better about the prospects for thriving in a low-carbon world.
The C-Change Conversations Team
“A Swiss startup has created a giant vacuum cleaner to capture carbon dioxide from the air, helping companies offset their emissions. WSJ visits the facility to see how it traps the gas for sale to clients like Coca-Cola, which uses it in fizzy drinks.” – The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2021
“It doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change; your insurance company does.”
– Nick VinZant, senior research analyst for QuoteWizard, a subsidiary of Lending Tree, the online mortgage company
News of Concern
Let’s face up to the bad news first. The United Nations released a study a few days ago assessing the cumulative impact of all the existing national climate pledges, and the bottom line isn’t good. Collectively, the various promises to cut national emissions add up to just one-seventh of cuts needed [paywall] to stay on the safe side of global warming.
Promises by industrialized countries to support clean energy development in poorer nations also seem to be falling dangerously short. Heading into the Glasgow COP26 summit – and complicating its resolution – 48 countries from ‘The Climate Vulnerability Forum’ are demanding that richer nations meet and now exceed existing promises to provide $100 billion in climate aid yearly. Many commentators worry that the rising costs of buying cooperation will hobble the negotiations.
That’s troubling, especially since evidence is growing daily that climate change is affecting almost everyone and every nation right now, be they rich or poor. New research calculates that 85% of the world’s population already has direct, lived experiences with climate disasters [paywall]. And those disasters have reached 80% of the globe’s land mass.
News of Hope
Despite all the obstacles – including a fair dose of skepticism – it’s hard not to applaud other developments in the climate space. First, let’s pause to praise some surprising new voices in the climate awareness choir. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – two major oil exporting nations – have declared net-zero intentions by 2050 and 2060, respectively. And we hear that even natural gas producer Russia is considering a net-zero announcement at the Glasgow summit. By putting their countries’ long-term future ahead of their current income streams, these fossil fuel giants seem to be accepting the need to transition to renewable energy sources.
Few new choristers are more surprising, however, than Report Murdoch’s News Corp, a longstanding megaphone for those intent on downplaying the risks of global warming. The corporate owner of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal has made a U-turn in its Australian publications, unveiling a comprehensive climate change campaign called ‘missionzero2050.’ It embraces the need to put “Australia on a path to a net-zero future.” Yet another sign of the times.
Back on home turf – or actually, just off shore – we’re also encouraged to see that the U.S. government is moving fast to scale up wind production. Following the big Martha’s Vineyard project we told you had been greenlighted a few months ago, the administration has now announced plans to open up almost the entire national coastline for commercial wind farm leases [paywall]. It’s a big deal: massive wind and solar deployment is America’s best bet with current technology to slash carbon emissions.
Innovation, of course, never stands still, and we are equally excited to see a surge of future-oriented projects taking flight. Some, quite literally. Examples are too numerous to list in this short newsletter, but here’s a sampling of just a few standouts that caught our eyes in October:
- A U.S. Air Force project to make jet fuel out of thin air
- Porsche tests low-carbon fuels in its race cars
- Most concrete produces pollution. This concrete is made of it
- Big Ag pays farmers for carbon mitigation
- The next best electric car battery may be here [paywall]
- An iron battery breakthrough could eat lithium’s lunch
- Electric car prices approach a milestone for affordability
- Cities start to electrify mass transit [paywall]
In anticipation of COP26, and to bring the global view down to the local level, Climate Central produced temperature projections to the year 2100 for 246 locations across the United States. This graphic compares a world where emissions continue on their current path and a world with aggressive emissions cuts that stay within the Paris Agreement limits of 2°C of global warming this century. The results show:
- All 246 locations warmed under both greenhouse gas scenarios by 2100.
- In the scenario in which emissions are aggressively cut, projected warming would range from 1°C to 2.5°C (1.8°F to 4.5°F relative to 1991-2020) by 2050 and then stabilize.
- In the scenario in which emissions remain very high, projected warming would range from 3°C to 5°C (5.4°F to 9°F) by 2100.
- Projections show the strongest warming in the Midwest region and some upper parts of New England.