This Week In Climate - August 26th, 2021
👍🏾 Like this newsletter? Join Climatebase to subscribe!
A Flare for the Dramatic
While much ado has been made about leaks along natural gas pipelines, a new report sheds light on another source of emissions from natural gas: flaring. The environmental nonprofit Earthworks conducted an investigation showing that nearly two thirds of the flares they observed in Texas were performed without permits, and away from the eyes of regulators and emissions reports. Flaring is a process employed by natural gas producers to counter market gluts by burning off excess gas when prices are low. The process produces carbon dioxide and often unwittingly releases methane directly into the atmosphere, if the fire is extinguished. The report highlights a wide-spread concern among industry observers that emissions from natural gas production have been drastically underestimated (only Russia, Iran, Iraq officially emit more from flaring than the United States.) During the three month investigation, Earthworks noted 13 unpermitted flares from Exxon Mobil and Shell— two industry giants that have touted much-publicized climate pledges in recent months.
Bracing the Bank
Central banks across the globe are quietly starting to tally the cost of climate change, and they’re not liking what they’re finding. Banking officials from China to the European Union have started to ring warning bells about economic damage caused by extreme weather events, and are issuing measures to get markets in line with their forecasts. According to a former US Treasury official quoted in a report published by YaleEnvironment360, extreme weather events could set off a domino effect for banks invested in areas affected by disasters. A flood that destroys one coastal town, for example, could scare investment away from other coastal communities, leaving banks and insurance companies with their hands full of stranded assets. The mounting losses could then handcuff banks looking to invest in less risky areas, and leave borrowers with few options when looking for insurance. In response, regulators in Japan have started offering zero-interest loans to banks investing in sustainable projects, just after the Central Bank of England mandated climate risk disclosures by major British banks. As for the United States, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told Congress in July, :“My guess is that’s the direction we’ll go in, but we’re not ready to do yet.”
As the climate-focused federal budget makes its way through Congress, the MIT Technology Review took a look at one policy at the core of President Biden’s climate strategy. The Clean Electricity Payment Program would offer a mixture of payments and tax credits to power utilities that exceed minimum targets of clean electricity production. The idea is to entice utilities to build out and supply clean energy with more financial carrots than the traditional sticks of binding mandates and penalties. The program’s overall goal is for American power suppliers to produce 80% clean electricity by 2030, compared to the 38% generated today. But experts warn the trick will be making sure that suppliers don’t game the system by optimizing for minimal fines and maximum payments while reducing emissions slowly. To that end, the policy as it is currently proposed would require that payments would find their way to consumers’ pockets before shareholders. But with weeks of negotiations left, the ink on the new climate policy is still far from dry.
Swedish steel maker SSAB announced that it delivered its first order of steel manufactured without coal to carmaker Volvo this week. Steel accounts for roughly seven percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions annually, and the announcement marks an important milestone in the industry’s efforts to rein in its stubborn carbon footprint. Traditionally, coking coal is used as an ingredient at the beginning of the steel making process. That refined coal is then combined with other materials and heated to 1000-1100ºC for up to 36 hours, a process that calls for burning yet more coal to keep the fire going. SSAB’s process relies upon using what it calls “fossil-free” hydrogen inputs, a claim that is likely to raise eyebrows in light of new research on the climate impacts of hydrogen fuel. Nevertheless, the exclusion of coal in steel making should make a significant dent in the two tons of CO2 emitted per ton of steel produced every year globally.
I Loves You Porgy
It turns out that eating fish in the Anthropocene doesn’t have to come with a side of shame! This week the New York times profiled the humble porgy; an abundant, sustainable and affordable white fish available year round from Massachusetts to North Carolina that has gone unnoticed in an era of overfishing. While efforts to bring back vulnerable fish populations in California are beginning to bear fruit, the rate of overfishing globally is only accelerating. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that more than a third of the world’s fish stocks are unsustainable, compared to 10% in 1974. A combination of tough fishing policy and diversifying protein sources to include less popular options (like the sweet, flaky porgy) remains the most likely path to producing sustainable protein on a warming planet.