It’s been quite some time since North Carolina has been thought of as the outpost of Southern progressivism it once was. But the state’s two-term Democratic governor is working to change that, hoping to solidify the Tar Heel State as an emerging leader in the fight against climate change and environmental injustice.

On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order that bolstered a number of North Carolina’s climate change goals while also directing state and local agencies—as well as educational institutions and private businesses—to make environmental justice a central part of their decision-making and planning.

Specifically, Cooper’s order tightened key benchmarks on the state’s path to achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century. The order set a target of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That’s up from the previous goal of 40 percent by 2025. It also aims to put 1.25 million zero-emission vehicles on North Carolina roads by 2030, up from the governor’s previous goal of 80,000 by 2025. Additionally, the order directs the state Department of Transportation to draft a “Clean Transportation Plan,” directs state cabinet agencies to designate new officials to lead environmental justice efforts and calls for a statewide greenhouse gas inventory.

“Gov. Cooper’s action Friday on climate is his latest in a series that, like moves from the outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam in Virginia, have stood out in the South,” said James Bruggers, the Southeast reporter at Inside Climate News, where he’s covered Cooper’s surprising ascent as a climate champion in the region. 

North Carolina has become particularly vulnerable to impacts of climate change in recent years. Hurricanes Matthew in 2016, Florence in 2018 and Dorian in 2019 battered the state with devastating winds, rain and storm surge, killing dozens of people, destroying homes and businesses and leaving many in the state still recovering from the damage. 

Science shows it will only get worse. A 2020 report produced by independent climate scientists based in North Carolina forecasted that the state will see rising temperatures, increased precipitation, disruptive sea-level rise and longer droughts in the decades to come. All of this is particularly troubling in a state with numerous Superfund sites threatened by climate change and proliferating hog and poultry concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that pose increasing air and water pollution problems, particularly in communities of color, as Aman Azhar reported for us this past weekend. 

The recent storms propelled Cooper to campaign for re-election on the climate crisis in 2020, a politically risky move in a state with a Republican-controlled legislature that has been hostile to Cooper’s agenda. Polling last year showed that there continues to be a sharp divide between Republicans and Democrats regarding the issue of global warming. Only 10 percent of Republicans believed that climate change was a serious problem, compared to nearly 60 percent for Democrats.

But political experts say that Cooper appears to be appealing to the state’s growing number of independent voters, who align closer to Democrats than Republicans on their views of our warming planet, Bruggers said. That bloc now accounts for roughly a third of North Carolina’s voting public, helping to explain the governor’s re-election in 2020, despite the state voting for Donald Trump by 1 percentage point.

“Cooper ran for re-election last year on a platform that included a clean energy transition, and won in a state that Donald Trump with his fossil fuel agenda also won,” Bruggers said. “Cooper must be figuring his strategy is working and that voters want him to keep pushing for policies that seek to address climate concerns.”

Now consider the contrast between North Carolina and its neighbor to the north, Virginia, another purple Southern state with a Democratic governor who’s progressive on climate, Ralph Northam. The state just elected his successor, Republican Glenn Youngkin, who has already nominated Andrew Wheeler—the coal lobbyist and former EPA administrator under Trump—to become the state’s natural resources director. If Wheeler is confirmed in Virginia and turns the climate clock back the way he did for Trump, Cooper’s new climate plan will become even more noteworthy in North Carolina. 

That’s it for Today’s Climate. I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

$120 billion

That’s how much money insurance agencies paid out in 2021 because of hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters that are being amplified by climate change, a new report found.

If you had asked clean energy experts last summer which state would most likely become the first to ban natural gas in the effort to slow climate change, they’d probably have said California. After all, the Golden State was the first in the nation to regulate tailpipe emissions, create an economy-wide carbon market and set the first zero-emissions target for vehicles. 

But when California released its new building code last August, it balked on a gas ban, surprising many advocates who had predicted yet another climate-related first for the state. Now New York seems primed to take that superlative after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday that she was planning to propose new legislation that would ban natural gas in new buildings. The announcement follows a similar move by New York City, which in December became the largest U.S. city to ban the use of fossil fuels as a source for heating in buildings.

Hochul’s plan would require all new building construction to reach zero-emissions by 2027. For most people, that will mean any home or office built after that date will use electrified heat, such as heat pumps, rather than gas-powered boilers, which pump steam through radiators. By 2030, at least 2 million New York homes will be “electrified” in such a way, according to Hochul’s plan.

“To make real progress on climate change, it’s time to tackle major sources of pollution head-on,” Hochul said in a press release. “This transformative investment … will cement New York’s status at the forefront of climate action.”

Those goals, however, are far from a sealed deal. Such a plan would still need to pass the New York State Assembly. But Hochul’s support strengthens the chance of that happening in the state’s Democratic-majority legislature. Lawmakers have already introduced a bill that would require new buildings to electrify starting in 2023, and some climate activists have criticized Hochul for not adopting that more stringent timeline. 

Still, if adopted, Hochul’s plan would make a big dent in New York’s climate-warming emissions—which equaled nearly 380 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019, according to a government report. Buildings contributed 32 percent of those emissions, the report said, making them the largest source of greenhouse gases in the state when comparing economic sectors.

Advocates also argue that a gas ban is necessary for New York to achieve its mandatory climate targets. The 2019 law requires the state to transition its power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. A state analysis last summer revealed that the trajectory of New York’s emissions were far off track from reaching those targets.

It’s unclear how much opposition Hochul’s proposal will face from the fossil fuel and utility industries, which have been receiving strong signals over the last three years that oil and gas projects may no longer be welcome in the state. National Grid, one of the state’s largest utilities, opposed New York City’s gas ban, but didn’t comment on Hochul’s proposal, E&E News reported

But Consolidated Edison, another major New York utility, did offer its support of the measure. In a statement to the outlet, a Consolidated Edison spokesperson called Hochul’s proposal “a sensible and necessary step on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050.” That’s a significant shift from an energy provider that, less than two years ago, was battling then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo over not permitting a major pipeline that would have delivered fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York City and Long Island.

That’s it for Today’s Climate this week. I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

7 percent

That’s the percentage that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose last year, compared to 2020, after pandemic-related lockdowns let up and economies reopened, new data shows.

Last year was punctuated by record extreme weather events, and climate scientists are saying to expect more of the same—and possibly worse—in 2022, as rapidly warming temperatures continue to exacerbate heat waves, wildfires, destructive storms and sea level rise. Today’s Climate is ringing in the new year by looking at how extreme weather is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives.

In December, the country saw a spate of bizarre winter weather, including hurricane-force gusts in nine different states and temperatures hitting record highs in some regions, soaring past 70 degrees Fahrenheit in cities like Omaha and Des Moines, the New York Times reported

The weather has only become stranger in the last week. On Dec. 30, an urban firestorm blazed through Colorado’s Boulder County, destroying nearly 1,000 homes, businesses and other buildings as tens of thousands of residents evacuated, Colorado Public Radio reported. The fire, which engulfed suburban neighborhoods rather than densely forested rural towns, shocked many residents, who knew climate change was making wildfires in the state more common but didn’t think their own communities were at risk.

“The event this week will require everyone to expand their imaginations even further of what can happen here in Colorado,” Russ Schumacher, a meteorologist at Colorado State University and the Colorado state climatologist, told Axios.

In fact, wildfires were so widespread and intense last year that they spewed more than 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—a global record—according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service

It’s not just fires that have raised eyebrows. A study by Christian Aid released in December found that 10 of 2021’s most extreme weather events in the world were driven by climate change and caused a total of $170.3 billion in damage. Among them, Hurricane Ida, which devastated the East Coast in late August, caused the most damage: a whopping $65 billion. 

More major storms are likely coming. A study published last week in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Geoscience found that climate change will bring more hurricanes to New York and other midlatitude cities in the coming years.

Those studies are part of a growing body of research that shows how climate change is increasing the threat of extreme weather, often more severely and sooner than scientists have previously predicted. Last August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth climate assessment report, which made clear that the extreme weather of 2021 was only a mild preview of the decades ahead.

“We see this signal in all regions,” a lead author of the IPCC report told our reporter Bob Berwyn. “No region is really spared from climate change.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

148 percent

Wildfires last year released 148 percent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the fossil fuels burned in the European Union in 2020, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

One of New York City’s largest power suppliers is ditching its plan to refurbish a fossil fuel “peaker” plant in Brooklyn and is proposing to build 350 megawatts of carbon-free battery storage in its place. It’s a bold pivot for an industry that has been reluctant to take the state’s climate law seriously, surprising even some environmentalists who have been fighting the peaker plant plan—and other fossil fuel projects in the state—for years. Today’s Climate breaks down what could be a watershed moment for the state’s fight against climate change.

Eastern Generation, which generates nearly 18 percent of New York City’s electricity and is an affiliate company of ArcLight Capital, announced last week that it was withdrawing its proposal to convert an aging oil-and-gas-fired power plant into a brand new gas-fired one. The company also announced it would retire two of the plant’s oil-fired units as soon as November of next year, six months ahead of schedule, citing the state’s climate law for the changes in its plans. The company said that it is “well positioned to assist in the transition to a carbon free future.”

So-called “peaker” plants only operate during times of high demand, such as particularly hot or cold days. In New York, environmental justice groups have targeted such facilities, saying they play an outsized role in polluting low-income neighborhoods and communities of color and contribute to climate change.

But the reneged plan isn’t an isolated victory for environmental activists, who have long hoped that New York’s climate law would prevent the spread of new fossil fuel infrastructure across the state. In fact, Eastern Generation’s announcement may mark the first time a company has withdrawn a proposal in anticipation that it would conflict with New York’s climate mandates, which include transitioning the state’s power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Already, the law has had a swift and cascading effect on New York’s energy development. In 2020, state regulators denied a key permit to a major gas pipeline, citing in part the climate law. And in October, regulators denied permits for two proposed natural gas power plants in the state, again citing the law. Paired with a new state constitutional right to a “healthful environment,” some law experts say it’s a clear signal to developers that New York may no longer be accepting new fossil fuel projects.

Just last week, New York City lawmakers passed a bill that bans natural gas hookups in new building construction, making it one of the biggest cities in the world to take such a position.

Still, Eastern Generation’s choice to willingly withdraw its own proposal surprised some activists, who hailed the news as a decisive moment in the state’s efforts to curb planet-warming gases. “The winds are at the face of the fossil fuel cartel,” Anthony Rogers-Wright, director of environmental justice for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s clear, you’re going to have a hell of a hard time going against the mandate of (New York’s climate law). It’s not goals, they have a mandate now.”

Such state-level actions may become increasingly important to curtail the country’s quickly growing greenhouse gas emissions, ever since West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said on Sunday that he wouldn’t vote for President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which contained some $555 billion in federal funding for clean energy and climate initiatives.

“No matter what happens with the federal government, our local governments are going to move and carry the ball,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told The Washington Post last month.

This is the final edition of Today’s Climate for 2021. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox after the holidays.

Today’s Indicator

3 billion tons

That’s the equivalent in carbon dioxide that will be prevented from going into the atmosphere through 2050 under the EPA’s new vehicle mileage standards, the agency said Monday.

Breaking news out of Nebraska has climate activists running victory laps online and touting a political milestone: the first Republican-leaning state to commit to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century. Today’s Climate wraps this week by exploring why this is big news, but is also not quite what it appears to be.

On Thursday, the Nebraska Public Power District, one of the largest utilities in the state, approved a resolution to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. It joins the state’s other two major utilities, Omaha Public Power District and Lincoln Electric System, in committing to decarbonization, a move that ensures that nearly every Nebraskan now receives electricity from a supplier that has pledged carbon neutrality, KRVN reports. Every utility in Nebraska is publicly owned.

“Nebraska just passed 100% clean electricity!” Nick Abraham, the state communications director for the League of Conservation Voters, wrote in a Thursday afternoon tweet that’s been shared more than 2,000 times and had garnered more than 17,000 likes as of Friday morning. “Nebraska becomes the first red state in the country to commit fully to net-zero electricity.”

The popularity of such a notion comes as no surprise. The United States has a yawning divide when it comes to how the two major political parties treat the climate crisis, with some Republicans not regarding it as a crisis at all and actively fighting the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is human-caused. The thought of a conservative-led state defecting from the Republican party’s historic disregard of climate change is an alluring one indeed.

But while Nebraska’s announcement marks an important shift in the state, it may not be as groundbreaking as some activists claim, said Dan Gearino, our resident clean energy expert at Inside Climate News and author of the Inside Clean Energy newsletter.

“The resolution from Nebraska Public Power District is a big deal because it means that the state’s three largest utilities or groups of utilities all have goals for net-zero emissions, but it’s important not to overstate what this does,” Gearino said. “This is not a statewide clean energy requirement as other states have done.”

Decarbonizing the power sector is critical to combating climate change. In Nebraska, the power sector makes up nearly 44 percent of the state’s total carbon emissions, according to government data. So, a commitment like this packs a serious punch if achieved. Still, a commitment in state law would have broader implications, especially if it went beyond the power sector to include transportation, which makes up roughly 28 percent of the state’s emissions. It would also send a stronger political signal to private industry polluters to start shifting their practices.

What may be particularly notable about Nebraska Public Power District’s new pledge is what it doesn’t promise. Net-zero pledges have been criticized by climate activists as hollow because they often rely on squishy math and an overreliance on unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage, ICN’s Nicholas Kusnetz reports

Giving utilities or oil companies more leeway because they’ve promised to ramp down their emissions sometime in the future can hinder more aggressive progress in the present, activists have said. And reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will only become more difficult the longer utilities take to map out exactly how they plan to achieve that goal.

“One rule of thumb for spotting a serious clean energy plan is whether it has interim goals for the years between now and the final goal,” Gearino said. “The Nebraska Public Power District resolution doesn’t have any interim goals.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate. I’ll be off all next week, but I’ll be back in your inbox on Dec. 21.

Today’s Indicator

232 days

Until today, that’s how long Denver had gone without measurable snowfall—one of the city’s longest snow droughts on record, which is adding to worry over water and energy security in the West.

A controversial pipeline in Virginia is facing a setback for “environmental justice” reasons. Another in Missouri caught a momentary break but larger issues still loom over it. And a whole network of pipelines spanning the U.S.-Canada border faces a shorter than expected lifespan due to aggressive climate policies, its own developer said. Today’s Climate is starting off the week looking at what three recent pipeline fights say about the future of fossil fuels in America.

In a 6-1 vote, a board of Virginia regulators on Friday denied a permit that would have allowed the developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to build a key piece of infrastructure for running the conduit, citing the state’s environmental justice law, which was passed earlier this year, Virginia Public Media reports.

The piece of equipment in question, a compressor station that would have helped to more efficiently pump natural gas 75 miles into neighboring North Carolina, would have been built within miles of several low-income neighborhoods and communities of color that are already polluted by heavy industry. 

It was the first substantial permit to go before Virginia’s regulatory board since the passage of the state’s environmental justice law, which requires regulators to actively promote the idea of environmental justice, not just consider the issues at play during decision making. That may make Virginia’s environmental justice law one of the strongest in the country. And as more and more states adopt or consider some kind of law or regulation regarding environmental justice, the trend could prove to be a burgeoning legal hurdle for fossil fuel developers.

In a separate Friday decision, federal regulators granted a temporary operating permit to the Spire STL Pipeline, which carries natural gas 65 miles from Illinois into Missouri’s St. Louis region, until the longer-term fate of the 2-year-old line can be decided, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

At the heart of the Spire pipeline fight is the argument over the country’s need for new natural gas infrastructure, as urban population centers continue to grow and demand for electricity and home heating increases. For years, utilities and pipeline builders have argued that new infrastructure is necessary to meet growing demand and keep the energy supply safe and reliable—particularly on the coldest winter days.

But those arguments have been increasingly challenged by environmentalists who say the money would be better spent on energy efficiency and renewable power, particularly as a growing number of states adopt laws to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In June, a federal appeals court agreed with that line of argument, siding with an environmental group that said the Spire pipeline shouldn’t have been built in the first place. Ultimately, how that case pans out could be a sign of how big of a role natural gas plays in the U.S. in the decades to come.

Finally on Sunday, the Star Tribune reported that Enbridge Energy—which owns and operates the largest network of pipelines that bring Canadian crude oil into the U.S., including Minnesota’s Line 3 and Michigan’s Line 5—now foresees the economic lifespan of that network only lasting through 2040, about a decade shorter than previously predicted. The company blames the growing Indigenous rights and climate movements.

“Unprecedented actions by state, local and tribal governments to attempt to regulate, and ultimately shut down, existing pipeline infrastructure, such as experienced by Enbridge Energy in Michigan and Wisconsin with respect to Line 5, is a new and emerging risk not imagined [just five years ago],” the company said in a document it filed with federal regulators back in May.

That’s it for this issue of Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

$250 billion

That’s how much money global banks have issued to fossil fuel companies in bonds so far in 2021, according to an analysis by Bloomberg.

New York has taken a step closer to achieving its ambitious climate goals while also rekindling a national debate over the harm and benefits of building massive transmission lines to carry renewable energy. To close the week, Today’s Climate is digging a little deeper into the issues surrounding these largely buried power lines.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the state has finalized its contracts with the developers of the Clean Path New York and Champlain Hudson Power Express projects, sending the contracts to state regulators for approval by next year. If approved, the two transmission lines could put New York on track to meet its legally binding targets of getting 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040.

Together, the two lines are expected to provide 11,000 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power more than 5 million New York homes. Clean Path New York would carry electricity 179 miles from solar and offshore wind farms in upstate New York down to the city. And the Champlain Hudson Power Express would deliver hydroelectric power 339 miles from Canada into New York. Both lines would be mostly buried underground.

“The stakes have never been higher for New York as we confront the effects of climate change and the economic and environmental destruction that extreme weather events leave behind,” Hochul said in a press release. “I’m proud that New York continues to lead the nation with innovative green energy initiatives and has set a global example of what must be done to take on climate change.”

The projects, which are expected to cost several billion dollars each, could also be critical in weaning power-hungry New York City off of fossil fuels, an effort that remains one of the largest barriers the state faces in meeting its climate mandates. New York City is the most energy-consuming area in the state and relies most heavily on fossil fuels for its power. With the closure of the Indian Point nuclear plant in April, the city now gets a mere 3 percent of its electricity from sources that don’t produce greenhouse gases, the New York Times reports.

But the proposed transmission lines have also been criticized by environmentalists and social justice activists, who say the projects could threaten aquatic life and riverside communities, and that dams have historically harmed Indigenous communities in Canada. 

Environmentalists warn that as the construction of the lines pass through bodies of water, it can contaminate drinking water by stirring up harmful sediments, including mercury or a toxic group of chemicals named PFAS—so-called “forever chemicals.” High levels of mercury have also been known to build up behind dams, poisoning people who eat fish or game caught downstream.

Those concerns are partly why Maine residents voted last month to block a similar transmission line, the New England Clean Energy Connect project, which would carry electricity from Canadian dams 145 miles to Northeastern states. Several environmental groups wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week, requesting the agencies suspend federal permits already issued for that project.

It’s unclear if those criticisms could derail New York’s transmission lines, but with most of the permits for the projects already approved, Gov. Hochul appears to think that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again next week.

Today’s Indicator

8 million

Measured in metric tons, that’s the amount of plastic waste that enters the world’s oceans each year, or the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences.

You’re reading Today’s Climate, and Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting North Carolina this week to promote the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law earlier this month.

Harris will visit the Tar Heel State on Thursday, the Charlotte Observer reports, accompanied by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, hoping to sell the $1.2 trillion package as a win for the administration in a state that voted for Donald Trump by just 1 percentage point over Joe Biden in 2020.

In many ways, swing states like North Carolina could play a key role in how successful the United States is in terms of slashing its greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of the worsening climate crisis. The Congressional makeup after next year’s midterms, as well as who gets elected president in 2024, will largely determine the kind of climate policy the nation pursues in the coming decades. Currying favor among swing state constituents now could also help Democrats pass their flagship climate legislation—the nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better Act—the fate of which still hangs in limbo.

North Carolina stands to gain plenty from the infrastructure bill. With some $550 billion in new federal spending to draw from, the state could grab upwards of $8 billion to go toward its roads, bridges, public transportation, electric vehicle charging stations and broadband internet. In fact, government heads from across the country are already vying to pay for their own projects with the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grants up for grabs under the infrastructure law, according to a report from McClatchy DC Bureau.

Yet even with the passage of Biden’s infrastructure package, many big challenges remain. As climate change causes seas to rise and storms to become more severe and frequent, the cost of upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges and energy infrastructure will only continue to grow, The Washington Post reports.

In many cases, the risks from global warming could cost as much as $20 billion a year to manage by the end of the century—a sum equivalent to about 40 percent of current federal road spending—according to the 2018 federal climate change assessment.

The timetable the Biden administration has laid out for the new spending is also incredibly ambitious and could be difficult to accomplish, the New York Times reports, with much of the $550 billion aimed to be spent in as little as five years.

The construction industry is facing sharply growing costs for steel products, up by 142 percent in the last 12 months, and other key materials. And shortages of skilled labor are worsening, exacerbated by Covid-induced retirements. In addition to lengthy environmental reviews, all these factors will likely slow down progress of allocating money to infrastructure projects.

Meeting that timetable would mean approving and distributing an additional $100 billion per year compared to what federal, state and local agencies were handling in 2019, before the pandemic.

“It is a very big bump,” Ken Simonson, chief economist at Associated General Contractors of America, which represents major infrastructure builders, told the Times. “My guess is that we are not going to see $550 billion spent in the first five years.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again Friday.

Today’s Indicator

10 percent

That’s the portion of Republican voters who said addressing climate change is a top personal concern, according to a May poll by the Pew Research Center.

You’re reading Today’s Climate, and a prominent Canadian environmentalist is warning politicians that if they don’t act with more urgency to curb the climate crisis, there could be attacks against oil and gas infrastructure.

“We’re in deep, deep doo-doo,” David Suzuki, an award-winning scientist and broadcaster known for popularizing Canada’s environmental movement, said at an Extinction Rebellion protest in Vancouver on Saturday. “This is what we’ve come to. The next stage after this, there are going to be pipelines blown up if our leaders don’t pay attention to what’s going on.”

Climate activists have widely called the recent global climate talks a failure for not going far enough to tackle global warming. And legislative efforts aimed at rapidly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases continue to face major roadblocks in both the United States and Canada, even as public pressure to address the issue grows. 

Canada’s oil and gas sector is the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And at COP26, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to cap and then cut the industry’s emissions, reiterating a promise he’d already made to the Canadian public during the late summer election. But a recent analysis shows that the climate plans of eight Canadian oil and gas producers are “wholly out of line” with that pledge, the nonprofit news outlet The Narwhal reported.

Trudeau is also pressuring President Biden to cut the electric vehicle tax credit from his Build Back Better Act, potentially sending yet another major provision in the Democrat’s shrinking climate bill to the cutting room floor, POLITICO reported.

The inability of politicians to take meaningful climate action leaves environmental campaigners with few remaining options but violence, Suzuki told Canada’s National Post. Suzuki added that he didn’t support such measures, and that protesters were already experiencing violence from police.

Critics swiftly condemned Suzuki’s comments as reckless and dangerous. Canada has a history with such terroristic acts. Alberta resident Wiebo Ludwig, who died in 2012, was convicted for bombing an oil and gas well in 1998. “In Canada we resolve our differences peacefully and democratically, not with threats of terrorism or acts of violence,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney wrote in a tweet on Monday.

But Indigenous communities who have long opposed the rapidly expanding oil and gas industry in Canada say there’s little political will to wind down fossil fuel production. Alberta’s mines have grown so massive, and their ecological impacts are so vast and so deep, that Indigenous nations say they threaten their very existence, our own Nicholas Kusnetz wrote this week after extensive reporting in Fort McMurray, Canada, and the surrounding tar sands.

Activists say the stakes are clear, pointing to the natural disasters that the country saw this year, which scientists say were almost certainly exacerbated by climate change.

Last week, intense rains and heavy winds brutalized British Columbia, killing three people, forcing 17,000 from their homes, emptying entire towns and inundating farms, the New York Times reported. And this summer, record-breaking heat in the region killed hundreds more.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you next week after the holiday.

Today’s Indicator

21

That’s roughly how many coal-fired power plants would need to emit greenhouse gases for a year to match the 2018 emissions from Canada’s oil and gas industry simply extracting crude from the ground.

You’re reading Today’s Climate, and the U.S. House of Representatives just passed the most aggressive climate change bill in the nation’s history.

President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion spending package aims to expand the country’s social safety net and also includes a whopping $555 billion in funding for climate initiatives and clean energy programs, by far the largest sum of money ever dedicated by the federal government to fighting the climate crisis.

The House narrowly passed the bill Friday morning, with 220 representatives voting in favor and 213 voting against, the New York Times reported. The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with just one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, opposing the measure. Earlier this month, Golden cited a tax provision in the bill that he says would mostly benefit the wealthy as his reason for voting no.

The package now moves to the Senate, where Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote and face a difficult uphill battle. In the Senate, it’s expected that the bill will get chopped down from the House’s $1.85 trillion version to a smaller sum and sent back to the House for further, likely heated debate.

Friday’s hasty early morning vote came after the original vote scheduled for Thursday night was delayed by a marathon filibuster from Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Speaking for eight hours and 32 minutes, the California Republican actually broke a House record, eclipsing the eight-hour-seven-minute mark set by Nancy Pelosi in a 2018 speech about the “DACA” program for immigrants, CBS reported. Talk of the speech quickly began to trend on social media, particularly one clip that showed McCarthy saying, “Nobody elected Joe Biden to be FDR,” to which an irreverent AOC yelled back, “I did!”

But Republicans have hardly been the main obstacle to Biden’s climate agenda, which has been plagued by infighting between moderate and progressive Democrats.

In the House, five moderate Democrats had raised concerns over whether Biden’s bill, named the Build Back Better Act, would significantly raise the federal budget deficit. An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, released Thursday evening, determined that measure would increase the deficit by $160 billion over the next 10 years—a slight increase, relatively speaking, but certainly not a negligible amount.

The report was enough to assuage concerns from the Democratic holdouts, CNBC reported, which included Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.

Passing the Build Back Better Act is critical if Democrats hope to achieve their goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent in the next decade. That benchmark is also a key indicator of whether nations can keep their promise under the Paris Agreement to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst effects of climate change.

So what’s next? Salon’s headline this morning, perhaps, sums it up best: It’s Really, Truly, Finally All on Joe Manchin.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

3.5 percent

A rallying cry for climate activists, it’s the minimal amount of a population that one Harvard researcher says is needed to participate in a political movement if it’s going to be successful.

Welcome back to Today’s Climate, a newsletter that examines the most pressing news about our rapidly warming world every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. U.S. climate campaigners who were disappointed with the outcome of COP26, which wrapped up last weekend in Glasgow, could feel a double sting as Democrats back home continue to struggle with their massive climate agenda.

This week, House Democrats are hoping to pass their now $1.7 trillion reconciliation package, which currently includes some $555 billion for climate and clean energy programs. But Sen. Joe Manchin continues to be the metaphorical thorn in his own party’s side, standing as a key holdout to the measure in the Senate, where Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote.

The West Virginia Democrat has made much of his fortune on fossil fuels and says he won’t support anything that would penalize the oil and natural gas industries. It’s one reason climate-conscious lawmakers and activists fear that Manchin could still derail President Biden’s efforts to lead the global pledge to slash emissions of methane, a climate super-pollutant and the main ingredient in natural gas. 

But it’s not just penalties. Manchin is also opposing clean energy incentives, such as the $12,500 electric vehicle tax credit, arguing that governments shouldn’t decide the fate of private industries in a free market. “We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” he said in a recent interview with Automotive News, echoing a common refrain among Republicans.

People wouldn’t be buying electric cars, the argument goes, if the government wasn’t going out of its way to make them cheaper for the public. But that’s not necessarily true. Electric vehicle sales are already booming in the U.S., with purchases nearly doubling over a year ago. And one recent poll found that the majority of American car owners are “likely” to buy electric or hybrid as their next vehicle.

Others have pointed out that the U.S. government, to some degree, has always picked winners and losers—especially when it comes to industries that lawmakers view as critical to national security, such as energy and transportation. 

One of the first instances can be traced all the way back to 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, facilitating completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in just seven years and setting the stage for decades of commercial and industrial expansion, wrote one University of Maryland professor. And fossil fuel companies have enjoyed a steady flow of government subsidies for decades. One recent analysis found that the fossil fuel industry receives trillions of dollars every year from governments around the world, including the U.S.

In fact, former President Donald Trump was criticized for picking winners and losers when it came to industries like coal, which his administration went out of its way to prop up even as the market signaled its demise.

So how likely is it that Manchin will come around to support Biden’s climate agenda? It’s unclear. But he clearly wants to maintain the support of his constituents, and if a recent poll of West Virginia voters holds true, the chances look bad for passing national climate policy. West Virginians give Manchin an overall job approval rating of 60 percent compared to Biden’s 32 percent.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again Friday.

Today’s Indicator

$11 million

That’s how much money the fossil fuel industry receives every single minute in subsidies from governments around the world, according to a recent analysis from the International Monetary Fund.

Welcome back to Today’s Climate, a newsletter that examines the most pressing news about our rapidly warming world every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. There’s a lot riding on the final day of COP26—the global climate talks in Glasgow could be one of the last chances for humanity to prevent catastrophic climate change by the end of the century.

So, where exactly do things stand now? Grab a snack—maybe crack open a cold Irn-Bru—and settle in. There’s a lot to cover in this short newsletter.

Last week, I shared a helpful CNBC guide that laid out the five key goals that could make or break the summit’s success. Those goals are increasing mitigation targets, drafting stronger plans to phase out fossil fuels, striking a deal to finance climate efforts, implementing global carbon pricing and developing more nature-based solutions. How have efforts to reach those goals panned out?  Spoiler: The results are not great. 

Mitigation: little progress made

When the Paris Agreement was signed six years ago, the mitigation goal was to limit the global average temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, with an additional, more- ambitious aspiration to keep it at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists now say keeping that 1.5 degree target is imperative to curb some of global warming’s most dire consequences, including a surge in deadly heat waves, unrelenting sea level rise, rising famine and more.

So, it was no surprise that one of the most pressing goals at this year’s COP was to make that more ambitious 1.5 degree target the new goal, and coax countries to increase their own mitigation targets to achieve it. But as of Thursday, 22 nations—including China and India—oppose the updated text, saying developing countries would once again be paying for a problem caused mostly by rich countries. The development prompted United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to declare that key goal was now “on life support.”

Fossil fuel phase-out: some progress made

To accomplish any mitigation goals, the world must drastically reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases. And scientists say the most effective way to do that is to cut fossil fuel use. So did COP26 succeed in convincing countries to dial back their fossil fuel consumption? The answer is yes, a little, but not nearly enough.

More than 100 nations have pledged to reduce their emissions of methane, the key ingredient of natural gas and a climate super-pollutant. But some major emitters, including China and India, have not signed on. More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. But loopholes have since been written into the text of that pledge, which critics say significantly weaken its effectiveness. And an international coalition to phase out oil and gas, led by Costa Rica and Denmark, added six new member nations to the agreement. That coalition, however, wasn’t formally recognized at the COP summit.

Finance: little progress made

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to finding consensus at this year’s climate summit has been who will pay for all these efforts? Transitioning away from fossil fuels, adopting clean energy, building more climate-resilient infrastructure—it all requires a massive investment. And so far, no one can agree on who should pay for it.

In 2009, the United States led an effort with several other rich nations on an agreement to pay $100 billion a year, starting in 2020, to help developing countries address climate change. Last week, the United States re-upped its pledge, albeit a year late, saying it would fork over $3 billion a year to that effort starting in 2024. But that commitment and a few others still come up short of what experts say is needed. And as of this morning, the latest draft text of the COP26 deal spelled out no clear plan for how that finance promise will work.

Carbon pricing: little progress made

A carbon pricing scheme essentially sets a limit on carbon emissions, taxing polluters who exceed that cap and allowing those who stay below it to sell the difference as a credit to others. While there’s disagreement over how effective such a scheme would be in curbing rising emissions, many experts still believe it’s a vital tool in the fight against global warming. Member nations have so far failed to produce consensus over the Paris Agreement’s so-called “Article 6” rules, which deal with carbon pricing. And as of Thursday, several major issues remained unresolved, including how to count credits, what kinds of credits should be allowed and whether developing countries should get special provisions.

Nature-based solutions: some progress made

Aside from cutting back on the use of fossil fuels, scientists say the best way to fight climate change is to rely on the natural ability of forests and oceans to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. On that front, a new pledge from more than 130 countries to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030 showed some progress being made at this year’s summit. Still, many environmental activists and scientists remain skeptical regarding whether the countries can make good on that pledge, considering the similar promises in the past that were broken.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

$3.8 trillion

That’s how much financing the world’s largest 60 banks have provided fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate accord was signed in 2015, according to a March report from a coalition of NGOs.

Welcome back to Today’s Climate, a newsletter that examines the most pressing news about our rapidly warming world every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. It’s the second and final week of COP26 and world leaders are asking outraged youth to accept compromise on climate action.

In a speech at COP on Monday, former U.S. President Barack Obama—who helped to seal the original Paris Agreement in 2015—told young activists to “stay angry,” acknowledging that the international agreement has failed to keep warming within safe margins and that far more needs to be done.

The two-term Democratic president also urged youth to accept a certain amount of compromise in their fight, echoing a similar statement from President Joe Biden to his own political party late last month. “I guarantee you, every victory will be incomplete,” Obama said during his COP speech. “Sometimes we will be forced to settle for imperfect compromises, because even if they don’t achieve everything that we want, at least they advance the cause.”

But climate activists are already calling the global talks a failure. And over the weekend, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through Glasgow, condemning world leaders for failing to produce the fast action they say is needed to prevent catastrophic global warming. In a speech just before the march, prominent climate activist Greta Thunberg equated the summit to greenwashing—when someone claims to be more environmentally friendly than they actually are.

“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure,” Thunberg said. “The COP has turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.” 

How much compromise climate campaigners should accept, however, remains a difficult question to answer. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that the world is still on track to warm by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, an increase that scientists say will devastate global ecosystems, wash away coastal cities and drive a steep increase in weather-related disasters. That finding was reaffirmed by a UN report released today, which found that the short-term plans from countries involved in the Paris Agreement make it impossible for them to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, likely leading to warming of about 2.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Among those short-term plans that are complicating the efforts to slow climate change is the fact that global carbon emissions are surging as many developing countries increase their use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, which has long been considered on the decline. And even as countries increase their commitments under the Paris Agreement to reduce their emissions, those pledges have been crafted using data that significantly underestimates the amount of greenhouse gases most countries produce, according to a groundbreaking report from The Washington Post this week.

The Post’s ambitious investigation analyzed the emissions reports from the 196 countries originally signed onto the Paris accord and found that there’s a giant gap between the emissions the countries are reporting and what they’re actually releasing into the atmosphere.

“At the low end, the gap is larger than the yearly emissions of the United States. At the high end, it approaches the emissions of China and comprises 23 percent of humanity’s total contribution to the planet’s warming,” the report said.

But, away from Glasgow, compromise has brought about at least one positive development so far. Late on Friday, the U.S. House passed the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill after progressive Democrats struck a deal with party moderates. That bill contains $47 billion to help communities prepare for the worsening effects of climate change, including wildfires and floods.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again Friday.

Today’s Indicator

99,614

That’s the square mileage of forests the world lost in 2020 alone, according to the latest data from Global Forest Watch, raising serious concerns over a recent international pledge to rein in deforestation.

Welcome back to Today’s Climate, a newsletter that examines the most pressing news about our rapidly warming world every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. Let’s start with a quick recap of the global summit that many believe will make or break the world’s ability to slow the climate crisis. 

As the first week of COP26 wraps up, the negotiations have so far received mixed reviews. On a positive note, more than 100 nations pledged to reduce their emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and many others also promised to halt and reverse deforestation. And on Thursday, more than 40 countries vowed to phase out coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

But many people are pointing to the imbalance in the negotiations between wealthy countries, responsible for the vast majority of the world’s carbon emissions, and developing nations, which suffer disproportionately from the consequences of rising temperatures but did little to cause them. 

A new report by the United Nations says that some impacts from climate change are already irreversible, and efforts to protect the nations most vulnerable to rising seas and more extreme weather are lagging. One activist representing a coalition of Indigenous communities and frontline groups compared this year’s climate negotiations to the COP summit in 2009, which was widely regarded as a failure—saddling poorer nations in the global South that had limited access to the talks with “hugely expensive” impacts, mitigations and adaptations.

So, can wealthy nations make good on their promises this year to get the world back on track to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius? That’s the $50 trillion question and the outlook is murky. Looking at how negotiations over climate policy in the U.S. are panning out is one early indicator of just how difficult the task of reining in global emissions will be.

The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and historically the biggest contributor to global warming. As President Biden left Glasgow on Tuesday night, hailing the summit’s early progress, he returned to grueling talks back home over his own imperiled climate agenda.

In the last two months alone, Biden’s massive budget package, which focuses on expanding the social safety net and addressing climate change, has been whittled down from $3.5 trillion to $2.2 trillion, to $1.75 trillion. Among the provisions chopped from the bill was Biden’s flagship climate policy, the $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP). 

It is a loss that jeopardizes Biden’s key benchmark of slashing U.S. emissions 50 percent by 2030, something he spent much of his time at COP trying to convince his peers he could accomplish. Some analysts have said Biden could still achieve half of that 2030 target through the $555 billion in climate-related funding, mostly for clean energy efforts, still included in the bill.

But whether the United States can pass the measure at all remains in question. On Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin, who has been the main obstacle to the budget bill, held a press conference merely to remind people he still didn’t support it. And as apparent progress emerged over the package, the West Virginia Democrat has continued to move the goal post. Last week, even after the CEPP was removed and the bill’s total spending was slashed in half, Manchin said he wouldn’t support funding of electric vehicle charging stations. This week, he said he didn’t approve of how tax credits for EV purchases would be given out.

So, what do we keep an eye on as COP moves into its second week? One interesting item will be a Nov. 7 panel that aims to highlight how U.S. states are still filling the void left by a lack of federal climate action—a message that was very familiar during the Trump administration and may become increasingly so during Biden’s tenure.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

7.6 billion

Measured in metric tons, that’s the amount of carbon emissions that came from China’s coal use this year, which is greater than the total carbon dioxide emissions of any other country. 

Welcome to the debut of Today’s Climate 2.0, now a twice-a-week newsletter released every Tuesday and Friday afternoon, examining the most pressing news related to our rapidly warming world. I’m Kristoffer Tigue, a veteran climate reporter at Inside Climate News, where, for 14 years, we’ve worked to hold polluters accountable, illuminate environmental injustices and document the world’s often inadequate response to the worsening climate crisis.

In today’s edition, we’ll explore what has developed in the first days of COP26, the two-week international climate talks that many activists—and scientists—have said is one of the last chances to prevent runaway global warming by the end of the century. I’ll keep this highlight reel brief, so no one falls asleep.

For anyone who has followed climate change news closely, the same story has played like a broken record. Science shows how the climate is warming faster than we had previously thought, requiring even steeper emissions cuts and more funding for adaptation, but the action to address the issue lags far behind. This is known as the emissions gap, and that gap is widening.

As world leaders gathered in Glasgow on Sunday for the United Nations conference, expectations of what might be collectively accomplished by the more than 193 countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement were already low. Nearly all of the world’s carbon emissions—80 percent—come from just 20 of the world’s wealthiest nations. And many people saw it as an ominous sign when those countries emerged from the G20 summit that same day without strong new pledges, which scientists say are necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 and avoid its worst consequences. 

At best, G20 members, which include the United States and the European Union, promised to stop funding coal-fired power plants in poor countries and made a vague commitment to seek carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century.” Yet, it was the leaders of those same nations that sounded the alarm on the first two days of COP26, highlighting the bizarre disconnect between their public rhetoric and what has long proven to be their inability to take robust action.

“If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow,” the UK’s Boris Johnson said in his opening statements at the summit. “This COP26 must be the start of a new momentum, a quantum leap in our fight against climate change,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in his speech.

President Biden, in his attempt to restore U.S. credibility on climate change after his predecessor pulled the country out of the Paris accord, told those in attendance that his administration “is working overtime to show that our climate commitment is action, not words.”

But the opening days for COP26 weren’t entirely without progress. In the first substantial deal announced at the summit, more than 100 world leaders representing over 85 percent of the planet’s forests committed on Tuesday to ending and reversing deforestation and land degradation by 2030, CNN reported

President Biden also announced at the summit that the U.S. would start providing $3 billion each year, by 2024, to help developing countries adapt to climate change, and that federal agencies would pursue newly proposed rules to slash emissions of methane, a short-lived climate super-pollutant that’s about 80 times more potent at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

You may want to take those pledges with a pinch of salt, however. Deforestation has only increased since many world governments and corporations promised to end it in 2014, our own Georgina Gustin reported earlier this year. The United States is actually a year behind on delivering funds from a previous pledge with other world leaders to give $100 billion a year to developing countries for climate adaptation, Nature reported. And while nearly 100 nations have signed onto the U.S.-led pledge to cut methane emissions already, some of the world’s largest emitters, including China and Russia, have yet to buy in, Reuters reported.

So, what else should we keep tabs on as COP26 continues to unfold? This CNBC guide sums up the most important aspects surprisingly well.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again Friday.

Today’s Indicator

26

The number of global climate talks held so far by the United Nations through its 1992 international treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and a good proxy for just how long the world has sought to tackle this issue. COP26 stands for the 26th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC.