The Climate Reality Project’s annual telecast December 4-5, 24 Hours of Reality, is expected to cast a dual spotlight on the urgency of the climate crisis and the rapid rise of solutions that can help humanity avoid the worst effects of global climate change.
The Energy Mix is a media partner for 24 Hours. So over the next few days, we’ll be republishing our own #24ClimateRealityChecks, selected from the last couple of months of coverage on The Mix. The stories reinforce both the need and the opportunity for countries to push farther, faster in their efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Even a smattering of coverage is enough to bring home the reality that climate change is not (only) a future problem our children and grandchildren will face: Its impacts are with us today, and they’re being felt around the world.
Earlier this year, climate-fuelled drought was triggering a massive humanitarian crisis in Africa, with 19 million “victims of climate change” in East Africa’s Somaliland starving to death after a third year of failed seasonal rains. Fossil fuel use was turning India’s capital city, Delhi, into a “gas chamber”, with fumes from gasoline, diesel, petroleum coke, and coal forcing vehicles off streets, aircraft out of the sky, and threatening the health of millions of people. Meanwhile, the British medical journal The Lancet asserted that delayed climate action costs millions of people around the world their health.
Global Forest Watch reported that the Earth lost a record-setting 297,000 square kilometres (114,672 square miles) of forest cover in 2016, the equivalent land mass of New Zealand, partly due to rising temperatures and drought. The report concluded that “the combination of forest fires with land use change and climate change could speed destruction in areas like the Amazon and contribute to emissions of carbon dioxide,” Reuters noted.
Nor has there been enough huffing and puffing from the current administration in the White House to protect the United States from the impacts of climate change. In the wake of devastating autumn floods in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that global warming has made floods on the scale of Hurricane Harvey six times more likely—and that’s just since the year 2000. A separate study in PNAS determined that New York City could see floods above 2.25 metres (7.4 feet) every five years by 2030.
But it isn’t as though humanity lacks the tools to avert the worst impacts of climate change—the only question is whether governments and other decision-makers can muster the political will to get the job done in time.
Earlier this month, an electricity supply auction in Mexico sent a charge through the global energy and climate community after low bids for both solar- and wind-generated electricity came in below 2¢ ($US) per kilowatt-hour—a price that would have been preposterous even a couple of years ago. Analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that installed energy storage capacity will double six times over in less than 15 years, from five gigawatt-hours in 2016 to more than 300 GWh in 2030. By that year, “there will be whole weeks where wind and solar power generation exceed total demand at some point every day,” Bloomberg noted.
The Economist magazine was quite taken with the idea that “a happy combination of innovation and falling costs for renewable energy” might allow much of Africa “to leapfrog ahead” of the rich North “not once but twice, skipping both polluting fossil fuels and the electricity grid itself.” And a wider modelling study released at the beginning of the annual United Nations climate change conference in Bonn showed that greenhouse gas emissions from the global power sector could fall from 11 gigatonnes in 2015 to zero by 2050 or earlier.
The pace and depth of the post-carbon transition depends in large part on financing. So it was big news in mid-November when Norway’s trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund—a fund, ironically, built on sound investment of oil revenues—announced plans to divest its oil and gas stocks, in a bid to protect itself from the financial risk of falling crude oil prices. “Our perspective here is to spread the risks for the state’s wealth,” Egil Matsen, the deputy central bank governor responsible for the fund, told Bloomberg. “We can do that better by not adding oil price risk.”
In India, as well, a new financing effort was well under way in October, aiming to fund 40 gigawatts (that’s 40 billion watts) of small-scale, distributed solar by 2020.