The often on again-off again Keystone XL Pipeline project has been touchstone of environment activism for about 13 years, but now it appears it is off for good.
Last week, TC Energy, the Canadian company behind the pipeline, said that it had decided along with the government of Alberta to end the multibillion-dollar project. XL was the focus of frequent delays, construction permit battles, and changing government policies. It was the bane of environmentalists because of its scope and because tar sands are among the filthiest, most polluting form of fossil fuel. If completed, the 1,200-mile pipeline would have carried 830,000 gallons of oil from the vast tar sands mines in Alberta to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.
A Sierra Club article on the pipeline termination said: “The whole operation would have added more than 181 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere each year. Oil from the tar sands is some of the dirtiest on the planet, producing 20 percent more CO2 than conventional crude. Along the way, the Keystone XL Pipeline would have passed through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, where it would have threatened farmland, drinking water, and wildlife habitat.”
Keystone is gone but the writing is on the wall for other pending projects, so stay tuned.
Congress and the Biden Administration are taking the first steps to reduce emissions of two dangerous greenhouse gases: methane, which is emitted during natural gas extraction and by leaks from oil and gas wells, and hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.
Both of these planet-warming gases are many times more potent than carbon dioxide, even though they don’t stay in the atmosphere as long. Scientists say dealing with them is critical to slowing the pace of global warming.
The Senate, using a rarely invoked law to reverse a Trump administration rollback on methane, essentially reinstated an Obama-era regulation imposing controls on leaks of methane from oil and gas wells. And the Environmental Protection Agency moved to implement new curbs on the production and importation of HFCs, which Congress approved late last year.
“By taking fast action on these short-lived climate pollutants, of which HFCs are the most potent, we can buy ourselves some time and actually help avoid climate tipping points,” said Kristen N. Taddonio, a senior climate and energy adviser for the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.
The 52-42 Senate vote reinstates the Oil and Natural Gas New Source Performance Standards, a handful of Obama-era regulations on methane emissions that were rolled back by former President Donald Trump in August 2020. The measure drew support from every Senate Democrat, as well as Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), who has opposed GOP efforts to deregulate methane emissions in the past; Lindsey Graham (R-SC); and Rob Portman (R-OH). The rule is expected to be taken up and passed by the House of Representatives in this month.
The standards alone won’t be sufficient to meet the president’s pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2030 — a goal meant to help keep global warming this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but it represents an important step toward meeting that commitment, because methane is seen as a major driver of climate change.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the Senate’s move “one of the most important votes, not only that this Congress has cast but has been cast in the last decade, in terms of our fight against global warming.”
According to a recent article by two climate experts in the online publication, The Conversation, there are more reasons for optimism on climate change than we’ve seen for decades. The authors, Gabi Mocatta, Lecturer in Communication, Deakin University, and Research Fellow in Climate Change Communication, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania, and Rebecca Harris
Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania, say two big reasons help explain the optimism:
1. The science on climate change “is now more detailed than ever. Although much of it is devastating, it’s also resoundingly clear
2. “It’s now also unequivocal that people want action”
Climate change is deadly serious; but it strikes me the word change is too soft a term because the change occurring is not anything like changing your clothes or your diet or your drapes. Rather it’s a climate crisis.
Climate crisis is a better way to think about what is happening to the planet, and after four years of dreadful neglect, denial and inaction from the previous administration, the Biden administration is taking the crisis seriously. And it is taking action.
The White House last week unveiled a goal to expand the nation’s nascent offshore wind energy industry in the coming decade by opening new areas to development, accelerating permits, and boosting public financing for projects.
Then there is Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which includes $85 billion for mass-transit systems, another $80 billion for Amtrak to expand service and make needed repairs, and $100 billion to upgrade the nation’s electrical grid. The infrastructure plan also would allocate $174 billion to spur the transition to electric vehicles, $35 billion for research in emissions-reducing and climate-resilience technologies, and $10 billion to create a New Deal-style Civilian Climate Corps.
The plan will lead to “transformational progress in our effort to tackle climate change,” Biden said, speaking at a carpenters’ training facility outside Pittsburgh.
A Reuters report provided more detail on the offshore wind power plan: “The blueprint for offshore wind power generation comes after the Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leasing auctions on federal lands and waters, widely seen as a first step to fulfilling the president’s campaign promise of a permanent ban on new federal drilling to counter global warming.
The United States, with just two small offshore wind facilities, has lagged European nations in developing the renewable energy technology.
“We’re ready to rock and roll,” National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said at a virtual press conference to announce the administration’s moves.
According to the report, the plan sets a target to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which the administration said would be enough to power 10 million homes and cut 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
One of the first steps will be to open a new offshore wind energy development zone in the New York Bight, an area off the densely populated coast between Long Island, New York and New Jersey, with a lease auction there later this year.
The industry will employ 44,000 workers directly by 2030 and support 33,000 additional support jobs. Many of those jobs will be created at new factories that will produce the blades, towers and other components for massive offshore wind turbines and at shipyards where the specialized ships needed to install them will be constructed. The administration predicted the nation would see port upgrade investments related to offshore wind of more than $500 million.
The administration said it will also aim to speed up project permits, including environmental reviews, and provide $3 billion in public financing for offshore wind projects through the Department of Energy.
The United States’ two small offshore wind farms include the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island and a two-turbine pilot project off the coast of Virginia. There are more than 20 GW of proposed projects in various stages of development.
Europe, by contrast, has more than 20 GW of capacity already and plans to expand that more than ten-fold by 2050. Many of the companies developing U.S. projects are European, including Norway’s Equinor, Denmark’s Orsted, and a joint venture between Avangrid, the U.S. arm of Spain’s Iberdrola, and Denmark’s Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.
Disruptions in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors will increase as supply and consumption are affected by lockdown, according to the report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Fish supply, consumption and trade revenues for 2020 will all likely decline due to containment restrictions, the report noted, while global aquaculture production is expected to fall by about 1.3 percent, the first fall recorded by the sector in several years.
“The pandemic has caused widespread upheaval in fisheries and aquaculture as production has been disrupted, supply chains have been interrupted and consumer spending restricted by various lockdowns,” said FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo. “Containment measures have provoked far-reaching changes, many of which are likely to persist in the long term.”
The FAO report indicated that in aquaculture there is growing evidence that unsold production will result in increasing levels of live fish stocks, creating higher costs for feeding as well as a greater number of fish mortalities. Sectors with longer production cycles, such as salmon, cannot adjust rapidly to the demand shifts.
Global catches from wild fisheries are also expected to have declined slightly in 2020, as, overall, there has been a reduced fishing effort due to COVID‑19-related restrictions on fishing vessel crews and poor market conditions.
As a result of Covid-19, consumer preferences have shifted. While demand for fresh fish has waned, consumer demand for packaged and frozen products has grown as households look to stock up on non-perishable food.
Aggregate prices for 2020, as measured by the Fish Price Index are down year-on-year for most traded species. Restaurant and hotel closures in many countries have also led to a fall in demand for fresh fish products.
The climate crisis is also impacting the food, fish, forest and water sectors
– In other news from FAO, two projects, one focusing on agroforestry in sub-Saharan Africa and the other on water management in the Near East, have received $80 million, paving the way to improve the livelihoods of more than 250 000 smallholders.
The Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) approved the funds for initiatives in the Republic of Congo and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Both are the first GCF-funded projects in those countries, underscoring FAO’s focus on expanding the use of global tools to advance climate action in food and agriculture. FAO’s GCF portfolio has now risen to $878 million, supporting 15 projects.
– Opening the high-level ceremony to mark the International Day of Forests, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, described forest restoration as a path to global recovery and well-being.
“Healthy forests mean healthy people. Forests provide us with fresh air, nutritious foods, clean water and space for recreation, and also for civilization to continue,” the Director-General said.
More than 1 billion people depend on forest foods and 2.4 billion people use fuelwood or charcoal to cook their daily meals, noted the Director General. “Forests are also green pharmacies. In developing countries, up to 80 percent of all medicinal drugs are plant-based.”
Yet, despite their importance, the area of forests continues to shrink. FAO’s most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment says that each year, the world loses more than 10 million hectares of forest – an area about twice the size of Costa Rica. “We can change this. We have the knowledge and the tools,” said the Director-General.
With four billion people projected to be living in drylands by 2050,the publication outlines the transformational change required to ensure the sustainability of food production systems under climate change and after COVID-19, which includes giving a greater voice to marginalized dryland populations.
– Acute hunger is set to soar in over 20 countries in the coming months without urgent and scaled-up assistance, warn the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) in a new report issued on 23 March.
Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria top the list and face catastrophic levels of acute hunger, with families in pockets of South Sudan and Yemen already in the grip of or at risk of starvation and death according to the Hunger Hotspots report.
Although the majority of the affected countries are in Africa, acute hunger is due to rise steeply in most world regions – from Afghanistan in Asia, Syria and Lebanon in the Middle East, to Haiti in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Already, over 34 million people are grappling with emergency levels of acute hunger (IPC4) – meaning they are one step away from starvation – across the world.
“The magnitude of suffering is alarming. It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation,” said Qu.
“In many regions, the planting season has just started or is about to start. We must run against the clock and not let this opportunity to protect, stabilize and even possibly increase local food production slip away,” urged Qu.
“We are seeing a catastrophe unfold before our very eyes. Famine – driven by conflict, and fuelled by climate shocks and the COVID-19 hunger pandemic – is knocking on the door for millions of families,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
“We urgently need three things to stop millions from dying of starvation: the fighting has to stop, we must be allowed access to vulnerable communities to provide life-saving help, and above all we need donors to step up with the US$ 5.5 billion we are asking for this year,” he added.