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July 2020, Volume 26, Number 3

Climate Change

Carbon emissions dropped sharply in Spring 2020 due to economic lockdowns. As economies began to reopen in May-June 2020, some wanted to use the government spending aimed at cushioning the impacts of the lock-downs to also speed the transition to a greener economy.

Many developing countries reduced subsidies for fuel and electricity, and there were few protests because energy prices were low due to less economic activity. However, Ecuador?s government had to reverse a decision to reduce energy subsides when truck drivers protested. Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia heavily subsidize energy prices. Iran?s annual subsidies of $86 billion are almost triple China?s subsidies of $30 billion a year.

About 20 percent of US electricity is from coal-burning plants, down from 50 percent in 2010. Meanwhile the share of electricity from natural gas doubled from 20 to 40 percent over the past decade, while the share from renewable energy doubled from 10 to 20 percent. The share of electricity from nuclear has been steady at 20 percent. Many environmentalists want to speed the development of renewables and slow the expansion of natural gas fueled electricity production.

The EU?s Green Deal aims for carbon neutrality by 2050, a goal that some want to move forward to 2030. However, if recovery from the pandemic lock-down is slow, the priority may be economic growth to reduce unemployment, even if recovery means a slower path to carbon neutrality. The $800 billion EU recovery package announced in May 2020 includes incentives to purchase electric cars and to make buildings more energy efficient.

The UN?s annual meeting to assess each country?s progress toward achieving the emissions reductions was postponed from November 2020 to November 2021.

The Mekong (Lancang in China) river flows 2,700 miles from the Tibetan Plateau by or through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam into the South China Sea. There are dozens of dams on the Mekong, with another 20 plus planned, and they are rapidly changing the river?s water flow. China?s completion of the Jinghong Dam in 2020 led to the lowest water level on the Mekong in Thailand on record, prompting complaints from downstream countries.