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January 2022, Volume 28, Number 1

Climate Change

The UN’s COP 26 brought representatives of 190 countries to Glasgow in November 2021 to strengthen country plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming. In advance of the meeting, the UN said that current country plans would raise global temperatures by over 2.7C.

China and India are reluctant to reduce emissions as much as other countries would like them too, arguing that they need more assistance to reduce emissions from coal-fired plants that generate electricity. The final text called for a phase-down rather than a phase-out of coal, which is an important source of power in China and India as well as in South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The Group of 77 developing nations want industrial countries to provide $1 trillion or more a year in climate-finance grants to help them to develop renewable- rather than fossil fuel-based economies and to adapt to rising temperatures.

During climate negotiations in 2015 in Paris, where governments pledged to limit global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, the US and other industrial countries pledged $100 billion a year in climate change-aid between 2015 and 2025 under the UN’s Green Climate Fund. However, few countries fulfilled their promises, so that grants to the fund were about $80 billion. The US has pledged $11 billion a year beginning in 2024. Developing countries often complain of conditions attached to climate aid, such as ensuring gender equity.

Ocean currents influence weather, such as the Gulf Stream that moves warm water northward along the eastern US. Most ocean currents move warm water north and cold water south, but the wind-driven Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the world’s strongest current, moves water clockwise around Antarctica, keeping the continent cold. Warming ocean temperatures are speeding up the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with unknown consequences.

Agriculture. Agriculture is often seen as a prime culprit for climate change, charged with emitting a third of the world’s greenhouse gases, encouraging deforestation, and using over 70 percent of the world’s fresh water for irrigation. Some farmers are being paid to change farming practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Boston-based Indigo matches nonfarm buyers of carbon sequestration credits with farmers willing to change farming practices, such as no-till and reducing or stopping the use of synthetic fertilizers.

Each metric ton of carbon that is not emitted generates one carbon credit that, for Indigo, is worth $27 in the private and unregulated market. Forest Trends estimates that voluntary carbon offset purchases globally by banks, insurance firms, and others will top $1 billion in 2021. Global cropland could sequester up to 570 million metric tons of carbon a year due to reduced fertilizer usage and changes to farming practices.

Unlike long-lasting carbon sequestration in forests, crop land can be fallowed for one year to obtain carbon credits and farmed the next year, releasing the sequestered carbon. The Climate Action Reserve is a registry that pools carbon credits in the event that farming practices change. However, the process of paying farmers to change their practices to avoid emissions lacks transparency to ensure that emissions reductions are permanent as credits change. For example, if planting cover crops costs $40 an acre and the carbon credit for planting cover crops is $30 a credit, farmers are unlikely to participate.

California has since 2013 had a cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Carbon emitters buy credits that prevent the cutting of trees that store carbon. Wildfires in recent years have destroyed many of the trees enrolled in the carbon credit system.

California’s cap-and-trade program creates a budget of air-emission allowances that companies can buy and sell to give them the right to emit carbon. The price of the credits that permit the owner to emit a metric ton of carbon are expected to rise over time, providing more incentives to reduce emissions.

Migration. Before COP 26, the National Security Council in October 2021 released a report that predicted that three percent of the residents of South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, some 143 million people, could become climate migrants by 2050. The NSC called for “a new legal pathway for individualized humanitarian protection in the United States for individuals facing serious threats to their life because of climate change.”

Climate change is expected to increase tensions between countries as they debate how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, spur competition for new resources as in the Arctic Ocean, and weaken governments in developing countries unable to help their citizens to adapt. Guatemala and Haiti are deemed especially vulnerable to climate change.

Brazil. Deforestation shrank Brazil’s Amazon rainforest by over 5,000 square miles in 2021, the most since 20006. Most deforestation occurs when forests are logged or burned for cattle grazing and soybean farming. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee. Coffee berries grow on plants; up to 40 gallons of water are required to grow enough beans to grind for one cup of coffee.

The most popular president in recent times, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), is poised for a comeback for a third term in 2022. Lula lost presidential elections three times before winning in 2002, ushering in a period of prosperity. Lula left office in 2010, and his successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016 for unlawfully transferring public funds to disguise problems before her 2014 re-election. Current president Jair Bolsonaro was elected in 2018.

Lula is from northeastern Brazil, an area with a quarter of the country’s people and half of its poor people. Under Lula, the government’s Brazilian Development Bank made loans to industrialize Recife and other northeastern cities, especially after oil was discovered offshore in 2007. An orgy of corruption followed, and most of the poorly planned projects approved by Lula and Rousseff that were to be financed by oil failed.

Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter, exporting 439 million tons in 2020, and the third largest exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. The National party, which governs with the Liberal party, represents rural and mining areas and touts the employment that depends on mining. Australia emits two percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and promised to reduce its emissions by at least a quarter in the 2015 Paris agreement.

The Low Countries have developed defenses against the encroaching sea; over half of the 17 million Dutch residents live below sea level. The Scheldt River flows from France through Belgium and empties into the North Sea on the Dutch coastline. Some of the land reclaimed from the sea (Dutch polder) is being returned to nature to give the Scheldt River space to overflow during heavy rains. Levies built to prevent flooding are being studied, including how much they are weakened when animals dig burrows inside them.

The Rajapaksa family that governs Sri Lanka sometimes announces policy reversals that have unforeseen consequences. The government in April 2021 banned imports of fertilizers and chemicals to have only organic farming. Food production fell and prices rose, prompting the government to permit imports of fertilizers and chemicals for tea, rubber and coconut, the major export crops. Critics say that the turn to organic farming was motivated by a lack of government money caused by fewer tourists and debts owed to Chinese state banks.


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