This has been a bad few weeks for climate action around the world. First came a damaging US Supreme Court ruling that severely limited the US Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) mandate to limit carbon emissions in the energy sector. This presents a severe setback to US President Joe Biden’s attempts to steer the world’s biggest carbon emitting country away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy (RE).
This ruling caused global consternation, precisely because of the signal this sends out to the rest of the world. If the US does not act on the climate, it becomes that much harder to reach the goal of limiting global heating to a rise of 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The planet has already heated by 1.1 degree Celsius, and is forecast to breach the 1.5 degree threshold temporarily in the next five years.
Equally bad was the European Parliament’s decision, on 6 July, to label natural gas and nuclear energy as ‘green energy’, causing experts to say that this sets a dangerous precedent for other countries. Oil companies have long argued for natural gas to be seen as a less dangerous fossil fuel, with lower emissions. This, they have argued, can help bridge the gap between phasing out oil and coal and adopting RE. However, this claim has been repeatedly refuted by scientists. The fear is that the European Union’s decision will have global policy consequences, if, say, a developing country like India decides to do the same.
One of the dangers of using natural gas is the risk of methane leaking into the atmosphere. A more potent planet-warming gas than carbon dioxide, methane’s effects on planetary heating is usually more long-term and more intense. This was reiterated by a study published earlier this week in Nature Communications. The study shows how climate change and its impacts, especially wildfires, is releasing more carbon monoxide and changing the chemical balance of the atmosphere. This, the scientists behind the study argue, is leading to global methane levels surging. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the global methane level passed 1,900ppb (parts per billion) in 2021. This is nearly triple the amount of methane from pre-industrial times.
All the while, the effects of climate change are getting worse. Just this week, there were flash floods in Australia’s New South Wales, while research showed that Spain and Portugal are experiencing the driest regional climate in 1,200 years. And finally, scientists at the one of the world’s highest observatories, in Sonnblick in the Austrian Alps, were shocked to find that the once-perennial snow was melting earlier than ever before. This follows close on the heels of a deadly glacier collapse in the Italian Alps on 4 July, which killed at least seven people. As I said earlier, a bad few weeks for the planet.