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Climate change is less obvious than Don’t Look Up’s comet, but the threat is still visible

January 5, 2022, 10:23 AM UTC

Good morning, happy new year, and welcome back.

Green, Inc. was on hiatus for two weeks last month and during the break I, like many others, watched the new Adam McKay film, Don’t Look Upa not-at-all-veiled allegory for humanity’s failings on climate change.

I’m not a film critic so, suffice to say, I liked it. Many climate scientists enjoyed it too, but not without a painful tinge of recognition. In Don’t Look Up, two scientists struggle to convince the public and the government to take action to avoid an apocalyptic event—in this case, an extinction-level meteor on a collision course with Earth.

Some viewers have questioned the aptness of McKay’s comet analogy. A blazing ball of rock hurtling through the sky is a much more apparent threat than the slow creep of climate change, they say. But the consequences of climate change are visible and abundant around us.

Just this week, U.S. President Joe Biden released federal aid to assist victims of a rare wildfire blazing through Colorado. Meanwhile, a brutal snowstorm left hundreds of thousands of people across the East Coast without power and stranded motorists on a busy freeway overnight in freezing temperatures.

True, climate change is not the only factor contributing to these disasters. Californian utility operate PG&E, for example, was recently found responsible for starting several wildfires in its home state due to neglect. But climate change is the underlying condition that will make natural disasters more frequent and more extreme.

Governments and industry began to wake up to the threat of climate change in recent years, and have begun setting targets for mitigating the worst of its consequences. Over 130 countries have pledged, with varying degrees of conviction, to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Managing this transition will pose new challenges.

Europe is still reeling from surging energy prices caused by a drop in wind power and a squeeze on gas supplies. In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing pressure to classify the soaring prices as an “emergency” and introduce policies to limit the cost to consumers.

On Wednesday in Kazakhstan, mass protests against soaring gas prices forced the government to declare a state of emergency, issuing regional curfews to curb rioting. Later the same day, the government resigned.

Yet, as MIT professor Kerry Emanuel put it, the hurdles of transitioning to low-carbon economies and mitigating the calamity of climate change are similar to the task of rerouting an inbound comet in one important way: the sooner you act on it, the easier crisis is to avert.

So, what are the challenges or key events you expect to see in the transition this year? Do let me know.

Eamon Barrett
eamon.barrett@fortune.com
@eamonbarrett49

CARBON COPY

Shovels down

Indonesia unexpectedly banned coal exports for the month of January on Saturday as the government tried to reduce blackouts amid an energy crisis. Indonesia is the world’s largest coal exporter, accounting for 31.5% of global coal shipments in 2020. The sudden ban caused a spike in coal prices in China, the largest customer for Indonesian coal exports, and hit shares in Indonesian coal miners Bumi Resources and Bukit Asam. Under pressure from industry groups, government ministers are due to review the ban on Wednesday. Nikkei

That’s a wrap

France has banned the use of plastic wrap on fresh produce sold in supermarkets, as the country moves to make good on a law banning all single use plastics by 2040. The French government thinks the ban will eliminate 1 billion items of single use plastic a year. (To me, these bans are a no brainer that more governments should implement.) Spain plans to adopt a similar rule on fresh produce packaging by 2023. The Guardian

Pump it

OPEC+ has agreed to continue pumping more oil after reckoning that the ongoing Omicron outbreak won’t cause the same dent in demand as Delta and other variants did. OPEC+ agreed last year to boost output by 400,000 barrels a day each month, until output returns to pre-pandemic levels. “The impact of the new Omicron variant is expected to be mild and short-lived,” the OPEC cartel said in its monthly report last December. WSJ

EU defines green

The European Union has drawn up a proposal that would classify some investments in nuclear energy and natural gas as “sustainable investments,” as the bloc seeks to neutralize carbon emissions by 2050. The proposal—the result of intense lobbying between different EU member states—would actually treat nuclear and gas as “transitionary” fuels on the road to net zero and comes with caveats. New nuclear plants must meet standards on disposing of radioactive waste (obviously) and new gas plants must meet certain carbon emission thresholds. NYT

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

We must restore degraded farmland to feed future generations and protect landscapes by Jennifer Morris and Erik Fyrwald

‘Seed funding’: How more billionaires can help end world hunger by Claudia Sadoff

Social media companies beef up promises, but still fall short on climate disinformation by Marianna Cerini

Utility stocks are becoming less boring. That’s a problem for income investors by Michael Joseph 

Biden’s green orders seek to rebuild global trust on climate by Bruce Rule

The Arctic’s climate challenge spurs tech innovation by Agostino Petroni and Daria Solovieva

CLOSING NUMBER

Fifth

Last year was the fifth hottest year on record, according to data gathered by the Europe Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service, which has been tracking global surface temperature since 1979. Last year did set a record for the hottest ever period between June and August, but was then cooled by an El Niña event in the later months of the year. Nevertheless, 2021 continues the trend of increasing global temperatures. According to Copernicus data, the past seven years are the hottest on record, and 21 of the 22 hottest years have all come after 2000.

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