Adaptation, loss and damage, and African oil: What’s at stake at COP27?

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Thursday, November 3, 2022

World leaders will converge in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Sunday for COP27, this year’s United Nations climate conference, where they will spend two weeks advancing global cooperation to cut planet-warming emissions and protect humanity from the impacts of climate change. These annual events are about more than just negotiations between government officials. They are a forum for countries and companies to announce new climate commitments, like last year’s pledges to cut methane emissions, halt deforestation, and steer finance toward climate progress. While last year’s conference was set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, it is Russia’s war in Ukraine and an impending global recession. Many Western countries are scrambling to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas, causing energy prices to soar and driving renewed interest in energy security. As a result, some countries are both speeding up their transitions to renewables while also increasing investments in fossil fuels, calling into question their climate commitments to reduce carbon emissions. In the lead up to the meeting, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has been warning that the world is headed towards “collective suicide” if countries don’t dramatically reduce their emissions. “That is why this COP is so important to reveal trust between developed economies and emerging economies and to regain ambition,” he said in a recent interview with the BBC. “We need much more than what has been promised until now.” Whether nations will respond to Guterres’ call for more ambitious pledges remains to be seen. As the global climate community heads to Egypt, here are five major items we’re keeping our eye on at COP27: The $100 billion promise Before COP27 even gets underway, an unmet promise looms over the conference. From the embers of the Copenhagen COP in 2009, wealthy nations cobbled together a commitment to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020 to help them cut emissions and adapt to climate change. Two years on, developed countries still haven’t met that goal. The latest estimates for climate finance put the tally for 2020 at just $83.3 billion. It’s a collective goal, but a 2021 analysis by the World Resources Institute found that the United States wasn’t providing its fair share. Given the country’s position as one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, both historically and today, the analysis found its fair share worked out to $40 billion to $47 billion — at least $21 billion more than its current contribution. “There’s a U.S.-sized hole,” said Joe Thwaites, a coauthor of the analysis who is now an international climate finance advocate with the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council. “If the U.S. alone was pulling its weight, we’d actually be able to close the gap.” He added that developing countries are “understandably frustrated because for a decade they were told, ‘Trust us, we’re on track.’” Women from the Masai community in Kenya take part in a Global Climate Strike in March to demand climate reparations and action from world leaders. Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images To add insult to injury, more than 70 percent of the finance sent to developing nations between 2016 and 2020 was in the form of loans that countries had to repay. These may be suitable when the money is being used for projects that can provide a return — such as solar and wind farms — but many adaptation efforts do not provide cash flow. Some developing nations are now looking to have their debts forgiven. Negotiators gathering in Egypt next week will continue discussing a new, higher collective goal for climate finance. Thwaites said that in order to reestablish trust with developing nations, wealthy countries must make good on their initial $100 billion promise while also setting a new ambitious goal for climate finance. An adaptation goal As nations try to rebuild trust around the $100 billion target, they will also be discussing how much of that money goes toward reducing emissions versus adapting to a warmer world. Developed countries have long focused COP negotiations on cutting greenhouse gases, with the idea that the faster we cut carbon, the less adapting the world will need to do. But that position ignores the climate impacts that many parts of the world are already experiencing, like the deadly drought in the horn of Africa or floods in Pakistan. The Paris Agreement established a “global goal on adaptation,” but the commitment was more qualitative than quantitative, broadly asking countries to “enhance adaptive capacity” and “reduce vulnerability.” African nations have been urging the creation of a more operational goal with a clearer way to measure progress, such as the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Last year’s COP in Glasgow, Scotland, established a two-year initiative to further discuss this idea, and there could be some outcomes in Egypt. But a singular goal may prove challenging, as climate impacts and adaptation strategies vary considerably from region to region. “We would like to see the conference reach a concrete decision on the global goal for adaptation,” Africa’s chief climate negotiator, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia, recently told Africa Renewal, a United Nations publication. Finance is also sure to be at the heart of these discussions. In 2020, just 34 percent of money from the $100 billion fund went to adaptation projects. The Glasgow Climate Pact called for developed countries to double the amount they provide to developing countries for adaptation to at least $40 billion by 2025, but even if that’s achieved, it is likely to fall short. By one estimate, the annual cost of adaptation in developing countries is set to increase to as much as $300 billion by 2030. “We are calling for adaptation financing to match these figures,” Shitima told Africa Renewal. Loss and damage For decades, developing nations have argued that historical carbon emissions by industrialized countries have baked in a level of warming that’s unavoidable — and that they are disproportionately shouldering the burden. On top of the $100 billion a year to cut emissions and adapt to climate change, developing nations want to set up a new fund to help them recover from the impacts of climate change, including climate-fueled natural disasters, slow-onset events such as sea-level rise, and the loss of cultural heritage. But after years of wealthy governments successfully dodging these calls, the clamor for funding loss and damage has reached a fever pitch. For the first time ever, after much back-and-forth and pushback, loss and damage is included under climate finance in the provisional agenda for COP27. Countries will agree to a final agenda on day one, setting the tone for negotiations. Senior U.S. officials have said they want to agree on an agenda item and get procedural hurdles out of the way early. “Assuming that they can do that, then you can get into the real meaty discussion,” said Thwaites. “There’s got to be some tangible progress this year.” Participants in a vigil protest for financial compensation for those severely affected by climate change outside the site where the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP26 is taking place in Glasgow. Christoph Soeder/picture alliance via Getty Images Even the U.S. has backed down from its past obstructionist posture. In the last few weeks, climate envoy John Kerry and senior administration officials appear to have changed their tune, repeatedly stating that they are willing to negotiate on financial arrangements related to loss and damage. However, senior administration officials said last month that they’re not quite ready to support a new fund and want to study whether the use of existing funds and other financial solutions would be more appropriate. Loss and damage advocates will be watching closely to see if the U.S.’s new posture is a real departure from its past positions or more of the same. Africa’s energy transition The talks are also likely to raise questions about Africa’s fraught energy transition — especially in light of the ripple effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine. More than 600 million people in Africa lack access to electricity, and in the context of climate talks, that fact has long been used to debate two potential paths: Should African countries have a right to follow the same roadmap that wealthy, Western countries have taken to develop economically — exploit their oil and gas reserves and transition to clean energy over the long term? Or should they ‘leapfrog’ fossil fuels altogether? An oil drilling block managed by British company Tullow Oil at Lokichar basin in Turkana county, Kenya, in 2017. Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images Now, as Europe moves away from Russian oil and gas, European leaders are turning to Africa to develop its fossil fuel reserves. In the last few months, European leaders have descended on Algeria, Angola, and the Republic of Congo, among other African countries, to spur additional oil and gas drilling on the continent and build new gas terminals for export. That stands in stark contrast to attitudes at last year’s COP, where 20 countries pledged to end public finance for overseas fossil fuel development and many wealthy nations promised to prioritize funding for clean energy. No matter which path African countries pursue, the common denominator is a need for substantial financial help from the rest of the world — which you may have noticed is a recurring theme here. Equity and access Much like COP26 in Glasgow last year when pandemic restrictions led advocates to label it the “most exclusionary” climate conference on record, questions of access and equity are dogging the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh. This time a primary cause appears to be the Egyptian government’s efforts to restrict civil society groups and tamp down activism. Advocates typically stage protests and hold rallies to capitalize on the media attention during COPs and to raise awareness for their various positions. But this year in Egypt, where a ban on protests has existed for almost a decade, activists will be required to use a separate protest area away from the conference center where decision makers will be meeting. In the lead up to the conference, United Nations human rights experts found that activists had been denied access to the conference in a variety of ways. Rising room rates for accommodation in the resort town Sharm el-Sheikh and delays in visa processing meant many civil society groups would not be able to attend. As a result, despite the conference being nicknamed the “African COP,” it’s unclear if the conference will feature many African activists. Last month, the Guardian reported that as of October 3, not a single activist from 10 African countries, including Egypt, had secured a spot to attend. How Egypt chooses to treat protesters at COP27 will be the focus of much discussion and threatens to overshadow climate negotiations. This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Adaptation, loss and damage, and African oil: What’s at stake at COP27? on Nov 3, 2022.

Amid the Russia-Ukraine war and an impending recession, climate negotiators will be trying to keep the world’s goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius in sight.

World leaders will converge in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Sunday for COP27, this year’s United Nations climate conference, where they will spend two weeks advancing global cooperation to cut planet-warming emissions and protect humanity from the impacts of climate change.

These annual events are about more than just negotiations between government officials. They are a forum for countries and companies to announce new climate commitments, like last year’s pledges to cut methane emissions, halt deforestation, and steer finance toward climate progress.

While last year’s conference was set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, it is Russia’s war in Ukraine and an impending global recession. Many Western countries are scrambling to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas, causing energy prices to soar and driving renewed interest in energy security. As a result, some countries are both speeding up their transitions to renewables while also increasing investments in fossil fuels, calling into question their climate commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

In the lead up to the meeting, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has been warning that the world is headed towards “collective suicide” if countries don’t dramatically reduce their emissions. “That is why this COP is so important to reveal trust between developed economies and emerging economies and to regain ambition,” he said in a recent interview with the BBC. “We need much more than what has been promised until now.”

Whether nations will respond to Guterres’ call for more ambitious pledges remains to be seen. As the global climate community heads to Egypt, here are five major items we’re keeping our eye on at COP27:

The $100 billion promise

Before COP27 even gets underway, an unmet promise looms over the conference. From the embers of the Copenhagen COP in 2009, wealthy nations cobbled together a commitment to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020 to help them cut emissions and adapt to climate change. Two years on, developed countries still haven’t met that goal. The latest estimates for climate finance put the tally for 2020 at just $83.3 billion. It’s a collective goal, but a 2021 analysis by the World Resources Institute found that the United States wasn’t providing its fair share. Given the country’s position as one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, both historically and today, the analysis found its fair share worked out to $40 billion to $47 billion — at least $21 billion more than its current contribution.

“There’s a U.S.-sized hole,” said Joe Thwaites, a coauthor of the analysis who is now an international climate finance advocate with the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council. “If the U.S. alone was pulling its weight, we’d actually be able to close the gap.” He added that developing countries are “understandably frustrated because for a decade they were told, ‘Trust us, we’re on track.’”

Women from the Masai community hold climate protest signs
Women from the Masai community in Kenya take part in a Global Climate Strike in March to demand climate reparations and action from world leaders. Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images

To add insult to injury, more than 70 percent of the finance sent to developing nations between 2016 and 2020 was in the form of loans that countries had to repay. These may be suitable when the money is being used for projects that can provide a return — such as solar and wind farms — but many adaptation efforts do not provide cash flow. Some developing nations are now looking to have their debts forgiven.

Negotiators gathering in Egypt next week will continue discussing a new, higher collective goal for climate finance. Thwaites said that in order to reestablish trust with developing nations, wealthy countries must make good on their initial $100 billion promise while also setting a new ambitious goal for climate finance.

An adaptation goal

As nations try to rebuild trust around the $100 billion target, they will also be discussing how much of that money goes toward reducing emissions versus adapting to a warmer world. Developed countries have long focused COP negotiations on cutting greenhouse gases, with the idea that the faster we cut carbon, the less adapting the world will need to do. But that position ignores the climate impacts that many parts of the world are already experiencing, like the deadly drought in the horn of Africa or floods in Pakistan.

The Paris Agreement established a “global goal on adaptation,” but the commitment was more qualitative than quantitative, broadly asking countries to “enhance adaptive capacity” and “reduce vulnerability.” African nations have been urging the creation of a more operational goal with a clearer way to measure progress, such as the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Last year’s COP in Glasgow, Scotland, established a two-year initiative to further discuss this idea, and there could be some outcomes in Egypt. But a singular goal may prove challenging, as climate impacts and adaptation strategies vary considerably from region to region.

“We would like to see the conference reach a concrete decision on the global goal for adaptation,” Africa’s chief climate negotiator, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia, recently told Africa Renewal, a United Nations publication.

Finance is also sure to be at the heart of these discussions. In 2020, just 34 percent of money from the $100 billion fund went to adaptation projects. The Glasgow Climate Pact called for developed countries to double the amount they provide to developing countries for adaptation to at least $40 billion by 2025, but even if that’s achieved, it is likely to fall short. By one estimate, the annual cost of adaptation in developing countries is set to increase to as much as $300 billion by 2030. “We are calling for adaptation financing to match these figures,” Shitima told Africa Renewal.

Loss and damage

For decades, developing nations have argued that historical carbon emissions by industrialized countries have baked in a level of warming that’s unavoidable — and that they are disproportionately shouldering the burden. On top of the $100 billion a year to cut emissions and adapt to climate change, developing nations want to set up a new fund to help them recover from the impacts of climate change, including climate-fueled natural disasters, slow-onset events such as sea-level rise, and the loss of cultural heritage.

But after years of wealthy governments successfully dodging these calls, the clamor for funding loss and damage has reached a fever pitch. For the first time ever, after much back-and-forth and pushback, loss and damage is included under climate finance in the provisional agenda for COP27. Countries will agree to a final agenda on day one, setting the tone for negotiations. Senior U.S. officials have said they want to agree on an agenda item and get procedural hurdles out of the way early. “Assuming that they can do that, then you can get into the real meaty discussion,” said Thwaites. “There’s got to be some tangible progress this year.”

Lit up "loss and damage" sign at protest.
Participants in a vigil protest for financial compensation for those severely affected by climate change outside the site where the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP26 is taking place in Glasgow. Christoph Soeder/picture alliance via Getty Images

Even the U.S. has backed down from its past obstructionist posture. In the last few weeks, climate envoy John Kerry and senior administration officials appear to have changed their tune, repeatedly stating that they are willing to negotiate on financial arrangements related to loss and damage. However, senior administration officials said last month that they’re not quite ready to support a new fund and want to study whether the use of existing funds and other financial solutions would be more appropriate. Loss and damage advocates will be watching closely to see if the U.S.’s new posture is a real departure from its past positions or more of the same.

Africa’s energy transition

The talks are also likely to raise questions about Africa’s fraught energy transition — especially in light of the ripple effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine. More than 600 million people in Africa lack access to electricity, and in the context of climate talks, that fact has long been used to debate two potential paths: Should African countries have a right to follow the same roadmap that wealthy, Western countries have taken to develop economically — exploit their oil and gas reserves and transition to clean energy over the long term? Or should they ‘leapfrog’ fossil fuels altogether?

Kenya oil drilling
An oil drilling block managed by British company Tullow Oil at Lokichar basin in Turkana county, Kenya, in 2017. Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images

Now, as Europe moves away from Russian oil and gas, European leaders are turning to Africa to develop its fossil fuel reserves. In the last few months, European leaders have descended on Algeria, Angola, and the Republic of Congo, among other African countries, to spur additional oil and gas drilling on the continent and build new gas terminals for export. That stands in stark contrast to attitudes at last year’s COP, where 20 countries pledged to end public finance for overseas fossil fuel development and many wealthy nations promised to prioritize funding for clean energy.

No matter which path African countries pursue, the common denominator is a need for substantial financial help from the rest of the world — which you may have noticed is a recurring theme here.

Equity and access

Much like COP26 in Glasgow last year when pandemic restrictions led advocates to label it the “most exclusionary” climate conference on record, questions of access and equity are dogging the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh. This time a primary cause appears to be the Egyptian government’s efforts to restrict civil society groups and tamp down activism. Advocates typically stage protests and hold rallies to capitalize on the media attention during COPs and to raise awareness for their various positions. But this year in Egypt, where a ban on protests has existed for almost a decade, activists will be required to use a separate protest area away from the conference center where decision makers will be meeting.

In the lead up to the conference, United Nations human rights experts found that activists had been denied access to the conference in a variety of ways. Rising room rates for accommodation in the resort town Sharm el-Sheikh and delays in visa processing meant many civil society groups would not be able to attend. As a result, despite the conference being nicknamed the “African COP,” it’s unclear if the conference will feature many African activists. Last month, the Guardian reported that as of October 3, not a single activist from 10 African countries, including Egypt, had secured a spot to attend. How Egypt chooses to treat protesters at COP27 will be the focus of much discussion and threatens to overshadow climate negotiations.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Adaptation, loss and damage, and African oil: What’s at stake at COP27? on Nov 3, 2022.

Read the full story here.
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‘I use it because it’s better’: why chefs are embracing the electric stove

As evidence mounts that gas stoves are bad for human health, a growing number of professional chefs say electric even makes for a better cooking experienceThe evidence that gas stoves are bad for human health has grown so staggering over the last few years that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recently announced that it would consider banning the appliances. Though a conservative backlash prompted the White House to rule out the possibility of a nationwide ban, and some states have passed pre-emptive laws that prohibit cities from ever passing gas bans, other cities including Berkeley, New York and San Francisco have already moved to bar new gas hookups due to health and environmental concerns.One study from earlier this month found that one in eight cases of childhood asthma in the US is caused by gas stove pollution. According to the lead author on the study, Talor Gruenwald, a research associate at the non-profit Rewiring America, that means that living in a home with a gas stove is comparable to living in a home with a smoker. Gas stoves release pollutants so harmful that the air pollution they create would be illegal if it were outdoors, and that’s not just true when you’re actively cooking – gas stoves continue to emit harmful compounds like methane even when turned off. Beyond the adverse health impacts, those emissions are greenhouse gasses that also contribute to the climate crisis. Continue reading...

As evidence mounts that gas stoves are bad for human health, a growing number of professional chefs say electric even makes for a better cooking experienceThe evidence that gas stoves are bad for human health has grown so staggering over the last few years that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recently announced that it would consider banning the appliances. Though a conservative backlash prompted the White House to rule out the possibility of a nationwide ban, and some states have passed pre-emptive laws that prohibit cities from ever passing gas bans, other cities including Berkeley, New York and San Francisco have already moved to bar new gas hookups due to health and environmental concerns.One study from earlier this month found that one in eight cases of childhood asthma in the US is caused by gas stove pollution. According to the lead author on the study, Talor Gruenwald, a research associate at the non-profit Rewiring America, that means that living in a home with a gas stove is comparable to living in a home with a smoker. Gas stoves release pollutants so harmful that the air pollution they create would be illegal if it were outdoors, and that’s not just true when you’re actively cooking – gas stoves continue to emit harmful compounds like methane even when turned off. Beyond the adverse health impacts, those emissions are greenhouse gasses that also contribute to the climate crisis. Continue reading...

What to Know About the Risks of Gas Stoves and Appliances

This story was originally published by ProPublica. As a climate reporter, I was well aware of the growing concern about the gas stoves in people’s homes leaking dangerous pollutants, like methane, a potent greenhouse gas and explosive hazard; nitrogen dioxide, which worsens asthma; and benzene, which causes cancer. But I was a renter who had no […]

This story was originally published by ProPublica. As a climate reporter, I was well aware of the growing concern about the gas stoves in people’s homes leaking dangerous pollutants, like methane, a potent greenhouse gas and explosive hazard; nitrogen dioxide, which worsens asthma; and benzene, which causes cancer. But I was a renter who had no control over my appliances. So I mostly ignored it — until one day last fall when I smelled the rotten-egg odor of leaking natural gas while baking focaccia. I borrowed a $30 gas leak detector from a friend (a fellow climate reporter, of course). When I turned on the oven in my New York City apartment, the lights for a “significant” leak lit up. My kitchen was filling up with methane. According to the user manual, that meant I should “VENTILATE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY and move to a safe location” in case of an explosion. I opened the windows and ignored the evacuation advice (don’t follow my example), too intent on taking a video of the leak as proof for my landlord before turning off the oven. Then I vented my frustration by panic-texting friends and eating too much focaccia — after cutting it into pieces and baking it in my toaster oven. Luckily, my landlord replaced my faulty stove within days. I made sure to check the new stove (still gas, alas) for leaks after it was installed. “People still don’t recognize that there are health downsides to cooking with gas in your home,” said Regina LaRocque, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on medicine and public health. “This is the 21st century, and we have better ways of cooking than over a fire.” The issue has caught national attention in recent weeks, as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission considers regulating gas stoves. Public health experts and environmentalists have long warned of the risks of gas ranges. One study found that indoor gas stoves were responsible for roughly 13% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. The American Public Health Association and American Medical Association have urged consumers to transition away from gas. LaRocque uses a traditional electric coil stove at home. But she and other experts advocated for induction stoves, which use electromagnets to heat up food. These stoves are growing in popularity as consumers choose them for climate, health and safety reasons, though they can cost more than twice as much as a gas range. The federal Inflation Reduction Act will provide rebates to upgrade to electric or induction home appliances (here’s a Wirecutter guide on that program). Some states, including Massachusetts, offer their own rebates as well. Induction stoves are much more common in Europe, LaRocque said. That cultural shift has yet to occur in the United States, where more than a third of households use gas stoves. As Mother Jones reported, the gas industry embraced the term “cooking with gas” in the 1930s; an executive even made sure to get it worked into Bob Hope’s comedy routines. More recently, the industry has opposed electrification efforts with lobbying and social media influencers who tout gas as a “super cool way” to cook. I consulted multiple experts on the hazards of gas stoves and what people can do about them. Their advice boiled down to this: homeowners who can afford it should switch to an induction or electric stove. For renters and others who can’t replace their appliances, the experts provided tips on lowering the health risks. Methane is a greenhouse gas. The gas that’s piped into your house is virtually all methane. When you burn methane to cook food, it turns into carbon dioxide. But unburned methane trickles out from loose fittings and faulty stovetop igniters. Every pound of methane released into the air is 30 to 86 times more effective at warming the planet than a pound of carbon dioxide. When researchers analyzed 53 homes in California last year, they found methane leaking from almost every stove. More than three-quarters of that methane came from stoves that were turned off. The act of igniting a burner or oven released additional puffs of methane. If these leaks are consistent across the nation, then annual methane emissions from U.S. gas stoves would equal the greenhouse gas emissions of half a million cars. These leaks are “pretty much universal,” said Robert Jackson, a Stanford University professor and a study co-author. Jackson, who’s spent more than a decade studying methane leaks from gas wells, pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure, said it can be hard to predict where the leak is coming from. Based on the description of the leak in my kitchen, he told me it likely was caused by ignition problems with the oven. Jackson’s research has inspired him to ditch his gas stove, furnace and hot water heater in favor of induction and electric appliances. “I did not expect to see the high levels of indoor air pollution we saw consistently,” he said. “It strongly motivated me to replace my own stove.” Large methane leaks can cause explosions. If you smell gas in your home, leave the building and call your gas company. The distinctive rotten-egg odor comes from chemicals that gas companies add to the methane to make it easier to detect, since the gas is naturally odorless. Some people are much more sensitive to the smell than others, so it’s not a foolproof warning for explosive risk. Eric Lebel, lead author of the methane study Jackson worked on, recalled smelling gas in some of the homes where he did the testing, even though the homeowners couldn’t smell anything. Lebel is a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, a nonprofit science and policy research institute. Burning natural gas releases nitrogen dioxide, a respiratory irritant. Nitrogen dioxide exacerbates asthma and impairs lung function. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates these emissions from cars and power plants with national air quality standards, but those regulations don’t apply to indoor air. The Lebel and Jackson study measured nitrogen dioxide and a related compound. They found steadily rising emissions after turning on burners and ovens. “Simply having a combustion stove in your home is a health risk,” LaRocque said. In poorly ventilated kitchens, nitrogen dioxide levels could exceed outdoor air standards. “It would be like standing behind an idling car, or standing in a smoke-filled room,” she added. “I think if my child had asthma, I would definitely want to intervene.” Gas stoves leak benzene, a carcinogen that can cause leukemia. In a separate study published last fall, Lebel and his colleagues analyzed gas samples from residential kitchens. Out of 160 samples, all but one contained benzene. “If there’s a leak from that appliance, it likely contains benzene,” Lebel said. “It’s a rather unavoidable cost of owning a gas appliance.” Raw natural gas contains a mix of methane and toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene or formaldehyde. Gas companies strip out the impurities before piping the processed gas to homes, but they don’t eliminate all the toxins. Lebel’s team modeled the benzene concentrations from the leaking stoves and found a handful that failed to meet California’s benzene safety guidelines. They also found traces of other harmful compounds, including toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, which can cause dizziness, nausea and liver damage. A separate study of gas appliances in the Greater Boston area found benzene in 95% of samples, though at lower levels than Lebel’s study. Turn on the range hood above your stove. Paul Francisco, associate director of building science at the University of Illinois Urbana, Champaign, suggests cooking on the back burners and using the hood whenever you turn on the stove or the oven. The fans improve ventilation and will pull benzene, methane and nitrogen dioxide outdoors. However, this only works if the hood connects to the outside of your house. Follow the piping on the hood: If the top of the device goes through the ceiling or the wall, then it should help with air quality. Another type of range hood, called a “ductless” hood, simply recirculates indoor air. If your hood has grilles or vents on the front, then it’s likely, but not guaranteed, to be ductless, Francisco said. These fans won’t cut down on harmful gases, but they might be able to reduce particulate matter — tiny particles created during cooking, which can cause or exacerbate respiratory illness. A 2014 study found that cooking on induction stoves produced far fewer particles than cooking on gas or electric stoves. Open a window to improve ventilation. At a minimum, an open window will dilute toxic gases. If your kitchen is in the upper half of a building, opening the window should draw the contaminants outside as long as there’s no wind and it’s warmer inside than outside, Francisco said. If you live in the lower half of a building, opening a window in the winter won’t be as effective, he said, though any ventilation is better than none. Get an induction hot plate. If you can’t replace your stove, experts said the next best thing is to buy an induction burner. Here are some consumer guides with reviews of portable hot plates. During last summer’s heat waves, when I couldn’t fathom lighting a fire inside my kitchen, I did almost all my cooking using an induction hot plate, an Instant Pot and an electric toaster oven. Excessive heat is another reason why some chefs advocate for induction burners. What about air purifiers? These devices have become more popular as a way to improve air quality and reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections. Most air purifiers won’t have any effect on toxic gases, though they do remove particulate matter, Francisco said. Some specialty models filter out volatile organic compounds, a class of chemicals that includes benzene. Should I buy a gas detector? There are a number of methane monitors that are designed for consumers, priced from roughly $30 to $200. Some will tell you about the presence of a leak. Others are sensitive enough to detect specific concentrations of methane. You can also find indoor monitors that detect particulate matter for $200 to $300. It’s much harder to monitor for benzene or nitrogen dioxide. The types of instruments used by Lebel and Jackson cost tens of thousands of dollars and require users to undergo extensive training.   The South Coast Air Quality Management District, a regulatory agency in California, maintains a list of “low-cost” air quality sensors (less than $2,000) that can be used by citizen scientists and advocacy groups. These sensors can be used to detect particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds.   Lebel said it shouldn’t be up to individuals to solve a systemic issue. It seems problematic, he said, “to be asking citizens to be scientists and try and discover if their stove is leaking.”

Fossil-Fuel Power Plants May Be on Their Last Legs

This story was originally published by Inside Climate News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. The global energy transition has reached a pivot point, in which fossil fuels have likely peaked in their use for producing electricity and are about to enter a period of decline. This is the idea at the heart of a […]

This story was originally published by Inside Climate News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. The global energy transition has reached a pivot point, in which fossil fuels have likely peaked in their use for producing electricity and are about to enter a period of decline. This is the idea at the heart of a new report from RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute), a nonprofit that does research and advocacy about the transition. The lead author, energy analyst Kingsmill Bond, makes a case that wind and solar power are going through growth that looks almost exactly like the trend lines for the early stages of transformative products and industries, across technologies and eras, like automobiles and smartphones. The growth begins slowly, with high costs, and shifts into high gear as costs shrink and efficiency rises. The optimism in this outlook is almost jarring in its clarity, and in its contrast with the pessimism I see and feel every day as the threats of climate change become clearer. The report argues that the fossil fuel demand has peaked in the electricity market in part because the annual growth in global electricity demand—about 700 terawatt-hours—is less than the electricity generated in 2022 by newly built power plants that have zero emissions, most of which were wind and solar plants. The report cites forecasts for a continuing increase in wind and solar development that will outpace the growth in electricity demand, a dynamic that will squeeze out the most expensive and dirtiest energy sources. The use of fossil fuels for electricity shifted in 2018 from a long period of growth to a plateau in which there is no clear trend up or down as measured by the amount of electricity produced. The report says the plateau is likely to continue until about 2025, followed by a long-term decline. The report acknowledges some big obstacles, like political resistance from fossil fuel industries and the challenges of running a grid that uses mostly intermittent resources. But it says the obstacles are surmountable, although I think this portion of the report feels insubstantial at points, with statements like “Innovation has solved most of the barriers to change.” (Bond acknowledged this is fair criticism, and said that the part of the report about obstacles is brief because he and his co-authors are working on a companion report that focuses on this subject in detail.) The report isn’t an academic paper, but plenty of academic researchers have used similar concepts to come to similar conclusions. For example, I wrote last year about a paper from University of Oxford economists and mathematicians about the potential for vast cost savings from a rapid transition to renewable energy. Bond, who is based in the United Kingdom, spent decades as an equity analyst and strategist for Deutsche Bank and Citibank, among others. He shifted a few years ago to focus exclusively on economic ramifications of the transition to clean energy, working for the UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative and now RMI. I spoke with him by video from his office, with follow-up via email. Here’s our discussion, edited for length and clarity: A lot of what you’re talking about feels like techno optimism, this idea that we can all relax because progress is going to solve everything. And that’s an idea that gets a lot of criticism, especially from environmental advocates. I hear what you’re saying that maybe we are understating the difficulties that we face. There’s nothing inevitable about change. We cannot relax for a moment. This is a battle between the forces trying to protect the fossil fuel status quo and those trying to change it. We have to go out there and drive the change we need. Change the policy, deploy the renewable technology, come up with solutions in the hard-to-solve sectors. There is nothing easy about this, but we still need hope and direction. As [Paul] Romer said, it’s the difference between complacent optimism and conditional optimism, the difference between a child wanting to be given toys and a child going and building a treehouse. How has the Ukraine war affected the trajectory of the energy transition? So the Ukraine war without any question has sped up change because it increased efficiency and sped up the deployment of renewables. The International Energy Agency, for example, put out two reports at the end of 2022, and one of them said that after a number of years of slow gains in energy efficiency, efficiency has increased this year to 2 percent, which is exactly what you would expect in the face of a supply shock. And that, of course, is just the beginning. So it’s increased the efficiency of our use of energy. And of course, the other thing that it’s done is it’s massively increased the deployment of renewable energy. So the IEA, for example, increased their renewable energy deployment forecast for the next five years by 30 percent. Meanwhile, solar deployment in 2022 increased by 50 percent to 270 GW, according to BloombergNEF, and EV sales rose by 60 percent. As so often, war has sped up change. So if I’m Vladimir Putin, this is pretty counterproductive in terms of my long-term global interests. As Talleyrand said, it was worse than a crime, it was a mistake. The situation was similar in the 1970s, when OPEC tried to achieve its own geopolitical aims by cutting off oil supply, and ended up setting the scene for two decades of significantly lower oil prices, which ultimately had very profound consequences, including contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This time around, we see a similar story of petrostate overreach leading to a speeding up of change. It’s not an unreasonable framework for us to be thinking about the consequences of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, that it will actually achieve the exact opposite of what he wanted, that is to say, a speeding up of change. Back to the idea of optimism: We live in a world where there’s a lot of justified pessimism about climate change. Are you optimistic about the world that our children and grandchildren will be living in? The reason I’m very optimistic is because we can actually see right in front of our noses this pivot point where we go from constantly rising demand for fossil fuels, to a plateau, and then a decline.  Four factors underlie my optimism: learning curves, meaning the cost of renewables gets cheaper every year; exponential growth, meaning renewables get bigger every year; tipping points, because they are happening right now; and feedback loops, which make change happen faster once you get to the tipping point. That means that this is the decade of disruption, where the energy system starts its long process of change. And as the energy system changes, we can fight back against climate change.  One of the other reasons why I’m optimistic is if you look backwards 10 years, it really was incredibly bleak. And all these technologies were much more expensive. But here we are, and what will happen in another 10 years, how much more innovation and deployment can there be? So yeah, I guess that’s why I’m relatively optimistic. And I should also say I have two children who share this optimism; they’re going into this field, as engineers to build out this brave new world.

Can board games teach us about the climate crisis? Game creators say yes

Board games might be the best learning device to think creatively about impending climate disasterEurope is planting trees to offset its emissions but is swiftly hit with massive wildfires. The United States is investing in mining operations abroad to wean off its dependence on fossil fuels but harbors concerns about trading with an abusive government. Meanwhile, a coalition of countries from the global south must decide whether to accept construction loans from China or the United States.These are not conversations at another high-profile global summit, but rather scenarios envisioned by the board game Daybreak, which hits shelves this spring. Four players – the United States, China, Europe and the “Majority World”, encompassing the global south – cooperate to reach zero emissions before hitting 2 degrees of warming or putting too many communities in crisis. Continue reading...

Board games might be the best learning device to think creatively about impending climate disasterEurope is planting trees to offset its emissions but is swiftly hit with massive wildfires. The United States is investing in mining operations abroad to wean off its dependence on fossil fuels but harbors concerns about trading with an abusive government. Meanwhile, a coalition of countries from the global south must decide whether to accept construction loans from China or the United States.These are not conversations at another high-profile global summit, but rather scenarios envisioned by the board game Daybreak, which hits shelves this spring. Four players – the United States, China, Europe and the “Majority World”, encompassing the global south – cooperate to reach zero emissions before hitting 2 degrees of warming or putting too many communities in crisis. Continue reading...

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