Europe Is Melting like It's 2050 - July 22, 2022

Sustainability Decoded Newsletter: A weekly curated list of news - written by Tim Mohin and others - to help keep up with this very dynamic space
Tim Mohin
By Tim Mohin
July 22, 20226 min read
January 31, 2023 at 4:10 PMUpdated
July 22, 2022Updated: January 31, 2023 at 4:10 PM6 min read

Europe Melting

Europe is sweating this week under the weight of a massive continent-wide heat wave. Record-high temperatures have caused drought conditions across the continent and wildfires in England, Greece, Spain, and Italy. Accustomed to colder, damper conditions, the United Kingdom in particular found itself ill-equipped to handle temperatures soaring over 104℉ last week. On Friday, the UK’s national weather service issued its first-ever extreme heat “red warning,” as schools closed and roads even began melting. The London fire brigade declared a major incident as it fought to quell a surge of fires blazing across the capital.

104℉ may not sound that hot to our American readers–temperatures regularly soar into the 100s in many parts of the country between now and the end of August–but air conditioning is much less ubiquitous in Europe than in the U.S., with just 5% of British homes estimated to have air conditioning. This has rendered the European heat wave lethal for many populations, with heatwave-related death tolls currently listed as over 1,900 in just Spain and Portugal, where temperatures soared above 115℉ last week. 

Meteorologists are predicting the historic temperatures and drought conditions to persist for several more weeks, as climate scientists point to increases in heat wave length as a key impact of climate change. “In the future, these kinds of heat waves are going to be normal. We will see stronger extremes,” asserted Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. “We have pumped so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the negative trend will continue for decades.” The record temperatures will also continue to place pressure on Europe’s strained energy system, which is already creaking under the weight of the Russian oil embargo.

Wildfires remained the main nature-related impact of the heatwave last week, and firefighters are still working to tame blazes in France, Spain, Greece, and Italy. Rapidly spreading wildfires have forced the evacuation of thousands of people across the continent, like in Spain’s Galicia region, where wildfires burned down 85 homes and forced the evacuation of 1,400 residents. Unfortunately for Europeans stuck in the heat, the end doesn’t yet seem to be in sight.

Biden Stops Short of Declaring Climate Emergency

The US remains in gridlock over additional climate legislation, as West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin declared his opposition to a $300 billion tax credit package to incentivize green energy investment. Manchin’s refusal is the latest torpedo in the shell of the Biden administration’s climate agenda and leaves Biden’s goal of 50% emissions by 2050 in dire straits following the Supreme Court’s EPA decision. Recent research from Rhodium indicates that without further policy action, the US will only cut 24 to 35% of emissions by 2050, falling far short of the target.

After multiple setbacks to his climate agenda, some expected that Biden would come out guns blazing and declare a federal climate emergency this week, which would enable the federal government to take sweeping action to constrain greenhouse gas emissions, such as cutting off US crude oil exports, restricting drilling on federal lands, or increasing EV production. A climate emergency declaration would also have steep political costs, likely raising gas prices further and risking the alienation of European allies dependent on U.S. oil.

The president’s appearance on Wednesday at the site of a former coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts–now part of an offshore wind farm–seemed the perfect setup for announcing a climate emergency. But Biden stopped short of doing so, instead unveiling new executive orders helping communities adapt to extreme climate conditions and investing in a new offshore wind farm, which will power 3 million homes and further the clean energy transition.

The lack of an emergency declaration came to the disappointment of many. “For too long we have been waiting for a single piece of legislation, and a single Senate vote, to take bold action on our climate crisis,” said a group of progressive senators urging the president to “aggressively use [his] executive powers to address the climate crisis.” According to the White House press secretary, the option is “still on the table,” but odds are the political calculus will rule out a declaration in the near term.

Tension at Berlin’s Climate Summit

Senior leaders from 40 countries met this week in Berlin for the 12th Petersberg Climate Change Conference in hopes of rebuilding trust between wealthy and emerging countries ahead of COP27 in Egypt. Egypt’s foreign minister warned that negotiations should not be a “zero-sum game” between the countries, who failed to make progress during technical talks about aid for developing countries last month. 

Emerging countries are still waiting on the $100 billion in climate aid a year that was pledged in 2009 and reaffirmed during Paris climate talks, a target that was originally set for 2020 and has since slipped to 2023. Germany’s climate envoy stands in solidarity with these countries, telling the AP, “Many of the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world are experiencing severe climate impacts now. The question is how to support them in both adapting to those impacts and when they experience real losses and damages.”

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry reiterated the U.S.’ commitment to this pledge earlier this year, saying that President Biden is committed to increasing U.S. funding to emerging countries to assist with climate change through a partnership with Congress to produce $3 billion annually for the program and to increase adaptation efforts for 2024. The final deal allocated far less after Congressional negotiations, totaling roughly $1.06 billion. The spending bill also cut funding to help these countries prepare for and mitigate climate impacts. 

This grim outlook seemed to have permeated throughout Berlin’s talks. Mohamed Adow, director of energy and climate at PowerShift Africa, reported to Bloomberg, “I can’t see a path for success at COP27 without solidarity being extended to the most vulnerable. There is no way we can leave Sharm el-Sheikh with a good outcome if that is not going to include assurances for the most vulnerable.”

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