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The Climate 202

The ocean takes center stage at a U.N. conference

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today our spirit animal is Maxine's cat, Ollie. 😹 

🚨 The Group of Seven nations released a communiqué today that backtracks on a May commitment to ending public finance for overseas fossil fuel projects. More on that below. But first:

U.N. boss warns of ‘ocean emergency’ at conference

The ocean covers about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, yet it is often missing from discussions about tackling climate change, plastic pollution, biodiversity loss and other pressing environmental threats facing the planet.

Thousands of scientists and activists hope to shift the conversation at this week’s United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, where leaders from more than 20 nations are set to issue a declaration on protecting the high seas against exploitation and restoring ocean health, Maxine reports this morning.

“Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told delegates at the opening of the conference. “We must turn the tide. A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future.”

While the annual U.N. summit on climate change tends to draw more attention and media coverage, the U.N. Ocean Conference has significant implications for protecting the world's oceans for both humanity and marine life.

Here's what to know about the gathering so far:

Biden cracks down on illegal fishing

Several American officials are attending the talks, including climate envoy John F. Kerry. While President Biden is in Austria to meet with leaders of the Group of Seven nations, he marked the occasion on Monday by signing a memorandum on combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

  • IUU fishing is a leading cause of global overfishing and often involves forced labor, human trafficking and other human rights abuses.
  • The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada will launch an alliance to improve the monitoring of fisheries and “hold bad actors accountable,” according to a White House fact sheet.
  • A working group made up of 21 federal agencies will also release a five-year strategy on curtailing illegal fishing, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Monday issued a proposed rule to combat forced labor in the seafood supply chain.

“We must continue to work together to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing around the world, which jeopardizes maritime security and livelihoods for law-abiding fishers and communities,” Kerry said in a statement to The Washington Post.

Commitments from Colombia, Bezos

Meanwhile, outgoing Colombian President Iván Duque announced Monday that his country had conserved 30 percent of the ocean off its coasts, becoming the first nation in the Western Hemisphere to meet this goal by 2030. 

The private sector has also poured money into protecting 30 percent of the Earth’s land and sea by 2030 — an initiative commonly shortened to 30 x 30. The Bezos Earth Fund, the environmental philanthropy launched by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, on Monday announced its first grants for marine protection totaling $50 million. (Bezos owns The Post.)

  • Grants totaling $30 million will support organizations working to create a network of marine protected areas spanning more than 193,000 square miles off the coasts of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama.
  • Another $20 million grant will fund the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project, which will conduct research over the next five years in the central and western Pacific Ocean, which contains the highest marine biodiversity on the planet.

“The ocean is our planet’s life support system and a major carbon sink,” Andrew Steer, president and chief executive of the Bezos Earth Fund, said in a statement. “Investing in the ocean can be a powerful solution to many major challenges.”

Skepticism from some activists

The conference is set to culminate Friday in a declaration to facilitate the conservation of the ocean and its resources, according to the United Nations. However, the declaration will not be binding on its signatories.

Still beyond reach, meanwhile, is an international treaty to establish the first-ever legal framework for protecting the high seas. After 10 years of talks, a deal has failed to materialize, although a fifth round of negotiations is scheduled for August in New York.

“I love what the U.N. says, but unfortunately, they can’t really act,” said Clive Russell, a member of Ocean Rebellion, an activist group that staged a demonstration before the conference to highlight perceived inaction on overfishing. “So the commitments they make don’t really amount to much.”

Jean Flemma, co-founder of the think tank Urban Ocean Lab, had a more mixed reaction to the pledges so far.

“There are some big announcements and commitments that have been made, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” she said. “But people also feel an urgency, and some of us are worried that we’re not acting fast enough.”

International climate

G-7 agree to study price cap on Russian oil, backtrack on ending fossil fuel finance

The Group of Seven major industrial nations have agreed to explore a global price cap on Russian oil shipments, according to a communiqué released Tuesday. The move is meant to lower soaring gasoline costs while curbing a key source of funding for the Kremlin amid the war in Ukraine. 

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that if leaders struck a potential deal on price caps, it would be “one of the more significant outcomes of the G-7 summit," The Post’s Ashley Parker, Matt Viser and Loveday Morris report. He was unable to say how long it would take to finalize the agreement or put it in place. 

Meanwhile, the communiqué waters down a May commitment by G-7 environmental ministers to end international public finance for overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of this year. The document says that “publicly supported investment in the gas sector can be appropriate as a temporary response" to reducing dependency on Russian oil.

The G-7 “has prioritized filling the pockets of the fossil gas industry over protecting people's lives,” Laurie van der Burg, co-lead of the global public finance campaign at Oil Change International, said in a statement.

Agency alert

Clean energy jobs grew in 2021, Energy Department report says

Jobs in renewable energy saw dramatic growth from 2020 to 2021 as the nation accelerated efforts to reach net-zero emissions, making up 41 percent of all energy jobs in 2021, according to an Energy Department report released Tuesday. At the same time, the report found that fossil fuel jobs declined during that time period, with fossil fuel extraction jobs shrinking by 12 percent. 

The report is based on data until 2021, meaning it does not account for a Commerce Department investigation that has chilled the growth of the U.S. solar industry this year. It also does not account for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has led to a global energy crunch.

On a call with reporters Monday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and White House deputy national climate adviser Ali Zaidi said that despite the decrease in fossil fuel jobs, the industry will continue to play an important role as the administration tries to lower gasoline prices.

“No one is suggesting that fossil fuel jobs, the fossil fuel industry, is going to be eliminated even as the globe is transitioning to clean energy,” Granholm said. “We need to have supply meet demand. And that’s the bottom line, and it doesn’t at this moment, so we want to see an increase in supply.” 

Zaidi said the administration today will announce commitments from the private sector to manufacture more than 250,000 electric vehicle chargers per year, creating about 2,500 jobs. The move is meant to advance President Biden’s goal of building 500,000 EV chargers around the country, making the climate-friendly car option more accessible.

Pressure points

Despite global pledges to cut methane, emissions are on the rise, study finds

Methane emissions from fossil fuels appear to be “going in the wrong direction,” with emissions from the first three months of the year exceeding emissions in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to a report released Monday by Kayrros, a firm that analyzes satellite data, The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson reports. 

“This is an alarm call for the fossil fuel industry,” said Antoine Halff, co-founder and chief analyst at Kayrros.

Leaks of the powerful greenhouse gas are rising faster than rebounds in oil, gas or coal production since the easing of the pandemic, the report says, despite the launch of the Global Methane Pledge at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last fall. 

About 110 nations have signed the pledge, promising to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Methane's warming power is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. 

Climate solutions

New tools may predict extreme weather months in advance

Accurate forecasting is becoming essential as weather events become more frequent and intense because of climate change, leading the Bureau of Reclamation to test a tool it hopes could predict weather patterns months in advance, Maddie Stone reports for The Post. 

If the approach is successful, the tool could help predict future levels of Lake Mead, providing a key metric the agency uses to plan water releases to the 20 million people living downstream of the reservoir each year. As Lake Mead’s levels dwindle amid a historic drought, even small updates in projections can be critical. 

Meanwhile, other research teams are creating experimental models to predict weather-related hazards almost a year ahead of time. The tools could predict how many acres will burn during a wildfire season or where ocean heat waves will occur. These forecasts would not only help meteorologists improve forecasts, but also help resource managers and residents prepare for climate disasters.

In the atmosphere

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