Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Amudalat Ajasa, a weather and climate reporter for The Washington Post, wrote the top of today’s newsletter.
Heat, drought and floods: 2022’s extreme weather and climate impact
It’s that time of year again, when climate scientists tell us where our planet ranked in terms of heat.
What they found wasn’t exactly surprising: Another record-breaking warm year for the planet. The tale is as old as time — well, at least the past 46 consecutive years of above-average temperatures.
On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ranked 2022 as the sixth-hottest year on record and reported the 10 warmest have all occurred since 2010. (NASA, the Copernicus Climate Service of the European Union and Berkeley Earth, an environmental data science nonprofit, reported 2022 ranked fifth.)
- In 2022, the world experienced blazing heat waves, from the southern United States to India, and devastating droughts from California to China. The high temperatures also exacerbated flooding, which affected parts of the United States, Pakistan and Australia.
Twenty-eight countries set national record-high annual averages last year, including the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, China and New Zealand.
We were lucky to be in a La Niña weather pattern, characterized by cooler temperatures and increased rainfall, because it spared us from what could have been the second-warmest year on record behind 2020, said Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth.
But that luck will run out next year as the La Niña pattern is expected to shift.
Adapt and mitigate
Scientists point to the toll of human activity, caused by burning immense amounts of coal, oil and gases that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, for exacerbating extreme weather events.
“This is a big change for the planet. And that activity has increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 50 percent compared to where it was for the last few million years,” Hausfather said.
He added: “There’s often a debate between adapting to climate change and mitigating climate change. We don’t have the luxury of choosing anymore. We’re going to have to do both.”
Before we get into how blazing heat waves, crippling droughts and devastating flooding affected different parts of the world, here are some other startling findings from the reports:
- 850 million people experienced their warmest year
- The planet has now warmed at least 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit), compared with pre-industrial levels
- Nearly 380 million people across the globe endured the single highest temperature ever recorded for their location
- 88 percent of the Earth’s surface experienced significantly warmer temperatures than the average temperatures during 1951-1980
- 63 percent of the United States — the largest area since 2012 — experienced drought conditions as of Oct. 25
Bursts of excessive heat in Europe and Asia, especially in the late spring and summer months, helped the two continents post their second-warmest year on record.
Blistering temperatures in India and Pakistan spanning from March to May were so high that pavement liquefied and at least 90 people died. India registered its hottest March on record, and Pakistan and northwestern and central India endured their hottest April.
Sweltering summer temperatures in England were linked to nearly 3,000 deaths of people 65 and older, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency. On July 19, the temperature in Britain surpassed 104 degrees (40 degrees Celsius) for the first time on record. The World Weather Attribution group concluded that global warming made that heat wave “at least 10 times more likely.”
In the United States, more than 7,000 heat records were broken over the summer.
Catastrophic flooding in Pakistan destroyed more than a million homes and left nearly 1,500 people dead. The prolonged rainfall and flooding altered the lives of 33 million Pakistanis. During the summer months, the country experienced 190 percent more rainfall than average. The World Weather Attribution project showed that climate change probably intensified this rainfall by 50 to 75 percent.
In July and early August, several excessive rain events drenched portions of the southern and eastern United States. In five weeks, five separate 1,000-year rain events occurred.
“In a changing climate, what used to be a one-in-a-thousand-year event is often not a one-in-a-thousand-year event anymore,” Hausfather said.
Europe was gripped by its worst drought in the past 500 years, triggered by a persistent lack of precipitation and multiple heat waves. A report from the European Union’s Joint Research Center found that nearly half of Europe was under drought warning conditions, including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Thousands of miles away, California experienced its third-straight year of drought while the United States overall had its third-driest year. Last year ranked the second driest year to date over the past 128 years.
China suffered its worst drought on record, as sweltering temperatures and a lack of rain led to poor harvests and water shortages. Central and southern China saw parts of the Yangtze River dry up amid its historic heat wave.
It’s a new year, but Hausfather warned that the warming that has fueled these extremes will not stop.
“Even if we get our act together and reduce our emissions dramatically, and get our emissions all the way down to zero, the world isn’t going to cool back down for many centuries, it’s just going to stop warming,” he said. “For better or worse, this is normal and it’s our job to keep something worse from becoming the new normal past this.”
On the Hill
House passes bill banning oil reserve sales to China
The House on Thursday passed a bill to ban releases of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve from being exported to China, although the measure might die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Timothy Gardner reports for Reuters.
The Protecting America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve from China Act, which was introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), passed in a 331-97 vote largely along party lines. All of the no votes came from Democrats.
“We shouldn’t hand the keys to our energy future over to the Chinese Communist Party,” McMorris Rodgers said Thursday, accusing the Biden administration of “wasting our strategic reserves.”
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce panel, slammed his GOP colleagues for championing the bill.
“SPR barrels sold to Chinese firms represented only 2 percent of all the oil we sent to China last year,” he said in a statement. “If we truly want to address China using American oil to build its reserves, let’s actually take a serious look at that, rather than skirt around the issue because Republicans are scared of Big Oil’s wrath.”
UAE appoints oil exec to lead COP28 climate talks, sparking outrage
Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., one of the world’s largest oil firms, will lead the next international climate summit that is set to be hosted by the United Arab Emirates this fall, the country announced Thursday, The Washington Post’s Claire Parker and Brady Dennis report.
The decision immediately sparked criticism from environmental groups and climate scientists, who argued that Al Jaber’s position poses a conflict of interest and that it forecasts even greater influence on the crucial talks from the fossil fuel industry.
However, the announcement from the official UAE news agency highlighted Al Jaber’s green credentials, including his work as the country’s special envoy for climate change and as chief executive of Masdar, a renewable energy company based in Abu Dhabi that also makes fossil fuel products.
The UAE has pledged to go carbon-neutral by 2050, despite President Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan saying at the start of COP27 in Egypt in November that the country will remain a “responsible supplier” of oil and gas for as long as the world needs.
Socked in by smog, Indian officials invest heavily — in public relations
Indian officials have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into advertising for tools to tackle air pollution that either amount to superficial fixes or are significantly underfunded, Karishma Mehrotra reports for The Post.
For example, in late 2020, the leader of Delhi’s government unveiled a tool developed by university researchers to fight the notorious air pollution that has long plagued India’s capital. But two years later, the Delhi government has spent about $4,300 manufacturing the tool — and $2.8 million publicizing it — according to official documents released in the city’s assembly. Meanwhile, pollution continues to plague the city, with pollutant levels this month almost 30 times higher than the World Health Organization’s safe limit.
Europe is trying to reduce short flights. Davos attendees still like private jets.
European policymakers have encouraged citizens to replace short flights with climate-friendly train trips. But they may have trouble persuading the attendees of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next week, despite its focus on climate change and sustainability, The Post’s Michael Birnbaum reports.
During last year’s Davos gathering, private jet flights to nearby airports increased 93 percent, according to an analysis released Thursday by Greenpeace and CE Delft, a Dutch environmental consultancy.
Davos organizers insisted in 2019 that the number of attendees using private jets had declined. They also say they invest money each year to offset the carbon emissions of the conference.
In the atmosphere
- How to report everyday environmental violations and possibly get paid — Allyson Chiu for The Post
- In graying Puerto Rico, the elderly face climate disasters alone — Arelis R. Hernández for The Post
- Burning Man touts sustainability. Now it’s suing to block clean energy. — Dino Grandoni for The Post
- Interior proposes 5-year schedule for offshore wind sales — Heather Richards for E&E News
Thanks for reading!