10 notable findings on the environment in 2022
Increasingly frequent and worrying heat records have been observed, but also encouraging policy breakthroughs. The year 2022 made it possible to envisage the horizon 2030 or 2050 with new information.
1 – Funding, the keyword…
For 30 years, the concept of offsetting to the poorest and most vulnerable countries has been discussed at the annual climate conferences. This year at COP27 in November, for the first time , the concept of “loss and damage” was introduced—meaning that the countries that have sent the most greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere for a century have begun to admit their responsibility. And as the fruit was ripe, a month later, at the annual conference on biodiversity, against all odds, quantified promises were put on the table for investments in the protection of biodiversity and the restoration of 'ecosystems.
Whether the results will live up to the promises in a few years, nobody can guarantee. But it may be a sign that the tectonic plates are moving.
2 – … but no exit from fossil fuels in sight
On the other hand, the agreement signed at the end of the COP on the climate does not mention the exit from fossil fuels. The softness of the Egyptian presidency, which hosted the meeting, the omnipresence of gas and oil lobbyists on the floor, the energy crisis triggered by the invasion of Ukraine: many blames were evoked, but in the end, the result is the same, no progress on the efforts to be made to disengage from the dependence on fossil fuels. Several countries, including Canada, have also been blamed for not even proposing more ambitious GHG reduction targets for 2030 or 2050.
3 – We point to “ harmful ” subsidies
In return, the countries have included in the Montreal agreement that the financing of biodiversity will come in part from major cuts, by 2030, in subsidies qualified as “ harmful ” to biodiversity (we are talking about cuts of 500 billions). This is a first. This term includes, among others subsidies for the extraction of natural resources, the construction of roads and pipelines, or industrial projects, which have in common to endangering the habitat of species such as caribou, salmon and other endangered species.
4 – …and insurers put pressure
In October 2022, Munich Re, the largest insurance firm in the world, announced that from next April, it will no longer insure new gas or oil fields. It had already announced in 2018 that it ceased to insure the coal mines and their power stations. More recently, it posted GHG reduction targets for its oil and gas projects.
Banks and investment firms have been slowly moving away from fossil fuels for a few years now. But the insurers had gone under the radar, despite their great influence: they have the ability to block fossil fuel projects, as soon as they choose not to insure them.
In March 2022, the International Energy Agency issued an “urgent” call to stop opening new coal mines or new gas or oil drilling.
5 – ; Interconnected Records
It's not just the heat records that you have to look at. The May 2022 report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reminded us of this, pointing to four key indicators which all broke new records in 2021: concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, increase in water levels, ocean temperature and ocean acidification. The latter, which is talked about much less often, has increased by 30% since the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Acidification comes from the fact that the oceans absorb about a quarter of our GHG emissions: the advantage is that less of these gases accumulate in the atmosphere. But on the other hand, it limits the ability of plankton to renew itself, it weakens corals and it disrupts marine biodiversity, therefore fisheries, therefore human food security.
We saw another example of interconnections with the extreme heat wave that hit China this summer. Apart from the records of heat, rainfall has been so low that dozens of rivers were at their lowest levels by the end of the summer, and 66 were completely dried up. In some places, China's (and the world's third) largest river, the Yangtze, has seen its flow drop to its lowest level since 1865.
6 – …including local records
Even a local record can be indicative of something more global. The Gulf of Maine, according to a compilation of data released in March, is warming faster than 99% of the world's marine environments. Part of the explanation: This gulf is shallow, and the warm current coming from from the south has slowed, allowing warmer waters to stay longer in the inner parts of the gulf. This compilation of data also revealed that in 2021, it had broken a new temperature record.
We can also think of India: the extreme heat that hit the region did not not just extreme, it was unusually early (it started in March), and it lasted unusually long.
Or we can think of Europe: for 33 months, from April 2018 to December 2020, it experienced very meager rainfall and temperatures high enough to speak of a state of drought. An analysis of the data released this year concludes that it was the worst drought in 250 years.
7 – …but fossil fuels still on the rise
Meanwhile, if the trend continues, global CO2 emissions are expected to hit 37.5 million tonnes this year — just 1% up on last year, but still up, which marks a new record.
The war in Ukraine contributed to this: cuts in European imports of Russian gas forced Germany in particular to return to coal—the most polluting of all fossil fuels. And the desire to import more of liquefied natural gas from the United States and the Middle East could result in more methane leaks.
8 – A boost from the United States…
In return, a long-awaited contribution from the United States was finally adopted this summer: the so-called “inflation reduction” law contains the largest public investments ever voted in this country for the climate: $369 billion over 10 years in wind and solar energy, electric vehicles and the reduction of industrial emissions, among others.
9 – …and an energy transition thanks to the war in Ukraine
At the same time, countries that suddenly discovered that they were too dependent on Russian gas and oil accelerated their energy transition plans immediately after the invasion of Ukraine. Finally, noted in October the International Energy Agency in its annual report (World Energy Outlook), new renewable energy spending could increase by at least 50% in the next decade. So much so that the 2022 coal consumption spike could soon become a bad memory.
10 – The Year of Attribution Science
If the question of financial compensation to be granted to poor countries found itself on the agenda for the first time, it is partly because climate science has made sufficient progress over the past 10 years to provide tools to calculate these compensations. Specifically, a still young sub-discipline, the science of attribution. Thanks to increasingly refined climate models, climatologists such as those of the World Weather Attribution calculate in very short time the probability that an episode of extreme weather is or is not attributable to climate change.
Over 500 attribution studies published to date, nearly two-thirds of them since 2017, overwhelmingly concluded that weather disasters in the past decade were more likely or more intense due to human-caused climate change .
For example, in October, their analysis of the mega-droughts of 2022 (China, Europe, USA) concluded that global warming had made them 5 times more likely to occur, and up to 20 times more at risk for so-called root soil dryness.
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