Big Pledges From China and the U.S.
World leaders meeting at the United Nations this week, and climate is dominating the talks.,
We’re also covering new workplace rules on extreme heat, late-night comedy, the impact of wildfires and more.
President Biden at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
By Somini Sengupta
Climate action dominated the diplomatic showdown at the United Nations General Assembly session this week.
On Day 1, Tuesday, came significant new pledges from the United States and China, rivals on the world stage and also the two biggest economies and two biggest emitters of planet-warming gases who, in many ways, hold the keys to reining in global warming.
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, said his country would stop building coal-fired power plants abroad. That’s key because China is the largest funder of coal projects in the world. President Biden said he would seek Congressional support to increase climate aid for developing nations, to $11.4 billion a year by 2024. That’s key because of mounting anger at the failure of the rich world to meet its commitment to provide $100 billion a year to help poorer countries address climate change.
Both pledges are important in the run-up to the United Nations-led climate negotiations in Scotland in November. The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in history. China currently produces the largest share of emissions.
But both pledges come with their limits.
China, the world’s coal juggernaut, said nothing about slowing down or stopping coal plant construction at home.
As for the United States’ climate aid announcement, it’s uncertain if the White House can secure the blessings of Congress to appropriate this new money. Even if it does, advocacy groups said the amount was far below America’s fair share.
Quotable: “The U.S. is still woefully short of what it owes and this needs to be increased urgently,” Mohamed Adow, director of the advocacy group Power Shift Africa, said in an emailed statement. “As the world’s major historic and current polluter, the U.S. is responsible for the climate crisis, which is destroying lives and livelihoods around the world.”
Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, at the Capitol in September. He leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times
The Democrat who could upend Biden’s climate plans
By Coral Davenport
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has close political and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. And, as head of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, he also has the power to remake President Biden’s climate legislation.
It appears that he’s preparing to do just that.
President Biden wants the $3.5 trillion budget bill in Congress to include aggressive climate measures that would compel utilities to stop burning fossil fuels and switch to wind, solar or nuclear energy, power sources that do not emit the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet.
But Manchin — whose state ranks second in coal production and seventh in natural gas output, and who owns lucrative stock in a coal brokerage firm — is preparing to write the climate portion of the budget bill in a way that would keep natural gas flowing to power plants, according to people familiar with his thinking.
You can read the full story here.
Quotable: The proposals being weighed by Manchin “would keep fossil fuels as a major engine of the economy for longer than the climate can bear it,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton.
Comedy for Climate Week. Seriously.
You probably don’t think of climate change as a comedy gold mine, but a group of seven late-night shows are taking on the subject anyway on Wednesday night. Can’t record them all? No problem. Get the highlights on Thursday morning on the Times’s Best of Late Night page.
Our virtual event series continues
Also on Thursday, join the latest episode in our virtual event series, Netting Zero. This panel, with Brad Plumer, a Times climate reporter, and other experts will look at international freight and possible solutions to reduce the industry’s emissions. You can sign up here.
A new face on Team Climate
Good news: Cara Buckley, a Times correspondent who was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018, is taking a new role as a climate reporter. Cara will focus on how people around the globe are living on a warming planet, looking at the scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers and visionaries who are doing extraordinary work to meet the climate challenge.
City workers in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 12. By late afternoon on that day, temperatures in the city had topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Credit…Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Reuters
A first: federal rules on workplace heat dangers
By Coral Davenport
The Biden administration is opening an effort across federal agencies to address the health impacts of extreme temperatures, including the first-ever federal rule governing heat exposure, as part of a growing recognition of the dangers posed by global warming.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Labor Department, will draft the new rule on heat exposure, aimed at protecting workers in sectors like agriculture, construction and delivery services. It will also cover workers in warehouses, factories, and kitchens.
Experts said that the new rules, which could include requirements that some kinds of outdoor work cease when the heat index goes above a certain level, were long overdue but could come with costs to industry.
Why it matters: According to the National Weather Service, extreme heat is the nation’s No. 1 weather-related killer.
Also important this week:
The Western drought will very likely expand eastward, spreading to nearly all of Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, climate scientists say.
Louisiana’s electric grid failed in Hurricane Ida because many electrical poles and towers were not built to withstand a major hurricane, energy experts said.
How can New York City prepare for the next big storm like Ida? Here’s a to-do list.
Climate change was supposed to be a big issue in the Canadian election. Here’s why it wasn’t.
Oil executives are being called to testify in Congress after a secret recording exposed an Exxon official boasting about climate disinformation efforts.
A think tank set out to quantify the potential employment gains and losses linked to electric vehicles. Its report concluded that subsidies will be crucial.
The invisible impact of fires: More greenhouse gases
The Dixie fire near Coppervale, Calif., in August.Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By Henry Fountain
Wildfires produce more than just smoke. Like just about anything else that burns, trees and other vegetation release heat-trapping carbon dioxide when they go up in flames. And, as I wrote this week, they can release a lot of it: California wildfires from June through August released more than 75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to European climate researchers.
But how much does this contribute to global warming? For one thing, that amount pales in comparison to the 30-plus billion tons of the gas emitted every year through burning of fossil fuels for energy. And forests regrow after a fire, with the new trees taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to build their tissues. Over decades, this can make up for most or all of the carbon dioxide released in the fire.
So perhaps the impact of wildfires on warming is minimal. But there’s one caveat: As wildfire frequency increases, the odds increase that a once-burned forest will burn again before it has completely recovered. This means it will take longer (one study suggested more than a century longer) for the forest to remove as much carbon dioxide as was released by burning. So, the excess stays in the atmosphere for longer, where it contributes to warming.
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