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Climate

AM Briefing: Why Insurers Are 'Quiet Quitting'

On insurance woes, green shipping, and an Arctic Hail Mary

AM Briefing: Why Insurers Are 'Quiet Quitting'
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Parts of Arizona received more than a foot of snow over the weekend • Heavy rainfall caused flash floods in Argentina • A coastal flood watch is in effect for Washington, D.C., where Congress is back in session.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Insurance companies are ‘quiet quitting’ in extreme weather regions

Insurance companies are “quiet quitting” in certain high-risk areas of the United States, as extreme weather disasters become more frequent and more costly, reportsThe Wall Street Journal. Insurance agents and analysts tell the paper that, rather than face public backlash from officially abandoning states like Florida or California, carriers are resorting to more subtle – but equally effective – tactics to “choke off” new business. These include closing local offices or making it difficult for homeowners to even get a quote unless they fight through layers of red tape. “Most of the carriers have just flat out said, we are not accepting new business right now [in California]. But that statement is made to insurance agencies, not the public,” says Timothy Gaspar, head of a Los Angeles-based insurance agency. “Or they’re making it next to impossible to get a new policy.”

2. Winter storm leaves nearly 2,000 homes flooded in England

The devastating firsthand effects of the climate crisis are playing out in real time in England, where flooding from storm Henk left several villages under water and nearly 2,000 homes damaged. While the storm has passed, more than 160 flood warnings remained in effect through the weekend and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces mounting pressure to do more to protect vulnerable areas. The government announced on Saturday that households and businesses affected by flooding can now apply for grants to fund repairs and improve resilience. Farmers, too, may be eligible for funding.

Extreme flooding in England from storm Henk. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The country’s Environment Agency (EA) didn’t mince words, blaming the deluge squarely on climate change. Climate scientists have warned for years that rising global temperatures will translate into wetter winters for the U.K. “We will unfortunately experience more winters like this one in the future,” says Dr. Linda Speight, a hydrometeorologist at the University of Oxford. Henk was the U.K.’s third major storm this winter.

3. COP29 host Azerbaijan to boost fossil fuel production

Azerbaijan, the host country for COP29, plans to increase its production of fossil fuels – and specifically natural gas – by a third over the next 10 years, The Guardianreports. The country, which owns the Shah Deniz gas field in the Caspian Sea, gets two-thirds of its revenue from oil and gas and plans to double its gas exports to Europe by 2027. It will be the third consecutive petrostate to host the annual United Nations climate summit. “It is also even more repressive and authoritarian than the United Arab Emirates,” reportsHeatmap’s Jeva Lange. Last week the country appointed Mukhtar Babayev, a veteran of the oil industry, as the summit’s president.

4. Shipowners reluctant to upgrade to greener vessels

The global shipping fleet is getting old. A report from the Financial Times finds shipowners are resisting growing pressure to order newer, greener vessels and decarbonize the sector, opting instead to hold on to older ships. The average age of the global container shipping fleet is now 14.3 years, and the average age of tankers is 12.9 years. Why are owners keeping their aging vessels? One reason is they’re not confident in the availability of new energy sources like green fuel. Another is the soaring resale value of second-hand ships, which are being bought up by a “shadow fleet” transporting Russian oil. The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently set a 2050 net zero target for global shipping, but no legally binding measures have been set to facilitate the goal. International shipping produced about 2% of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions in 2022.

5. Researchers want to use seawater to ‘refreeze’ Arctic ice

This week a team of British researchers will embark on a mission to learn if pumping seawater on top of sea ice can “refreeze” the Arctic, reports the Times of London. As global temperatures rise, sea ice is rapidly shrinking, decimating habitats for wildlife and exacerbating a global warming feedback loop: Less ice means more water to absorb the sun’s energy. The scientists plan to cut a hole in the ice and pump seawater on top of it, which they hope will freeze, “speeding up the natural freezing process underneath the ice,” the Times explains.

Pumping sea water on top of Arctic sea iceReal Ice

There are some big unknowns, one being whether using salty seawater could actually make the melting worse. Another is whether powering the project could even be feasible. This particular trial is being powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, but reversing ice loss trends would require about 10 million pumps. As one researcher put it: “That’s a lot of pumps.” This is one of several engineering methods being floated as potential solutions to the rapidly worsening sea ice problem, the Times reports. Another wild idea is to sprinkle glass powder on the ice to reflect the sun’s rays.

THE KICKER

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 50% last year, but the Cerrado savanna, a national biodiversity hotspot, lost more than 2 million acres of native vegetation.

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Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

Politics

AM Briefing: Running Tide Shuts Down

On the abrupt end of a carbon removal startup, Mecca’s extreme heat, and fireflies

What Happened to Running Tide?
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Flooding in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city, killed at least eight people • A heat advisory remains in effect across many Northeastern states • A “winter” storm could bring up to 15 inches of snow to parts of Montana and Idaho.

THE TOP FIVE

1. At least 14 pilgrims die from extreme heat during Hajj trip to Mecca

At least 14 Jordanians died over the weekend from exposure to extreme heat during the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Another 17 pilgrims are missing. The holy trip, which all Muslims are encouraged to make during their lifetimes, began Friday and will run until Wednesday. It is expected to attract nearly 2 million people. But temperatures this year are dangerously hot, reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit Sunday and forecast to stay in that range through the rest of the week. As Heatmap’s Jeva Lange explained last year, “because the dates of the annual Hajj are dictated by the lunar calendar, the pilgrimage season has fallen during Saudi Arabia’s hottest months since 2017 and won’t move out of them until 2026.”

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“High-paying jobs”? “Good for our economy”? “Powering our future”? Totally cool.

Money above solar panels.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Earlier this month, an odd little ad began appearing on TVs in Michigan. On first watch, it plays like any other political advertisement you’d see on television this time of year. In it, Michigan governor and Biden surrogate Gretchen Whitmer touts the high-paying electric vehicle manufacturing jobs that the Democratic administration has brought to her state. Watch the spot a few times, though, and it soon becomes clear what it’s missing.

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Goodhart’s Law tells us that “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” The disagreements climate diplomats were having last week highlight why.

Last week, climate negotiators sparred in Bonn, Germany, over a New Collective Quantified Goal on climate finance. The NCQG, as it’s labeled, is a new target for how much money governments must mobilize to meet global climate investment needs consistent with goals set down in the United Nations’ landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. Reaching a consensus on the NCQG is the biggest item on negotiators’ plates between Bonn and COP29, the annual United Nations-led conference on climate change, happening this fall in Baku, Azerbaijan. But, true to Goodhart, the global climate targets negotiators are deadlocked over are not good measurements of progress, let alone ones that developed countries measured up to.

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