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Climate

Paris Is Waging War on SUVs

On new parking fees, LNG, and atmospheric rivers

Paris Is Waging War on SUVs
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Wildfires have killed at least 110 people in Chile • Large parts of Australia are bracing for another sweltering heat wave • Severe snow is disrupting travel in China ahead of this weekend's Lunar New Year holiday.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Atmospheric river drenches California

A powerful atmospheric river is slamming Southern California, bringing record-breaking rainfall, high winds, severe flooding, and mudslides. Flash flood warnings were issued for Los Angeles and surrounding counties, where rivers swelled and streets were submerged. Officials called the event "one of the most dramatic weather days in recent memory." More than 550,000 customers were without power as of Monday morning. Here are some numbers that may help put this historic storm in context

  • More than 11 million people in the state were at risk of “life-threatening flooding.”
  • States of emergency were issued in eight counties, covering some 20 million people.
  • The National Weather Service issued a hurricane force wind warning in San Francisco for the first time in decades.
  • Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for parts of Santa Barbara, San José, Los Angeles, and Ventura County
  • Long Beach could get a year’s worth of rain just this week
  • Parts of Los Angeles are forecast to receive half their total annual precipitation by Tuesday. Pasadena was expecting 10 inches of rain.

Scientists say climate change is making atmospheric rivers more severe. The current El Nino weather pattern is also “supercharging” the systems.

Flooded streets in Santa BarbaraImage: Mario Tama/Getty Images

2. Paris votes to make SUV drivers pay more for parking

Parisians voted in favor of tripling parking fees for “bulky, polluting” SUVs to 18 euros ($19) per hour on Sunday. The fees won't apply to city residents or taxis but instead target out-of-towners. The new rule, which could come into place in September, is part of an ongoing effort to make the city’s streets friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s also an attempt to improve air quality, but hybrid and electric vehicles aren’t exempt: Combustion-engine and hybrid SUVs weighing more than 1.6 tons will be subject to the fee, and so will EVs over 2 tons. Last year, the city voted to get rid of e-scooters. “Parisians have made a clear choice … other cities will follow,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. While 54.5% of voters approved the measure, turnout was very low, at just 5.7%.

3. Border security bill includes some funding for nuclear power

Senators on Sunday unveiled a long-awaited immigration bill aimed at reducing illegal border crossings. The measure also sends additional aid money to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. One eagle-eyed energy expert also spotted some energy funding in the text:

X/XanFishman

4. There may be ‘no right answer’ to LNG climate question

Just how bad is liquified natural gas (LNG) for the climate? That's the question of the hour. President Biden recently paused new LNG export terminals until the Energy Department can provide some insight. But in the meantime, Heatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin did his own investigation into the quandary and found that the answer is complicated and dependent on a number of ever-evolving factors, including the global energy mix and emissions levels. “The climate impact of U.S. LNG depends on what it replaces in countries — whether those alternatives have more or less emissions than U.S. LNG,” Arvind Ravikumar, a leading scholar on natural gas and energy policy, told Zeitlin. Indeed, in some cases, natural gas can replace coal and help reduce emissions. “There’s no right answer,” Ravikumar said. “It depends on who buys, what time frame, which country, and how are they using LNG.”

In a world that comes in under 1.5 degrees of warming, the emissions reductions from coal-to-gas switching peter out after 2035, Zeitlin said. If we don’t hit our Paris Agreement targets, or if developing countries prioritize cheap, available energy, then LNG export capacity turns from a potential “stranded asset” into an insurance policy. The DoE certainly has its work cut out.

5. What if a heat wave strikes the Paris Olympics?

The organizers behind the 2024 Paris Olympics are accounting for the possibility of a heat wave coinciding with the event, according to a report from AFP. "Heat waves and extreme weather events are factors that we take into account and that we are preparing for as much as possible, in order to take necessary action," a spokesperson said. Options include adjusting the times for some sporting events to avoid the hottest hours of the day. The athletes’ village is not air-conditioned, but organizers will offer portable A/C units. A recent study published in the journal Npj Climate and Atmospheric Science warned that there’s a decent chance Paris could experience a two-week summer heatwave worse than the one that killed 15,000 people in 2003. The city has seen blistering temperatures in recent years, and set a record high of 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit in 2019.

THE KICKER

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Jessica  Hullinger profile image

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.

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