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Climate

The WMO Just Issued a Climate ‘Red Alert’

On a startling new warning, drought in Vietnam, and Coke’s recycled bottles

The WMO Just Issued a Climate ‘Red Alert’
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Much of the Northeast will be cold, windy, with a chance of snow today • Rio de Janeiro remains under an excessive heat warning • It is 45 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny in Seoul, South Korea, where the MLB kicked off its regular season.

THE TOP FIVE

1. UN agency issues ‘red alert’ on worsening climate crisis

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization is “sounding the Red Alert to the world” on the urgency of the climate crisis after publishing its annual State of the Global Climate report yesterday. The report paints a dire picture of the state of the planet in 2023, with record high greenhouse gas levels, temperatures, and sea level rise. “Climate change is about much more than temperatures,” said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo. “What we witnessed in 2023, especially with the unprecedented ocean warmth, glacier retreat, and Antarctic sea ice loss, is cause for particular concern,” she said. A few key findings:

  • More than 90% of the global ocean experienced heatwave conditions at some point in 2023.
  • Glacier ice loss was the highest on record and Antarctic sea ice was the lowest on record.
  • 2023 was the warmest year in the 174-year instrumental record according to six data sets (seen below).

WMO

The report came on the same day that climatologist Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, penned a commentary in Nature explaining that the planet warmed 0.2 degrees Celsius more last year than climate scientists expected, and nobody knows why. “Many reasons for this discrepancy have been proposed but, as yet, no combination of them has been able to reconcile our theories with what has happened,” Schmidt said. He suggests new regulations on sulfur emissions in the shipping industry could be playing a part, but said “if the anomaly does not stabilize by August ... then the world will be in uncharted territory.”

2. BYD CEO thinks hybrids and EVs will soon make up half of China’s car sales

The CEO of Chinese EV maker BYD predicts electric and hybrid vehicle sales could make up 50% of auto sales in China within the next three months, Electrekreported. New energy vehicles (which include fully-electric cars as well as hybrids) hit a 48.2% share last week, “and if it continues at this rate, I estimate that the penetration could cross 50% in the next three months,” Wang Chuanfu said over the weekend. That’s a dramatic shortening of the time frame compared to a month ago, when Wang said the 50% mark could be reached by the end of the year. Last year, NEVs accounted for 35% of China’s auto sales. In the U.S., hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fully electric vehicles rose to about 18% of total new light-duty vehicle sales in 2023.

3. EPA’s new tailpipe rules expected today

The EPA is expected to announce its new tailpipe emissions rules for cars and light-duty trucks “as soon as” today, so be on the lookout for that. The rules have likely been softened to give automakers more time to ramp up electric vehicle sales, but still with the expectation that EVs will make up two-thirds of all new car sales by 2032 (last year EVs accounted for about one-tenth of sales). A similar standard for heavy-duty trucks is expected in the next few weeks, E&E News reported. Yesterday the Energy Department issued a new formula for calculating the fuel efficiency of electric vehicles “that’s meant to better reflect the real world and is likely to further drive sales of emission-free cars,” Bloombergreported.

4. ‘Rice bowl’ of Vietnam faces drought and creeping salt water

A part of Vietnam known as the country’s “rice bowl” is threatened by encroaching salty sea water after an unusually long drought. The rice fields in the Mekong Delta feed the country’s 90 million people, but the lack of rain over the last month has left rice paddies and fruit farms parched. Meanwhile salt water has been creeping into the ground more as sea levels rise. One recent study finds the delta could see crop losses amounting to $3 billion a year because of salinization. Vietnam is the world’s fifth-largest rice producer, and the third largest exporter.

5. Environmental groups side-eye Coke’s new ‘recycled’ bottles

Starting this week, 20-ounce Coca-Cola beverages sold in the U.S. will come in plastic bottles made from 100% recycled plastic. The company claims this initiative (which excludes bottle caps and wrappers) will reduce 83 million pounds of plastic from its supply chain, but it hasn’t impressed environmentalists, CNN reported. One watchdog group, Break Free From Plastic, called the new design the “bare minimum.” “Plastic recycling is never going to make a dent in the plastic pollution crisis — plastic was never designed to be recycled, and it cannot be recycled indefinitely,” Emma Priestland from Break Free from Plastic told CNN. “Coca-Cola needs to urgently and dramatically reduce its use of plastic — full stop,” she said. In 2023 the group named Coca-Cola the world’s top plastic polluter for the sixth year in a row.

Coca-Cola Company

THE KICKER

A new study finds that homes see on average a 1% reduction in value after a wind turbine is constructed within view, but that this drop in value diminishes as the years pass.

Yellow

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. Read More

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