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Politics

AM Briefing: Keeping Cool

On the global stocktake, a cooling pledge, and more

AM Briefing: Keeping Cool
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: An atmospheric river brought life-threatening rain and flooding to Washington State • The U.S. Coast Guard is responding to another oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico • It is -52 degrees Fahrenheit in Yakutsk, Russia, one of the coldest cities in the world.

THE TOP FIVE

1. 2023 is officially the hottest year on record

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) confirmed this morning that 2023 will be the warmest year ever recorded on Earth. The news is not unexpected after back-to-back months of shattered heat records, but it puts added pressure on negotiators at the COP28 climate summit to set firm commitments to bring down planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Copernicus says the global average temperature from January through November has been 1.46 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial average. That’s 2.63 degrees Fahrenheit. So far 2023 has seen six months that broke historical heat records, including last month, which was the hottest November ever recorded. “As long as greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising we can’t expect different outcomes from those seen this year,” says C3S director Carlo Buontempo.

chart on global surface air temperature anomalies.Image: Copernicus Climate Change Service

Another headline-grabbing report out today warns Earth could trigger catastrophic climate-related tipping points within a decade. These include ice sheet collapse, thawing permafrost, coral reef die-out, and a breakdown of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic. The report, produced by an international group of more than 200 researchers, says these tipping points could result in “global-scale loss of capacity to grow major staple crops. Triggering one Earth system tipping point could trigger another, causing a domino effect of accelerating and unmanageable damage. Tipping points show that the overall threat posed by the climate and ecological crisis is far more severe than is commonly understood.”

2. COP28 negotiators wrangle over fossil fuel phase-out language

At COP28, debates continued well into the night Tuesday over the language that will be used in the final draft of the all-important global stocktake (GST). The biggest point of contention comes down to the document’s 35th paragraph, which, among other things, will lay out the plans for fossil fuels. Will they be phased out? If so, how? According to climate policy advocate and lawyer Natalie Jones, China, India, and the Arab Coordination Group of countries have proposed deleting this paragraph entirely. Other countries, including Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, the EU and Norway are trying to keep the prospect of a fossil fuel phase out alive by tweaking the language in the paragraph to make it more palatable.

3. 63 countries sign Global Cooling Pledge

In other COP news, a group of countries including the U.S. and Canada have pledged to reduce their cooling-related emissions by at least 68% by 2050. So-called cooling emissions come from the technologies needed to keep things like medicine, food, and homes cold. They are expected to account for more than 10% of global emissions in 2050, especially as the world warms and things like air conditioning become important for human survival in many parts of the world. The “Global Cooling Pledge,” unveiled yesterday, is endorsed by 63 countries. India, which is expected to see the greatest growth in demand for air conditioning over the next three decades, is not expected to sign the pledge. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts India will have more than 1 billion AC units by 2050.

4. 2023 U.S. EV sales surpass 1 million

Year-to-date sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. surpassed 1 million for the first time, according to the National Automobile Dealer Association. There were 1,007,984 EVs sold from January through November 2023, which is a 50.7% increase compared to the same period a year ago. “This is by far the best year for EV sales in our nation’s history,” Albert Gore, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA), toldElectrek. Yesterday Bloombergconcluded, based on its own annual Zero-Emission Vehicle Factbook, that “reports of an electric vehicle slowdown have been greatly exaggerated.”

5. Heat waves are hard on Christmas trees

Climate change is making Christmas trees shed their needles, Modern Farmer reports. Cold temperatures in the fall tell conifer trees to start producing a resin that will protect them from frost over the winter. This resin has another purpose: keeping a tree’s needles intact. But as heat waves linger, this process isn’t being triggered before farmers have to harvest in time for the holiday season. The result? “That pile of shedding needles under the decorated tree,” Modern Farmer says. Researchers are working to identify trees that don’t rely on the cold to retain their needles.

THE KICKER

“The aspiration of everyone as temperatures rise and incomes rise is that their wealth is measured by their cooling.” –Freetown mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Sierra Leone

Editor's note: A previous version of this article miscalculated a temperature in Fahrenheit from Celsius. It has been corrected. We regret the error.


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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Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Torrential rain brought flash flooding to Toronto • A wildfire on the Hawaiian island of Kauai has been contained • Parts of southern Spain could hit 111 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Intense heat waves and thunderstorms torment millions of Americans

The extreme heat wave over the East Coast may very well break a record in Washington, D.C., today that was set during the 1930s Dust Bowl: the longest stretch of days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The mercury yesterday hit 104 degrees, after similarly scorching numbers on Monday and Sunday, tying the existing record of three days. The National Weather Service forecasts a high of 98 degrees for Wednesday but The Washington Post said there’s “an outside chance that it hits 100 (or higher).” Either way, with humidity at 55%, it will feel torturously hot, with a potential heat index of 110 degrees. An “Extended Heat Emergency” is in effect in the city through today. Nearly 75 major cities across the Northeast, South, and Southwest are currently facing dangerous heat levels, according to The New York Times.

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