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Culture

Tornadoes Torment Central States

On a string of severe storms, G7 climate pledges, and the Red Sea

Tornadoes Torment Central States
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: An orange alert for severe thunderstorms is in effect across China’s southern provinces • More rain is expected in Kenya, where extreme flooding has killed at least 70 people • Bangladesh reopened its schools despite an ongoing heat wave.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Hundreds of tornadoes rip through central U.S.

Devastating severe thunderstorms wreaked havoc across the Midwest and Southern Plains over the weekend, spawning hundreds of tornadoes and threatening 47 million people. More than 80 tornadoes were reported across five states on Friday alone. Twisters tore through several towns in Nebraska and Iowa, damaging homes and leaving at least one person dead. An outbreak of some 22 tornadoes in Oklahoma killed at least four people and leveled neighborhoods Saturday and Sunday. In the town of Sulphur, Oklahoma, “it seems like every business downtown has been destroyed now,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.

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2. House heads into ‘natural resources week’

The House is voting this week on a bunch of legislation coming out of the Natural Resources Committee, E&E Newsreported. On the docket during “natural resources week” are bills that would give the green light to canceled Alaskan oil and gas leases, remove federal protections for the gray wolf, and let hunters use lead ammunition and tackle on public lands. The full list is here.

3. G7 leaders reportedly eyeing 2035 for closing coal-fired power plants

Environmental ministers from G7 nations (the United States, Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Canada, and Japan) meet in Turin, Italy, this week to “make the course set out by COP28 practical, real, concrete,” said Italy’s Environment and Energy Security Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin. The 2024 Meeting on Climate, Energy, and Environment is the first major political meeting since last year’s climate summit in Dubai, where nations pledged to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. The hope is that the talks in Turin will serve as a “strategic link” between COP28 and this year’s COP29 in Azerbaijan. Already there are signs of progress:

  • Ministers have reportedly “agreed in principle” to a goal of increasing electricity storage capacity sixfold to 1,500 gigawatts by 2030, in part by boosting battery storage development and supply chains, according to the Financial Times. Such a commitment would help fulfill the COP28 pledge to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.
  • Ministers are considering a target of 2035 for G7 nations to shutter their coal-fired power plants, Reutersreported. Japan “has pushed back against an ambitious shift away from coal,” the FT added.

Other topics up for discussion include new financing models for climate change adaptation, the future roles of nuclear and biofuels in the energy mix, and power grid investments. A report out last week found that no G7 nation is on track to meet 2030 emissions reduction targets.

4. Latest round of global plastics treaty talks end today

In Canada, talks on a global plastics treaty come to an end today. The nation’s environment minister Steven Guilbeault said delegates have been “making strides” toward hammering out the details of the international, legally binding treaty, ahead of a final meeting on the text in November of this year. “The treaty could include provisions for what kind of plastics would be controlled, how control measures would be implemented and paid for, and timelines for restricting or banning certain substances,” reportedThe Globe and Mail. Guilbeault hoped these talks would result in about 70% of the treaty’s text being agreed. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels, and major oil and gas producers see the plastics market as a “plan B” as the world looks to reduce the use of fossil fuels in energy production. According to analysis from the Center for International Environmental Law, nearly 200 fossil fuel and chemical lobbyists registered for this round of talks, a 37% increase from the last meeting in November 2023.

5. Red Sea conflict leads to rise in shipping emissions

More than 13 million tons of extra CO2 has been emitted from the shipping sector over the last four months as ocean freighters use longer routes to avoid Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, Bloombergreported. That’s about the same as the emissions from 9 million cars over the same time period. The statistics come from a report produced by consultancy INVERTO. “The extra emissions resulting from this crisis will increase companies’ carbon footprints – making it very hard to hit their net zero targets,” said Sushank Agarwal, a managing director at the company. About 80% of the world’s goods are traded by ship, and international shipping accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been attacking ships in the region in response to the Israel-Hamas war.

THE KICKER

In response to the recent deluge in Dubai, the crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum, has approved an ambitious (and expensive) upgrade to the city’s drainage infrastructure.

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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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A Swiss Army Knife for Clean Energy

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Before and for the first year or so after the Inflation Reduction Act, clean energy in the United States was largely developed under the aegis of two tax credits: the Production Tax Credit, which primarily useful for wind power, and the Investment Tax Credit, which is primarily used for solar power. (The actual eligibility for each tax credit for each technology has changed various times over the years, but that’s the gist.)

Starting in 2025, however, and lasting (absent any change in the law) through at least 2032, that tax credit regime will be made “technology neutral.” Goodbye, existing credits with their limited applicability. Hello, new tax credits that apply to “any clean energy facility that achieves net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a release issued Wednesday by the Treasury Department.

“For too long, the U.S. solar and wind markets have been hampered by uncertainty due to the on-again-off-again nature of key tax credits,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on a call with reporters. “Periods of indecision and the credits being repeatedly allowed to elect to lapse made it too difficult for companies to plan and invest in clean energy projects.”

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Here are the basics. The company was founded in 2018 to address the problem of natural gas flaring. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil extraction, and if oil field operators have no economical use case for the gas or are unable to transfer it elsewhere, it’s often simply burned. If you, like me, have spent time sourcing stock images of air pollution, you’ve probably seen the pictures of giant flames coming out of tall smokestacks near oil pump jacks and other drilling infrastructure. That’s what flaring natural gas looks like, and it is indeed terrible for the environment. That’s largely because the process fails to fully combust methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

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AM Briefing: Displacement Fears

On the Biden administration’s carbon removal investments, the climate refugees of Brazil, and more

Wednesday sunrise.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More storms and possible tornadoes are forecast to hit Texas and the Plains, where millions of people are still without power • Cyclone Remal, the first tropical storm of the season, killed at least 23 people in India and Bangladesh • Brazilian authorities are investigating up to 800 suspected cases of waterborne illness following unprecedented flooding over the past month.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden administration invests in carbon removal

The Department of Energy on Tuesday gave $1.2 million to companies competing for a chance to sell carbon removal credits to the federal government. These 24 semifinalists, which were each awarded $50,000, include nine direct air capture projects, seven biomass projects, five enhanced rock weathering projects, and three marine-based projects. Up to 10 of them will be offered federal contracts amounting to $30 million. “The Department of Energy hopes that by selecting 24 companies that have been vetted by government scientists, it’s sending a signal to the private sector that there are at least some projects that are legitimate,” Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo writes, referencing struggles in the broader carbon credits marketplace.

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