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Uruguay Powers Nearly 100% of Electricity From Renewables

Climate

Uruguay has made some impressive strides in the last decade on the environmental front. The South American country of 3.4 million has drastically reduced its carbon footprint in less than 10 years "without government subsidies or higher consumer costs," the country's National Director of Energy Ramón Méndez told The Guardian.

Through energy efficiency measures and a vast expansion in renewables, the country has truly set itself apart. According to Méndez, renewables provide 94.5 percent of the nation's electricity, and wind, solar, biomass and hydropower now comprise 55 percent of the country's overall energy mix (including transport fuel).

The transportation sector remains a challenge for the country in switching completely to renewables. To address this, the capital city Montevideo is looking into buying autonomous electric cars for its fleet of municipal vehicles.

“What we’ve learned is that renewables is just a financial business,” Méndez says. “The construction and maintenance costs are low, so as long as you give investors a secure environment, it is a very attractive.”

Though the country only generates 0.06 percent of global emissions, Uruguay hopes to be carbon neutral by 2030. Méndez is in Paris at COP21 offering one of the world's most ambitious climate pledges: "88 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2017 compared with the average for 2009-13," according to The Guardian.

The country has no nuclear power and has not built a new hydropower project in more than two decades. That sets it apart from other small countries with high proportions of renewable energy (think: Paraguay, Bhutan and Lesotho), which are largely dependent on hydropower. Gary Wockner of Save the Colorado argues that hydropower is actually "one of the biggest environmental problems our planet faces" and a "false solution" for addressing climate change.

While not every country has Uruguay's small population and favorable natural resources, Uruguay has proven "renewables can reduce generation costs, can meet well over 90 percent of electricity demand without the back-up of coal or nuclear power plants, and the public and private sectors can work together effectively in this field," said Méndez. Other Paris delegates should take note.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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