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World Bank Climate Envoy Delivers Powerful Message on Coming Low-Carbon Revolution

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World Bank Climate Envoy Delivers Powerful Message on Coming Low-Carbon Revolution

The World Bank’s Rachel Kyte is a whirling dervish these days in advance of key international climate change negotiations, but she managed a quick stop-by this week at the University of Massachusetts-Boston to share her optimism that a big climate breakthrough is possible next month in Paris.

“We’re at a very different position than we were at Copenhagen [the ‘09 climate talks]. We’re more on track for a pivot, not a pirouette,” said Kyte, vice president and special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, speaking to a riveted audience Tuesday night.

Kyte’s said her “excitement” is guided not by wishful thinking, but powerful shifts on the climate front, among those:

  • Contentious debates over climate science and the cost of action versus inaction are over. “”The cost of inaction will be brutal,” Kyte said, pointing to the climate-influenced El Nino that is wreaking storm and marine life havoc right now across the Pacific Rim and beyond.

  • Climate risk has moved from a fringe college campus topic to a core economy-wide concern. Kyte referenced the Bank of England’s recent warnings of more severe storms, crop failures, coastal flooding and overall economic instability. 

  • Global investors are clamoring for action, as evidenced by a recent letter from more than 400 investors representing $24 trillionyes, trillion—calling on governments to achieve an ambitious climate deal in Paris.

  • Unprecedented willingness of developed and developing countries alike to make strong climate commitments, known formally as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). More than 145 countries, most of them developing countries, have already announced their INDCs, the latest being Fiji which committed this week to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. “(They’re a first-generation investment prospectus for a low-carbon world,” she said.

  • Growing momentum for carbon pricing, including explicit support from most of the countries submitting INDCs as well as 1,000-plus companies, including a half dozen major European oil companies.

While it is clear “we’re on the right side of history,” Kyte says key obstacles remain before the low-carbon economy can really take off. Topping her list are fossil fuel subsidies which must be abolished and “silly politics,” which is impeding coherent action in key political hubs like Washington, DC.

She also chided institutional investors a bit for their parochialism—“they won’t invest south of the Alps”—on clean energy investing. Despite double-digit annual growth in developing countries, clean energy investing is still dominated entirely by multinational financial institutions. “Morocco is just as safe a market as Spain,” she said, highlighting the potential for healthy 7 percent investment returns. “(Investor) money isn’t moving as fast as it should be.”

Peyton Fleming is a senior director at Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy group. Follow Peyton on Twitter @PeytonCeres.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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