Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — NYC real estate races to curb carbon emissions

A view of uptown Manhattan from the Empire State Building is seen in New York City on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

New York developers are scrambling to curb big-building carbon emissions, as a deadline to clean up the city’s towering real estate gradually approaches.

Amid escalating temperatures, extreme weather conditions and rising seas, the city council passed a law in 2019 aimed at slashing the greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for climate change, The New York Times reported.

The main purpose of the law is to set limits for large buildings, as the city’s million properties collectively generate almost 70 percent of its carbon emissions, according to the Times. That’s because most of the energy that provides heating, cooling and lighting comes from fossil fuels.

There are now just 16 months left until about 50,000 buildings need to meet the first thresholds — subject to fines that could reach millions of dollars annually if they fail to do so, the Times reported. 

While the city estimates that most of the properties will be in compliance by that date — Jan. 1, 2024 — there are still 2,700 buildings in that group that need to fix their heating systems, replace leaky windows and install energy-efficient lighting, according to the Times.

Larger real estate companies have generally been making the necessary adjustments, but many “mom-and-pop” ventures are still figuring out what they need to do and how they will pay for these renovations, the Times reported.

“We don’t really know what our obligations are and what our penalties are going to be,” Debbie Fechter, whose family-owned business has four buildings in Manhattan subject to the law, told the Times.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at new supply cuts coming to the Colorado River, and how heat is bringing China’s enormous factories to a halt. Plus: Why fossil fuel industry plans for the end of oil involve more climate change than world leaders have said they’ll accept.

Feds announce new Colorado River supply cuts

The Bureau of Reclamation announced on Tuesday that both Arizona and Nevada — as well as Mexico — must further cut back their Colorado River allocations.

Less water, more shortages: The decision occurred amid a “23-year ongoing historic drought and low runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin,” a statement from the Bureau said.

Less available runoff means that downstream releases from the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams — which create the Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs — must be decreased in 2023.

Arizona and Nevada will therefore be weathering a second year of added shortage declarations.

A result of climate change: “The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation,” Interior Department Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said in a statement.

Cross-border resource: The Colorado River system irrigates nearly 5.7 million acres of agriculture and supplies water to more than 40 million people across seven states and Mexico, as we previously reported.

In the U.S., the system is divided into Upper and Lower basins, the former of which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and the latter of which includes Arizona, Nevada and California.

The river’s management is governed by a variety of interstate compacts, as well as a binational treaty and relevant amendments.

Significant cutbacks: The Bureau of Reclamation declared in a news conference on Tuesday that it would withhold about 21 percent of Arizona’s Colorado River water next year, as well as 8 percent of Nevada’s supply, our colleague Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.

California will not see any reductions, nor will Upper Basin states for the time being.

Mexico will face a 7-percent supply cut.

Lake Mead will plunge to the level required for a “Tier 2 shortage” — or 1,050 feet below sea level — for the first time this January.

Some uncertainty remains: In addition to these agreed-upon reductions, the Bureau of Reclamation said on Tuesday that the basin states missed a deadline to propose at least 15 percent more cuts to keep water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell from plunging further, The Associated Press reported. 

More conservation needed: The Bureau “has made it clear” that the basin requires “new conservation commitments to just stabilize Powell and Mead,” veteran water reporter Luke Runyon tweeted.

Already agreed: “The cutbacks announced today are spelled out in existing agreements. This isn’t new conservation,” he added, noting that the federal government has yet to detail how it plans to achieve further conservation. 

To read the full story, please click here.

China’s heat wave shutters global manufacturing hub

China’s Sichuan province has shut down all factories in the region for six days, with hopes of easing a power shortage amid a nationwide heat wave, CNN reported.

A hit to electronics: Among the plants to close their doors are some of the world’s biggest electronics companies, such as Apple supplier Foxconn and chipmaker Intel, according to CNN.

Sichuan is a global manufacturing hub for the semiconductor and solar panel sectors.

Because province also houses China’s lithium mining industry, the closures could drive up the cost of the raw material — a key component of electric vehicle batteries.

Worst heat wave in decades: China is currently experiencing its strongest heat wave in 60 years, with temperatures rising above 104 degrees Fahrenheit in many cities, CNN reported.

The scorching heat has caused a surge in demand for air conditioning, which has in turn put pressure on the power grid.

Ongoing drought conditions have also depleted river water levels, which has reduced electricity produced at hydropower plants.

Pressure on iPad supplies: While a variety of supply chains could face some disruption due to the heatwave, the factory closures could put particular pressure on iPad production.

The shutdown is occurring just before Apple’s annual product launch, the South China Morning Post reported.

For the time being, a Foxconn representative said that “the impact has been limited.”

But a securities analyst told the Hong Kong-based newspaper that this could change if similar such incidents occur in the next few months.

The impacts of climate change: The Sichuan factory closures “reflect how climate change is intensifying China’s economic challenges,” according to The Washington Post.

Officials have said that China is unlikely to reach its 5.5 percent growth target for the year and may have to rely more on coal for power, the Post reported. And burning coal, in turn, further heats the planet.

A river runs dry: Temperatures in China have been so hot this summer that the country’s longest river, the Yangtze, is shrinking in size, according to Reuters.

Regions that depend on the river for water are therefore beginning to deploy pumps and other technologies, Reuters reported.

One southwestern municipality has resorted to launching rockets whose purpose is to “seed” clouds and induce rainfall, according to Reuters.

Fossil fuel energy plans break climate agreement

The fossil fuel industry’s vision for the world’s transition to renewables would still destabilize our ability to adapt to climate change and potentiall lead to dangerous temperatures this century, a new study has found.

Three major oil companies are betting on  an energy transition scenario in which the world continues to use fossil fuels — and temperatures do not level off — till the late 2000s, according to a paper published on Tuesday by nonprofit research Climate Analytics.

“Most of the scenarios we evaluated would be classified as inconsistent with the Paris Agreement as they fail to limit warming to ‘well below 2 [̊degrees Celsius], let alone 1.5 [degrees Celsius],” co-author Robert Brecha of Climate Analytics said in a statement, referring to the terms of a pivotal 2015 climate change accord.

The plans envision futures where the world “would exceed the 1.5 degrees C warming limit by a significant margin,” Brecha added.

Why that matters: “Even temporarily exceeding the 1.5 [degrees Celsius] warming would lead to catastrophic impacts and severely weaken our ability to adapt to climate change,” Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics said.

Climate Analytics’s findings also suggest that while oil producers are planning for the end of fossil fuels, they are betting that it won’t happen quickly.

Inside the plans: Oil companies, like many other business and governmental groups, prepared detailed models of what a world transition off of fossil fuels might look like.

By calculating the carbon emissions that would be released under scenarios published by Equinor, British Petroleum, Shell and the International Energy Agency, Climate Analytics predicted how much they would warm the planet.

The scenario from Equinor — the Norwegian oil company — would peak warming at 1.73 degrees Celsius in 2060.

BP’s scenario peaks at 1.73 degrees Celsius in 2058

Shell’s scenario brings a peak of 1.81 degrees Celsius in 2069.

Only the International Energy Agency’s models peaked temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius — and that institution has been vocal about the need to cease new fossil fuel development.

Checking their work: Robin Lamboll, of Imperial College London, acknowledged the positive steps the companies have taken in planning for the end of fossil fuels but advised that policymakers exercise some skepticism.   

“It’s important that we don’t allow oil companies to mark their own work when providing suggestions for how the world can transition away from fossil fuel,” Lamboll said in the statement.

Splitting the difference on renewables, fossil fuels

Billions of dollars in new funding from the Inflation Reduction Act could help boost the carbon capture industry — seen by the fossil fuel industry as a means of keeping its assets operating longer in a climate-conscious world.

The Inflation Reduction Act — which President Biden signed into law on Tuesday — boosts tax credits for every ton of captured carbon dioxide from $50 per ton to $85, as Time Magazine reported.

“It really can’t be [overstated] how meaningful 85 [dollars per ton] is to the industry at large,” carbon capture startup executive Steve Lowenthal told Time, adding that it had transformed the technology from curiosity to necessity.

Saving coal? In one test site in Wyoming, the technology could help keep coal-burning power plants online longer, geologist Fred McLaughlin told The Associated Press .

A longer lifespan for coal-burning means more money for Wyoming, which produces 40 percent of the nation’s supply.

“Saving that industry is possible, McLaughlin argued, stressing that “the geology exists.”

Meeting Wall Street demands: Carbon capture technology, like hydrogen fuels, is right at the midpoint between fossil fuels and clean energy.

Those are two sectors of the energy system that the financial industry, like the climate bill, refuses to choose between, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Both fossil fuel and green projects took in about $570 billion in financing last year.

“The answer is not either-or. It’s all of the above,” Megan Starr of private equity firm Carlyle Group said.

Prolonging the inevitable? “We are getting to a point where it’s inconceivable that you can continue to have your cake and eat it, too,” Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, told the Journal.

Tuesday Troubles

Flash floods prompt water rescues in West Virginia, climate change creates a new kind of “compound” deluge and Germany is inundated with dead fish.

Flash floods in West Virginia require dozens of rescues

  • Considerable flooding in two West Virginia counties prompted dozens of water rescues on Monday and ravaged at least two bridges, The New York Times reported, citing local officials. The floods uprooted trees, washed away cars and damaged at least 100 homes, according to the Times.

Kentucky floods example of rising, dangerous weather phenomenon

  • The floods that devastated eastern Kentucky at the end of July were examples of a new kind of compound climate disaster: the multiform flood, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That’s what happens “when different types of floods — caused by rain, overflowing rivers, storm surge, tidal flooding, and/or ice melt — happen simultaneously or in rapid succession,” a climate scientist for the group explained.

Thousands of dead fish float through Germany

  • German officials deployed aquatic barriers on Monday to contain the carcasses of tens of thousands of fish floating down the Oder River — and demanded their Polish counterparts figure out its cause, The Associated Press reported. Eighty tons of dead fish have been pulled from the Oder, which the two countries, according to the AP.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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