Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Canada, China join to protect nature amid tensions

A major United Nations summit on biodiversity will kick off on Tuesday in Montreal, where co-hosts Canada and China will have to overcome diplomatic differences on behalf of the environment.  

The summit, known as COP15, comes “with the lofty goal” of getting every nation to agree to protect nearly one-third of global lands and oceans by the end of the decade, according to Canada’s Global News.  

“But the environment may be the easy part of a meeting that is being co-hosted by Canada and China amid growing diplomatic tensions between the two,” the Global News warned.  

China is the president of this year’s meeting, which was delayed four times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Because China hasn’t yet opened its borders, Beijing agreed to host the meeting in Montreal — home to the U.N. biodiversity secretariat.  

However, tensions between China and Canada have recently escalated, after Canada charged a Chinese national for espionage and launched an investigation into a secret network of illegal “police stations” in Toronto, according to The Guardian.   

“Canada is not the flavor of the month in Beijing,” Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China, told The Guardian.  

China has not invited world leaders to the summit — presumably to keep the event at a “working level,” Saint-Jacques added. 

As far as that work is concerned, the World Wildlife Fund Canada on Monday called for an enforceable agreement for nature that is “on par with the Paris Climate accord.”  

The organization was referring to the 2015 U.N. climate summit, where nations agreed to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). 

“This means a global commitment to halt and reverse biodiversity loss that all nations agree to. And this is our once-in-a-decade chance to do it,” the group said in a statement.  

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. I’m Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Sign up here or in the box below.

Today we’ll begin in North Carolina, where thousands lack power after two substations were vandalized this weekend. Then we’ll see how oil prices are contending with a cap on Russian crude. Plus: the latest installment of The Hill’s Dried Up series takes a look at desalination.  

FBI investigating North Carolina power grid attack

The FBI has joined an investigation into an armed attack of two North Carolina substations that caused 40,000 people to lose power on Saturday night, our colleague Zach Schonfeld reported.  

Cause remains uncertain: Ronnie Fields, sheriff of Moore County, N.C., said on Sunday that his department was working with the FBI and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to probe the event.  

Power still out for thousands: Duke Energy’s outage map showed that about 33,000 customers still lacked power as of midday Monday.  

Outages could continue: While technicians were working to resolve the incident, Duke Energy warned that it could take until Thursday to restore power, The Washington Post reported.  

Meanwhile, the county declared a state of emergency, instituted a curfew and closed schools on Monday, according to the Post.  

Serious crime: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) described the incident as a “serious, intentional crime,” the Post reported. 

  • Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm likewise called the outage a “serious incident,” according to the Post.  
  • She tweeted that the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response would work with federal partners on the investigation. 

Oil prices soar after Russian cap takes effect

Oil prices surged on Monday, following the implementation of Western sanctions on Russian crude, The Wall Street Journal reported.  

Global restrictions: The EU and the U.K. banned inbound shipments of the product on Monday in attempt to stymie their dependence on Russian fossil fuels, according to the Journal. 

The EU, the U.S. and their allies placed restrictions on shipping, insuring and financing Russia crude around the world, the Journal reported. 

Some flexibility: The sanctions mark the first major attempt to rein in Russia’s fossil fuel profits, which have steadied the country’s economy amid other restrictions, according to the Journal.  

  • However, a carveout allows companies to take part in Russian oil shipments outside of Europe, if the price is no higher than $60 per barrel, as we previously reported. 
  • Oil prices had gained 2.7 percent as of Monday morning, rising to $87.95 per barrel on the Brent international benchmark.  

A ‘deliberate loophole’: The price cap carveout is what the Journal described as a “deliberate loophole,” designed by the U.S. 

Officials were concerned that cutting off Russia from Western shipping entirely could come back to haunt the U.S. economy through high crude prices, the Journal reported. 

OPEC maintains status quo: OPEC and its allies, including Russia, declared on Sunday that they would leave oil production quotas unchanged, despite the forthcoming sanctions, according to The New York Times.  

  • This decision from the oil cartel — which slashed production in November — could be “another setback for the U.S. and western allies,” our colleague Brad Dress reported. 
  • “OPEC may have decided that it was better off keeping its collective head down rather than risk being blamed if, for instance, prices jump in the coming days,” the Times posited.  

How has Russia responded? Moscow has vowed not to cooperate with the sanctions and has threatened to cut oil production, which would jostle global energy markets, according to CNN.  

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Russia would “not recognize any price caps,” CNN reported.  

Could the cap be successful? That remains to be seen. Western allies had to identify a threshold that would cause some harm but wasn’t so low that Russia refused to sell oil at all, according to a Washington Post-Bloomberg QuickTake. 

  • But it remains unclear whether buyers like China will accept being told what price they must pay for oil.  
  • Long-term relationships between Moscow and Beijing and New Delhi also could play a role in the price cap’s success. 

UNICEF launches $10B climate recovery appeal 

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Monday launched a $10.3 billion appeal that aims to reach more than 173 million people suffering from the effects of climate-fueled weather events and the coronavirus pandemic.  

Worldwide reach: The campaign will support more than 110 million children across 155 countries and territories through 2023, according to UNICEF.  

‘Unleashing’ new crises: Children across the globe “are facing a deadly mix of crises, from conflict and displacement to disease outbreaks and soaring rates of malnutrition,” UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said in a statement. 

“Meanwhile, climate change is making these crises worse and unleashing new ones,” Russell added. 

Compounding catastrophes: This year began with about 274 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF.  

  • That demand grew considerably due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, rising food insecurity and devastating floods that struck Pakistan this summer. 
  • The coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic disruptions and instability is also putting millions of children at risk. 

Impacts of climate change: More than 400 million children live in areas with high water vulnerability, while nearly 37 million children are now displaced, according to the agency. 

  • A portion of UNICEF’s 2023 campaign will focus on bringing 8.2 million children treatment for severe acute malnutrition.  
  • The campaign also aims to provide 63.7 million people with access to safe water. 

‘An ever-present threat’: A recent UNICEF report found that nearly all the world’s
2 billion children
will be exposed to frequent heat waves by 2050 — a situation that is “threatening their health and wellbeing,” as we previously reported. 

“The devastating impacts of climate change are an ever-present threat to children,” Russell said.  

To more details about the campaign, please click here for the full story.  

Desalination: A partial solution to growing drought

With more than a thousand miles of Pacific Ocean coastline, California appears to have access to a wellspring that other arid states lack.  

A fraught footprint: The technology to transform that unlimited sea supply into potable drinking water has existed for decades, through a process called desalination.  

  • Yet while two new desalination plants have received approvals in the past couple months, California’s coast isn’t exactly teeming with such facilities. 
  • That’s because the technology, which is both expensive and energy intensive, can leave behind a mammoth-sized footprint.  

In the latest installment of The Hill’s Dried Up series, we take a look at the complexities of this technology and its role in quenching the thirst of a parched citizenry.  

‘A tool of last resort’: With little sign of reprieve for the region’s water woes, experts agree that desalination will continue to play a critical, although partial, solution to a crisis that promises to last. 

  • “It is a tool in the toolbox,” Garry Brown, founder and president of Orange County Coastkeeper, said in an interview this summer. 
  • “But it’s a tool of last resort — after you have exhausted all your other options,” he added.  

What exactly is desalination? It’s the process of removing excess salt from water, usually by means of a technology called reverse osmosis that separates water molecules from either seawater or salty brackish water found inland. 

While the process generates potable drinking water, it also produces a high-concentration salt solution called brine that is usually discharged into a receiving body of water. 

Is there desalination in California? Yes, there are currently 12 desalination facilities in California, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.  

  • The biggest to date is the Carlsbad desalination plant, located just north of San Diego. 
  • In mid-November, the California Coastal Commission granted conditional approval for a hotly contested facility in the Monterey County, CalMatters reported.  
  • Another facility, the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project in Orange County, earned unanimous approval from the Coastal Commission in October.  
  • The Commission rejected a $1.4 billion Huntington Beach proposal this past May after two decades of debate — citing obsolete protocols and environmental violations.   

Conservation remains crucial: Desalination might not rank among California’s top two or three solutions to the ongoing water crisis, but it will likely remain within the top five or seven, according to Gregory Pierce, the co-director of the Water Resources Group at UCLA. 

Preferable to desalination, he said, are tactics such as conservation, wastewater recycling and groundwater replenishment. 

To read the full story, please click here.  

Marine Monday

Seals found dead along Russia’s Caspian coast, California offshore wind auctions begin this week and scientists find tout the benefits of restoring island-ocean connections.  

Nearly 2,500 endangered seals found dead on Russian coast 

  • About 2,500 seals were found dead off the coast of the Caspian Sea in southern Russia, our colleague Brad Dress reported. Scientists have not yet determined the cause of death, but Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources said it identified “natural factors” in some of the autopsies but did not find metals or pesticides.  

California offshore wind auctions to begin on Tuesday 

Restoring island-ocean connections benefits marine environments 

  • Rewilding islands that were destroyed by invasive species can benefit not only terrestrial ecosystems, but also marine environments, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, UC San Diego scientists present a model for land-sea management that they say could help bolster ocean health. 

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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