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Adaptation Is Great, But We Really Have To Eliminate Emissions That Cause Warming

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The United Nations has made it clear: the world is already experiencing changes in average temperature, shifts in the seasons, an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, and slow onset events. Everyone needs to adapt to the changing ecological, social, and economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects. Indeed, the UN Global Climate Fund has nearly $14 billion in its portfolio and more than 250 approved adaptation and mitigation projects. But is focusing on adaptation a mere feel-good answer to the need to eliminate emissions that cause climate pollution?

I sent along an inquiry to one of our trusted CleanTechnica experts, Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the atmosphere/energy program at Stanford University. I told him I was in the beginning stages of research about water intrusion in coastal urban areas due to sea level rise. I explained that my research had indicated that traditional mitigation measures like seawalls are little more than stop-gap measures, that nature-based solutions like dunes, sea oats, swales, and permeable green spaces create longer lasting effects. I asked him if he concurred, and, in essence, asked for suggestions as to what can urban areas can do to hold back the inevitable effects of sea level rise in coastal areas.

Here is Dr. Jacobson’s response.

“I can’t say I’m an expert on that topic, but my inclination is that dunes, sea oats, swales, and permeable green spaces may be short-term solutions to reduce the impacts, but given that there are 70 meters of sea level stored in ice worldwide (60 m in Antarctica, 7.4 m in Greenland, and the rest in the rest of the world), ultimately all coastal land will be flooded, even with seawalls. The best solution is to eliminate emissions causing warming as fast as possible.”

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? I decided to set aside my sea level rise investigation for right now and, instead, look into progress toward the larger goal to eliminate emissions from fossil fuels. What substantive steps have been taken, what remains to be done, and what can we do as advocates for zero emissions living?

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We already write a lot here at CleanTechnica about zero emissions vehicles.

  • The EV sector is the only one of 42 indicators assessed that is on track to reach an agreed-upon 2030 Paris Agreement target.
  • Of course, we can never get enough news about Tesla’s zero emissions EVs or its mercurial CEO.
  • A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) explored how the total cost of driving for zero emission and diesel MHDVs could evolve over time under different scenarios, from the present day to 2050.
  • The global shipping regulator, the UN International Maritime Organization, has set a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 for the industry.

Yet we know the transition to net zero is a complex process that requires significant changes in the way we produce, distribute, and consume energy. The global energy sector’s shift from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption — including oil, natural gas, and coal — to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, as well as lithium-ion batteries, is continually evolving.

All too often the news about progress to eliminate emissions is discouraging. Between 2020 and 2022, G20 governments and the multilateral development banks (MDBs) provided $142 billion in international public finance for fossil fuels, almost 1.4 times their support for clean energy in the same period ($104 billion). If governments fully uphold recent commitments including through the Clean Energy Transition Partnership (CETP) and G7, though, 71% ($101 billion) of the $142 billion in fossil fuel spending will end in the next few years.

Most signatories are already implementing these pledges, but some are backsliding. You can look at this fossil fuel finance violations tracker yourself. It outlines the laggard countries who have broken their commitment to the CETP, such as the US, Italy, and Germany. Such weakening climate ambitions of the world’s biggest economies is increasing uncertainty among consumers, industry, and investors.

Goodbye, Coal — An Example of a Path to Eliminate Emissions from the Fossil Fuel Sector

A small group of worst actors holds an outsized climate pollution responsibility, while others are working together to shift finance from fossil fuels to clean energy. Coal exclusion policies are a solid example of progress toward eliminating international support for a dangerous climate pollutant.

Support for coal dropped from an annual average of $10 billion from 2017 to 2019 to $2 billion a year from 2020 to 2022. This decrease can be attributed to coal exclusion policies that came into effect in 2021, including China’s coal power policy and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ECA Coal Agreement.

The last two coal-fired power plants in New England are set to close by 2025 and 2028, ending the use of a fossil fuel that supplied electricity to the region for over 50 years. This makes it the second region in the country, after the Pacific Northwest, to stop burning coal. The Merrimack and Schiller stations will be converted to solar farms and battery units that can store electricity generated from offshore wind turbines along the Atlantic Coast, Granite Shore Power, the owner of the plants, told the Boston Globe.

Coal use has dropped steeply in the US as renewable sources like wind and solar have become less expensive. The dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, produced about 17% of US electricity in 2023.

In 2020, I wrote a white paper about coal’s demise, noting that coal needs to stay in the ground if nations are to tackle the transition to renewable energy sources and continue life on the Earth as we currently understand  it. Coal has lost much of its allure, yet, not everyone agrees that coal’s place is in the past. Several conservative organizations — including American Energy Alliance, Institute for Energy Research, National Energy Foundation, among others — promote coal even though energy markets are shifting, both in the US and abroad, to renewable energy sources.

It’s activists like those in NH who waged a 5-year legal battle against the New Hampshire coal plants, saying that they had discharged warm water from steam turbines into a nearby river without cooling it first to match the natural water temperature. As the Boston Globe related, in addition to the lawsuit and an advocacy campaign, climate activists used another strategy to prompt the closures: forcing the coal plants to compete in the electricity market.

Final Thoughts: Ways to Eliminate Emissions from Fossil Fuels

Like these NH activists, we need to lobby local politicians and businesses to support efforts to cut emissions and reduce carbon pollution. We need to transform the way we move around our communities and choose electric transportation options and bike and walk whenever possible. We can switch to a zero carbon or renewable energy provider. We spur change through identifying financial institutions that do not invest in carbon polluting industries.

Those are only starting points to the massive need to alter the way we can achieve net zero emissions. But we have no choice. We must buy in with our wallets and our voices.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1314 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna