Home Climate and Energy News Roundup: January 2024

Climate and Energy News Roundup: January 2024

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If negative news about climate change is immediately followed with information explaining how individuals, communities, businesses, or governments can reduce the threat, then this information can empower rather than discourage us.  —Katherine Hayhoe

Our Climate Crisis

Leading scientists warn that it’s “becoming inevitable” that countries will miss the ambitious target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius that they set eight years ago at the Paris Climate Agreement. That target is slipping out of reach and recent studies suggest that the 1.5 degree threshold will arrive in about six years if we keep burning carbon at current rates.

Hurricanes and flooding, made more severe by climate change, have sent Texas homeowner insurance rates skyrocketing. Rates have increased 22% on average in 2023, twice the national rate. More billion-dollar disasters have occurred in Texas in 2023 than in any other year on record.

The COP28 UN Climate Change Conference

After intense negotiations more than 190 nations at the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference accepted a text that calls on the world to “transition away” from fossil fuels. This was a significant historic first step as past climate conferences had not even mentioned fossil fuels. The big question is if it will spell the eventual end of gas, oil and coal in a time frame that halts the worst effects of global warming.

The conference began with various significant pledges to address our climate crisis but countries have been notorious for not following up on their commitments at past climate conferences. The commitments made at COP28 include:

  • The U.S. pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, the United Nations’ flagship climate fund, but this is contingent on congressional approval.
  • Some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies pledged to reduce methane emissions to near-zero by 2030.
  • The U.S. joined dozens of other nations in committing to phase out most coal-fired electric power plants.
  • Nearly two dozen countries pledged to triple their use of nuclear energy.
  • S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new standards to limit methane emissions at oil and gas wells.
  • The United Arab Emirates set up a $30 billion fund to invest in clean energy and other climate projects worldwide.
  • Government, corporate and philanthropic interests coalesced on a call for a binding global agreement to curb methane emissions.
  • The U.S. and Canada created a Rail Decarbonization Task Force to develop a U.S.-Canada rail sector net-zero climate model by 2025.
  • The International Monetary Fund said that carbon pricing through regulatory compliance, rather than taxes, would raise trillions needed to tackle climate crisis.

Oil firms and lobby groups were out in force at the conference. The oil cartel OPEC even had its own pavilion. Their language of  “lower carbon energy” typically means continuing to produce and use oil and gas—but with somewhat cleaner extraction and processing methods.

The conference provided a roadmap for reducing climate pollution from food and agriculture, a source of about a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It, however, falls short by prioritizing incremental change over wholesale shifts in agriculture, such as moving away from industrialized farming and toward an approach that promotes biodiversity and carbon storage by integrating crops with surrounding ecosystems.

Politics and Policy

The Biden administration proposes giving subsidies to support the development of “sustainable aviation fuels,” capable of powering jet engines from biofuels engineered out of soybeans, animal fat, and conventional types of corn ethanol. They say the program would make the airline industry cleaner while bringing prosperity to rural America. But environmentalists and some scientists express reservations because studies have found that corn-based ethanol gasoline additives actually exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions.

Two new Virginia delegates from Prince William County have joined forces to sound the alarm over the rapid growth of the data center industry. The industry’s growth is pressuring electric utilities to procure new sources of electricity and build lines to transmit a power load growing by 5% a year. Environmental and community groups say residential utility ratepayers should not have to pay the cost of those new generating and transmission facilities and that it is thwarting the state’s renewable energy goals by their continued reliance on fossil fuels.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved a project, which would bring as many as 37 data centers built on about 2,000 acres. The project drew significant community opposition from residents concerned about the environmental impact of the project, including noise and the need for electricity and high-voltage transmission lines. The data centers are projected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually in tax revenue for the county.

The CEO of The Clermont Foundation, a Virginia research farm, opposes changing a Clark County ordinance to prohibit solar development because it would block agrivoltaics, which allow power production alongside farming operations.


The growth in renewables is soaring and the transition to electric vehicles is well underway, but it’s still not enough.  Global carbon emissions from fossil fuels were expected to rise by 1.1% in 2023. Those increased emissions come largely from India and China, which continue to burn even larger amounts of coal to generate more electricity, as well as increased emissions from increases in flying and international shipping.

Harrisonburg’s 2022 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report is now available. Total emissions were a 4.6% decrease from the 2016 baseline level. The commercial and transportation sectors respectively accounted for 31% and 28% of these emissions, followed by the residential sector and natural gas leakage both at 12.7%. The dominant fuel source for the community emissions was electricity at 38%.

Oil companies offered $382 million for drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico in the last of several offshore oil and gas lease sales mandated under the 2022 climate law. The lease sale was required under a compromise with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia who cast the deciding vote in favor of the landmark climate law. Manchin insisted that the government must offer at least 60 million acres of offshore oil and gas leases in any one-year period before it can offer offshore wind leases that are part of its strategy to fight climate change.

The United States produced more oil and gas than ever before in 2023. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that the U.S. produced an average of 12.8 million barrels of crude oil per day through the first three quarters of 2023, more than double the 2010 average of 5.5 million. And even more crude oil production is forecast for this year—an average of 13.1 million barrels a day, driven by export demand.

The U.S. offshore wind industry is eying a brighter 2024 after progress slowed in 2023 when offshore developers canceled several contracts due to soaring inflation, interest rate hikes and supply chain problems, which increased project costs. The  industry is expected to play a major role in helping several states and U.S. meet goals to decarbonize the power grid.

Climate Justice

An international team of researchers has found that air pollution from fossil fuel use is killing about 5 million people worldwide every year, a death toll much higher than previously estimated. Phasing out fossil fuel use could reduce air pollution mortality by about 61%.

Severe droughts and more frequent and intense cyclones, induced by rising temperatures, are threatening staple foods for hundreds of millions of people in Africa. In response, scientists, government officials and farmers are reviving neglected crops and other measures to boost agricultural productivity. But only a trickle of global climate mitigation funds and almost no private capital are directed to the small farmers who produce the vast majority of the continent’s food.

Frequent natural disasters and rising sea levels have made Bangladesh one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. It is estimated that by 2050, one in every seven Bangladeshis will be displaced due to climate change—that’s 13.3 million people. The long-awaited fund to pay for loss and damage caused by climate change that countries agreed to launch at COP28 is a hopeful step in addressing this looming crisis.

Communities of color in the U.S. are most affected by climate impacts. A recent poll correspondingly shows that Black voters are more concerned about climate change than the national average, less polarized, and more likely to take action to support climate policy.

Americans who switch to more climate-friendly heating systems, solar panels, cars or stoves are now able to claim thousands of dollars from the U.S. government. Some of that money has been in the form of tax credits but that will change in 2024 as more rebates will be taken off at the point of sale. This will be a boon to lower income households whose income is not enough to take advantage of the tax credits.

Climate Action

A new study from the University of Oxford finds that pathways to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero that are heavily dependent on carbon capture and storage will cost at least $1 trillion more per year than scenarios involving renewable energy. The researchers advised that carbon capture and storage should only be used in very select industries in which abating climate pollutants is especially hard.

A U.S. Department of Energy study shows that, deployed at mass scale, geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) could decarbonize heating and cooling and save energy in U.S. buildings while reducing the need for new grid transmission. Coupled with building envelope improvements, retrofitting around 70% of U.S. buildings with GHPs could reduce electricity demand by as much as 13% by 2050.

Members of Valley Interfaith Action (VIA) are lobbying the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors to approve on-demand public transit in Rockingham County. A state ‘demonstration grant’ would cover 80% of the $1 million program costs for the first year. VIA is  also engaging with area corporations and businesses to help raise $200,000 as a local match.

Rising sea levels caused by climate change are exacerbating severe flooding in Miami. Xavier Cortada, a Miami-based artist and climate advocate, wants every resident to know how high above sea level their homes sit. He therefore recruited hundreds of students, homeowners and shopkeepers to display their elevations in their front yards and store windows to spark conversations about potential flood damage and skyrocketing insurance rates.

Food manufacturers, restaurants, and supermarkets are racing to cater to people demanding lower-carbon eating choices and eschewing plastic packaging, ingredients flown in from afar, and foods that are environmentally damaging to produce. While climate-based eating might be in its infancy, it is expected to grow as younger consumers increase their concern for the planet.

Compiled by Earl Zimmerman for the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley.



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