It’s another big week – as many weeks are at the moment – for climate news. This time, we will be covering the cost of the climate crisis, a UK water bills boycott, the size of the melting ice caps, and a new Californian climate bill.

It can be scary feeling like we’re heading towards a catastrophe, with the atmospheric carbon PPM increasing, rapid ice melting in Antarctica, flooding, and UN reports coming out seemingly every week to suggest that we are in the last moments to prevent the climate crisis. Things are bad, but they’re not past the point of no return yet.  Let’s dive in…

The Cost of Extreme Weather

A report published this week has estimated that the global cost of extreme weather events (attributable to climate change) is around US $143 billion per year, or around $16 million per hour.

Researchers warn, however, that this may be a significant under-estimate, predicting the cost could be up to $230 billion. This is because around two-thirds of the costs reported are due to loss of human life, as there is missing data for heatwave deaths in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

The researchers from the University of Wellington, New Zealand, hope that their findings will help to put a clear number on climate debt, and will assist in the calculation of the UN’s loss and damage fund, intended to pay for extreme weather disasters in poorer countries.

Putting this figure into context, an estimated $7 trillion in subsidies are enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry every year.

UK Water Bills Boycott

A growing number of people in England and Wales are boycotting the payment of their water bills in response to water companies not doing enough to monitor their levels of pollution, sewage spills, and contamination.

The organising organisation, Boycott Water Bills, claim that “raw sewage has entered rivers and seas in England and Wales 825 times per day in the last year”. As a result, they have stopped paying for the “water treatment” part of their bills, in protest against paying the costs of pollution for water companies.

Water companies are permitted to pump untreated sewage into rivers on days of unusually heavy rainfall, but Southern Water has been accused of pumping sewage even when rainfall does not meet these levels. In 2021, they were fined £90 million after pleading guilty to over 6,000 such sewage discharges.

Southern Water told the Guardian, “We are very conscious of the impact we have on our environment and work carefully to protect it.”

Antarctic Ice Shelves Melting

Another report published this week has estimated that over 7.5 trillion metric tonnes of ice shelves in the Antarctic have melted in the last 25 years.

The particular significance of this is that ice shelves are often what is keeping larger glaciers, previously stuck behind them, from melting even faster. The obvious result of this is that this climate-change-caused melting will result in sea level rises, something which is set to affect many communities not sufficiently prepared to deal with them, over the next decades.

The biggest loss comes from the Thwaites Ice Shelf. This ice shelf holds back a glacier nicknamed “Doomsday” because it is both so large and melting so fast. This shelf has lost around 70% of its mass in the last 25 years. Were this glacier to collapse completely, global sea levels could increase by 65cm.

This total loss of ice amounts to around 300 billion metric tonnes per year, which confirms numbers found in previous studies.

21 new species declared extinct

The US Fish and Wildlife Service gave a press release earlier this week declaring that 21 species have been removed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to extinction. This news comes after a 2021 review suggested 23 different species to be removed from the ESA. Following two years of gathering research, 21 of those species have now been declared extinct.

This raises concerns from many wildlife advocacy groups, who have noted the way in which our climate it closely linked to maintaining the planet’s diversity. Noah Greenwald, of the Centre for Biological Diversity, noted to the Guardian how crises of extinction threaten our very ways of life.

Amongst the species now considered extinct are both plants and animals, including the Little Mariana fruit bat, a small bat originating in Guam, which had its last confirmed sighting in 1968. The delisted species also include two species of fish, 10 species of bird, and eight other forms of sealife.

Biden Administration plans to build new gas export hubs come under attack.

Biden’s administration is facing pressure to block the construction of a $10bn project to create one of the world’s largest gas export hubs, which is set to be constructed on the Louisiana shoreline in the Gulf of Mexico. The project, known as Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2), would ship up to 24 million tonnes of liquified natural gas each year once it was built, resulting in emissions of around 197.3 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.  

In response, many environmental protection groups are urging the Biden administration to block the building of the project, including many Democrats from Biden’s own party. As with many modern projects aimed at increasing fossil fuel production, the continuation of this project is likely to have devastating impacts for the planet, driving up global temperatures further.

The project is scheduled for construction in 2026, and has requested permission to operate until 2050, by which point the Biden administration hopes to make the US net zero.

Avian flu reaches the Antarctic for the first time

For the first time ever, Avian flu has reached the Antarctic, which causes concern for the hundreds of rare species which have never been exposed to the virus before.

The British Antarctic Survey has reported that the first signs of the flu were found on Bird Island, part of British overseas territory, and home to one of the planet’s richest wildlife sites. It is estimated to be home to 50,000 pairs of breeding penguins and around 65,000 pairs of fur seals, making it essential to the continued existences of these species.

Bird island has remained largely untouched and protected thanks to its remote location which is only accessible by ship, and lies around 1000km south east of the Falkland Islands. Importantly, it is also rat-free, meaning that it is one of the last homes of many land-nesting birds such as petrels, which are endangered.

The virus was likely brought with migratory birds from South America, where bird flu is estimated to have already killed around 500,000 seabirds and 20,000 sea lions in Peru and Chile.

And some good news, in California and Japan:

California will require big firms, including global corporations operating within the state, to disclose their planet-heating carbon emissions.

The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, signed the measure into law last week, representing a groundbreaking law of its kind. Few governments have required this kind of climate accountability before, often fearing losing the economic benefits of these big firms operating locally.

The law will come into effect for all public and private companies whose annual revenue exceeds $1 billion in 2025.

In this week’s good news, Japan has pledged $1.1 billion US dollars (around 165 billion yen) to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund, making the country one of the fund’s largest contributors.

The fund seeks contributions to fund projects in climate-vulnerable countries over the next four years (2024-27). This pledge from Japan matches their commitment to the 2020-23 fund, making them the fourth largest contributor.

Japan has been committed to responding to the climate crisis, setting targets to respond to emissions and become net-zero by 2050.

As always, you can find links to learn more about all of these stories at the bottom of the page. If you find this news distressing, the university counselling service is available, and there are many climate societies where you can get involved in more direct action.

For further information:

Extreme Weather: Report | The Guardian

Water Bills Boycott: The Guardian | The Independent | Boycott Water Bills

Melting Ice Shelves: Report | Associated Press

California Climate Accountability: The Guardian | SB-253 Full Bill