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Plants and Animals2022 Climate News You Should Know

2022 Climate News You Should Know

2022 Climate News You Should Know

Elise Gout
|December 19, 2022

people gathered around President Biden as he signs the IRA

The signing of the Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022 marked a historic step forward in climate motion. Photo: Cameron Smith/White House

2022 was a yr of extremes, with moments of historic climate motion interspersed with unprecedented climate disasters. As December involves a detailed, State of the Planet asked experts from across Columbia and its Climate School what they considered to be the massive news, each good and bad, inside their respective fields this yr. Their responses, compiled below, offer a snapshot of what transpired in 2022 — and a way of what may come next in 2023.

Federal Climate Law and Policy 

“It will fundamentally change the economics of unpolluted energy in the US.”

“The most important development in climate law and policy was the surprising enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. The bill provides an unprecedented $369 billion for clean energy, and “possibly way more, depending on what number of firms make the most of the tax credits [included in the bill]. Combined with the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act of 2021 and the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, this can fundamentally change the economics of unpolluted energy in the US. Together, they’ll result in annual government investment of about 4 times the previous peak. The price of solar and wind had already been plummeting, and these recent subsidies will make them even cheaper than the next-cheapest source of electricity, combined-cycle natural gas plants.” The bills also provide extra money and an expedited process for constructing much-needed transmission lines to attach recent clean energy to the grid, said Gerrard.

Atmospheric scientist Adam Sobel agreed with Gerrard. “While under no circumstances perfect, [the IRA] is the primary truly substantial climate laws ever passed in the US, and is a big achievement,” he said. “I wasn’t confident that I’d ever see this occur in my lifetime, and I’m thrilled that it has. It’s a testament to the activists that made it occur, and after all the policy experts, academics and staffers that designed it, each to be politically acceptable to a various range of constituents and in addition to cut back emissions substantively through major investments in clean energy technologies. It also has real components on adaptation and climate justice.”

Environmental Justice 

Many provisions within the IRA reflect a bigger commitment by the Biden administration to advance justice and equity through federal investment, as featured in President Biden’s State of the Union speech in March. “For the primary time within the nation’s history, the federal government has made it a goal that 40 percent of the general advantages of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities which are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution,” said John Williams, an urban historian who teaches the course Geographies of Environmental Justice and Sustainability in Columbia’s Sustainability Management program.

“The sphere of environmental justice is expanding tremendously.”

This commitment, generally known as the Justice40 Initiative, has ensured that federal funding and other resources are dedicated specifically to “putting environmental justice issues on the forefront,” he explained. “Organizations and activists who’ve been working for a long time on these causes now have capital and resources available to do the grassroots work they’ve been doing for thus long.”

Williams has already seen the impact of Justice40 through the event of climate and environmental justice fellowship programs at historically Black colleges and universities.

“The sphere of environmental justice is expanding tremendously. Initiatives like Justice40 strengthen the activism. [They] lead more people towards studies and careers in the sector, and [result in more] solutions to the numerous environmental justice and sustainability issues,” he said.

Private-sector Motion 

2022 was also not without breakthroughs within the private sector. Steve Cohen, senior vice dean of Columbia’s School of Skilled Studies, underscored the importance of the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission’s rule change, announced in March, that may require publicly traded firms to reveal their climate risks.

“That is noteworthy because it underscores that investors have begun to see the financial risks posed by environmental degradation,” said Cohen. “Constructing the organizational capability to measure, analyze, and report an organization’s environmental impact is a vital but not sufficient condition to cut back that impact. Nonetheless, at a minimum, the brand new SEC rule will help provide environmental sustainability with a job like that played by accounting and financial management in management education. CEOs must have the ability to read and understand a financial plan; going into 2023, they’ll need to grasp an environmental impact statement as well.”

International Law and Policy

For international investment law, Martin Dietrich Brauch, lead researcher on the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, said that the certainly one of the largest developments of 2022 was when seven European Union member states representing greater than 70 percent of the EU’s population—France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain—publicly announced their decision to withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) in November.

The ECT provides an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which makes it “harder and dear for states to take legitimate climate motion,” Brauch explained. “For example, when a government takes measures to limit oil and gas exploration or exploitation, stop the expansion of pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure, or phase out coal-fired power generation, investment treaties with investor-state dispute settlements allow foreign investors to sue their host states and claim monetary compensation for those measures. In other words, they protect and reward investments that interfere dangerously with the climate system, undermining the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

The seven EU member states—including key original proponents of the ECT—decided to exit the treaty after a recent renegotiation failed to handle these issues.

Considered one of the latest reports from the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment also confirms that investment treaties just like the ECT are neither effective nor decisive in attracting investment in renewables, and might the truth is be extraordinarily costly for states and for the broader policy objective of encouraging renewable energy investments.

The Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment has been calling on EU member states to withdraw from the ECT for a while.

“The EU member states’ withdrawal from the ECT reinforces an argument [our center] has long been making: the international community should consider clearing the trail of the present investment treaties through their termination or through withdrawal of consent to investor-state dispute settlements,” said Brauch. “It also stresses the importance of labor that’s on the core of our mission: pondering innovatively about how international law can support investment governance to attain the Sustainable Development Goals, including climate motion.”


The urgency and importance of worldwide climate motion has been acutely shaped by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

“The continued war in Ukraine creates uncertainties as to the long run of unpolluted and reasonably priced energy supply.”

“This yr has put tremendous pressure on global energy systems and can have far reaching ramifications to the worldwide economy and our planet,” said Kong Chyong, senior research scholar on the School of International and Public Affairs. “As Russia continues to weaponize its energy by cutting supplies to Ukraine and its allies, many developing countries — Pakistan, for instance — are facing fuel shortages; meanwhile, others corresponding to Europe and China are ramping up the usage of dirty fuels like coal in response to high energy prices and a worldwide shortage of energy, particularly natural gas. The continued war in Ukraine, due to this fact, creates uncertainties as to the long run of unpolluted and reasonably priced energy supply not simply to developed nations, but importantly to developing nations as they embark on their journey to industrialize their economies and to offer reasonably priced and clean energy access to their residents.”

Air Quality 

While countries have grappled this yr with meeting their energy demands — at times undermining their very own decarbonization efforts to accomplish that — the impacts of climate change have raged on. The October wildfires within the Pacific Northwest were the largest news story for air pollution in 2022 for V. Faye McNeill, atmospheric scientist and vice chair and director of the Undergraduate Program for the Department of Chemical Engineering.

For a time period, Seattle and Portland were among the many cities with the worst air quality on the earth. “Wildfires within the Western U.S. and Canada are the most important air quality challenge facing the U.S. in modern times,” said McNeill. “And this problem will proceed to worsen under a changing climate — in 2023 and beyond.”

The air pollution from wildfires and other sources like power plants and combustion vehicles disproportionately affects marginalized communities, including low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. During the last yr, PhD candidate Garima Raheja at Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has been pleased to see increasingly more research dedicated to the intersection of air quality and environmental justice. As residents from heavily polluted areas demand motion, lawmakers and federal government agencies are also starting to take community science and low-cost air pollution sensors more seriously.

“These sensors offer a way for income-constrained areas to watch their air, and in addition offer a likelihood to grasp spatial heterogeneities inside a city, which expensive regulatory monitors cannot really do,” she said. “As we proceed this work, I hope we also can pivot to really solving [the root of these] problems by shutting down fossil fuel plants and shutting highways in favor of public transit and walkable cities.”


There have been vital strides taken to decarbonize the transportation sector in 2022, particularly through vehicle electrification, said Jackie Klopp, co-director of the Columbia Climate School’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development. In the primary quarter of 2022, some 2 million electric vehicles (EVs) were sold globally — a 75% increase in comparison with 2021. Additional incentives within the Inflation Reduction Act for brand spanking new and used EVs are also expected to speed up their adoption in the US.

Despite this progress, the transportation sector continues to be the fastest growing source of emissions worldwide. Klopp stressed that electrification is only one instrument that “mustn’t distract from other measures,” including shifting to public and non-motorized transport.

“We are able to laud progress on electrification but cannot allow it to be an excuse for continuing with automobile and automobile-oriented development,” said Klopp. “The lesson for 2023 is that we are going to have to work quite a bit harder and quite a bit more holistically to make transport greener, cleaner, and protected.”

Public Health 

The connections between public health and climate change have also grow to be more outstanding over the past yr. Robbie Parks, environmental epidemiologist and assistant professor on the Mailman School of Public Health, highlighted the brand new $100 million climate change and health initiative that the Biden administration and the National Institutes of Health announced in March.

“It’s real recognition by the Biden administration that public health is an efficient lever for [climate action],” he said. “[The funding will support] actionable research to cut back the health threats from climate change across the lifespan and to construct health resilience in individuals, communities and nations world wide, especially those at the very best risk.”

Climate change is exacerbating hunger and famine.

Considered one of the best threats to global health is the exacerbation of hunger and famine as a result of climate change, said Lew Ziska, associate professor in Environmental Health Sciences on the Mailman School of Public Health. For instance, 2022 marks 4 consecutive drought years which have compromised food availability in East Africa, including in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

“Thousands and thousands are being threatened,” said Ziska. “[There is a need to] bring attention to the problem [and] take into consideration public health not only from an obesity standpoint, but through the lens of hunger and famine as well. [This includes asking questions like] what are the impacts [of hunger] on health and development? And what are the very best ways to beat famine and support dietary integrity?”


John Furlow, director of Columbia Climate School’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), shared an identical perspective. “There have been some terrible disasters this yr that disrupted many facets of our lives — not only agriculture,” he said. “What’s remarkable is that lots of the disasters that we proceed to suffer through are forecastable.”

Before the deadly flooding in Pakistan this summer, IRI forecasts issued in May and June had predicted abnormally heavy rainfall months; Pakistan had also arrange early warning systems after the historic floods of 2010-2011. But, Furlow said, it seems that little was done in response. “The existence of fine information doesn’t mean problems might be averted. Decision makers must know the data exists. They’ve to grasp it, they usually must have the resources to take motion,” he said.

Considered one of the first focuses of the IRI is to assist developing countries get the climate information they should manage food security, in addition to disasters and vector-borne disease risks, based on the projected conditions for the following growing season. Furlow hopes that, in 2023, there might be a greater use of the sorts of tools that IRI provides. “Until something changes, the tragedies we saw this summer will proceed to occur. We run the danger of normalizing these disasters,” he said, “and our ambivalence to them.”


Relatedly, within the water sector, the “big news of 2022 was the coincident and unprecedented droughts and floods over much of the world,” said Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center. Lall explained that these extreme events are usually not random, but as an alternative are due largely to the actual configuration of a La Niña condition within the tropical Pacific ocean, which ends up in cooler ocean temperatures than normal near the equator. In lots of cases this yr, several countries or regions experienced a major drought followed by a major flood, including Europe, central Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

“These space-time clustered events have major global impacts,” said Lall. “And while compound risks as a result of multiple climate extremes are being recognized, the sector has been slow to appreciate that many locations may experience these in the identical yr as a result of the best way the climate system is organized. The online result’s a worldwide impact on supply chains that results in significant inflationary pressures. That is now in people’s face and can change how we take into consideration water and climate shocks from a worldwide perspective.”

Climate Science

Mingfang Ting, co-director of the Columbia Climate School’s MA in Climate and Society Program, also referred to the “unprecedented heatwaves and floods” of 2022. “The magnitude, frequency, and spatial extent [of these events] has even surprised climate scientists,” she said.

Ting added that “the excellent news” is that countries reached a breakthrough agreement to determine a “loss and damage” fund on the UN climate summit (COP27) to offer financial assistance to countries most vulnerable to climate change. Though removed from sufficient to satisfy the worldwide gap in climate finance, the agreement is a crucial first step.

“I anticipate that [last year’s heatwaves and floods together with the new loss and damage fund] will speed up research in attributing extreme events and their devastating consequences to anthropogenic causes in the approaching years,” said Ting.

Disaster Preparedness 

When considering extreme weather in the US, Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, director on the Columbia Climate School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, pointed to the historic infrastructure investments this yr from the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act as pivotal to improving long-term disaster resilience.

Latest laws includes major investments in climate adaptation.

“Loads of attention is on the climate mitigation facets [of these bills], but additionally they contain major investments for climate adaptation and equity,” said Schlegelmilch. “Updating our aging infrastructure — including our electric grid, roads, and buildings — for the mixing of recent technologies will contribute to more resilience within the face of disasters…. Modernizing this [infrastructure] in a more equitable way will [provide greater benefits to] historically underserved communities and is the one real possibility for getting ahead of a trend of accelerating disasters and the impacts to those affected.”

“I feel we are going to see plenty of recent initiatives [in 2023] and things like ground-breaking ceremonies with golden shovels filled with dirt,” he added. “The true impacts, though, will are available in the years and even a long time to return as [these projects] have time to return to fruition.”


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