Climate Action

Winter wildfire, EVs and coffee fields: Everything to know about the environment this week

A view shows the remains of a home destroyed by wildfires, a day after evacuation orders, in Louisville, Colorado, U.S., December 31, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

US President Joe Biden is due to visit Colorado, parts of which were ravaged by rare winter wildfires in December 2021. Image: REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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SDG 13: Climate Action

  • This weekly round-up brings you some of the key environment stories from the past seven days.
  • Top stories: President Biden to visit site of rare winter wildfire in Colorado; EV sales hit 65% of new cars in Norway; heavy rains hit Brazil's coffee fields.

1. Environment stories from around the world

US President Joe Biden is due to visit Colorado on Friday to view the devastation left by a rare, winter wildfire that ravaged two Denver-area towns last week, displacing thousands of residents. Two people are missing and feared dead after the wind-driven Marshall Fire, the most destructive in the state's history, incinerated more than 1,000 homes on 30-31 December.

Taiwan's largest pension fund is set to issue what a top official said is Asia's first climate change-focused stock mandate, worth $2.3 billion, amid mounting pressure for the global financial sector to support green investing.

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Germany on Sunday welcomed a plan by the European Union to label some natural gas energy projects as "green" investments, but stressed its opposition to a proposal to do the same for nuclear power projects. Germany pulled the plug on three of its last six nuclear power stations on 31 December as it moves towards completing a withdrawal from nuclear power that it sped up after the meltdown of a reactor in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.

Seven states in Malaysia were hit by floods on Sunday and thousands of people were evacuated, taking the total affected by heavy rain in the preceding two weeks to over 125,000, the National Disaster Management Agency said.

A massive spill of raw sewage in California on New Year's Eve forced the city of Long Beach to close all swimming areas at nearby beaches, officials said.

An unusual winter warm spell in Alaska has brought daytime temperatures soaring past 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5°C) and torrents of rain at a time of year normally associated with bitter cold and fluffy snow.

2. EVs hit 65% of Norway car sales

Norway new car sales
New cars at a crossroads in Norway. Image: Norwegian Road Federation/Norway

Electric cars made up nearly two-thirds of Norway's new car sales in 2021, with Tesla the top selling automobile brand overall, as the country pursues its goal of becoming the first to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars.

While Norway, with a population of 5.4 million, has the world's highest proportion of electric vehicles, China with its 1.4 billion people is by far the biggest overall car market.

Oil-producing Norway has encouraged the switch to zero-emission cars by exempting battery electric vehicles (BEVs) from taxes imposed on internal combustion engines (ICE).

This tax break is expected to help drive the proportion of overall electric sales as high as 80% in 2022, ahead of a deadline to end petrol- and diesel-powered car sales by 2025. Overall, new sales in Norway rose by 25% in 2021 to a record 176,276 cars, of which 65% were fully electric. This market share was up from 54% in 2020.

3. Heavy rains hit coffee fields in Brazil

Severe rains have flooded coffee fields and other crops in central eastern areas in Brazil, the latest in a climate roller-coaster for the nation's agricultural regions that has included devastating frosts and droughts.

The rains are more than four times the norm for regions north of Minas Gerais, the main coffee-producing area of Brazil. Unlike the other severe weather, however, the extra rain could ultimately improve soil conditions on coffee farms.

Brazil, the world's leading grower of coffee, suffered its worst drought in 90 years last year, followed by the strongest frosts in decades. In late December, rains killed more than 20 people in the north-eastern state of Bahia, while a dry spell slashed the soy crop in the extreme south.

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Eustaquio Gonçalves, who helps manage 460 hectares (1,136 acres) of arabica coffee in Pirapora, north of Minas Gerais, says rains since October have passed 1,000 millimetres (39.37 inches) in the area.

"We usually get less than that in the whole year," he said.

Excess rain causes coffee berries, which are still green at this point, to fall, reducing production. They also prevent ideal crop care since machines cannot move about the trees, leading to quicker spread of diseases and pests.

Gonçalves estimates yields at the farm will fall to around 40 60-kilogramme bags per hectare (2.47 acres) from earlier projections of 50 bags.

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