News briefs: UN's Guterres on coal

Plus, EPA rolls back rules on toxic waste from coal plants, and escalating 'water wars'

“There is simply no rational case for coal power in any investment plan,” says Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations.

EPA relaxes rules limiting toxic waste from coal plants

The Trump administration on Monday relaxed strict Obama-era standards for how coal-fired power plants dispose of wastewater laced with dangerous pollutants like lead, selenium and arsenic, a move environmental groups said would leave rivers and streams vulnerable to toxic contamination, The New York Times reports. According to the story, the EPA regulation scaled back the types of wastewater treatment technologies that utilities must install to protect rivers and other waterways. It also pushed back compliance dates and exempted some power plants from taking any action at all.

EU sets up raw materials alliance

The European Union last week agreed to a new plan to secure access to rare earth minerals and to reduce reliance on suppliers like Chile, China and South Africa, according to a report from the Associated Press. The EU will set up a European Raw Materials Alliance with industry, investors, the European Investment Bank, EU member countries and others to help secure raw mineral supply chains. The EU is predicted to need around 60 times more lithium and 15 times more cobalt for electric vehicle batteries and energy storage by 2050, according to the AP. The goal is to map the possible supply of critical raw materials in EU stocks and waste, as well as to identify projects to help recover them, by 2022.

Conflicts over water resources seen escalating

About a quarter of the world’s people face extreme water shortages that are fueling conflict, social unrest and migration, water experts said on Wednesday in a special report from the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. With population increases and climate change, competition for scarcer water is growing, they said, with serious consequences. “If there is no water, people will start to move. If there is no water, politicians are going to try and get their hands on it and they might start to fight over it,” said Kitty van der Heijden, head of international cooperation at the Netherlands' foreign ministry. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), a U.S.-based research group, 17 countries face “extremely high” levels of water stress, while more than two billion people live in countries experiencing “high” water stress.

Better food systems can help slash greenhouse gas emissions

Policymakers can improve the chances of achieving climate goals and limiting global warming by making more specific commitments to transforming national food systems. So says a new report titled, Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for Food Systems, published today by WWF, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), EAT and Climate Focus. The report finds countries are missing significant opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and identifies 16 ways policymakers could take more action. Doing so could deliver 20% of the targeted global emissions reductions needed by 2050. According to the report, food systems — which gather all the elements and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food — account for up to 37% of all greenhouse gas emissions; continuing on a business-as-usual trajectory will single-handedly exhaust the 1.5 °C.-compatible emissions budgets for all sectors. 

Popular retirement spots at risk of climate change

Warm, beachy spots on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts have been retirement magnets for decades. But, as Hurricane Laura just underscored, they’re also squarely in the crosshairs of the changing climate, effects of which are already evident in many of the nation’s most popular retirement destinations, writes Craig Miller for Next Avenue. Some popular lists of top retirement spots include environmental factors such as air quality, but it’s rare to see any consideration given to present and future impacts from climate change. Read more to find out which locales seem less risky.