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September 23, 2022

🌅 Happy Friday! Today's newsletter has a Smart Brevity count of 1,267 words, 5 minutes. 

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On this day in 1978, David Bowie released a single that became one of his most well-known songs. It serves as today's intro tune...

1 big thing: UN confab previews COP27 conflicts

Photo illustration of Gen Guterres in front of bursting shapes, including one filled with images of greenhouse gas emissions

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Mark Baker-Pool/Getty Images

The United Nations General Assembly this week gave hints of a coming clash between developing nations and the industrialized world over how to compensate vulnerable nations that are being hit hardest by climate change, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: With climate disasters taking a mounting toll in vulnerable countries, much of the focus at November's COP27 climate summit in Egypt may be on the responsibility of industrialized nations to provide funding to those countries for climate damage they did not cause.

Driving the news: The topic of what is known under the UN climate treaty as "loss and damage" is fraught, particularly with the U.S., since funds going toward compensation are seen by critics as an admission of liability.

  • Securing the votes in Congress for climate adaptation funding, let alone loss and damage issues, is controversial. This hamstrings U.S. negotiators at climate summits.

Zoom in: UN Secretary-General António Guterres made clear in his speech to world leaders that a successful COP27 outcome must include funding for loss and damage.

  • He proposed that some of this money come from oil-and-gas companies' "windfall profits" during this time of soaring energy and food costs.
  • In a video released just before the New York summit, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, host of COP27, outlined a list of priorities that includes loss and damage.
  • Such an outcome, Shoukry said, would provide developing countries with "means and resources to avert, minimize and address" such climate consequences.

Between the lines: The Alliance of Small Island States, a coalition of some of the most vulnerable nations to global warming, plans to push at COP27 for the creation of a new multilateral fund for loss and damage under the 1992 UN climate treaty.

  • Michai Robertson, the alliance's lead negotiator for climate finance, told Axios in an interview that loss and damage are "connected to this concept of climate justice and common responsibility."
  • He said paying into such a fund is a matter of solidarity. The whole world is experiencing global warming, though some countries are more responsible for causing it than others, he added.
  • Robertson said he, along with other members of the AOSIS negotiating team, was discouraged by John Kerry, the top U.S. climate diplomat, who at a Tuesday event bristled at a loss and damage fund.

What they're saying: "You can't just set up a [funding] facility in six weeks. Let's be serious about this," Kerry said in response to a loss and damage question.

  • "Where's the money coming from? Do you think this Republican Congress, where we couldn't get one vote for this legislation, is going to step up and do loss and damage? Good luck."

2. Alaskan tribal communities confront food insecurity after storm

Photo illustration of coastal Alaska Native fishermen and caribou hunters.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Andrew Burton, Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For dozens of tribal communities in western Alaska, damage from a storm associated with Typhoon Merbok — fueled in part by climate change — deepens food insecurity, Axios' Ayurella Horn-Muller writes.

The big picture: Alaska’s winter is just weeks away, and disaster recovery typically takes years.

  • Last weekend, the non-tropical incarnation of Merbok lashed 1,300 miles along the western coast of Alaska as the strongest September storm ever recorded in the Bering Sea.
  • Floods from the storm caused power outages, which wiped out subsistence stores, while also damaging water and sewage systems, homes and roads — impacting sources of food and livelihood.

How it works: Rebuilding after a storm disrupts traditional food harvesting that is central to the subsistence economy.

  • At this time of year especially, hunting is important to rural communities that are stocking up on food for the winter.
  • But with flooded streets, damaged buildings and homes, and power failures, people aren't going to be hunting — they're going to be focused on disaster recovery.

Nome Eskimo Community Tribal member Darlene Trigg lost her subsistence cabin, which was built by her family, in the storm. “It was the primary place that my family was able to subsist from,” Trigg told Axios via email.

  • “My dad and mom made sure we all had subsistence foods and it all happened in that building. It's a part of the foundation of who I am. It's built into my identity."

Read the whole story.

3. White House's World Bank list

Protestors at the World Bank after the bank's president made comments skeptical of the scientific consensus on climate change.

Activists call out World Bank head David Malpass as a climate denier in Washington on Sept. 22. Photo: Olivier DoulieryAFP via Getty Images

Biden officials have considered trying to oust World Bank President David Malpass, who took office during the Trump administration, because they believe he's weak on climate, according to people familiar with the matter, reports Axios' Hans Nichols.

Why it matters: Administration officials are deeply concerned by Malpass' failure to answer this week when asked if climate change was caused by humans.

  • His response provides ammunition to officials who want Biden to spend some political capital to attempt to remove him.
  • But officials know that replacing Malpass would be a messy process and they are unsure how — or even if — the U.S. can orchestrate his ouster.
  • Malpass was confirmed by the bank's board of executive directors, which the White House doesn't control.

State of play: Malpass was viewed suspiciously by the Biden administration from the beginning. That suspicion has now been confirmed. And he's been on thin ice for months.

  • Malpass' refusal to acknowledge fossil fuels were warming the planet set off an international furor, including calls to resign.
  • He went into damage control Thursday, emailing a clarification to staff and going on CNN.
  • "It's clear that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing climate change," he said in the internal email, seen by Axios.

What we're watching: Some Biden officials have gone as far as gaming out potential replacements.

Reality check: The fact that Biden hasn't made a change suggests that there's some internal resistance to ousting Malpass.

Read the whole story.

4. Canada's coming big hit and a Florida threat

Video from inside Hurricane Fiona in the Atlantic Ocean.

Footage taken inside Hurricane Fiona on Sept. 22. (NOAA/Saildrone)

Hurricane Fiona may be one of the most intense storms ever to strike Atlantic Canada when it roars ashore Saturday. It could even set a national intensity record based on its minimum air pressure, Andrew writes.

Threat level: The storm is likely to bring widespread damaging winds to a region between Halifax and Newfoundland. Power could be knocked out in some areas for extended periods of time.

  • Pounding surf and damaging storm surge flooding will also affect the Canadian Maritimes.
  • "These winds could cause significant treefall and result in extended utility outages," Environment Canada warns for eastern Nova Scotia.
  • "Damage to building cladding and roofing material is likely, including structural damage in certain cases."
  • A Saildrone research vessel confirmed the storm contains 50-foot seas when it sailed into it on Thursday.

Between the lines: Fiona is undergoing a transformation into a post-tropical storm, which is causing it to unspool from a tightly wound major hurricane into a sprawling, hurricane-force windstorm most comparable to 2012's Hurricane Sandy.

What's next: A worrying scenario is likely to play out in the Caribbean during the next few days, as a tropical depression strengthens into a hurricane.

  • Computer models agree that it will intensify, potentially rapidly.
  • While some models take it into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, others track it across Cuba and into Florida by midweek next week.

5. Climate disasters may change minds: poll

Data: Gallup; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

A new World Risk poll finds that people who have recently experienced a natural disaster tend to rate climate change as a more serious threat, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: Extreme weather events, including droughts and wildfires, are a major way that climate change is manifesting itself in peoples' lives.

  • That people seem to be connecting the dots between a recent disaster and climate change suggests that extreme weather events could help shift minds on the urgency of addressing human-caused climate change.

Yes, but: The poll, which Gallup conducted on behalf of Lloyd's Register Foundation, also found a shift in attitudes around earthquakes, which is a natural disaster that has little to do with climate change.

This newsletter was edited by Mickey Meece and David Nather. Have a great weekend and see you back here on Monday!