U.S.-India Climate Agreement Less Substantive Than U.S.-China Climate Deal

January 29, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S.-India climate agreement announced January 25 creates a new agreement between the second- and third-largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world but does not have the strength of the U.S.-China climate deal reached last year. Rather than committing India to cap its emissions, the U.S.-India deal called for “enhancing bilateral climate change cooperation” in advance of the United Nations effort to reach an international agreement on emissions and finance in Paris in December.

Specifically, the deal calls for cooperation on reducing emissions of fluorinated gases and beefing up India’s promotion of clean energy investment. The two countries also renewed their commitment to the U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center, extending by five years funding for research on advanced biofuels, solar energy, and building energy efficiency as well as launching new research on smart grid and grid storage technology.

“It’s my feeling that the agreement that has been concluded between the United States and China does not impose any pressure on us,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, adding, “But there is pressure. When we think about the future generations and what kind of world we are going to give them, then there is pressure. Climate change itself is a huge pressure. Global warming is a huge pressure.”

The agreements have not bridged the gap in the two countries’ perspectives on UN climate talks: the United States wants major emitters to take legal responsibility for climate change action, but India argues that the United States and other developed countries have not followed through on their own pledges and should not demand that developing countries take on new emissions reductions responsibilities.

President Moves to Shut Artic National Wildlife Refuge to Oil Drilling

While proposing to open portions of the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas extraction, an Obama administration plan would prohibit energy development on nearly 10 million acres off the Alaskan coast. The administration has also proposed setting aside more than 12 million acres in Alaska’s Artic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, squashing opportunities for oil exploration there.

Less than 40 percent of the refuge currently has the wilderness designation, the highest level of protection available for public lands. The president’s plan would block efforts to drill for oil on a 1.5-million-acre portion of the refuge thought to contain up to 10.3 billion barrels of petroleum.

In a press conference, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said that President Obama has declared “war” on her state. “The fight is on and we are not backing down.”

In a White House blog post, John Podesta a counselor to the president and Mike Boots, leader of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, noted that the United States today is the world’s number-one producer of oil and natural gas and that the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge “is too precious to put at risk” of an oil-related accident. “By designating the area as wilderness, Congress could preserve the Coastal Plain in perpetuity—ensuring that this wild, free, beautiful, and bountiful place remains in trust for Alaska Natives and for all Americans.”

Increasing Frequency of La Niñas Attributed to Climate Change

A new climate modeling study published in Nature Climate Change suggests that by century’s end human-caused climate change will double the frequency of La Niñas—weather patterns associated with a temperature drop in the central Pacific Ocean—resulting in floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events.

Extreme La Niña events might be experienced about every 13 years, rather than every 23 years, as they are now, but not like clockwork, according to lead study author Wenju Cai, a climate scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Aspendale, Australia. “We’re only saying that on average, we expect to get one every 13 years,” said Cai. “We cannot predict exactly when they will happen, but we suggest that on average, we are going to get more.”

The study finds that powerful La Niñas will immediately follow intense El Niños, causing weather patterns to alternate between wet and dry extremes.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Heat Wave: 2012 Labeled Hottest Year on Record

January 10, 2013

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

It’s official. Last year was the warmest year in history for the contiguous United States with at least 356 record high temperatures tied or broken, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Average temperatures in 2012 were above the 20th century average by more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures also beat a previous record set in 1998 by a full degree, even though 2012 was not an El Niño year. “Well, 1998’s heat was attributed to a strong El Niño, said Meteorologist Matt Mosteiko. “For 2012, there wasn’t one main factor that led to warm temps.”

Researchers on the NOAA study were reluctant to connect specific weather events in 2012 to climate change, but they did describe the data as “part of a longer-term trend of hotter, drier and potentially more extreme weather” to The Washington Post.

While global temperatures for 2012 are not yet available, predictions for temperature increases globally were released. But the United Kingdom’s Met Office downgraded its previous forecast for average global temperatures through 2017. The cut—20 percent—takes the average to 0.43 degrees Celsius above the 1971-2000 average, down from 0.54 degrees. The report led some media outlets to claim “global warming is at a standstill,” but others said that isn’t true. Rather, natural fluctuations in the climate system are currently having a combined cooling effect on the atmospheric temperatures, which is damping the full extent of human-caused temperature rise.

Australia has also been experiencing record-breaking heat of late, which has led to a rash of wildfires in some of the country’s most populous areas. The average temperature on Tuesday reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit—the hottest since record-keeping began in 1911. The extreme heat forced meteorologists to add a new color to their temperature maps to show temperatures near 129 degrees.

Energy in Arctic under Review

Shell Oil has experienced more than a dozen mishaps as it pulls together offshore drilling operations in the Arctic. Just last week off the coast of Alaska, Shell grounded its drilling vessel, the Kulluk. Some reports say the ship’s lifeboats may have leaked diesel fuel.

This series of accidents has led the U.S. Department of the Interior to initiate a review of Shell’s exploration efforts to help guide future permitting in the region. The process, officials have said, is estimated to take 60 days. The outcome could threaten the company’s drilling plans for 2013 during the limited window when weather conditions and regulators allow exploration. “It is troubling that there was such a series of mishaps,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “There is a troubling sense I have that so many things went wrong. It may be that Shell isn’t even ready to move forward in 2013, because of assessments taking place of the Kulluk.”

Cities Adapt as Full Extent of Sandy Relief Remains in Limbo  

As the northeastern U.S. continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy, President Barack Obama signed a bill to provide emergency federal aid to the hurricane’s victims in three of the hardest hit states—Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. The $9.7 billion, earmarked mostly to help pay for flood insurance, is only a piece of the $60 billion sought to aid in recovery following the October storm. Lawmakers are expected to weigh in on the remainder of the package Jan. 15. House Republicans asked members to submit amendments to the relief package by Friday.

Some states aren’t waiting on Washington. New York now has a new commission focused on how to cope with worsening storms. So far, the expert panel’s recommendations—still part of a draft report— include measures such as turning industrial shoreline into oyster beds, storm barriers with moveable gates and rail connections between commuter lines.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.