EPA, DOT Reviewing Fuel Economy Standards

On August 17, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a Federal Register notice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation announced they were considering rewriting emissions standards for cars and light trucks made between 2022 and 2025.

The review covers vehicle model years 2022 to 2025. The EPA is also seeking comments on whether fuel standards for the 2021 model year “are appropriate.” The public comment period will be open for 45 days.

“We are moving forward with an open and robust review of emissions standards, consistent with the timeframe provided in our regulations,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “We encourage the public to submit the best-available and most up-to-date information, so that we can get back on track with what the regulation actually requires of the agency. Finally, we are working with DOT to ensure that our standards are ultimately aligned.”

In 2009, automakers agreed to the Obama administration’s rules, which would bring the average fleetwide fuel economy to between 50 and 52.6 miles per gallon in 2025.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which sets fuel economy standards in parallel with the EPA, announced last month it was reconsidering its 2021 mandate as part of its scheduled rulemaking for model years 2022 to 2025.

The EPA has until April 1, 2018 to determine whether the 2022-2025 standards set by the previous administration are appropriate. NHTSA has until April 2020.

Climate Reports: Human Fingerprint Evident in Significant Disruption

At the poles, in the tropics, and beneath the ocean’s surface, the authors of a new report see symptoms of human-caused climate change.

The 27th annual assessment known as the State of the Climate found that last year Earth was hotter than at any time in 137 years of recordkeeping and that it experienced the most significant climate disruption in modern history. In the United States alone, 15 weather or climate-related disasters—drought, wildfire, four inland floods and eight severe storms—caused 138 deaths and $46 billion in damages.

The peer-reviewed report compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Weather and Climate from research conducted by scientists around the world found that a powerful El Niño magnified the effects of heat brought on by greenhouse gases. Particularly notable were record concentrations of carbon dioxide, which increased by the largest year-to-year increase in the six decades of measurement, surpassing 400 parts per million for the first time as an annual average (subscription).

That average far surpasses that of the last 800,000 years, during which concentrations have oscillated between 180 and 300 parts per million (subscription).

Other records included the highest sea levels and lowest sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctica and the highest average sea surface temperature.

Some other highlights of the report:

  • At any given time, nearly one-eighth of the world’s land mass was in severe drought.
  • Extreme weather such as downpours, heat waves, and wildfires struck across the globe.
  • The number of tropical cyclones was 13 percent more than normal.

A separate study published last week in Geophysical Research Letters and based on modeling and weather patterns shows the odds of three years in a row of record-setting heat with and without man-made global warming in model simulations. Without a human climate influence, there’s a less than 0.5 percent chance of that occurrence at any time since 2000. With such an influence, the odds increase to the 30–50 percent range.

Trump Issues Executive Order Targeting Infrastructure

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that will, in part, repeal a 2015 directive by former President Barack Obama establishing a federal policy to “improve the resilience of communities and federal assets against the impacts of flooding,” which are “anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats.” Trump’s executive order was in favor of simplifying the approval process for federal infrastructure projects.

“Inefficiencies in current infrastructure project decisions, including management of environmental reviews and permit decisions or authorizations, have delayed infrastructure investments, increased project costs, and blocked the American people from enjoying improved infrastructure that would benefit our economy, society, and environment,” the order said. “More efficient and effective federal infrastructure decisions can transform our economy, so the federal government, as a whole, must change the way it processes environmental reviews and authorization decisions.”

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

At a meeting of Group of Seven (G7) environment ministers, the first since President Donald Trump announced the U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement, the United States refused to sign a pledge that calls the global climate accord the “irreversible” global tool to address climate change. In a communique issued Monday, the U.S. position was distinguished in a footnote: “The United States will continue to engage with key international partners in a manner that is consistent with our domestic priorities, preserving both a strong economy and a healthy environment.”

In the communique, ministers representing Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union reaffirmed their “strong commitment to the swift and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement,” but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt, who departed the two-day meeting in Bologna, Italy, meeting early, refused to sign sections related to climate change, multilateral development banks and support for implementation of climate finance pledges. He did join the other ministers in committing to a 2030 agenda for sustainable development, sustainable finance and resource efficiency.

In a statement on the G7 meeting, the EPA announced that the United States “stands firm” on its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and that it has “reset the conversation about climate change” to reflect new priorities and the “expectations of the American people.” It included this quote from Pruitt: “We are resetting the dialogue to say Paris is not the only way forward to making progress. Today’s action of reaching consensus makes clear that the Paris Agreement is not the only mechanism by which environmental stewardship can be demonstrated.”

At the meeting’s opening session, Pruitt told delegates that the United States wanted to continue making efforts to combat climate change and that he wished to engage with the United Nations Climate Change secretariat.

Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said a dialogue had been kept open to determine whether there were conditions for Washington to reenter the Paris accord. “But one thing is clear,” he said, “the accord is irreversible, non-negotiable and the only instrument for fighting climate change.”

McClatchy reported that the G7 country pushing hardest to maintain international momentum to address global warming is Germany, which hosts this year’s annual climate summit in November. Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks met last week with California Governor Jerry Brown to demonstrate that Germany is ready to work with individual U.S. states on the issue.

Hendricks and Brown—who last week signed green energy agreements with two Chinese cities—issued a joint statement on climate change in which they said “the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement underscores the important role that non-state actors, and particularly subnational actors, play in achieving the overall objective and goals of that agreement.”

The divide between the United States and its G7 partners on climate action was highlighted last week by Hendricks’s fact checks of Trump’s recent statements about the Paris deal and by President Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to U.S. climate researchers to move to France.

Clean Power Plan Goes to OMB for Review; Methane Emissions Standards on Hold

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advanced President Donald Trump’s efforts to rescind or revise the Clean Power Plan—which seeks a 32 percent cut in the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2030—by sending a review of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for analysis (subscription).

The OMB review is the final step before the EPA can release its proposal for public comments. Although the nature of the proposal remains unclear, a full repeal is expected to be the Trump administration’s goal.

Underlying the Clean Power Plan is a 2009 EPA determination that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles should be regulated. The Obama administration argued that the determination, known as the endangerment finding, applied to stationary sources such as power plants as well to mobile sources. EPA head Scott Pruitt could reverse that interpretation to pull the plug on power plant regulation.

But a more likely strategy, ClimateWire reported, is that Pruitt will contend that the agency went beyond its purview in setting carbon reduction goals by looking at what the power system as a whole could achieve instead of focusing solely on improvements at coal plants (subscription). That is, the agency could be focusing on a legal argument rather than attempting to fight the science behind the rule.

A D.C. Circuit temporarily froze a case brought against the rule by some states and industry groups (subscription). It is now considering whether to keep proceedings on hold or to close the case.

Also on hold: the Obama administration’s oil and gas industry methane emissions standards (subscription). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it would propose a two-year stay of those standards while it reconsiders them. Pruitt signed the notice submitting the two-year stay to the Federal Register on Monday.

The move would extend the 90-day administrative stay, announced May 31, of the 2016 New Source Performance Standards for the oil and gas industry, which require companies to install leak detection devices and capture leaking emissions (subscription). The EPA also proposed a separate three-month stay to cover any time gap between the end of the 90-day stay and the beginning of the 2-year stay. Both new stays are subject to a 30-day comment period.

Study on Climate Change Put on Ice by Climate Change

Warming temperatures have resulted in dangerous maritime conditions off north Newfoundland, preventing climate scientists from traveling to their study area and forcing their transport vessel, the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen, to help free fishing boats and other ships hemmed in by ice traveling unusually far south from the high Arctic. David Barber, the expedition’s chief scientist, noted the irony of the conditions that caused cancellation of part of his team’s climate change study.

“I have been in the Arctic for 35 years and this is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had,” he said Monday. “Normally these conditions aren’t so bad. This is climate change fully in action—affecting our ability to make use of marine resources and transport things.”

Barber pointed out that warming loosens ice, which can travel long distances on ocean currents.

“It’s very much a climate-change driven phenomenon,” said Barber. “When you reduce the extent of the ice and reduce the thickness of it, it becomes more mobile.” And he suggested that phenomenon offered a valuable lesson about climate change to the Canadian government.

“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there. It comes south,” he said. “We’re simply ill-prepared.”

Canadian researchers and their international colleagues have been monitoring the impacts of climate change and resource development on Arctic marine and coastal ecosystems and northern communities since 2003.

Trump Evaluating Stance on Paris Agreement

On April 27, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Administration officials are reported to be meeting at the White House today to deliberate on whether the United States should stay in or exit the Paris Agreement, the global accord to address global warming.

Although candidate Trump said he would “cancel” U.S. participation, eight Republican House colleagues are urging President Trump to take a different route, weakening the Obama-era emissions reduction commitment and taking other steps to bolster domestic industries (subscription). They argue that the underlying United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which covers nearly all the world’s countries, and the Paris deal, which has been ratified by more than 140 parties, have become international energy forums—participation in which gives the United States a platform for advancing domestic energy, including coal, interests. Energy Secretary Rick Perry favors a treaty renegotiation, although how that would be accomplished remains unclear. Two other administration officials appear divided on the deal: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States should remain a party to the agreement, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt has said the country should exit it.

If the United States does stay in the Paris accord—Trump’s decision is expected in May—the Washington Post projects that it is unlikely to meet its pledge under the agreement to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, because the policies that made the pledge possible are being dismantled.

On “CBS This Morning” Monday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Charles Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club, offered a more optimistic view. Given recent emissions reductions and leadership from cities and states, Bloomberg suggested that the United States will meet the Paris goals. 

Study: Climate Change Increased Odds of Some Extreme Heat, Wet and Dry Periods

The latest research in the emerging field of climate science called “extreme event attribution” finds links between a warming climate and record-setting weather events. A paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first to present a four-step framework for testing such links for Earth’s hottest, wettest, and driest events in recent decades. Using a computer model and statistical analyses of climate observations, the authors concluded that climate change had increased the odds of a record-breaking heat in 85 percent of the surface area of the Earth that they studied.

“The world is not yet at a place where every single record-setting hot event has a human fingerprint, but we are getting close to that point,” said lead author Diffenbaugh of Stanford University. “Greater than 80 percent of those record hot events is a substantial fraction.”

The researchers also found that climate change had increased the probability of the driest year on record in 57 percent of the observed areas and that of the wettest five-day period in each of these areas by 41 percent (subscription).

Climate scientists typically examine potential links between warming of Earth and extreme weather events such as heatwaves or downpours on a case-by-case basis. But the group led by Diffenbaugh developed a more global, comprehensive approach to investigating such links.

The team first examined the historical weather trend without factoring in climate models and then asked whether the severity or the odds of a record-setting weather event had changed (subscription). It used climate models to determine whether the odds of an event changed after factoring in the effect of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. When the climate model simulations were consistent with the real-world data, and when the likelihood of extreme events increased in those simulations, the team determined that global warming had probably been influential.

One of the research’s high-profile test cases was the record-low Arctic sea ice cover observed in September 2012. In that instance, the research revealed overwhelming statistical evidence that global warming contributed to the severity and probability of the low ice.

March Highlights Concerns about Science Budget Cuts, Climate Change

On Earth Day, tens of thousands of scientists and science advocates rallied in Washington, D.C., and at some 600 other sites around the world at the first-ever March for Science. The event organized by the Earth Day Network was intended to encourage policy makers to use scientific evidence to craft legislation, adopting policies consistent with the scientific consensus on climate change and other issues.

Among the featured speakers at the march endorsed by major science advocacy groups and publishers, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union, was Christiana Figueres, a key architect of the Paris Agreement, a global accord to limit global warming increases.

The official march website said the event was meant to reaffirm “the vital role science plays in our democracy.” It asserted that “Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone—without exception. Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.”

Although organizers said the event was non-partisan, Reuters reported that many marchers were in effect protesting President Trump’s stance on climate change and his proposal to make deep cuts to agencies funding scientists’ work.

Although Trump did not react to the March on Science, he did release a statement recognizing Earth Day. “Rigorous science is critical to my administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” said the president. “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks.”

On April 29, the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities will again highlight calls for action on climate change.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Congressional Review Act was used to repeal a rule that forced energy companies on the U.S. stock exchanges to disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments in an effort to fight corruption in resource-rich countries. President Donald Trump signed legislation to scrap the rule, implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, on Tuesday.

“This is one of many,” Trump said after the signing of H.J. Res. 41. “We have many more left. And we’re bringing back jobs big league.”

The repeal of the Obama-era rule was made possible through the rarely used Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress a small window to scuttle regulations before they take effect with a simple majority vote and blocks regulators from writing similar rules in the future unless Congress authorizes them through subsequent legislation. Given the infrequency with which the Congressional Review Act has been used, however, legal uncertainty hangs over how the government approaches a statutorily required regulation that is overturned through the Congressional Review Act. Before Trump took office, the Congressional Review Act had been used only once, in 2001, to overturn a Clinton administration ergonomics rule.

So far, the House has moved to repeal eight other rules, including a rule restricting coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and one curtailing methane waste from oil and gas drilling on public lands. The Senate could consider the latter, H. J. Res. 36, which would rescind the Bureau of Land Management’s Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation rule, this week. Also this week, Trump could sign a separate resolution scrapping the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule, enacted to protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Monday for six of Trump’s cabinet nominees, allowing them to come before the full Senate for a vote. Trump’s environment-focused nominees—Ryan Zinke (U.S. Department of the Interior) and Rick Perry (U.S. Department of Energy), are presently on hold. Some reports say Zinke’s confirmation may not be until March.

Although a Senate vote for Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was expected this week, Senate Democrats requested Scott Pruitt’s vote be delayed due to a pending court case regarding e-mail records. There is no indication at this point that the vote will be delayed, however.

“These records are needed for the Senate to evaluate Mr. Pruitt’s suitability to serve in the position for which he has been nominated,” the Democrats wrote.

Sea Ice Continues to Shrink at Both Poles; Study Examines Method to Refreeze

Sea ice at the north and south poles continues to reach record low levels. In Antarctica, sea ice has shrunk to its lowest level since record keeping began in 1979—contracting to 2.287 million square kilometers. The average between 1981 and 2010 was more than 3 million square kilometers.

Sea ice in the Arctic is also tracking low—13.9 million square kilometers compared to the 30-year average of 15.2 million square kilometers.

“No one knows for sure what will happen, as there might be a rebounding from the very large decreases last year, or there might be a continuation of those decreases,” said Claire Parkinson, a NASA sea ice researcher. “Whichever way it turns out, the added information will probably help scientists to get a better handle on the likely causes.”

A new study published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, suggests that it may be possible to refreeze ice in the Arctic, building back up record-low ice levels.

“This loss of sea ice represents one of the most severe positive feedbacks in the climate system, as sunlight that would otherwise be reflected by sea ice is absorbed by open ocean,” authors write. “It is unlikely that CO2 levels and mean temperatures can be decreased in time to prevent this loss, so restoring sea ice artificially is imperative.”

The authors examine a means for increasing sea ice production using wind power to pump water from the ocean and spray it on the surface during Arctic winters. Because the mean annual thickness of Arctic ice is approximately 1.5 meters, the authors say, this plan could increase the thickness of the ice by about 70 percent over the course of a winter—enough to counteract the 0.58 meters lost each year due to the changing climate.

“Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” said Arizona State University’s Steven Desch, an author of the plan to use 10 million wind-powered pumps.

Human Activities Dwarf Natural Forces When It Comes to Climate Change Impacts

Two researchers who examined the Earth as a single complex system say they have captured in a one equation the impact of human activities. Those activities, specifically, the emission of greenhouse gases, are causing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces.

The study, published in the journal The Anthropocene Review, represents that exceptional rapid rate of change in an “Anthropocene equation.”

Explaining the equation in New Scientist, co-author Owen Gaffney of the University of Stockholm said it was developed “by homing in on the rate of change of Earth’s life support system . . .  For four billion years the rate of change of the Earth system has been a complex function of astronomical and geophysical forces plus internal dynamics: Earth’s orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun’s heat output, colliding continents, volcanoes and evolution, among others.”

“In the equation, astronomical and geophysical forces tend to zero because of their slow nature or rarity, as do internal dynamics, for now,” Gaffney added. “All these forces still exert pressure, but currently on orders of magnitude less than human impact.”

Gaffney said that although complex interactions between the Earth’s core and the biosphere had rendered Earth relatively stable over millions of years, human societies would be unlikely to fare so well. The research concluded that failure to reduce anthropological climate change could “trigger societal collapse.”

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The possible energy agenda for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is described in a memo prepared by Trump’s energy transition head Thomas Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance and the Institute for Energy Research. It highlights a “pro-energy and pro-market policies” agenda. At the top of the list of 14 policy changes is withdrawal from the Paris Agreement—the international agreement to limit global warming by cutting global carbon emissions—and the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce emissions from existing U.S. power plants.

“In response to Massachusetts v. EPA, the Obama administration found that greenhouse gas emissions harmed human health and welfare,” the memo states. “This is the regulatory predicate to the Obama administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates and Clean Power Plan and greatly expanded EPA’s power. This finding will be reconsidered and possibly revoked, marking a major blow to underpinning for many climate regulations.”

Also targeted in the memo is lifting of the coal lease moratorium, expediting approvals of LNG export terminals, moving forward with pipeline infrastructure, reassessing the environmental impacts of wind energy, reducing energy subsidies, amending the Renewable Fuel Standard, increasing federal oil and natural gas leasing and relaxing the federal fuel economy standards. Ending federal agencies’ use of the social cost of carbon—an estimate of the damage avoided from marginal reductions of carbon dioxide—when weighing the costs and benefits of new energy and environmental regulations is also mentioned.

“The Obama administration aggressively used the social cost of carbon (SCC) to help justify their regulations,” the memo states. “During the Trump Administration the SCC will likely be reviewed and the latest science brought to bear. If the SCC were subjected to the latest science, it would certainly be much lower than what the Obama administration has been using.”

The social cost of carbon also came up in another document suggestive of the future of U.S. energy policy—a questionnaire sent by Trump’s transition team to the Department of Energy that asked agency officials to identify employees and contractors who have played a role in promoting President Obama’s climate agenda, including those who worked on forging the Paris Agreement and on domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output and those who attended interagency meetings on the social cost of carbon.

Among the transition’s requests in the 74-item questionnaire, reports NPR, are e-mails about domestic and international climate talks, money spent on loan-guarantee programs for renewable energy, and names of the 20 highest-paid employees at the DOE’s national laboratories. The Energy Department on Tuesday said it would not comply with requests for names.

Trump Nominates Tillerson as Secretary of State; Perry to Lead Department of Energy

On Tuesday, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump nominated Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the Department of State—the most senior U.S. diplomat position, one responsible for enacting the U.S. government’s foreign policy (subscription).

“Mr. Tillerson knows how to manage a global organization and successfully navigate the complex architecture of world affairs and diverse foreign leaders. As Secretary of State, he will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world,” said Trump of the Texas native who has been with Exxon since graduating from the University of Texas in 1975.

The 64-year-old Tillerson has no experience in government or working as a diplomat and his position on climate change may be left of Trump’s. As the Washington Post reports, Exxon understood the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels in the 70s but only fairly recently (under Tillerson’s watch) did the company publicly acknowledge the link.

For Tillerson to win Senate approval of his nomination, he will need to counter some concerns from lawmakers in both parties about ties to Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Specifically, some have expressed unease about his opposition to U.S. sanctions in Russia, which awarded him a friendship medal in 2013.

Also, on Tuesday, Rick Perry, former Texas governor, was tapped to head the Department of Energy as secretary. Perry, who once said he would eliminate the department when he ran for president in 2012, would replace Ernest Moniz, who has been energy secretary under the Obama administration since 2013.

Arctic Report Card: Warming Continues

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual Arctic Report Card suggests a persistent warming trend and loss of sea ice that’s triggering extensive changes in the region.

“We’ve seen a year in 2016 in the Arctic like we’ve never seen before,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program. The year showed “a stronger, more pronounced signal of persistent warming than any other year in our observation record.”

What changes are scientists observing? To name a few: The spring snow cover this year in the North American Arctic was the lowest since the satellite record began in 1967, and the average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2016 is by far the highest since 1900. Scientists are seeing temperature spikes during months when little, if any, sunshine is reaching the surface of the Arctic.

“Those are the periods when the Arctic should be really cold,” Mathis said. “It’s one thing for the summers to be warmer, but this is [a new] trend of the winter months setting record temperatures.”

And due to water temperatures that are colder than those further south, the Arctic Ocean is especially prone to ocean acidification. The report describes how Arctic sea ice has become younger and thinner, causing patches of dark open water to absorb more solar rays that warm the water.

It indicates the changes are influenced by long-term increases not only in global carbon dioxide, but also in air temperatures—as well as with natural seasonal and regional variability.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Climate-change-related environmental, ecological, and social changes in the Arctic are accelerating and are more extreme than ever recorded, undermining the sustainability of current ways of life in the region and potentially destabilizing climate and ecosystems around the world, according to a five-year report released last week by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organization formed to protect the region.

“Arctic social and biophysical systems are deeply intertwined with our planet’s social and biophysical systems, so rapid, dramatic and unexpected changes in this sensitive region are likely to be felt elsewhere,” the report states. “As we are often reminded, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

The report noted that the Greenland Ice Sheet, which was thought to be resistant to climate change, is experiencing higher-than-expected thinning “over time scales of only years” due to warmer temperatures caused by climate change and that if it melts completely, global sea levels would rise an average of 7.4 meters.

The report outlines 19 “regime shifts” under way or on the horizon absent efforts to halt them. They range from sea-ice-free summers to ocean circulation changes and collapse of some Arctic fisheries.

“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the co-authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”

Trump Transition: EPA Prospects

Just days after stating his “open mind” to confronting climate change, president-elect Donald Trump was meeting with potential prospects to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would align with his campaign promises to roll back agency regulations.

Two rumored EPA leaders who have called for a significant rollback in regulations—Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and former Texas environmental regulator Kathleen Hartnett White—were scheduled to meet with Trump this week.

In an interview with McClatchy, White confirmed her consideration for the post, which she says she would take on with a new approach to address a “shifting environmental landscape.” White also shared details of her conversation with Trump.

“He wants the EPA to run more carefully, to use stronger science and be unabashedly conscientious to the effect of more and more rules on existing employment and job creation,” she said. “I have no desire to put words in his mouth. But as he is in other areas, he likes a good deal.”

Climate Change Conference in Marrakech Concludes

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22), which brought nearly 200 countries together to hammer out the details of last year’s Paris Agreement, concluded last month. What exactly came out of the two-week conference?

  • A timeline for implementing the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries participating in COP22 decided to complete detail setting for the agreement by 2018 and to review progress in 2017.
  • The Marrakech Action Proclamation. The one-page document reaffirms countries’ commitments to the Paris Agreement’s goals following the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. On the campaign trail, Trump stated intentions to end U.S. involvement in the agreement.
  • Forty-eight of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries pledged to turn in more ambitious targets to Paris before 2020 and to shift to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050.
  • An agreement to continue the discussion on climate finance. There’s still uncertainty surroundingthe pathway to mobilizing $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, to establishing rules for reporting finance, and to scaling up adaptation finance.
  • Nations also agreed on a five-year work-plan on “loss and damage” to address issues beyond climate adaptation like slow-onset impacts of climate change, non-economic losses and migration.

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.

Paris Agreement Closer to Being Ratified

On September 22, 2016, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Thirty-one new countries formally agreed to join the Paris Agreement to reduce global emissions—bringing the total committed countries to 60. The Paris Agreement takes effect when it is formally adopted by at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, so far, these 60 country commitments only account for 48 percent of total global emissions.

Among the 31 countries who committed this week during Climate Week—a meeting in New York of international business and government leaders to examine progress toward meeting Paris Agreement goals—were Brazil, the world’s seventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Mexico, Argentina, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kiribati and Bangladesh.

“Today we also heard commitments from many other countries to join the agreement this year. Their combined emissions will take us well past the required amount for the agreement to enter into force,” said Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. “I am convinced that the Paris Agreement will enter into force before the end of 2016.”

Germany, Austria, Australia, and the United Kingdom are among the countries planning to formally join the agreement by the end of 2016.

“And in a demonstration of our commitment to the agreement reached in Paris, the U.K. will start its domestic procedures to enable ratification of the Paris agreement, and complete these before the end of the year,” said U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.

Ban Ki-Moon said he hopes the agreement, which aims to limit the global temperature rise to 2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels with an aspiration of keeping it to 1.5 Celsius, can come into force by the 22nd Conference of Parties in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November 2016.

Arctic Sea Ice Hits Second-Lowest Summer Measurement

Arctic ice levels have shrunk to their second-lowest recorded level, tying the 2007 minimum extent, according to a new report released by the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA)-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). On September 10, ice covered just 1.6 million square miles; the lowest level, 1.31 million square miles, was recorded September 17, 2012. Satellites have observed a trend of marked decrease since 1979.

“September Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade, relative to the 1981 to 2010 average,” NASA says.

According to NSIDC, all 10 of the lowest summer extents in the satellite record have occurred in the past 10 years. NASA, which released an animation depicting the evolution of the Arctic sea ice cover in 2016 from its wintertime maximum extent to its apparent yearly minimum, has called this pattern the “new normal” for Arctic ice.

Nonetheless, this year’s Arctic sea ice levels were somewhat surprising to some scientists, reports The Hill, given a summer characterized by conditions generally unfavorable for sea ice loss.

“It was a stormy, cloudy, and fairly cool summer,” said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. “Historically, such weather conditions slow down the summer ice loss, but we still got down to essentially a tie for second lowest in the satellite record.”

NSIDC scientists suspect that the unusually thin sea ice pack melted from below by unusually mild ocean waters and that the ice loss may have been accelerated by a particularly notable late August ice breakup triggered by powerful storms.

“We’ve always known that the Arctic is going to be the early warning system for climate change,” Serreze said. “What we’ve seen this year is reinforcing that.”

He added that sometime in the next few decades the Arctic Ocean is headed for ice-free summers.

Poll Says Americans Care about Climate Change

Sixty-five percent of Americans think climate change is a problem that the government needs to address, according to a new survey by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Of those polled, 57 percent would pay at least $1 month, 39 percent would pay $10 a month and 20 percent would pay $50 a month to combat it.

Nearly 8 in 10 of the poll’s nearly 1,096 respondents indicated that the U.S. should maintain its commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce global emissions, even if other countries do not. The United States has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below the 2005 level in 2025, and to make “best efforts” to reduce emissions by 28 percent.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A study published last week in Nature Geoscience provides the first measurements of greenhouse gases from permafrost under Arctic lakes in Alaska, Siberia, and Canada. Although the research reveals that only a small amount of old carbon has been released in the past 60 years, it also suggests that much more could be released as the Arctic warms up faster than any other place on Earth.

“It’s a lit fuse, but the length of that fuse is very long,” said lead author Katey Walter Anthony of the University of Alaska. “According to the model projections, we’re getting ready for the part where it starts to explode. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

The scientists determined that the permafrost-carbon feedback is thus far small by looking at aerial photographs and using radiocarbon dating to determine the age of methane emitted from the Arctic lakes that are expanding to consume and thaw terrestrial permafrost. As that permafrost melts and decomposes, it releases ancient carbon as carbon dioxide and methane. Analysis of 113 radiocarbon dating measurements and 289 soil organic carbon measurements showed that approximately 0.2 to 2.5 petagrams of permafrost carbon was released as methane and carbon dioxide in the past six decades.

The billions of tons of carbon stored in permafrost are approximately double the amount currently in the atmosphere. Many researchers are concerned that emission of that stored carbon will contribute to warming that then contributes to permafrost thawing in an accelerating feedback loop.

NASA: Temperature Reconstructions Suggest Achievement of Paris Agreement Goals “Unlikely”

The Paris Agreement’s goal to limit Earth’s temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is unlikely to be achieved according to temperature reconstructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA). Those reconstructions reveal that the world is heating up faster than at any other time within the past 1,000 years. Over the next 100 years, according to NASA, it will continue to warm at least 20 times faster than the historical average.

“In the last 30 years we’ve really moved into exceptional territory,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years. There’s no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination (of temperatures). Maintaining temperatures below the 1.5C guardrail requires significant and very rapid cuts in carbon dioxide emissions or coordinated geo-engineering. That is very unlikely. We are not even yet making emissions cuts commensurate with keeping warming below 2C.”

Using evidence left in tree rings, layers of ice in glaciers, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks, NASA figures that the past century’s warming of 0.7 degrees Celsius is roughly 10 times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.

This year, the average global temperature reached 1.38 Celsius above levels observed in the 19th century, just 0.12 Celsius below the 1.5 Celsius limit that nations aimed for in the Paris Agreement.

Climate Change Major Focus at G20 Summit

Climate change is among the topics world leaders are expected to discuss at a G20 summit in China, beginning September 4.

“This is the first time that the G20 leaders are gathering to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change, (and) how we implement them in parallel,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

President Obama, who began his 10-day trip to Asia on Wednesday, is expected to stress the urgency of climate change. And some media outlets are reporting that the United States and China are expected to announce their ratification of the Paris Agreement prior to the start of the G20 Summit, but the White House has made no formal statement to this effect.

“We’ve made the commitment that we will join in 2016. And we’ve made the commitment to do that as soon as possible this year,” said Brian Deese, senior advisor to the president. “With respect to exactly when, I don’t have any announcements on that front. But we’ve committed, and we’ve been working on that issue.”

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

At the North American Leaders Summit on Wednesday, Mexico, Canada and the United States pledged to generate 50 percent of their energy from clean sources by 2025. The joint commitment by the three countries, according to White House Adviser Brian Deese, is “an aggressive goal” but one that is “achievable continent-wide.”

“The Paris Agreement was a turning point for our planet, representing unprecedented accord on the urgent need to take action to combat climate change through innovation and deployment of low-carbon solutions,” the leaders said in a statement. “North America has the capacity, resources and the moral imperative to show strong leadership building on the Paris Agreement and promoting its early entry into force. We recognize that our highly integrated economies and energy systems afford a tremendous opportunity to harness growth in our continuing transition to a clean energy economy. Our actions to align climate and energy policies will protect human health and help level the playing field for our businesses, households, and workers.”

Last year, 32 percent of North America’s overall power came from clean energy sources. The White House cited renewable energy, nuclear plants, and carbon capture and storage technology as possible avenues to achieving the 50 percent goal in the next nine years. In addition, measures will be taken to reduce greenhouse gases in the economies of the three countries through deployment of clean vehicles in government fleets, conduct research to accelerate clean energy innovation, support cross-border transmission projects, and examine adding more renewables to the power grid with a joint study of renewables opportunities and impacts

Mexico will join Canada and the United States in reducing methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2025. Reduction strategies are planned for the agricultural and waste management sectors.

Could Brexit Complicate EU Effort on Paris Agreement?

Although the full effects of the United Kingdom’s decision, last week, to leave the European Union (EU)—the so-called Brexit—are still unclear, some think it could have far-reaching effects on Europe’s commitment to last year’s landmark Paris climate agreement to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The impending departure of the EU’s second largest emitter and a leading advocate of increased EU ambition ahead of the Paris Agreement complicates Brussels’ plan to divide up the EU’s pledge to cut emissions at least 40 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2030 (subscription). The United Kingdom would have contributed significantly to meeting that pledge—under a 2008 domestic law it is on a pathway to cut its emissions 57 percent by 2030.

Assuming the United Kingdom stays in the Paris Agreement, its contribution would likely be based on its Climate Change Act. To abandon its current emissions reductions commitments would mean repealing the act.

For now, the United Kingdom remains a supporter of the Paris Agreement, and in the short term no changes are slated in its domestic emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2050. But the United Nations says that, once the United Kingdom leaves the EU, a “recalibration” of the Paris Agreement will be necessary.

“While I think the U.K’s role in dealing with a warming planet may have been made harder by the decision last Thursday, our commitment to dealing with it has not gone away,” said Amber Rudd, Britain’s Energy Secretary. “Climate change has not been downgraded as a threat. It remains one of the most serious long-term risks to our economic and national security.”

Studies Find Pink Snow Contributing to Climate Change; Humans Changing Vegetation Growth

A study in the journal Nature Communications links the pink-hued snow in higher altitudes in the Arctic to climate-change-related increases in algae blooms that are causing melting in the region at an unprecedented pace. The presence of red algae reduces the snow’s ability to reflect light instead of absorbing it as heat (albedo), reducing albedo by as much as 13 percent in one season.

“The algae need liquid water in order to bloom,” said the University of Leeds’ Stefanie Lutz, lead author of the study. “Therefore the melting of snow and ice surfaces controls the abundance of the algae. The more melting, the more algae. With temperatures rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon will likely also increase leading to an even higher bio-albedo effect.”

It is unclear how widespread these algae blooms can become, but based on her observations, Lutz said “a conservative estimate would be 50 percent of the snow surface on a glacier [will be covered by the algae] at the end of a melt season.”

A separate study by NASA, which analyzed more than 87,000 satellite images, found extensive greening of land in Canada and Alaska while these area’s Boreal regions were browning as a result of climate change.

“Whereas temperature limited tundra regions have almost ubiquitously increased productivity with warming temperatures … trees in the boreal system do not respond well to high temperatures,” said Scott Goetz, deputy director and senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. “It’s not what most people typically think of as drought, related to soil moisture, but the effect is the same. Boreal trees are like living organisms anywhere, they will do what they need to do to survive… It’s all finely tuned by centuries of evolutionary adaptation.”

New research in the journal Nature Climate Change statistically attributes these changes human causes.

“Our findings reveal that the observed greening record is consistent with an assumption of anthropogenic forcings, where greenhouse gases play a dominant role, but is not consistent with simulations that include only natural forcings and internal climate variability,” the authors write.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Yellowstone National Park, Venice, Jordan’s Wadi Rum, and Easter Island’s Rapa Nui National Park are some of the 31 natural and cultural World Heritage sites in 29 countries that are threatened by climate change according to a new report released by UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Melting glaciers, rising seas, increasing wildfires and harsher droughts could severely diminish the value of protected sites, making them unsuitable for a World Heritage designation, the report says. Climate change could eventually cause some of the sites to lose their status.

Also at risk, according to the report, is local economic development in the areas near world heritage sites. Specifically, the tourism sector is vulnerable to loss and damage to assets and attractions as well as to increasing insurance costs and safety concerns.

“The fastest growing risk to World Heritage, and one of the most under-reported by the countries that are parties to the World Heritage convention, is from climate change,” said Adam Markham, deputy director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He pointed out that climate change brings not only direct impacts but “acts as a ‘risk multiplier,’” compounding local stresses such as urbanization, agricultural expansion and pollution.

In the Galapagos Islands, threats to wildlife from tourism, invasive species and illegal fishing are exacerbated by rising seas and warming and more acidic oceans. At Stonehenge, warmer winters will likely increase numbers of burrowing animals that could undermine archaeological deposits and destabilize stonework.

“Globally, we need to better understand, monitor and address climate change threats to World Heritage sites,” said Mechtild Rössler, director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre. “As the report’s findings underscore, achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to a level well below 2 degrees Celsius is vitally important to protecting our World Heritage for current and future generations.”

Ocean Current Affecting Temperatures in Antarctica

A new study in the journal Nature Geoscience suggests that ocean currents are slowing the warming effects on Antarctica as Arctic ice melts on the other side of the world. Warm waters in Gulf Stream cool as they flow into the North Atlantic, then sink for centuries before surfacing off the coast of Antarctica.

“With rising carbon dioxide you would expect more warming at both poles, but we only see it at one of the poles, so something else must be going on,” said Kyle Armour, lead author and University of Washington assistant professor. “We show that it’s for really simple reasons, and the ocean currents are the hero here.”

Old, deep water that’s coming up to the surface all around Antarctica—water that hasn’t come into contact with the atmosphere or experienced climate change in hundreds of years—is behind the drastic differences in the continent’s water temperature.

Using drifting floats—known as the Argo array—and climate models, the study authors tracked heat. They found that nearly 68 percent of the heat taken up by the southernmost parts of the Southern Ocean was carried north.

A separate study in the journal Remote Sensing of the Environment also attributes ocean currents, in part, to increasing Antarctica temperatures and sea ice growth. It suggests that the Southern Ocean Circumpolar current prevents warmer water from reaching the continent and that icy winds help the formation of sea ice persist.

Record Renewable Investment by Developing Countries in 2015

For the first time, emerging economies spent more on renewable energy than developed economies, according to the Renewables Global Status report prepared by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). In 2015, developing countries invested $156 billion in renewables—a 19 percent increase from the previous year.

“What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies,” said Christine Lins, REN21’s executive secretary.

By the end of 2015, countries around the world had installed a record annual total of 147 gigawatts of renewable generating capacity—enough to meet 23.7 percent of global electricity demand. China was the leader in renewables investment, followed by the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and India.

 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.