Harvey Shines Light on Issue of Climate Change

On August 31, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas last week, dumping more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city. After drifting back out over the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm, Harvey made a second landfall near the Texas and Louisiana border Wednesday. By the time this extreme storm dissipates, damage is expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

As news coverage documents large swaths of destruction from flooding and high winds, many are asking whether climate change makes storms like Harvey more likely and more severe.

“Climate is not central, but by the same token it is grossly irresponsible to leave climate out of the story, for the simple reason that climate change is, as the U.S. military puts it, a threat multiplier. The storms, the challenges of emergency response, the consequences of poor adaptation—they all predate climate change. But climate change will steadily make them worse,” writes David Roberts in Vox.

Roberts’ words were echoed by said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University.

“The hurricane is a naturally occurring hazard that is exacerbated by climate change, but the actual risk to Houston is a combination of the hazard—rainfall, storm surge and wind, the vulnerability, and the exposure,” said Hayhoe of Houston’s particularly high vulnerability. “It’s a rapidly growing city with vast areas of impervious surfaces. Its infrastructure is crumbling. And it’s difficult for people to get out of harm’s way.”

The Washington Post also points a finger at a warming climate’s effect on storm surge, rainfall, and storm intensity.

Others, like Meteorologist Eric Holthaus, put it more bluntly. He writes in Politico that “Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.”

What’s clear is that like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina before it, Harvey has reopened the debate over the connection between hurricanes and climate change, and promises to increase climate’s resonance in the political debate.

Harvey is also leaving a mark on the infrastructure of the country’s largest oil and gas firms. Forbes offered a reminder that in 2008, refinery utilization dropped from 78 percent before Hurricane Ike and to 67 percent the week of the hurricane. Harvey has already knocked out 11 percent of U.S. refining capacity and a quarter of oil production from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as well as closed ports along the Texas coast. The shutdowns are resulting in a spike in gas prices across the United States.

The environmental fallout—escaping gasoline and releases of hazardous gases from refineries—could worsen.

RGGI States Look to Further Reduce Utility Emissions

Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic governors last week agreed to move forward with an extension of and additional emissions cuts through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a state-driven cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

According to their proposal, the RGGI states―Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont―would cap emissions at some 75 million tons in 2021 and decrease those emissions by 2.25 million tons every year until 2030, resulting in a total decline of 30 percent and leading to an overall reduction of 65 percent of emissions since RGGI began eight years ago. A separate provision would allow for deeper cuts, if not prohibitively costly to states.

The group is also proposing changes to the program’s rules, such as adjusting the emissions cap to remove some excess allowances, allowing states to delay the sale of some emissions allowances if they are too cheap and taking steps to mitigate excess allowances. Starting in 2021, an emissions containment reserve, in which New Hampshire and Maine will not participate, would hold back 10 percent of allowances if the price on carbon credits falls below $6 per ton. After 2021, the emissions containment reserve trigger price would increase by 7 percent annually.

After seeking public comments on the proposal at a hearing in Baltimore on Sept. 25, the RGGI group will conduct additional economic analysis and publish a revised proposal. Each of the nine states must then follow its own statutes to implement the new plan.

“With today’s announcement, the RGGI states are demonstrating our commitment to a strengthened RGGI program that will utilize innovative new mechanisms to secure significant carbon reductions at a reasonable price on into the next decade, working in concert with our competitive energy markets and reliability goals,” said RGGI Chairwoman Katie Dykes.

The RGGI auctions permits for utilities to buy electricity produced at power plants that produce greenhouse gases. RGGI officials say those auctions have raised more than $2.7 billion to invest in cleaner energy since 2009.

Program advocates point to several studies suggesting the program’s success, reported the Boston Globe. One by the Acadia Center in 2016 found that RGGI states reduced emissions by 16 percent more than other states, while growing the region’s economy 3.6 percent more than the rest of the country. At the same time, energy prices in RGGI states fell by an average of 3.4 percent, while electricity rates in other states rose by 7.2 percent.

Inside Climate News reported that although other regions have seen lower carbon emissions courtesy of low-cost natural gas, a study by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Duke University Energy Initiative found the cap-and-trade market was responsible for about half of the region’s post-2009 emissions reductions, which are far greater than those achieved in the rest of the United States.

Tillerson Signals Intent to Remove Climate Envoy Post

In a letter to Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shared his intent to reorganize, shift, or eliminate almost half of the agency’s nearly 70 special envoy positions. Among the positions in question: a high-profile representative on the issue of climate change.

“I believe that the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose,” Tillerson wrote.

Tillerson goes on to say that the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change—in charge of engaging partners and allies around the world on climate change issues—will be removed and that the functions and staff will be moved to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs.

“This will involve realigning 7 positions and $761,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES),” the letter states.

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.

California Extends Its Cap-and-Trade Program

On July 20, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a 28–12 vote on Monday night, California’s Senate approved AB 398 to extend the state’s landmark cap-and-trade program to 2030. Hours later, the bill passed in the state’s Assembly, 55–21. Lawmakers also approved a companion measure, AB 617, aimed at reducing pollution that causes local public health problems. In addition, to win GOP support in the Assembly for the cap-and-trade program, the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment giving Republicans increased input in how the state spends revenues from the sale of emissions allowances—permits to pollute—by requiring, in 2024, a two-thirds vote to approve how they are used.

Gov. Jerry Brown and others have argued that extension of the cap-and-trade program is critical to meet the most aggressive climate goal of any state in the nation—a 40 percent cut in 1990s-level greenhouse gas emissions by 2030—and to send a countering signal to President Donald Trump’s rejection of policies and partnerships aimed at limiting warming (subscription). The program sets a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allows emitters to buy and sell emissions permits, or allowances. The number of allowances available each year equals the annual limit, and both decrease over time, lowering emissions.

When unveiled for debate last week, the legislation drew the ire of many Republicans and progressive environmentalists, although other influential environmental groups said it represented a reasonable balance and the best chance for advancing the program (subscription). In the end, eight Republicans in the Assembly and one in the Senate voted to extend the program, but some environmental groups remain unhappy, saying the legislation allows polluters too many allowances to emit greenhouse gases and that local air quality is not addressed by the use of offsets, a practice whereby polluters can meet a certain amount of their emissions targets by investing in greenhouse-gas-reducing projects, including those outside California, rather than investing in their own emissions reductions.

The bipartisan, supermajority votes in both the state Assembly and Senate for extension of the program were touted by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León as a win for the environment and the economy.

“Californians understand that we can’t truly have a healthy economy that’s built to last without taking meaningful steps to protect public health and preserve a livable environment,” said de León.

Climate Science: The Debate

Last week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt proposed a televised debate of climate science, whereby a red team would attack mainstream findings and a blue team would play defense. Critics of the idea, which has raised alarm bells among scientists, have argued that it will give viewers the impression that scientists are evenly divided over the fundamentals of climate change, when in fact the vast majority of scientists agree on those fundamentals, and that a debate format would test debating techniques and communication skills, not the evidence.

ClimateWire reported that climate scientists view the debate as a trap because it gives the minority of researchers who question mainstream climate science a stage they’ve not been able to command in peer-reviewed journals (subscription). At the same time, refusal to participate could leave the impression that mainstream climate scientists are hiding something—and would leave skeptics’ assertions unopposed.

Proposal of this debate comes amid news of a U.S. Geological Survey e-mail alert to international scientists warning that the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget cuts, if approved, would undermine important data-gathering programs and cooperative studies in a number of areas, including climate change.

NOAA Says 2016 Greenhouse Gas Influence Reached 30-Year High

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, the influence of greenhouse gases on atmospheric warming was higher last year than it has been in nearly 30 years (subscription). The greenhouse gas index was intended to provide a straightforward way to report the yearly change in the warming influence of greenhouse gases, reported the New York Times, which noted the steady increase in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990.

“The role of greenhouse gases on influencing global temperatures is well understood by scientists, but it’s a complicated topic that can be difficult to communicate,” the NOAA release states.

As explained by Climate Central, the index takes measurements of 20 key greenhouse gases from some 80 ships and observatories around the world and boils them down into a numerical index that defines the rise from 1700 to 1990 as 100 percent or 1. This year’s number, 1.4, shows that the direct influence of the gases on the climate has risen 140 percent since 1750; 40 percent of that increase has been realized since 1990. The increase is due mostly to human activities and has resulted in warming of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures.

This week NOAA announced that the first half of 2017 was the planet’s second-warmest, behind 2016, since the start of planetary temperature recordkeeping in 1880. A major El Niño, such as that experienced in 2016, tends to increase global temperatures. But as Earth’s temperature has risen because of greenhouse gases, an El Niño isn’t necessary to attain very high temperatures. Years with La Niñas, which tend to cool global temperatures, are today hotter than El Niño years several decades ago.

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

On Monday California Governor Jerry Brown and legislative leaders released a plan to extend through 2030 the state’s cap-and-trade program, which limits carbon emissions and requires polluters to buy allowances for greenhouse gas emissions—that is, permits to pollute. The deal updates how carbon emitters can use pollution allowances and offsets, empowers the California Air Resources Board to set a price cap on permits, and prevents local air districts from placing additional carbon emissions restrictions on polluters already regulated under the cap-and-trade program. A vote on Assembly Bill 398 and AB 617, a companion bill to increase local air pollution monitoring and pollution penalties, could come as early as today; the former will need approval of two-thirds of the Senate and Assembly.

The deal represents a difficult—and some say, imperfect—balancing of environmental and business interests.

The deal’s price cap provision is meant to guard against energy price spikes, but there are concerns it might undermine the purpose of limiting emissions. Thus far, permit prices have hovered near the program’s price floor and emissions have been within the state’s targets, but if demand spikes and prices hit the ceiling, emissions could rise. The proposal includes provisions to ensure that emissions goals are still met when the price ceiling is hit.

The offsets provision would decrease the amount of emissions reductions businesses can achieve through environmental projects in other sectors, and it would require that half of such projects be sited in California. Industry and environmental justice groups have sparred over the offsets, because although they can be a potentially cheaper alternative to achieving emissions reductions at regulated sources they are often without benefit to local air quality.

The two camps also do not see eye to eye on the number of free emissions allowances businesses should receive to keep them from being disadvantaged against out-of-state competitors not subject to the cap-and-trade program. In the deal announced Monday, companies will continue to receive free allowances, though the total number of allowances will shrink as the emissions cap is lowered to meet the state’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The deal prioritizes state programs that could receive allowance auction proceeds. First in line: efforts to control toxic air pollution from mobile or stationary sources, followed by low-carbon transportation projects and sustainable agriculture programs.

Nine northeastern states are contemplating the future of their own cap-and-trade program. Since inception of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in 2008, the states’ aggregate emissions have decreased 37 percent—spurred in part by the cheap cost of natural gas (subscription). But RGGI advocates say that the program hasn’t sent electric bills soaring; instead, electricity costs have fallen 3.4 percent, again with help from natural gas prices. The program is set to release a plan for reducing the region’s carbon cap later this year, and there are signs that New Jersey may rejoin the program and that Virginia may link up with it—an expansion with both symbolic and market significance.

G20 Meeting Highlights Rift with the United States Over Its Climate Change Stance

Last week’s G20 meeting in Hamburg concluded with leaders of 19 nations renewing their pledge to implement the Paris Agreement and German Chancellor Merkel reiterating those nations’ consensus that “the Paris agreement is irreversible.”

Negotiations over the wording of the final communiqué from Germany hit a snag when the United States insisted on a line that read, “USA will endeavor to work closely with other partners to help their access to and use of fossil fuels.” The final language reads, “The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally-determined contributions.”

The G20 declaration noted the U.S. withdrawal from the accord but said that the United States affirmed its “strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs.” The U.S. exit from the accord will become official in November 2020—the year of the next presidential election.

Regarding climate change mitigation, Inside Climate News laid out “six degrees of U.S. isolation” from the other G20 members: the need for increased ambition, the economic benefits of climate action, the coming energy transformation, the need for international finance, the need to end inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and the vestigial role for fossil fuels.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration appointed a renewable energy critic and former spokesman for a Koch Industries-funded campaign promoting fossil fuels to the post of senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Study Offers Bad News on Extreme Flooding, Good News on Planning for That Phenomenon

A new study published Tuesday in Nature Communications suggests that extreme flooding currently expected to occur on average once every 100 years could, by 2050, occur every decade or even every year along the world’s vulnerable coastlines. The good news? Use of newly available data and advanced models offers the promise of improving global predictions of extreme sea levels.

“Up to 310 million people residing in low elevation coastal zones are already directly or indirectly vulnerable to ESL”—or extreme sea levels—“and coastal storms are causing damages in the order of tens of billions of dollars per year,” said the researchers. “These numbers could increase dramatically with SLR”—or sea-level rise—“and other changes, leading to annual damages of up to almost 10% of the global gross domestic product in 2100 if no adaptation measures are taken.”

As the climate changes, according to the study, category I hurricanes could do the same amount of damage as category II or III hurricanes did when sea levels were lower. But extreme sea levels, which often arise from a combination of high tides and storm surges, are often underrepresented in high-profile climate change documents such as those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. To quantify the uncertainty of current extreme sea-level estimates, the study used newly released tide gauge data to conduct a meta-analysis of some 20 advanced climate models and found that predicted flood rates were underestimated for the West Coast of North and South America as well as for southern Europe and Australia.

According to researchers, including extreme sea levels in coastal impact studies is vital to helping vulnerable areas to protect themselves.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last week, California’s Cap-and-Trade Program to reduce carbon emissions was handed a victory when a state appeals court ruled that program’s auction of emissions permits does not constitute an illegal tax because the program is voluntary and the emissions permits have value. In a 2–1 vote, the Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District upheld the cornerstone piece of California’s climate change policy, siding with the program’s operator, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), by finding that the auction revenues are more akin to regulatory fees than a tax. The court ruled against the California Chamber of Commerce, a tomato processor, and the National Association of Manufacturers, all of whom alleged that CARB lacked legislative authority to create the auctions and that the emissions allowances amounted to a tax that would have required a two-thirds vote of the legislature.

California created the Cap-and-Trade Program as part of its program to meet its targets of reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The program requires factories, power plants, and other companies to buy permits to emit greenhouse gases. By putting a cap on carbon emissions and by creating a market for emissions permits, which covered entities can bank and sell if they don’t need them, the program aims to encourage pollution reduction at the least possible cost. Specifically, it allows businesses to determine whether their most cost-effective compliance option is to reduce their emissions or to pay to pollute, a flexibility that figured in the appeals court decision.

“Reducing emissions reduces air pollution, and no entity has a vested right to pollute,” the court wrote. “The purchase of allowances is a voluntary decision driven by business judgments as to whether it is more beneficial to the company to make the purchase than to reduce emissions.”

The court decision frees California to continue holding auctions through 2020 but does not eliminate all the uncertainty that has dampened demand for permits and reduced state revenues that have been used for programs linked to emissions reductions. Although the decision immediately gave carbon markets a boost, an oversupply of permits has kept them inexpensive at roughly $12.50 or $13.50 a metric ton. Experts say that price needs to reach $30 to $40 to properly incentivize new pollution control investments.

Whether emissions permits in a cap-and-trade system should be given away or sold by the government has long been debated by scholars, reports Inside Climate News. California companies had wanted permits to be handed out for free, but California chose to auction them and to use the revenue to help finance spending on energy efficiency and other parts of its climate agenda.

State lawmakers are presently debating whether to extend the Cap-and-Trade Program past 2020 to eliminate any additional uncertainty about the program.

U.S. Power Sector Shrinks Carbon Footprint in Record-Breaking Way

A continuing drop in coal use, along with relatively mild winter temperatures, drove a second consecutive year of reductions in U.S. power sector carbon dioxide emissions, according to figures released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Monday. The EIA reported that those emissions dropped 1.7 percent, compared with the previous year. That reduction was largely attributed to an 8.6 percent drop in coal-related emissions, which was offset by increases in emissions from oil (1.1 percent) and natural gas (0.9 percent). Those figures added up to a record-breaking decrease in the power sector’s carbon intensity, a measure that relates carbon emissions to economic output.

“Overall, the data indicate about a 5 percent decline in the carbon intensity of the power sector, a rate that was also realized in 2015,” the EIA said. “Since 1973, no two consecutive years have seen a decline of this magnitude, and only one other year (2009) has seen a similar decline.”

“These recent decreases are consistent with a decade-long trend, with energy-related CO2 emissions 14 percent below the 2005 level in 2016,” the EIA added.

Whether the trend will continue will depend on several factors. Climate Central reports that utilities’ increasing switch from coal to less carbon-intensive natural gas is not a panacea for climate change, because extraction processes for natural gas emit methane, a greenhouse gas 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 100 years. Moreover, it’s unclear how the Trump administration’s push for fossil fuels development will play out. It may only delay the closure of coal-fired power plants slated for retirement if natural gas prices remain low. But carbon emissions could begin to rise again in the United States if demand for electricity and gasoline increases and if the average fuel economy of new vehicles does not increase.

The EIA reported that the only U.S. sector in which carbon emissions increased last year was transportation. Emissions directly from motor gasoline increased 1.8 percent. Notably, overall transportation sector emissions were higher than power sector emissions, a trend the EIA expects to continue until at least 2040.

Gorsuch Sworn in as Supreme Court Justice

After being confirmed Friday by a 54-to-45 vote—following Republicans’ invocation of the so-called nuclear option, which lowered the threshold on Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority vote—Colorado appeals court judge Neil M. Gorsuch took his oaths to be the Supreme Court’s 113th justice Monday. Gorsuch breaks the court’s perceived 4-4 ideological split since the February 2016 death of conservative stalwart Justice Antonin Scalia.

During his federal appeal court tenure, Gorsuch mirrored Scalia’s originalist approach to the law, interpreting the Constitution according to the meaning understood by its drafters. But he could envision his job in more “muscular” terms than his predecessor, according to The Economist. Of particular importance to climate policy is Gorsuch’s evident skepticism of the Chevron deference, whereby judges defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of federal laws when the law is ambiguous. The Chevron deference, as a principle, stems from a decision in a 1984 case that Chevron brought against the Environmental Protection Agency regarding its reading of the Clean Air Act. In last year’s Gutierrez-Brizuela v Lynch, notes The Economist, Gorsuch called into question the Chevron principle, writing that it allows agencies to “swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power” and that it “concentrate[s] federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the constitution of the framers’ design.” He suggested that it might be time to fundamentally rethink the Chevron principle.

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

Two laws signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will ratchet up California’s fight against climate change by launching efforts to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. SB-32 calls for increased renewable energy use, more electric cars, improved energy efficiency, and emissions cuts from key industries. AB-197 provides aid to low-income or minority communities located near polluting facilities and creates a legislative committee to oversee regulators, giving lawmakers a greater voice in how climate goals are met.

“What we are doing is farsighted and far-reaching,” said Brown  at the bill’s signing. “I hope it sends a message across the country.”

The new legislation extends the state’s 2006 climate change law, which imposed limits on the carbon content of gasoline and diesel fuel and introduced a cap-and-trade program for polluters. It does not address the cap-and-trade program, which provides economic incentives to companies that achieve reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases. For each ton of greenhouse gases emitted, companies covered by the cap-and-trade program must purchase a permit. The state issues a limited number of permits through quarterly auctions.

Permit sales fizzled during the last two quarterly permit auctions, reports ABC News, but state officials say they are still on track to meet emissions goals. Brown has said the new legislation could provide leverage to convince businesses to support extension of the cap-and-trade program after 2020. If lawmakers don’t act to reauthorize the program soon, Brown said he might try putting the matter before voters in 2018.

Studies: Air Pollution Causes Premature Deaths, Lingers in Brain

Some 87 percent of the world’s population lives in areas affected by air pollution, which a joint study by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) finds is the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths worldwide. In 2013, the most recent year for which relevant estimates are available, indoor and outdoor air pollution caused 5.5 million premature deaths globally and imposed an economic cost in lost wages alone of $225 billion.

“Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital and constrains economic growth,” said Laura Tuck, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank. “We hope this study will translate the cost of premature deaths into an economic language that resonates with policymakers so that more resources will be devoted to improving air quality.”

GDP losses due to air pollution are significant, according to the World Bank-IHME report. It estimates that in 2013 China lost nearly 10 percent of its GDP, India, 7.69 percent, and Sri Lanka and Cambodia, roughly 8 percent. Welfare costs to developed countries were also high—about $45 billion to the United States. China suffered the highest welfare losses—about $1.5 trillion—followed by India at about $505.

And a separate study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that industrial air pollution leaves magnetic particles in the brain. Because unusually high concentrations of these “magnetite” are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the findings raise the specter of an alarming new environmental risk factor for this and other neurodegenerative diseases.

“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes,” said the Lancaster Environment Center’s Barbara Maher, who led the new research.

Research Examines Increase in Methane Emissions

Scientists around the world have been trying to figure out whether oil and gas production, particularly a boom in that production in the United States, could be responsible for the global rise in methane since 2007. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences adds to the debate (subscription).

“What’s going on in the gas and oil sector has been the big question with methane,” said lead author Andrew Rice, a researcher at Portland State University. “It’s not settled, but we give some new pieces to the puzzle.”

The study suggests that since the 1980s leaks by the fossil fuel industry have been increasing—by an average of 24 megatons per year. The increase went up in 2000 when methane emissions from biomass burning and rice cultivation decreased.

“We were kind of surprised by these results, to be completely honest,” Rice said. “I’d say up until our work, the evidence was showing that [fugitive] fossil fuel emissions were decreasing, based on ethane data.”

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 in Environmental Research Letters suggests a fifth of premature deaths during a 2003 heatwave in Europe are linked to human-caused climate change.

“We are now able to put a number on the deaths caused by climate change in a heat wave,” said lead author Daniel Mitchell of the University of Oxford. “This has never been done before. Previous studies have attributed changes in heat waves to climate change, or related increased heat stress to human deaths, but none have combined the two.”

The study’s U.S. and U.K researchers calculated that, during a Europe-wide heat wave in summer 2003, 506 of 735 deaths in Paris and 64 of 315 deaths in London were due to a heat wave worsened by anthropogenic climate change. They reached that conclusion after putting the results of several thousand runs of two climate model simulations of the 2003 heat wave into a health impact assessment of death rates.

By comparing two scenarios—one reflecting the climate of 2003 without human influences and one reflecting all known climatic forces contributing to the 2003 heat wave—the researchers determined how climate change had affected that summer’s temperatures.

The study, reports Carbon Brief, analyzes a direct impact measure—mortality—rather than an indirect one—temperature. It links mortalities to climate and introduces another level of uncertainty, especially when long and reliable health datasets are not available for use in analyses.

Nevertheless, reports ClimateWire, the study demonstrates that losses can be directly linked to climate change and thus its framework can be used to assign costs of “loss and damage” and to improve planning and adaptation (subscription).

“It is often difficult to understand the implications of a planet that is one degree warmer than preindustrial levels in the global average, but we are now at the stage where we can identify the cost to our health of man-made global warming,” Mitchell said. “This research reveals that in two cities alone hundreds of deaths can be attributed to much higher temperatures resulting from human-induced climate change.”

Last week at a meeting held by the French government to study Paris Agreement-related actions to reduce health risks linked to climate change, the World Health Organization said that change is likely to kill 250,000 additional people each year by 2030—primarily through malaria, diarrhea, heat stress, and malnutrition. Children, women, older people, and the poor will be most affected.

Climate Change and Cloud Cover

A new study in the journal Nature suggests there’s evidence of climate change in satellite cloud records. By comparing satellite data from 1983 to 2009 to climate models, the authors found that the clouds forming most often are not low-lying reflective ones that cool the planet. Instead, cloud patterns were in line with what scientists would expect to see in climate models—an increase in greenhouse gases associated with human activity over the study period.

“Cloud changes most consistently predicted by global climate models are currently occurring in nature,” the authors write. “As cloud tops rise, their greenhouse effect becomes stronger.”

Clouds have both an Earth-cooling effect by reflecting solar radiation back to space and an Earth-warming effect by restricting the planet’s thermal infrared radiation.

“Even if there is no change in the overall coverage of clouds on the earth, clouds closer to the pole reflect less solar radiation because there is less solar radiation coming in closer to the pole,” said lead author Joel Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

In Science magazine, Norris noted one caveat: during the study period, two major volcanic eruptions cooled and then warmed the climate, producing cloud patterns similar to those produced by greenhouse gas-related warming.

Draft Proposes Extension of California Cap-and-Trade Program

The California Air Resources Board released a draft plan to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program beyond 2020, when it is set to expire. The program—one of the first economy-wide programs put in place—aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by creating a fixed number of permits, called allowances, to emit a single ton; compliance entities and other market participants can buy and sell allowances, thereby enabling the market to determine the lowest-cost compliance path.

The draft plan calls to extend the program another decade and to reach emissions levels 40 percent below 1990 levels. It would include preliminary caps through 2050 “to signal the long-term trajectory of the program to inform investment decisions.”

No board vote is scheduled on the proposal until March 2017. A state appeals court is considering a challenge from the California Chamber of Commerce, which contends that the pollution-credit program is an illegal tax, not a fee.

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.

Tough Issues Linger in New Climate Deal Draft

On December 9, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of special issues, this week, of The Climate Post that focus on the climate talks in Paris.

Climate negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris have until Friday to reach a global deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the most serious climate change impacts. Negotiators released a new, shorter draft of that deal. The 29-page document leaves some major sticking points unresolved, including whether to reduce overall global temperatures 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels or 2 degrees Celsius, who shoulders the cost of moving to a low-carbon economy and how often nations should review their emissions reduction plans.

“On these issues I ask you to scale up your consultations to speedily come to compromise solutions,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told conference delegates. “We’ve made progress but still a lot of work remains to be done. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Many of the countries supporting a 1.5 degree Celsius target are arguing that rich but still developing economies—among them, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and South Korea—provide funds to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change—a move that would upend the Kyoto Protocol’s funding structure, which demands that only those countries designated as industrialized in 1992 pay up (subscription). It may be best, Mexico’s former president Felipe Calderon tells The Guardian, if developing countries were not treated as a single negotiating bloc.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is not the same as China,” Calderon said. “The G77 [comprising most of the biggest developing economies] is not the same as the Alliance of Small Island States. Arabian countries have different interests.”

On Tuesday, the European Union (EU) forged an alliance with 79 poor African and small-island countries that could, reports the Wall Street Journal, help eliminate the 20-year division between developed countries and developing countries on climate issues. It comes with $517 million in EU funding to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The announcement focuses on some of the highly debated points at the conference so far—including calling for a mechanism to review emissions targets every five years.

Linking Carbon Markets Explored in Paris

As negotiators continue to stew on the details of the agreement’s level of ambition and funding for developing nations, an interesting undercurrent has permeated the talks—whether national commitments could be linked to create a “bottom-up” carbon market. With many nations now looking to carbon markets to execute their national programs—including the top emitter, China—many stakeholders are expressing a desire for collaborative language that would empower nations to bring their programs together.

In a COP 21 side event co-sponsored by the Nicholas Institute, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), stakeholders expressed the logic of such an approach and discussed the language necessary to enable it. According to my Nicholas Institute colleague Brian Murray, the gains from trade increase with the number of participants—the more participants, the lower the cost of compliance.

Steven Rose of EPRI took the concept even further, describing considerations suggested by his modeling of trading among the United States, China and the European Union.

“Expanding the partnership can be welfare improving in total,” he said, “but it can have distributional effects so there will be some strategic incentives and strategic thinking required in terms of the composition of those partnerships.”

These concepts were encouraged by industry representatives from Statoil and the Italian power company Enel. Discussion also focused on what would be required to achieve linkage. In a clear parallel to the “common elements” approach that allows U.S. states to permit linked systems under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, Brian Murray pointed out that only minimal common policies are required to permit jurisdictions to link.

The linkage could be accomplished fairly easily, he said, as long as each jurisdiction adopts a common unit to trade, allows units from other jurisdictions to be used in their own market and participates in a registry that ensures that each unit is counted only once.

There’s been some talk of reflecting the market linkage concept in the eventual climate agreement. A joint proposal from Brazil and the European Union has garnered interest. But the concept does not appear to be in the new draft text released today, and the United States is notably not pursuing it.

“I am speaking for a country that has no intention to use them (carbon markets) in an international concept,” said Christo Artusio, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Change.  And without the U.S.’s support, it is unclear how far the enabling language will proceed.

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.

China Announces Cap-and-Trade Program

On October 1, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On his visit to Washington last week, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced that his country, the world’s biggest carbon polluter, will launch a national cap-and-trade scheme in 2017. The move would make China the world’s biggest carbon market and could strengthen global efforts to put a price on carbon.

The planned emissions trading program will consolidate China’s seven existing regional carbon markets and cover industries not currently regulated for carbon in the United States: iron and steel, chemicals, building materials, and paper manufacturing.

China has yet to announce specifics of its cap-and-trade plan, which will face political and technical challenges. “The devil of course is in the details,” said Timmons Roberts, a professor of environmental studies at Brown University. “It really does matter what the actual cap is.” He added that limits leading to a pre-2030 emissions peak would be a huge move.

Frank Jotzo, the director of the Center for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra and a close tracker of developments in China said the national emissions trading scheme will have a major signaling effect. “The world’s second-largest economy puts in place a price on carbon emissions, and this will be noted the world over,” he said. “If successful, it can grow into playing a major role in facilitating China’s objectives for a cleaner energy and industrial system.”

Jinping’s announcement occasioned this ironic observation in The Atlantic in reference to Republicans’ rejection of a cap-and-trade proposal in Obama’s first term, which led to enactment of climate control policy through regulation of the electric power industry in the form of the Clean Power Plan: “China, the largest self-avowedly communist nation in the world, has created a market to reduce its carbon emissions. And the U.S., the anchor of global capitalism, will limit them through government command-and-control.”

China also made a substantial financial commitment to help poor countries fight climate change—$3.1 billion.

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals Adopted

The United Nations General Assembly agreed to 17 new sustainable development goals, which expand on the eight Millennium Development Goals. The new goals are broken down into 169 specific targets each country has committed to achieve over the next 15 years. They focus on everything from eradicating extreme poverty and climate change to providing energy access for all.

Goal 7 is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Two targets to put the world on this path are to increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix and to double the rate of improvement of energy efficiency by 2030.

World Energy Council Secretary General Christoph Frei welcomed the agreement on the goals. “The adoption of energy among sustainable development goals is timely, critical, and historic,” he said. “Timely because we need to master the energy transition at a time of greatest uncertainty in the energy sector. Critical because we will not solve energy access or achieve energy efficiency objectives without moving the agenda from those who want to those who can. Historic because the development community for the first time recognizes the fundamental role energy is playing in the achievement of most of the other sustainable development goals.”

Goal 13 is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. A few targets to get there—integrate climate change measure into national policies, strategies and planning as well as advance the Green Climate Fund—requiring developed countries to follow through on commitments to provide $100 billion by 2020 to aid developing nations’ efforts to adapt and mitigate climate-related disasters.

With the adoption of the 17 goals, attention now turns to the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris—where member states hope to adopt a global climate agreement. In a CNN editorial, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, said all could take a lesson from Pope Francis’s message on climate change.

“Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, clearly articulated that climate change is a moral issue, and one of the principal challenges facing humanity,” said Ban Ki-Moon, mentioning the Pope’s recent visit to the U.S. where he address the U.N. and Congress. “He rightly cited the solid scientific consensus showing significant warming of the climate system, with the most global warming in recent decades mainly a result of human activity.”

Shell Suspends Arctic Drilling

Royal Dutch Shell suspended its search for oil and gas off the coast of Alaska for the “foreseeable future,” saying that Arctic oil reserves were insufficient and that the regulatory environment was too unpredictable to continue.

“Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the U.S.,” said Marvin Odum, president of Shell USA. “However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

Although the decision was celebrated by some environmental activists who had protested Shell’s decision to drill offshore, it should give people on both sides pause, Mike LeVine of Oceana told U.S. News and World Report.

“Meaningful action to address climate change is almost certainly going to mean we can’t keep looking for oil in remote and expensive places,” he said. “Rather than investing in programs like this, we need to figure out how to transition away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy.”

Alaska House of Representatives member Ben Nageak told the Associated Press that the state must act quickly to find another source to fill its 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

“We stood on the cusp of another economic boom that could have propelled our young people and their children to better futures,” Nageak said. But “a draconian and poisoned federal government” shut it down.

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

Last week’s Republican debate drew opinions of several candidates on climate change, namely on how government action to address the problem will hurt the economy. During the four-minute exchange, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dismissed the idea of enacting former Secretary of State George Schultz’s proposed “insurance policy” to guard against global warming risks such as sea-level rise.

When debate moderator Mark Tapper asked about the insurance policy, Rubio responded, “Because we’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government that we are under now wants to do,” and Christie said, “I agree with Marco. We shouldn’t be destroying our economy in order to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves is going to fix the climate.”

Rubio said he’s not a climate skeptic but that he opposes policies to reduce emissions that he believes will hurt the U.S. economy and fail to affect global temperatures. He suggested that there is little point in the United States reducing its emissions because “America is not a planet.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who suspended his campaign on Monday, concurred with Rubio and referenced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, although not by name.

“I’m going to echo what Senator Rubio just said,” the governor said. “This is an issue where, we’re talking about my state, it’s thousands of manufacturing jobs. Thousands of manufacturing jobs for a rule the Obama administration, its own EPA has said will have a marginal impact on climate change.”

Christie went on to say that “massive government intervention” to deal with climate change is unnecessary, and that New Jersey had already reached its clean air goals for 2020. But ArsTechnica noted that he did not mention that state’s renewable energy standards, net metering, and solar renewable energy credits all required government intervention.

Christie did note that he’d taken New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a now nine-state emissions trading arrangement recently shown to have generated both emissions reductions and economic benefits. Carbon allowances sold by the initiative have just set a new record high. Participating states will use the revenues for energy conservation, renewable energy, and direct bill assistance programs.

Pope Visits United States; Talks Climate Change

The day after arriving in the United States for a six-day visit, Pope Francis acknowledged, in a brief speech at the White House, efforts by the Obama Administration to curb carbon emissions.

“Mr. President,” Francis said in English, “I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” He added “To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”

The papal visit follows the release of his encyclical on the environment, and Francis’s talks about climate change during the visit may very well touch on the concept of carbon markets. The encyclical says markets are “not good” for rationing natural resource use. “This is where many economists who study environmental markets and carbon markets might take exception to the pope,” the Nicholas Institute’s Brian Murray told American Public Media’s Marketplace. He said markets to limit carbon emissions do curb those emissions, and he attributed the Vatican’s negative view of markets to a failed attempt to use them to go carbon neutral, which used carbon offsets from a voluntary action that did not materialize. A market driven by an enforced cap on emissions, however, would not produce the same risk of failed reductions.

Today, Francis became the first pope to address a joint session of Congress. On the topic of climate change, Pope Francis addressed the divided Congress: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental change we are undergoing, and its human roots, concerns and affects us all.”

He echoed words in his June encyclical, calling for “courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” Francis said. “I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States—and this Congress—have an important role to play … Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

Reports: Carbon Pricing Schemes Gain Momentum

The World Bank reports that around the world carbon pricing schemes have nearly doubled (from 20 to 38) since 2012, and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a non-profit that gathers environmental data for investors, reports that the number of companies putting a price on their greenhouse gas emissions for internal planning in 2015 almost tripled (from 150 to 437), with the biggest increase in Asia, where China is slated to launch a national carbon market and South Korea has just introduced one.

According to the CDP report, companies said that carbon prices create incentives for energy efficiency projects and switches to less-polluting fuels. In the United States, utilities cited expected emissions costs as motivation for low- or no-carbon generation investments

The World Bank study estimates that carbon pricing instruments cover about 12 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and that the combined value of those instruments in some 40 nations and 23 cities, states, and regions is $50 billion a year—$34 billion from markets and $16 billion in taxes. It showed that carbon prices, ranging from less than a dollar a ton of carbon dioxide in Mexico to $130 a ton in Sweden, are for the most part “considerably lower” than needed to help limit temperature rises to a United Nations goal of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. Nations gather for international climate negotiations Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris—a meeting intended to produce a deal that would commit all nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the hopes of meeting this goal.

The study notes that ex-post analysis of the European Union Emissions Trading System, presently the world’s largest cap-and-trade system by traded volume, has not led industries to move to jurisdictions with comparatively low emissions costs on any significant scale but that the risk of carbon leakage remains as long as carbon price signals are strong and differ significantly among jurisdictions. According to the study, this risk, affecting a limited number of exposed sectors, can be effectively mitigated through policy design.

A parallel report by the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with input from the International Monetary Fund, identified new principles for carbon pricing that it called FASTER: Fairness, Alignment of policies and objectives, Stability and predictability, Transparency, Efficiency and cost effectiveness and Reliability and environmental integrity.

Last week, the European Union urged UN envoys to adopt international carbon market rules and emissions accounting systems by 2017. Negotiations on such systems are not expected to progress far at this year’s climate summit in Paris.

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

On Tuesday, a lawyer hired by the world’s largest coal mining company told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power that proposed requirements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants are reckless, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in an op-ed, said states should ignore them, but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy warned that the regulations will be enforced whether or not states chose to cooperate.

“The EPA is going to regulate. Mid-summer is when the Clean Power Plan is going to be finalized,” McCarthy said, noting that the EPA is developing a federal implementation plan that will apply to states that fail to submit their own compliance plans. “If folks think any of those pieces aren’t going to happen and [the Clean Power Plan] isn’t going to be implemented, I think they need to look at the history of the Clean Air Act more carefully. This isn’t how we do business.”

A new policy brief by Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions offers a compliance pathway for the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan that allows states to realize the advantages of multistate and market-based solutions without mandating either strategy. Under the common elements approach, states develop individual-state plans to achieve their unique emissions targets and give power plant owners the option to participate in cross-state emissions markets.

“States wouldn’t necessarily have to mandate market-based approaches or even endorse the approaches,” said Jonas Monast, lead author and director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Nicholas Institute. “What it would require is the states using a common definition of what a compliance instrument is and ensuring that somehow the credits are verified and tracked.”

The common elements approach would allow cross-state credit transfers without states’ negotiation of a formal regional trading scheme, leave compliance choices to power companies, build on existing state and federal trading programs and maintain traditional roles of state energy and environmental regulators.

Carbon Footprint of Crudes Varies Widely

A first-of-its-kind oil-climate index, produced by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Climate and Energy Program in collaboration with Stanford University and the University of Calgary, captures the huge spread between the most and least intensive greenhouse gas (GHG) oils. By calculating the carbon costs of various crudes and related petroleum products, the authors suggest that companies and policymakers can better prioritize their development.

The index reflects emissions from the entire oil supply chain—oil extraction, crude transport, refining, marketing, and product combustion and end use—and reveals an 80 percent spread between the lowest GHG-emitting oil and the highest in its sample of 30 crudes, representing some 5 percent of global oil production. That spread will likely grow when more types of crude oil, particularly oil from unconventional sources, are added to the index.

The lead emitter? China Bozhong crude, followed by several Canadian syncrudes derived from oil sands-extracted bitumen.

A blog post for the Union of Concerned Scientists suggested that the wide emissions spread should give rise to “more responsible practices like capturing rather than flaring gas” and that in some cases “the dirtiest extra-heavy resources are best left in the ground.”

The index, which highlights that attention to the entire lifecycle of a barrel of crude is critical to designing policies that reduce its climate impacts, was released days before the International Energy Agency reported that for the first time in 40 years of record keeping, carbon dioxide emissions from energy use remained steady in 2014. The halt, the report states, is particularly notable because it is not tied to an economic downturn.

More Renewables, Tougher Standards for Public Lands

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell previewed plans to make energy development safer on public and tribal lands and waters in a speech outlining priorities for the Obama administration’s final years.

“…our task by the end of this Administration is to put in place common-sense reforms that promote good government and help define the rules of the road for America’s energy future on our public lands,” Jewell said. “Those reforms should help businesses produce energy more safely and with more certainty. They should encourage technological innovation. They should ensure American taxpayers are getting maximum benefit from their resources. And they should apply our values and our science to better protect and sustain our planet for future generations.”

Among the measures to be unveiled in coming months: tightened spill prevention standards for offshore drilling, increased construction of solar and wind installations and a raise in royalties from coal mining.

Jewell also hinted at plans “in coming days” to propose rules governing hydraulic fracturing on public lands, which are believed to hold about 25 percent of the country’s shale reserves.

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.