Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next week, Thursday, November 24, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return Thursday, December 1.
A speech by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during the second week of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) focused, in part, on president-elect Donald Trump and his views on climate change. He tried to dispel doubts about the new U.S. government’s policies, saying it is a little bit “different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail.”
“The president-elect is going to have to make his decision,” said Kerry of Trump, who vowed while campaigning to withdraw the United States from the global Paris Agreement now under negotiation at COP22. “What I will do is speak to the assembly about our efforts and what we’re engaged in and why we’re engaged in it, and our deep commitment as the American people to this effort.”
He noted that the United States “is on our way to meeting all of our climate commitments,” and that the primary driver of emissions reduction is marketplace forces. “Investing in clean energy simply makes economic sense … [clean energy] is a multi-trillion dollar market, the largest the world has ever known.”
But he also acknowledged that even though the Paris Agreement came into force Nov. 4, there is no guarantee that its critical goals—holding the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius—will be met. He noted that, although government leadership will be essential, governments alone won’t solve the climate crisis and that private industry is more important than ever.
“And if we fall short, it will be the greatest instance in modern history of a generation in a time of crisis, abdicating responsibility for the future,” Kerry said. “And it won’t just be a policy failure; because of the nature of this challenge, it will be a moral failure, a betrayal of devastating consequence.”
CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels, Industry Flattening
A new study suggests that for the third consecutive year carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry have risen negligibly amid global economic growth, a slowdown driven by China. According to the study released at United Nations talks on climate change in Marrakesh, Morocco, and published in the journal Earth System Science Data, these emissions will grow by just 0.2 percent overall this year but will continue to rise in emerging economies.
“2016 we estimate to be flat again,” said Glen Peters, one of the contributors to the research and a scientist at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo in Norway. “It’s definitely three years, it’s fairly flat, which is quite a contrast to a decade ago, when it was growing at about 3 percent. It’s really leveled out the last few years.”
The decrease in Chinese emissions is particularly significant because China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter, accounting for some 30 percent of the world’s annual global emissions, though whether that decrease is due mainly to economic troubles or to environmental efforts is uncertain.
Like Chinese emissions, U.S. emissions have also fallen, a downward trend that began in 2007. According to the study, they were down 2.5 percent in 2015 and are projected to drop 1.7 percent this year due to lowered demand for coal.
Nevertheless, the leveling off falls short of the reductions called for in the Paris Agreement, implementation details of which are being hammered out during the second week of the U.N.’s COP22 in Marrakech.
“The break in emissions rise is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough,” said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at University of East Anglia and primary study author. “Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing. If climate negotiators in Marrakech can leverage ambitions for further cuts in emissions, we could be making a serious start to addressing climate change.”
According to a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report, implementing current international pledges will slow the projected rise in carbon emissions from 650 million tons per year in 2000 to 150 million tons in 2040 but put the world far off the Paris Agreement goals.
“While this (reduction) is a significant achievement, it is far from enough to avoid the worst impact of climate change as it would only limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2.7 (degrees Celsius) by 2100,” said the IEA.
Study Says Climate Change is Altering Earth’s Ecological Systems
A new study in the journal Science suggests that climate change is already having an impact on 82 percent of global ecological systems—affecting everything from genes to entire ecosystems. This impact could increase disease outbreaks and threaten food security.
“There is now clear evidence that, with only a ~1 degree C of warming globally, very major impacts are already being felt,” said co-author Brett Scheffers of the University of Florida. “Genes are changing, species’ physiology and physical features such as body size are changing, species are rapidly moving to keep track of suitable climate space, and there are now signs of entire ecosystems under stress.”
The study also indicates that the adaptive capacity in wildlife could be used applied to crops, livestock and fisheries.
“The level of change we have observed is quite astonishing considering we have only experienced a relatively small amount of climate change to date,” said study co-author James Watson from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Queensland. “It is no longer sensible to consider this a concern for the future. Policy makers and politicians must accept that if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions, an environmental catastrophe is likely.”
This study comes as nations discuss the Paris Agreement and the need to plan for its implementation.
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 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, enters into force Friday. Just three days later, the Twenty-Second Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22), kicks off in Marrakech, Morocco. But, discussion of fundamental issues of the Paris Agreement’s implementation such as transparency rules, climate finance or pre-2020 carbon cuts may be overshadowed—at least in the first few days—by the results of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election reports Climate Home.
When it comes to implementing the Paris Agreement, there’s a lot of negotiating left.
“Whilst Paris’ entry into force is great news it’s a bit of a shock for negotiators who weren’t expecting it for a few years yet,” said Camilla Born, a policy advisor at E3G. “Decisions on how the sequencing will work now that particular landmark has been brought forward will be made and negotiators will begin work on the rulebook in earnest. The rulebook will be crucial to ensure that countries are able to consistently track progress and create the best foundation for securing upward ambition moving forward.”
So what exactly is left to decide? For one, financing. There’s still uncertainty surrounding the pathway to mobilizing $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, the rules for reporting finance, and how to scale up adaptation finance.
A new report published by the Harvard Belfer Center features a collection of expert briefs—two penned by colleagues at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions—that addresses the opportunities for, and challenges to, elaborating, implementing, and complementing the Paris Agreement.
Study Highlights Significance of Limiting Warming for Mediterranean
The authors reached that conclusion on the basis of historical vegetation data and computer models, which they used to forecast the likely impact of climate change on the region under four greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, including two scenarios reflecting the two ends of the Paris Agreement’s global warming limit range—1.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They found that the region would avoid desertification only if global warming remains at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. Average global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times.
“With 2 degrees of warming, for the Mediterranean we will have a change in the vegetation which has never been known in the past 10,000 years,” said lead author Joel Guiot of Aix-Marseille University.
“The main message is really to maintain at less than 1.5C,” he added. “For that, we need to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases very quickly, and start the decreasing now, and not by 2020, and to arrive at zero emissions by 2050 and not by the end of the century.”
Sea Level Rise May be Underestimated
The longest and highest-quality records of historical ocean water levels may have underestimated the amount of global average sea level rise that occurred during the 20th century, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
“It’s not that there’s something wrong with the instruments or the data,” said Phillip Thompson, associate director of the University of Hawaii Sea Level Center in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, Manoa, “but for a variety of reasons, sea level does not change at the same pace everywhere at the same time. As it turns out, our best historical sea level records tend to be located where 20th century sea level rise was most likely less than the true global average.”
The authors, from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Hawaii, suggest it is “highly unlikely” global average sea level rose less than 5.5 inches during the 20th century—most likely rise was closer to 6.7 inches.
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.
On Saturday nearly 200 nations adopted an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, agreeing to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), refrigerants that contribute to climate change and that are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide. According to the White House, the deal inked in Kigali, Rawanda, should reduce HFC use by more than 80 percent over 30 years, avoiding warming of up to 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Secretary of State John Kerry said adopting the amendment “is likely the single most important step that we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet.”
HFCs were introduced in the 1990s to replace chlorofluorocarbons, which were destroying the ozone layer. Scientists have been concerned that a forecast global explosion in the use of air conditioning could result in so much HFC leakage by century’s end that the global temperature would overshoot warming thresholds outlined in the Paris agreement.
The phase-out process outlined in the Montreal Protocol amendment groups countries into categories with different baselines and timelines (subscription). Richer economies, including the United States, will start limiting use of HFCs within a few years. Some developing countries, nations in Latin America and island states, will do so beginning in 2024. Other developing countries will reduce use in later years—China in 2029 and India in 2032, for example.
United Nations Says Climate Change Could Make Millions Food Insecure
A new report from the United Nations (U.N.) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that the number of people living in poverty could rise “by between 35 and 122 million by 2030 relative to a future without climate change.” Sub-Saharan Africa would be hardest hit due to its population’s high dependence on agriculture.
The report comes on the heels of Sunday’s World Food Day, which the U.N. used to highlight the links among climate change, sustainable agriculture, and food and nutrition as well as the need to address climate change to meet the U.N. sustainable development goal of ending hunger by 2030.
“Unless action is taken now to make agriculture more sustainable, productive and resilient, climate change impacts will seriously compromise food production in countries and regions that are already highly food-insecure,” said FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva. “Hunger, poverty and climate change need to be tackled together. This is, not least, a moral imperative as those who are now suffering most have contributed least to the changing climate.”
The 2016 edition of The State of Food and Agriculture urges countries to help their farmers reduce reliance on natural resources and more efficiently use water and fertilizer. That’s because agriculture is second only to the energy sector in warming the planet.
“Agriculture is contributing itself to about one fifth of the global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” said Rob Voss, director of the FAO team that produced the report.
To create a robust food system, Voss said the agriculture sector must switch to more sustainable practices, such as using heat-tolerant and drought-resistant crop varieties; increasing the capacity of soils and forestry to sequestrate carbon; reducing food losses and waste; and shifting diets away from animal-sourced foods.
World Bank: Carbon Trading Is Key to Cutting Climate Change Mitigation Costs
By 2030, large-scale carbon trading could reduce the cost of implementing climate change mitigation goals spelled out in countries’ national climate plans under the Paris Agreement by 32 percent, according to a World Bank report released Tuesday. By 2050, that cost could be cut by more than 50 percent said the report.
“The more we cooperate through carbon trading, the larger the savings and the greater the potential to increase ambition by countries in the short term,” John Roome, the World Bank’s senior director for climate change, said of the report’s findings, which indicate that cost-effectively limiting emissions reductions to meet a 2 degrees Celsius or lower warming limit will be difficult absent increased carbon trading.
In a blog post, Laura Tuck, the World Bank’s vice president for sustainable development, discussed carbon pricing’s potential to unlock the financing necessary to deliver on the Paris Agreement.
“Amid the enormous challenge ahead,” Tuck wrote, “I want to emphasize the transformative economic opportunity that putting a price on carbon pollution presents.”
Although noting the increase in carbon pricing initiatives, which resulted in $26 billion in revenue in 2016—a “modest” amount but up 60 percent from the year before—Tuck said she is “concerned that not enough governments, particularly in middle and low income countries, are aware of the transformative potential presented by carbon pricing.”
Last Presidential Debate: No Questions on Climate Change
In Las Vegas Wednesday night, candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took the stage for the last presidential debate—absent were any questions about climate change and energy policy. That’s four debates—including the vice presidential debate—in which the environment was mentioned only in passing (if at all).
Wednesday night, climate change received a mention from Hillary Clinton: “New jobs in clean energy, not only to fight climate change, which is a serious problem, but to create new opportunities and new businesses,” she said during a segment on the economy. Donald Trump discussed neither energy issues nor climate change.
Mother Jones reports environmental issues spanned just five minutes, 27 seconds in the three 2016 presidential debates.
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.
A week after the Paris Agreement to limit global warming met requirements to come into force, the subject of climate change was referenced only once in Tuesday’s second U.S. presidential debate—after audience member Ken Bone posed the question “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?”
“I have a comprehensive energy policy,” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton responded in the town-hall style debate, “but it really does include fighting climate change, because I think that is a serious problem. And I support moving to more clean, renewable energy because I believe we can be the 21st century clean energy superpower.”
She prefaced the remark with a nod to the significance of expanded natural gas production.
“We are … producing a lot of natural gas, which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels, and I think that is an important transition,” said Clinton, who two days later delivered a climate change message in Florida with Al Gore.
Republican candidate Donald Trump did not mention climate change but did assert support for renewables and clean coal, which he suggested would be an option for another millennium.
“Now, I’m all for alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar,” Trump said, “but we need much more than wind and solar … There is a thing called clean coal. Coal will last for 1,000 years in this country.”
The short shrift given climate change during the debate did not match its popularity in an online poll organized by the Open Debate Coalition. Four questions on climate and energy made the poll’s top 30 crowd-sourced questions, which moderators of Sunday’s debate had agreed to consider. Of some 15,900 questions garnering 3.8 million votes in the poll, the fourth most popular was “What are the steps you will take to address climate change?”
In the two presidential debates so far, presidential candidates have mentioned “climate change” and “energy” only a few times. Yet, as highlighted by a report we have just co-published with Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the next administration will, through a combination of market forces, statutory deadlines, pending lawsuits, and open agency rulemakings, be forced to tackle a wide range of energy issues. The resulting decisions could shape the electricity sector for decades to come, and the chosen candidate will certainly play a large role in how the United States deals with climate change.
Study: Western Fire Season Worse Due to Climate Change
A new study in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that climate change impacts have made forests in the western United States drier and easier to burn, adding more than 16,000 square miles of forest fire area since 1984.
“We’re no longer waiting for human-caused climate change to leave its fingerprint on wildfire across the western U.S. It’s already here,” said lead author John Abatzoglou, a climatologist at the University of Idaho.
Rising temperatures that make the air drier and draw out moisture from vegetation have increased the likelihood of burning, according to annual wildfire data and climate models used by the authors.
“Climate change is playing a substantial role in the variability of fire activity … and we expect that to continue into the future,” Abatzoglou said. “The question is how are people going to respond to that.”
Aviation Industry Agrees to Curb Emissions
Member states of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed to a market-based measure to offset the growth of emissions from international flights after 2020. The agreement, which involves 191 countries, caps carbon dioxide emissions at 2020 levels by 2035. Airlines will be encouraged to purchase credits through global carbon markets to offset their emissions for many flights beginning in 2021.
“Aviation can now claim its ‘Paris moment,’” said Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, the president of the ICAO council, in a statement following the news.
The agreement initially starts off with voluntary participation, which becomes mandatory in 2027 through 2035. The United States, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and the aviation conference of the European Union (44 nations) have indicated they will participate in the voluntary portion of the agreement.
As G20 leaders concluded their meeting in Hangzhou on Monday, they reaffirmed their commitment to addressing climate change, but they did not agree on deadlines to ratify the Paris Agreement limiting Earth’s 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 (subscription). Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement is significantly more likely to take effect this year because on Saturday the United States and China jointly announced that they are formally joining it.
The agreement enters into force once ratified by 55 countries representing 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Together, the United States and China represent nearly 39 percent of the world’s emissions and bring the number of countries that have signed on to the agreement to 26, according to a count by the World Resources Institute. U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping said they will cooperate on two other global environmental agreements this year: one is an amendment to the Montreal Protocol related to air-conditioning in refrigeration and the other aims to reduce carbon emissions from aviation.
In his opening address to the G20 meeting, Jinping promoted domestic carbon targets and plans to cut a billion tons of coal production capacity in three to five years. Internationally, he declared it a priority to “jointly establish green and low-carbon global energy governance to promote global green development cooperation” (subscription).
On the eve of the G20 summit, a report by Climate Transparency has found that G20 countries’ pledged carbon cuts must be six times deeper to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius. As a bloc, the G20 countries produce some 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Study Warns of Impacts Associated with Ocean Warming
Climate change is altering marine species, spreading disease, and threatening food security, according to a major scientific analysis of ocean warming impacts by 80 scientists from 12 countries. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report said the soaring temperature of the oceans is the “greatest hidden challenge of our generation.”
“We perhaps haven’t realized the gross effect we are having on the oceans, we don’t appreciate what they do for us,” said Dan Laffoley, IUCN marine adviser and one of the report’s lead authors. “We are locking ourselves into a future where a lot of the poorer people in the world will miss out.”
An IUCN press release points to examples of the impacts of ocean warming in East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean, where there has been a reduction in the abundance of some fish species as the coral reefs they depend on die off, and in southeast Asia, there’s expected to be a 10-30 percent decrease in harvests from marine fisheries by 2050 relative to 1970-2000.
Change in the ocean, according to the report, is happening 1.5 to 5 times faster than on land and could penetrate the ocean at depths at or below 2,300 feet. The report calls for rapid and significant cuts to greenhouse gases, further research, and expansion of marine protected areas to help deal with these impacts.
Expert Working Group Says We Are Living in Age of Anthropocene
This week, members of the Working Group on the Anthropocene said that on the basis of humanity’s profound impact on Earth, it is formally recognizing a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. The “age of the humans” designation would mean we’ve moved from the so-called Holocene epoch—the interglacial period during which Homo sapiens flourished—to an epoch in which human activity has manifested itself in ways that leave traces in the geological record, significantly altering the character of the entire biosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere and cryosphere.
“Our working model is that the optimal boundary is the mid-20th century,” said Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester. “If adopted—and we’re a long way from that—the Holocene would finish and the Anthropocene would formally be held to have begun.”
The approval process requires ratification by three other academic bodies and could take at least two years.
“Human action has certainly left traces on the earth for thousands of years, if you know where to look,” Zalasiewicz said. “The difference between that and what has happened in the last century or so is that the impact is global and taking place at pretty much the same time across the whole Earth. It is affecting the functioning of the whole earth system.”
A new study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that the evidence to pinpoint expected acceleration of sea-level rise due to climate change was hiding behind the effects of a 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. This eruption sent tens of millions of tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere and may have masked the effects of industrial pollution on global sea levels during the two decades since.
“What we’ve shown is that sea level acceleration is real, and it continues to be going on, it’s ongoing, and we understand why you don’t see it in the short satellite record,” said John Fasullo, who conducted the research along with scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder and Old Dominion University. The data from satellite observations that scientists have used to track sea-level rise began in 1993, two years after the eruption, which temporarily cooled the planet. These data indicated that the rate of sea-level rise was holding fairly steady at about 3 millimeters per year.
“When we used climate model runs designed to remove the effect of the Pinatubo eruption, we saw the rate of sea level rise accelerating in our simulations,” Fasullo said. “Now that the impacts of Pinatubo have faded, this acceleration should become evident in the satellite measurements in the coming decade, barring another major volcanic eruption.”
Climate Change Extending Mosquito Season, Raising Zika Risk
A portion of last week’s opening Olympic ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro focused squarely on climate change. A video offered a glimpse of climate change effects and an accompanying graphic showing the incursion of sea-level rise on cities around the world if the average global temperature were to increase 3–4 degrees. Fitting perhaps, suggested The Washington Post, given warming could help accelerate outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses such as Zika, which has spread from Brazil to Florida, leading to serious birth defects.
Although data confirming a formal link between climate change and the rise and spread of the virus are lacking, Climate Central reports that the initial Brazilian outbreak of Zika was “aided by a drought driven by El Niño, and by higher temperatures caused by longer-term weather cycles and by rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution.” Climate Central’s own research recently showed that in three quarters of major U.S. cities warming temperatures have lengthened the mosquito season—the number of days hot and humid enough for mosquitoes to be biting. According to that research, the ten cities with the biggest increase in the length of the mosquito season over the last 30 years were Baltimore, Maryland; Durham, North Carolina; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; Portland, Maine; St. Louis, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Albany, New York.
For Rio, Zika is not the only health risk potentially increased by longer, rainy summers.
Ratifying the Paris Agreement
In Paris last year, more than 190 countries pledged 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. But keeping within that 1.5 degree Celsius target, The Guardian reports, will be extremely difficult.
An analysis by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands—the third country to ratify the Paris Agreement—suggests that the agreement is nearing a critical threshold of pledges and is likely to enter into force this year or in early 2017. The agreement takes effect 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions ratify it. The Marshall Islands analysis indicates 58 countries together representing nearly 54 percent of global emissions have either ratified or pledged to work toward ratification of the Paris Agreement by the end of the year.
So far, 22 nations accounting for 1.08 percent of emissions have formally ratified the deal, according to the United Nations.
By 2030, half of the energy produced in the state of New York will come from renewables, according to a new policy adopted Monday by the state’s public service commission. The move is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels (80 percent by 2050) and to attract billions in clean energy investment.
“New York has taken bold action to become a national leader in the clean energy economy and is taking concrete, cost-effective steps today to safeguard this state’s environment for decades to come,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “This Clean Energy Standard shows you can generate the power necessary for supporting the modern economy while combatting climate change. Make no mistake, this is a very real threat that continues to grow by the day and I urge all other states to join us in this fight for our very future.”
The plan calls for New York to retain its nuclear reactors—though The Washington Post reports that those facilities don’t count as part of the 50 percent renewables target. According to New York regulators, doing so might cost $965 million over two years but could lead to net benefits of $4 billion due to avoided carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution. While supporters of this provision applaud New York’s effort to retain its emissions-free nuclear generation, opponents are likely to challenge the nuclear subsidies on the grounds they are discriminatory, hurt markets, and intrude on federal authority.
New York is not the first state to announce an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target. In April 2015, California announced it planned to cut those emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels in the same time frame with renewables increases. Like California, New York plans to phase in its renewables increase; 31 percent of its energy is to come from renewables by 2021 and 50 percent by 2030. Those targets are meant to give utilities and clean energy companies time to develop their business models.
White House to Federal Agencies: Consider Climate Change Impacts
In an action with broad implications for thousands of projects, including energy and mineral development on public lands, natural gas import and export facilities, and transportation projects, the Obama administration issued final guidance on how federal agencies should consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts when conducting reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (subscription).
“Focused and effective consideration of climate change in NEPA reviews will allow agencies to improve the quality of their decisions,” the guidance states. “Identifying important interactions between a changing climate and the environmental impacts from a proposed action can help Federal agencies and other decision makers identify practicable opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve environmental outcomes, and contribute to safeguarding communities and their infrastructure against the effects of extreme weather events and other climate-related impacts.”
The guidance, the product of a six-year effort by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, advises agencies to quantify projected greenhouse gas emissions of proposed federal actions whenever the necessary methodologies and data are available. It also encourages them to draw on their experience and expertise to determine the appropriate level and extent of quantitative or qualitative analysis required to comply with NEPA and to consider alternatives that would increase the climate-change resilience of the action and affected communities.
“From the public standpoint, we are now going to know what all of our decisions add up to in terms of impacting climate change,” said Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the Council on Environmental Quality. “You can think of all the different federal decisions, and how they all add up. We have numbers where we can actually say, ‘this is a huge decision, given the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of it.’ And that gives the public a chance to really weigh in on decision-making.”
Several media outlets pointed out that because the White House guidance is not a regulation, agencies are not legally bound to follow it.
Clean Power Plan Analysis: National Costs Low, State Costs Varied
Wednesday marked one year since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally rolled out the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Even with the February stay by the U.S. Supreme Court, which halted implementation of the plan pending resolution of legal challenges, some say the plan is having an impact while others are finding more reason to explore the legality of the rule (subscription).
Should the rule survive judicial review, a new paper by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions uses the Nicholas Institute’s Dynamic Integrated Economy/Energy/Emissions Model to evaluate Clean Power Plan impacts on the U.S. generation mix, emissions, and industry costs. It indicates that industry trends are likely to make Clean Power Plan compliance relatively inexpensive, with cost increases of 0.1 to 1.0 percent. But policy costs can vary across states, which might lead to a patchwork of policies that, although in their own best interests, could impose additional costs nationally.
“The answer is not the same for everyone in terms of what’s going to be the least-cost way for a particular state to approach this policy,” said lead author and Nicholas Institute Senior Economist Martin Ross. “Nationally, it would make the most sense to have a broadly coordinated policy where you can take advantage of the usual economic [tools] to spread the cost reductions around and pick up the most cost-effective sources for reducing emissions.”
Similar findings were presented at a conference of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Because of lower-than-expected natural gas prices, renewable power, and extended federal tax credits for that power, the country as a whole is set to meet the Clean Power Plan’s early goals, reports ClimateWire.
In March, the Guardian issued an election-related call-out to online readers in the United States, asking them to identify the “one issue that affects your life you wish the presidential candidates were discussing more.” The results are in. Of the 1,385 respondents from all 50 states, one in five expressed discontent about lack of discussion of climate change, an issue described in vivid terms, such as “cataclysmic” and “slow-motion apocalypse.” Respondents expressed greatest concern about sea-level rise and decreasing food and water security.
“Climate change is the common denominator for us all regardless of gender, creed or political affiliation,” said Sarah Owen in a video response to the survey.
Between parties, there’s divide on the topic of climate change. Eleven House Republicans who are trying to change their party’s attitude about climate change and four of five Republican senators with a record of supporting action on it skipped this week’s GOP convention, where delegates approved a party platform that rejected the Paris Agreement, a carbon tax, and other action on climate change and that downplayed use of renewable energy.
“Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue. This is the triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it,” reads the platform.
Just how ambitious the Democratic Party will be in attempting to reduce carbon emissions—particularly, its stance on a carbon tax—remains to be seen. The full platform committee will hammer out details in Orlando on Friday and Saturday.
In an interview with ClimateWire, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing suggested that the U.S. presidential election will have less impact on American efforts to combat climate change than a host of other factors ranging from new technologies and appliance standards to political support for renewable energy tax credits.
“To me, there’s more likely to be continuity no matter who’s in office,” Pershing said.
Projecting Clean Power Plan Costs, Impacts
The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Assuming the rule survives judicial review and is implemented, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects a reduction of power sector emissions of about 35 percent by 2030.
Assuming the Clean Power plan is upheld, EIA projects emissions outcome and electricity generation mix for multiple state implementation strategies—that is, pursuit of mass-based emissions targets or rate-based emissions targets. EIA projects higher prices if emissions allocations under a mass-based regime are given to generators rather than load-serving entities, but “price effects are similar in the [mass] and CPP rate cases where the average electricity price from 2022 through 2030 in both cases is 2 percent higher than in the No CPP case, and 3 percent higher on average from 2030 through 2040,” analysts wrote.
As the EIA data suggests, utilities and other power producers are likely to be in different positions if the rule moves forward—some will benefit from the rule, and others will face costs to comply, which can lead to monetary transfers among different producers and consumers of electricity. A new policy brief by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions builds on this understanding by exploring the distributional impacts of choosing rate-based and mass-based approaches to comply with the Clean Power Plan. It finds that states adopting a mass-based compliance approach can use allowance allocation to largely control monetary transfers within a state. States adopting a rate-based compliance approach lack this direct control mechanism.
Each state’s system of electricity regulation and any changes in wholesale prices for electricity due to the policy in regional electricity markets will play a major role in determining how cost distribution and potential transfers play out, the authors said.
Study: Warm Water, Not Air, Accelerating Glacier Retreat on Western Antarctic Peninsula
A study published in the journal Science found that ocean warming, rather than atmospheric warming, is the primary cause of retreat of 90 percent of the 674 glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula. Because the peninsula’s glaciers are among the main contributors to sea-level rise, the study suggests that better understanding of how and why they’re changing will increase the accuracy of ice-loss predictions.
“Scientists know that ocean warming is affecting large glaciers elsewhere on the continent, but thought that atmospheric temperatures were the primary cause of all glacier changes on the Peninsula,” said lead author Alison Cook of Swansea University. “We now know that’s not the case.”
The scientists came to that conclusion after linking a distinct pattern of melt from north to south on the peninsula with a pattern of temperatures at mid-ocean depths that mirrored the melt. At the southern end of the western side of the peninsula, they found that a welling up of warm Circumpolar Deep Water wears away the fronts of glaciers. At the northern end of the peninsula, the fronts of glaciers are more stable because they terminate at colder waters that come from a different source.
“Our results are key for making predictions of ice loss in response to ocean warming in this region,” Cook said. “The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the largest current contributors to sea-level rise, and the glaciers here are highly sensitive, so [they] are key indicators of how the ice will respond to future changes.”
“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.
Coral in every major reef region across the world has already experienced bleaching, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts that temperatures in much of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans could reach a point at which significant bleaching of corals is present this summer. NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch suggests that the greatest threat is to reefs in Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. All Northern Hemisphere U.S.-coral reefs are on alert for bleaching.
In a statement, NOAA said that “This third global bleaching event began in mid-2014” and is ongoing. “Global warming, coupled with intense El Nino, continues to make this the longest and most widespread coral bleaching event on record.”
Coral bleaches when it becomes damaged or diseased by rising water temperatures. Some recent studies have suggested other factors—beyond just warming water—also play a role. Over the past century, climate change has already caused global sea surface temperatures to rise by about 1 degree Celsius, pushing corals closer to their bleaching threshold.
Although the bleaching event was already the longest in recorded history and was predicted to run past the middle of the year, NOAA’s latest climate model-based forecasts suggest it will run at least through the end of 2016.
“It’s time to shift this conversation to what can be done to conserve these amazing organisms in the face of this unprecedented global bleaching event,” said Jennifer Koss, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program director. “We have boots on the ground and fins in the water to reduce local stressors. Local conservation buys us time, but it isn’t enough. Globally, we need to better understand what actions we all can take to combat the effects of climate change.”
This month, NASA launched a new, three-year project—Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL)— to study the Pacific Oceans coral reefs by aircraft from 23,000 feet above the ocean. NASA scientists plan to map large swaths of coral in hopes of better understanding how environmental changes—including climate change, acidification, and pollution—are affecting these delicate ecosystems.
“CORAL will provide the most extensive picture to date of the condition of a large portion of the world’s coral reefs from a uniform data set,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab penned in a press release. “The data will reveal trends between coral reef condition and biogeophysical forcings, both natural and those arising from human activities. With this new understanding of reef condition, we can better predict the future of this global ecosystem.”
White House Announces Energy Storage Projects
At a summit of regulators, power companies, municipalities, and energy developers on Monday, the Obama administration announced new executive actions and 33 state and private sector commitments to “accelerate the grid integration of renewable energy and storage.” Collectively, the commitments—aimed at reducing carbon emissions and increasing the resilience of the electricity grid—are expected to result in at least 1.3 gigawatts of additional storage procurement or deployment over five years and could lead to approximately $1 billion in energy storage investments.
Among the actions, are funding for microgrids in rural communities, a U.S. Department of Energy push for standardization of and increased access to energy data, and release of White House Council of Economic Advisers report on the “technical and economic considerations and opportunities” relating to the grid integration of renewables. On the private sector side, 16 developers and power companies set new storage procurement and deployment targets. Some are committing to smart water heaters, smart meters and demand response programs.
Federal programs to boost storage and microgrid capacity at federal installations and military bases may be a game changer, according to one electricity market analyst. In a research note on the commitments, reported PV Magazine, GTM Research highlighted storage deployment by the U.S. Navy for its “potential to genuinely grow the market beyond business-as-usual.”
Obama Says Climate Change a Threat to National Parks
“One of the things that binds us together is we only have one planet and climate change is probably the biggest threat—not only to natural wonders like this—but to the well-being of billions of people, coastal cities, agricultural communities that can be displaced in the span of a few decades by changes in temperatures that mean more drought, more wildfires,” Obama said during an interview with National Geographic that will air in later this summer to commemorate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. “Part of why it’s so important for us to raise awareness (about climate change) with the general public is: This is a solvable problem.”
He added: “Rising temperatures could mean no more glaciers at Glacier National Park. No more Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park.” Our changing climate, he said, could destroy vital ecosystems in the Everglades and threaten such landmarks as Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
According to the National Parks Service, the park system’s many fragile ecosystems are “a testament to the reality of climate change.” They said glaciers could be completely gone from Glacier National Park by 2020, park facilities in Alaska are sinking due to thawing permafrost and archaeological sites are under threat from sea-level rise.