As the nation prepares for the inauguration of its 45th president, environment-focused hearings for some of President-Elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees continue. They include hearings for Scott Pruitt, nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and former Oklahoma attorney general, as well as Ryan Zinke, nominee for secretary of the interior and a former Navy Seal. Rick Perry, nominee for energy secretary and former governor of Texas, will have a hearing today.
The picks appear to follow Trump’s campaign promises to roll back EPA regulations and increase drilling on public lands. At his Tuesday hearing, Zinke said he would consider expansion of energy drilling and mining on federal lands but would ensure sensitive areas remain protected. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests many Americans want the opposite. More than 60 percent of Americans would like to see the EPA’s powers preserved or strengthened and the drilling of oil on public lands to hold steady or drop.
Here is what Pruitt and Zinke had to say on top environmental topics:
On climate change:
Zinke: “First of all, the climate is changing, that’s undisputable,” Zinke said at his hearing, adding that he and his wife had seen evidence of glaciers retreating during a visit to Glacier National Park in Montana. “The second thing is man has had an influence. I think that’s undisputable as well. So, climate is changing, man is an influence. I think where there’s debate on it is what that influence is and what can we do about it.”
Pruitt: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be … I do not believe climate change is a hoax.”
Pruitt: “First, we must reject the false paradigm that if you are pro-energy, you are anti-environment and if you are pro-environment, you are anti-energy. I utterly reject the narrative.”
He said he would support the U.S. renewable fuels program, which requires biofuels like ethanol to be blended into gasoline, but said the program needed some tweaks.
Zinke: “The war on coal, I believe, is real. All-of-the-above is the correct (energy) policy. Coal is a great part of that energy mix. I’m also a great believer that we should invest in research and development on coal—because we know we have the asset—to make it cleaner and better. We should lead the world in clean energy technology.”
On environmental regulation:
Pruitt: “Environmental regulations should not occur in an economic vacuum. We can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic growth,” he said, adding that he would seek to give states more authority to regulate their own environmental issues.
Zinke: “The president-elect has said we want to be energy independent. I can guarantee you it is better to produce energy domestically under reasonable regulation, than watch it be produced overseas with no regulation.”
Reports: Climate Change A Risk; Responsible for Record Warming
The issue of climate change is not one to ignore, according to recent reports on global risks by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and global temperature by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and the U.K.’s Met Office.
In the WEF’s annual report, which is based on an assessment of 30 global risks by 750 experts from business, academia and non-governmental organizations, climate change was labeled the third major global trend. Failing to adapt to or mitigate climate change and a host of other climate-connected risks, including water and food crises and involuntary migration, also rank in the top 10.
In its annual State of the Climate report, NOAA found that global temperatures are the highest since scientists started tracking them in 1880. NASA and the U.K.’s Met Office came to the same conclusion.
“The NOAA and NASA are two keepers of the world’s temperature data and independently produce a record of Earth’s surface temperatures, as well as changes based on historical observations over ocean and land,” NOAA officials said in a statement. “Consistency between the two independent analyses, as well as analyses produced by other countries, increases confidence in the accuracy of such data, the assessment of the data and resulting conclusions.”
The NOAA report suggests that the average temperature in 2016 was 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, making it the second-warmest year on record. Temperature increases in 2016 had links to El Niño, which waned in the spring, as well as human-caused global warming, which has been leading to an array of climate shifts in the U.S.
“A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” said Deke Arndt, chief of global climate monitoring for NOAA. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”
National Academy of Sciences Recommends Social Cost of Carbon Makeover
A December memo prepared by Trump’s energy transition head Thomas Pyle suggested that the social cost of carbon—the U.S. government’s best estimate of how much society gains over the long term by cutting each ton of carbon dioxide emissions—will likely be a target for lowering. The estimate factors into justifications for various environmental policies, such as regulation of power plant emissions, and it has helped shape 79 regulations since 2010. A report released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine details a new framework to arrive at that estimate, one aimed at strengthening the estimate’s scientific basis and transparency.
“I think the report has laid out an important blueprint for how to update the most important number that you’ve never heard of,” said University of Chicago economist Michael Greenstone, who served as a reviewer. “Social and economic understanding of climate change has advanced greatly in the last six years, since the original social cost of carbon was released, and the report identifies important ways to take advantage of those improvements in our understanding.”
The report recommends that the federal government use a framework in which each step of the social cost of carbon calculation is developed as one of four separate but integrated “modules”: the socioeconomic module; the climate module, which translates emissions changes into temperature changes; the damages module, which estimates the net impact of temperature changes in dollar terms; and the discounting module. Instead of using a fixed discount rate—the exact rate to use is highly contentious—the discounting module would incorporate the relationship between economic growth and discounting for calculating discount rates, thereby accounting for uncertainty about them over long timeframes.
The recommendation to “unbundle” the mix of models currently used would make transparent the assumptions and uncertainties in each step of the calculation and, according to Myles R. Allen, one the report’s authors, clarify where data ends and choices begin.
“There are obviously political decisions which need to be made in any calculation like the social cost of carbon,” said Allen. “On the other hand, the way the climate system responds to greenhouse gas emission levels is not really up for political discussion.”
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.
Last month, a 24-state coalition led by Texas and West Virginia state attorneys general—leading litigators in the fight against the Clean Power Plan—penned a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump asking him to issue an order to stop working to enforce the rule to reduce emissions from existing power plants. More recently, officials from states and several cities have sent a letter countering this earlier advice, and instead urged Trump to preserve the rule and continue defending it in court.
The Clean Power Plan is presently stayed while a 10-judge panel reviews a legal challenge. A decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rare “en banc” review is expected this year.
“We advocate that you reject misguided advice that the Clean Power Plan be discarded; advice that, if followed, would assuredly lead to more litigation,” the latest letter reads. “Instead, we urge you to support the defense of this critically-important rule and the implementation of its carefully constructed strategies to reduce emissions from the nation’s largest sources.”
If politics or litigation forces the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use other authorities under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a new working paper by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the University of North Carolina’s Center for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Energy says the EPA might consider using the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program.
“The language of the Clean Air Act gives the EPA a lot of flexibility to enact a program for greenhouse gases,” said Christina Reichert, a Nicholas Institute policy counsel who co-authored the paper.
The paper examines the opportunities and challenges associated with regulation of greenhouse gases under the NAAQS program, drawing a comparison with the Clean Power Plan’s approach under a different section of the Clean Air Act. Though a program under NAAQS wouldn’t mirror the Clean Power Plan, it could support many of its key provisions, including trading-ready plans. Although use of the NAAQS program would present challenges—such as permitting small sources—it is feasible, say the paper authors.
Climate Policy and Trump
In December, the Electoral College confirmed the presidency of Donald Trump. With just weeks before his inauguration, ClimateWire took a look back at the Paris Agreement, the Clean Power Plan, and other highlights of climate policy in 2016, and other media outlets contemplated what 2017 holds.
Mongabay’s Mike Gaworecki lays out eight issues to watch, including whether the Trump administration will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. And Nicholas Institute, Harvard, and University of North Carolina researchers outlined six key areas of federal policy and, for each area, identified the issues Trump must address that will shape the future of the electricity sector. This month, we’re awaiting Senate hearings for some of Trump’s environmental picks—Scott Pruitt (presently slated to lead the EPA) and Rex Tillerson (tapped as secretary of state).
Study: Flood Risk Pattern Changing with Warming Climate
According to research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the threat of flooding in the northern half of the United States is growing as the Earth warms.
Using stream gauge data and satellite images, two University of Iowa scientists found that this pattern is likely due to shifting rainfall patterns and the amount of water in the ground. The study’s 2,042 stream gauge readings between 1985 and 2015 showed a measurable increase in the number of flood events in the north over the last 30 years.
“It’s almost like a separation where generally flood risk is increasing in the upper half of the U.S. and decreasing in the lower half,” said study co-author Gabriele Villarini in reference to the finding that satellite data showed groundwater increasing in the north and decreasing in the Southwest and western U.S., regions that are experiencing prolonged droughts. “It’s not a uniform pattern, and we want to understand why we see this difference.”
Although the authors have yet to identify the reasons that some areas are getting more, or less, rainfall than others, they believe that rains may be redistributed as regional climate changes.
The researchers hope that their findings could change communication of changing flood patterns, which typically have been described in terms of stream flow, or the amount of water flowing per unit of time.
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.
Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate Thursday, December 29, in honor of the New Year’s Holiday. It will return January 5.
Invoking the so-called 12(a) provision of the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, President Obama announced a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in more than 100 million acres of the Atlantic and Arctic. The ban affects oil and gas drilling in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea off Alaska as well as in a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean from New England to Virginia. The announcement was made in conjunction with one by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who also put a freeze on leasing, agreeing to make Canada’s Arctic waters free of drilling—a policy subject to review every five years.
“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” Obama said. “They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited. By contrast, it would take decades to fully develop the production infrastructure necessary for any large-scale oil and gas leasing production in the region—at a time when we need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels.”
He cited the region’s low contribution to U.S. energy as a reason for the ban.
“In 2015, just 0.1 percent of U.S. federal offshore crude production came from the Arctic and Department of Interior analysis shows that, at current oil prices, significant production in the Arctic will not occur,” Obama said.
Politico reports that Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act includes no language that allows future presidents to undo the withdrawal of offshore areas from future leasing but fossil fuel advocates will likely argue that sufficient precedent exists for Trump to reverse the ban.
EPA Releases Drafts of Model Rules for Clean Power Plan
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday withdrew its draft proposed model rules for the Clean Power Plan from interagency review. The rules were an optional template for state implementation plans, designed to make it easier for states and power plants to use emissions trading to meet the Clean Power Plan carbon reduction goals.
“While these drafts are not final and we are not required to release them at this time, making them available now allows us to share our work to date and to respond to the states that have requested information prior to the end of the Administration,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in a blog post. “We believe that the work we have done so far may be useful at this time to the states, stakeholders and members of the public who are considering or are already implementing policies and programs that would cut carbon pollution from the power sector.”
The drafts, released in response to multiple requests from states, describe how states might use a mass- or rate-based emissions scheme under the Clean Power Plan. They will not be published in the Federal Register, and they carry no legal authority.
The Clean Power Plan is presently stayed while a ten-judge panel reviews a legal challenge. A decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rare “en banc” review is expected next year.
Report: Human-Caused Climate Change Intensified Some Extreme Weather Events in 2015
A report published by the American Meteorological Society links man-made climate change to 24 extreme weather events in 2015. The events include wildfires in Alaska, heavy rains in China, and droughts in Ethiopia. According to the report, which examined 30 events, climate change worsened 10 of last year’s deadly heat waves, three of which killed thousands of people in Egypt, India, and Pakistan.
“Without exception, all the heat-related events studied … were found to have been made more intense or likely due to human-induced climate change,” said the report compiled by 116 scientists from 18 countries using calculations based on observed data, computer simulations, and climate physics.
The study reflects an emerging area of climate research—one based on scientists’ prediction that climate change would affect the severity and frequency of extreme weather events and one that seeks to identify the likelihood that any given event was influenced by climate change.
“We do this for the same reasons we’ve always tried to understand our weather,” said Stephanie Herring, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead editor of the new report. “We know if we can better understand why these events are happening, we can better predict and prepare for them in the future.”
The possible energy agenda for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is described in a memo prepared by Trump’s energy transition head Thomas Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance and the Institute for Energy Research. It highlights a “pro-energy and pro-market policies” agenda. At the top of the list of 14 policy changes is withdrawal from the Paris Agreement—the international agreement to limit global warming by cutting global carbon emissions—and the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce emissions from existing U.S. power plants.
“In response to Massachusetts v. EPA, the Obama administration found that greenhouse gas emissions harmed human health and welfare,” the memo states. “This is the regulatory predicate to the Obama administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates and Clean Power Plan and greatly expanded EPA’s power. This finding will be reconsidered and possibly revoked, marking a major blow to underpinning for many climate regulations.”
Also targeted in the memo is lifting of the coal lease moratorium, expediting approvals of LNG export terminals, moving forward with pipeline infrastructure, reassessing the environmental impacts of wind energy, reducing energy subsidies, amending the Renewable Fuel Standard, increasing federal oil and natural gas leasing and relaxing the federal fuel economy standards. Ending federal agencies’ use of the social cost of carbon—an estimate of the damage avoided from marginal reductions of carbon dioxide—when weighing the costs and benefits of new energy and environmental regulations is also mentioned.
“The Obama administration aggressively used the social cost of carbon (SCC) to help justify their regulations,” the memo states. “During the Trump Administration the SCC will likely be reviewed and the latest science brought to bear. If the SCC were subjected to the latest science, it would certainly be much lower than what the Obama administration has been using.”
The social cost of carbon also came up in another document suggestive of the future of U.S. energy policy—a questionnaire sent by Trump’s transition team to the Department of Energy that asked agency officials to identify employees and contractors who have played a role in promoting President Obama’s climate agenda, including those who worked on forging the Paris Agreement and on domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output and those who attended interagency meetings on the social cost of carbon.
Among the transition’s requests in the 74-item questionnaire, reports NPR, are e-mails about domestic and international climate talks, money spent on loan-guarantee programs for renewable energy, and names of the 20 highest-paid employees at the DOE’s national laboratories. The Energy Department on Tuesday said it would not comply with requests for names.
Trump Nominates Tillerson as Secretary of State; Perry to Lead Department of Energy
On Tuesday, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump nominated Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the Department of State—the most senior U.S. diplomat position, one responsible for enacting the U.S. government’s foreign policy (subscription).
“Mr. Tillerson knows how to manage a global organization and successfully navigate the complex architecture of world affairs and diverse foreign leaders. As Secretary of State, he will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world,” said Trump of the Texas native who has been with Exxon since graduating from the University of Texas in 1975.
The 64-year-old Tillerson has no experience in government or working as a diplomat and his position on climate change may be left of Trump’s. As the Washington Post reports, Exxon understood the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels in the 70s but only fairly recently (under Tillerson’s watch) did the company publicly acknowledge the link.
For Tillerson to win Senate approval of his nomination, he will need to counter some concerns from lawmakers in both parties about ties to Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Specifically, some have expressed unease about his opposition to U.S. sanctions in Russia, which awarded him a friendship medal in 2013.
Also, on Tuesday, Rick Perry, former Texas governor, was tapped to head the Department of Energy as secretary. Perry, who once said he would eliminate the department when he ran for president in 2012, would replace Ernest Moniz, who has been energy secretary under the Obama administration since 2013.
Arctic Report Card: Warming Continues
“We’ve seen a year in 2016 in the Arctic like we’ve never seen before,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program. The year showed “a stronger, more pronounced signal of persistent warming than any other year in our observation record.”
What changes are scientists observing? To name a few: The spring snow cover this year in the North American Arctic was the lowest since the satellite record began in 1967, and the average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2016 is by far the highest since 1900. Scientists are seeing temperature spikes during months when little, if any, sunshine is reaching the surface of the Arctic.
“Those are the periods when the Arctic should be really cold,” Mathis said. “It’s one thing for the summers to be warmer, but this is [a new] trend of the winter months setting record temperatures.”
And due to water temperatures that are colder than those further south, the Arctic Ocean is especially prone to ocean acidification. The report describes how Arctic sea ice has become younger and thinner, causing patches of dark open water to absorb more solar rays that warm the water.
It indicates the changes are influenced by long-term increases not only in global carbon dioxide, but also in air temperatures—as well as with natural seasonal and regional variability.
Just a few weeks after U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, a critic of climate change science, told New York Times journalists he had an “open mind” on climate change, he and his daughter Ivanka met with former vice president and climate advocate Al Gore.
“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” said Gore of Trump. “It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting beforehand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued.”
Though Trump and Gore’s topic of discussion wasn’t directly referenced in his statement, it is speculated that climate change was on the list. The Washington Post reports that an aide to Gore, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the former vice president “made clear in his statements following the election that he intended to do everything he could to work with the president-elect to ensure our nation remains a leader in the effort to address the climate crisis.”
Regarding the meeting with Ivanka, however, Gore was more forthcoming.
“It’s no secret that Ivanka Trump is very committed to having a climate policy that makes sense for our country and for our world,” Gore said. “And that was certainly evident in the conversation that I had with her before the conversation with the President-elect.”
Trump’s EPA: Leader Tapped
U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump has tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to replace current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. The nomination seems to follow with Trump’s campaign promises to rollback EPA regulations.
“For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn,” said Trump in a statement. “As my EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, the highly respected Attorney General from the state of Oklahoma, will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”
Pruitt, whose biography indicates he is a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” offered that he intends to run the EPA in a way that “fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”
Pruitt was one of two rumored candidates for this post who have called for significant rollbacks in regulations. He has sued the EPA over its regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. In an interview with Reuters in September, Pruitt said that he sees the Clean Power Plan as a form of federal “coercion and commandeering” of energy policy and that his state should have “sovereignty to make decisions for its own markets.”
Warming Could Dramatically Increase Soil Carbon Losses
A study published last week in the journal Nature documents how carbon loss in soil worsens climate change. The 25-year study finds that as the planet warms, the respiration of microorganisms in soils increases, releasing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The scientists’ compilation of 49 empirical studies of soil carbon emissions from plots around the world revealed that climate change will lead to the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century.
“It’s of the same order of magnitude as having an extra U.S. on the planet,” said Thomas Crowther, a co-author with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.
The study found that carbon losses will be greatest in colder places at high latitudes and altitudes—places that have massive carbon stocks but that have largely been missing from previous research.
Correction: In last week’s story about an Arctic Council report on climate and other changes in the Arctic, we should have said that temperatures in the region had reached 9–12 degrees Celsius (16–22 degrees Fahrenheit) above seasonal averages.
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 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.
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.
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.”