Study Says Electricity Production Vulnerable to Climate Change

January 7, 2016
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that climate-change-related water disruptions could significantly decrease electricity production by the hydropower stations and thermoelectric (nuclear, fossil-fueled, biomass-fueled) plants that account for 98 percent of production around the world. Because the plants need water to cool generators and pump power at dams, they are vulnerable to lower river levels and warmer water temperatures, according to researchers at Wageningen University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). These conditions could reduce generating capacity by as much as 74 percent in hydro plants and 86 percent in thermoelectric plants between 2040 and 2069.

“This is the first study of its kind to examine the linkages between climate change, water resources and electricity production on a global scale,” said co-author and IIASA Energy Program Director Keywan Riahi (subscription). “We clearly show that power plants are not only causing climate change, but they might also be affected in major ways by climate.”

The study, which used computer modeling and data from more than 24,000 hydropower plants and nearly 1,500 thermoelectric plants, indicates that the areas most at risk of decreases in usable capacity for electricity production are the United States, southern and central Europe, Southeast Asia, southern parts of South America, Africa and Australia—regions where the study authors say big increases in water temperature will combine with projected decreases in mean annual streamflow.

The potential water supply shortfall coincides with a predicted doubling in demand for water for power generation over the next 40 years.

The study also explored adaptation measures, concluding that increases in power plant efficiency and switches in cooling sources would reduce most regions’ vulnerability to water constraints as would improved cross-sectoral water management during drought periods.

Data Points to Hotter Years

Late last year, the World Meteorological Organisation pegged 2011–15 as the hottest five-year period on record. But data from the Met Office suggests 2016 will be warm, too—warmer than the office’s forecast for 2015.

“This forecast suggests that by the end of 2016 we will have seen three record, or near-record years in a row for global temperatures,” said Adam Scaife, head of long-range prediction at the Met Office.

El Nino and climate change were among the reasons cited for the increase—an estimated 1.29 and 1.73 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average global temperature in the second half of the 20th century. The Met Office, Express reports, does not expect the record-breaking run to continue indefinitely, but it shows how factors like an El Nino are working together to push temperatures to unprecedented levels of warmth.

Climate Central categorized the changes as a “global warming spurt,” that may be amplified by a slower-moving cycle of the Pacific Ocean—the Pacific Decadal Oscillation—that is also being amplified by climate change and that is the subject of some recent studies.

“Last time we went from a negative to a positive was the mid-70s,” said Gerald Meehl, a National Atmospheric Research scientist, speaking about a warming slowdown linked to Pacific Decadal Oscillation. “Then we had larger rates of global warming from the 70s to the 90s, compared to the previous 30 years. It’s not just an upward sloping line. Sometimes it’s steeper, sometimes it’s slower.”

Clean Power Plan Sees Challengers, Supporters

The deadline for filing legal challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which aims to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, triggered a host of new lawsuits targeting the rule. To date, 27 states, along with trade groups and companies, are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to delay implementation of the rule (subscription). Among the arguments—the EPA illegally issued duplicative rules for coal-fired plants and infringed on states’ rights (subscription).

Still, some states are beginning to wade through the rule. And many of the nation’s largest cities are seeking to back it. The National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and others are filing a motion to participate in litigation as amici curiae (friends of the court).

“The acute relevance of climate change to local governments’ responsibilities and activities has led members of the Local Government Coalition to grasp both the need to adapt to climate change and the costs of failing to act to mitigate it,” the filing said. “Prompted by lived experience and by the prospect of future impacts, they [the groups] have made efforts both to adapt to their changing climatic circumstances and to slow or eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions.”

 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.


Nations Strike Deal to Curb Carbon Emissions

December 17, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate the remainder of 2015. It will return January 7.

The first pact to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions—the Paris Agreement—was signed by 195 countries in LeBourget, France, on Saturday. Some aspects of the agreement, which will go into effect in 2020, will be legally binding, such as submission of emissions reduction targets and regular review of progress toward them. However, the targets themselves will not be binding.

The agreement contains these key points:

  • To keep global temperatures “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels through the year 2100 and to “endeavour to limit” them to 1.5 degrees Celsius
  • To balance carbon source and carbon sinks in the second half of this century
  • To review each country’s emissions reduction contribution every five years so that it can be scaled up
  • For rich countries to help poor countries by providing “climate finance” to adapt to climate change.

Previous United Nations talks had called on developed economies but not developing ones to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The new accord, in the works for nine years, requires action in some form from every country, rich or poor. But it imposes no sanctions on countries that fail to reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas pollution.

In a televised statement, President Barack Obama praised world leaders for agreeing on a deal that “offers the best chance to save the one planet we have,” while conceding that “no agreement is perfect, including this one.”

Critics say the pact is vague and aspirational and does not do enough to avert serious damage. It lacks a timescale for phasing out fossil fuels, and critics describe the language on monitoring and verifying emissions reductions as weak.

Nevertheless, the agreement was hailed by many world leaders.

“When historians look back on this day, they will say that global cooperation to secure a future safe from climate change took a dramatic new turn here in Paris,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who added that “markets now have the clear signal to unleash the full force of human ingenuity.”

The agreement won’t enter into force until 55 countries representing 55 percent of the world’s emissions have ratified it.

Deal Details: Finance and Temperature

Some of the biggest crunch issues in the lead up to the climate agreement in Paris were money and temperature goals. So what does the deal say about these issues?

Finance: According to an agreement made at the talks in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries will aid developing countries with $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 to aid in the transition to sustainable forms of energy. It’s an agreement they opted to continue through 2025. Prior to 2025, a new goal will be adopted—exactly when or who is responsible for meeting it is unclear. The fund, so far, isn’t quite up to that $100 billion goal. There is no legally binding language about it.

Temperature: To keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, the agreement calls for parties to “reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” According to The New York Times, the passage implies that at least some fossil fuels can continue to burn, as long as the greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by a larger number of “greenhouse sinks,” like new forests.

One environmental organization has already suggested that if commitments pledged before and during the talks in Paris are met, a critical mass of countries could reach emissions peaks by 2030.

Arctic Temperatures Reach Record High

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its Arctic Report Card, which finds that the average annual air temperature over land in the region was 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average (between October 2014 and September 2015). That’s the highest since modern records began in 1900, reports Fortune.

“Warming is happening more than twice as fast in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world,” said NOAA Chief Scientist Richard Spinrad. “We know this is due to climate change.

This warmer air, the report suggests, is affecting sea temperatures and melting ice—expanding oceans and causing sea-level rise. Just how bad is it? In the 80s, about 20 percent of the sea ice in the region was old and about 45 percent had formed that year. By contrast, in 2015, about 70 percent had formed in the previous year; only about three percent was considered “old” ice.

“The conclusion that comes to my mind is these report cards are trailing indicators of what’s happening in the Arctic,” Spinrad said. “They can turn out to be leading indicators for the rest of the globe.”

Jim Overland, a NOAA oceanographer and one of the more than 70 co-authors of the report, suggested that even the newly inked Paris deal may not be enough—at least in the short term—to turn things around.

“Unfortunately, we passed some critical points on that,” Overland said. “If the globe goes to a 2-degree warming, we’re looking at a 4- or 5-degree warming for the winter in the Arctic by 2040, 2050. That’s based upon the CO2 that we’ve already put into the atmosphere and will be putting for the next 20 years.”

 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.


Majority Calls for More Ambitious Deal in Paris

December 10, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

More than 100 countries, including the United States, Colombia, Mexico, and the European Union, have formed a “high ambition coalition” in an effort to secure a final agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. But members will not be satisfied with merely reaching a final agreement—they want an ambitious solution that includes a mechanism to review and raise countries’ emissions commitments every five years, that creates a unified tracking system to monitor countries’ progress on meeting their emissions goals, that recognizes the proposed 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature goal, and that contains a climate finance package.

“This is an ambition coalition,” said Giza Gaspar Martins, chair of the group of the 48 most vulnerable countries to climate change. “This is also a coalition that is open to recognizing the difficulties of others, because alone, we can’t achieve that high mitigation ambition that we have.”

European climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said the newly released draft text for the climate deal was not “bold enough, and not ambitious enough.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in address to the conference, echoed the need for a more in the final text. “We didn’t come to Paris to build a ceiling that contains all that we ever hope to do,” he said. “We came to Paris to build a floor on which we can and must altogether continue to build.”

Negotiations are now happening around the clock in the final days of the conference, set to wrap up Dec.11.  Nearly every country has declared discontent with the current draft, but none are rejecting the agreement either.

United States Attempts to Spur Momentum on Paris Talks with Funding Announcement

Yesterday the United States announced a doubling of the grant funding it provides to help developing countries adapt to climate change, a pledge that Reuters reports might help “clinch a climate pact.” The pledge announced by Secretary of State John Kerry is part of what the United States views as its contribution to a promise made in 2009 by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private money by 2020 to deal with impacts such as droughts, flooding, and sea level rise. The $860 million, which must be approved by Congress, would come from the State Department and Treasury budgets and would be distributed through both U.S. mechanisms, such as USAID, and multi-lateral systems like the Green Climate Fund.

“If we just continue down our current path, with too many people sitting on their hands and waiting for someone else to take responsibility, the damage is going to increase exponentially,” Kerry said. “To cut to the chase: Unless the global community takes bold steps now to transition away from a high-carbon economy, we are facing unthinkable harm to our habitat, our infrastructure, our food production, our water supplies, and potentially to life itself.”

The announcement appeared intended to give momentum to talks stalled by resistance by China and India to an outside monitoring system for emissions and to submission to a review process for pollution reduction plans.

“This impasse has slowed progress to a crawl, with the U.S. lacking leverage and China and India seemingly content to wait out the process,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton administration climate adviser who is attending the talks. “The decision to double U.S. adaptation funding itself is a strategic play to head off loss and damage calls by developing nations. This is why Kerry is pushing these lines right now.”

Study: Worldwide Carbon Emissions May Fall in 2015

As ministers work on a deal to cut post–2020 carbon emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that growth in those emissions has stalled, at least temporarily. Specifically, the authors say that in 2015 worldwide greenhouse gas emissions will fall, marking the first time they will have done so during a period of substantial economic growth. The reason? A decrease in coal consumption by China as well as increased use of renewables and decreased growth in demand for oil and gas. But it isn’t clear whether the decrease in China’s emissions is temporary due to the slowing economy or long-term due to changes in how the country consumes energy.

Using preliminary data through October 2015, the authors projected that total carbon emissions this year will be down by 220 million tons. But the decrease—0.6 percent—is so small that it may not be a decrease and could actually be a slight increase because of the margin of error. Nevertheless, the figure appears to mark a departure from an average annual growth of 2.4 percent over the last decade.

Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia and one of the paper’s authors, said that the Chinese think their emissions are going to rise, suggesting a resumption of an upward trajectory. Moreover, the emissions of India, which has emerged as a key player at the Paris talks, are likely to have risen 6.7 percent this year. The study authors warned that for global emissions to peak soon, part of India’s new energy—designed to spur economic growth and connect 300 million people to the grid—must come from low-carbon sources. And even more must be done to avoid dangerous climate change.

“Global emissions need to decrease to near zero to achieve climate stabilization,” said Le Quéré. “We are still emitting massive amounts of CO2 annually—around 36 billion tonnes from fossil fuels and industry alone. There is a long way to near zero emissions. Today’s news is encouraging, but world leaders at COP21 need to agree on the substantial emission reductions needed to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.”

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


Tough Issues Linger in New Climate Deal Draft

December 9, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linking Carbon Markets Explored in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Paris Climate Talks: Second Week Begins with Draft Text

December 7, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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

Over the weekend, negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris produced a draft accord for a global deal to curb climate change, leaving the final week for ministers to address several major issues in text to be finalized by Dec. 11. Our own Brian Murray will examine those issues in more detail from Paris tomorrow.

Three other items of note came out of the talks:

  • Australia announced plans for a new initiative to slow the loss of rainforests, preventing the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions (subscription).
  • Despite saying that it is engaging in the talks with “positivity,” India has demanded an exception to carbon dioxide
  • Throughout the talks, delegates have questioned whether there will be an accounting system to ensure nations keep to their pledges. “It seems now there is a growing consensus that (reviews) will be every five years,” said U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

Rise of the Subnationals

Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, writes from the climate talks in Paris.

Ground-level negotiators in Paris sent draft text to delegation heads for final decisions on four key issues: whether to aspire to a 2 degree Celsius or 1.5 C goal, how to differentiate the responsibilities of rich countries and those of poor countries, whether and how often to revisit mitigation targets, and how much finance to commit to help poor countries mitigate and adapt to climate change and possibly to compensate them for residual losses.

One curious development at COP (Conference of the Parties) 21 is the huge presence and active engagement of officials from subnational jurisdictions: states, provinces, and cities. These officials do not have a seat at the negotiating table—only countries are empowered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be parties to the agreement. But they come with the hope of directly or indirectly informing what goes on inside the negotiating rooms by announcing new initiatives, providing technical information, or vocally appealing to the moral and ethical principles that they wish the agreement to reflect.

Frustrated at the slow pace of international and national climate policy, many subnational government officials have initiated their own efforts to reduce emissions, often jointly with other subnational jurisdictions. And so we see California Gov. Jerry Brown, Quebec Premiere Philippe Couillard, and Ontario Premiere Kathleen Wynne exemplifying the role that subnational actors can play in advancing climate action. They represent one U.S. state and two Canadian provinces that recently joined forces to develop the world’s second largest greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

These subnational government officials come to Paris for two reasons. First, they wish to spur other subnational jurisdictions to act: the Canadian province of Manitoba announced this week that it will join the California-Quebec-Ontario carbon market, and other U.S. states have announced interest in participating. Second, they seek a formal statement in the Paris agreement of support for the role that subnational jurisdictions play in shaping climate solutions. This statement of support in Paris helps validate their climate actions for their constituents at home by demonstrating that, even as relatively small actors on the world stage, they can trigger larger and more meaningful actions globally.

On the climate adaptation front, municipalities are often on the front line. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg hosted a mayoral summit at Paris’ Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) attended by leaders of many of the world’s largest cities. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio (no COP is complete without celebrities) implored the mayors to take serious action on both emissions reductions and adaptation to forestall impending threats to their cities. Many of those mayors, particularly those in developing countries, are no doubt looking to the COP negotiators to create the needed mitigation and adaptation finance.

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.


Tougher Rules for Pollution That Crosses State Lines

November 19, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next Thursday, November 26, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday proposed updates to its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in response to a recent decision by the D.C. Circuit Court. The update now affects 23 states whose nitrogen oxide emissions blow into other states, increasing their ozone levels. No longer subject to the rule are South Carolina and Florida—neither of which contribute significant amounts of smog to other states.

“States should act as good neighbors, and the EPA must act in its backstop role to ensure they do,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “This rule provides an achievable and cost-effective path to quickly reduce air pollution.”

The proposal calls for states to comply with air quality standards for ozone set by the George W. Bush Administration in 2008. It would reduce summertime emissions of nitrogen oxides using existing, proven and cost-effective control technologies. Along with other measures, The Hill reports, the update could equate to a drop of about 30 percent in nitrogen oxide levels in 2017 compared with 2014.

“This update will help protect the health and lives of millions of Americans by reducing exposure to ozone pollution, which is linked to serious public health effects, including reduced lung function, asthma, emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and early death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

COP: Negotiations Will Go Forward

United Nations and French officials have confirmed that the U.N. Climate Change Conference, which aims to create a global climate treaty, will go forward Nov. 30–Dec. 11 despite recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Still, many public concerts, marches and festive events are expected to be canceled.

“No head of state, of government—on the contrary—has asked us to postpone this meeting,” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. “All want to be there. To do otherwise would, I believe, be to yield to terrorism. France will be the capital of the world.”

News that the negotiations were still on brought a wave of predictions about the talks’ outcome. President Barack Obama was “optimistic that we can get an outcome that we’re all proud of, because we understand what’s at stake.” David King, the British Foreign Minister’s Special Representative for Climate change expected an “imperfect deal.” Ultimately, the Washington Post reports, divisions remain and many continue to question key elements of the draft agreement.

U.S. negotiators are expecting to use the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (subscription) to show the country’s commitment to tackling climate change. But on Tuesday the Senate approved two resolutions to stop the agency from implementing the plan, which calls for existing power plants to reduce their emissions.

Study: U.S. Forests’ Carbon Sequestration Capacity Is Decreasing

Efforts to protect the health of forests and to slow deforestation—a leading contributor to climate change—are largely absent in the pledges of most countries taking part in historic climate negotiations beginning this month in Paris, reports Climate Central, and the United States is no exception. Although the United States will rely heavily on forest regrowth to meet its emissions reduction target—up to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025—its pre-Paris climate pledge makes no mention of forestry practices or of others means to preserve forests.

Now a study published in Scientific Reports finds that the carbon sequestration capacity of U.S. forests could diminish over the next 25 years as a result of land use change and forest aging. It also finds that decreases in that capacity could influence emissions reduction targets in other economic sectors and affect the costs of achieving policy goals.

Using detailed forest inventory data, Forest Service Southern Research Station scientists David Wear and John Coulston projected the most rapid decline in forest carbon sequestration to be in the Rocky Mountain region, where forests could become a carbon emissions source (subscription).

Land use change greatly influences carbon sequestration. The researchers found that afforesting or restoring 19.1 million acres over the next 25 years, a plausible goal, could yield significant carbon sequestration gains.

“Policymakers interested in reducing net carbon emissions in the U.S. need information about future sequestration rates, the variables influencing those rates and policy options that might enhance sequestration rates,” said Wear. “The projection scenarios we developed for this study were designed to provide insights into these questions at a scale useful to policymakers.”

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.


Saudi Arabia Joins Climate Change Effort

November 12, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Saudi Arabia—the world’s biggest crude oil exporter—has become the last of the G20 countries to submit an emissions pledge in the run up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, Nov. 30–Dec. 11. The desert kingdom said it will avoid up to 130 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030 but whether from existing or projected pollution levels is unclear, and the target is conditional on diversification of the country’s fossil fuel-reliant economy.

Though its commitments are hazy, the pledge is considered symbolically important because Saudi Arabia has been reluctant to fight climate change. References to plans to invest in renewable power and energy efficiency represent an enormous pivot for a country dependent on oil for 90 percent of its exports and holding some 16 percent of the world’s oil reserves.

Other emissions-related measures include plans to build a plant to capture and use 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide a day in other petrochemical plants and to explore and produce natural gas.

“These measures focus on harnessing the mitigation potential in a way that prevents ‘lock in’ of high-GHG infrastructure,” the submission said.

At an informal three-day meeting in Paris ending Tuesday, representatives of 70 countries took steps toward resolving two disagreements that could undermine a climate treaty: financing for developing countries to tackle climate change and increased emissions reduction commitments. Participants established that the $100 billion a year in grants and loans provided to poorer states starting in 2020 should be a minimum, and they discussed the possibility of expanding the number of donor countries. Progress was made on how to revise commitments to make additional emissions cuts, given that current pledges will be insufficient to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

As Studies Show Temps Rise, Leaders Urge Action

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), this week, reported that between 1990 and 2014 the world experienced a 36 percent increase in radiative forcing of greenhouse gases (the warming effect on our climate). The change is due to long-lived greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide from industrial, agricultural and domestic activities, the WMO warned. Also this week, the U.K.’s Met Office shared data for 2015 showing, for the first time, global mean temperature at the Earth’s surface is set to reach 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“Every year we report a new record in greenhouse gas concentrations,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Every year we say that time is running out. We have to act now to slash greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have a chance to keep the increase in temperatures to manageable levels. We will soon be living with globally averaged CO2 levels above 400 parts per million as a permanent reality.”

President Obama used a newly launched personal Facebook account to draw attention to the importance of addressing climate change. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande met with other leaders to promote the upcoming climate talks in Paris.

“We have to make sure that politicians are able to decide beyond the terms of their mandate, and even beyond their own lifespans,” Hollande said. “I mean that we should make sure that those who hold the future of our planet in their hands can imagine that they will be judged after they are gone. That’s what the Paris conference is about.”

Keystone Pipeline Proposal Rejected

Citing environmental concerns and overhyped benefits, President Barack Obama last week rejected the proposed 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried 800,000 barrels a day of carbon-intensive petroleum from the Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. The project had become the symbol of a broader debate on climate change, energy, and the economy as well as what the Washington Post described as “a litmus test among Democrats for what President Obama was willing to do to tackle global warming in the face of Republican resistance in Congress.”

“The State Department has decided that the Keystone XL pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States,” Obama said. “I agree with that decision.” He also deemphasized the importance of the decision, saying that Keystone had taken on an “overinflated” political role and that it was neither a “silver bullet for the economy” nor “the express lane to climate disaster.”

Nevertheless, the president recognized the decision’s importance in the context of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris and environmentalists and some other observers say the decision may have been timed with the conference in mind.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” the president said, “and frankly approving this project would have undercut that leadership.”

In what the Guardian described as “a sweeping statement which became a global call to arms ahead of the U.N. climate talks,” Obama promised U.S. global leadership in pursuing an ambitious framework “to protect the one planet we have got while we still can.”

To meet that goal, Obama said, “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.”

He reported that he and newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had concurred that climate change concerns trumped any differences of opinion over Keystone.

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres and other leaders hailed the decision as building momentum toward Paris, and analysts said it boosts the credibility of the United States in urging other large developed nations to more critically consider their fossil fuel growth (subscription).

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other Republicans in Congress have vowed to reverse Obama’s decision if the GOP wins the White House next year. The Huffington Post catalogued the reactions of other politicians on both sides of the Keystone debate.

TransCanada says that it is reviewing its options, including a new application for a cross-border pipeline. Earlier this month, TransCanada had asked the State Department to suspend review of its federal permit application, arguing that it would be “appropriate” to delay a federal decision until its Nebraska route is settled.

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.


Countries Position Themselves for Paris Climate Talks

November 5, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a joint statement on Monday, China and France signaled that any deal reached at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, Nov. 30–Dec. 11, should include five-year reviews of emissions reductions commitments in order to “reinforce mutual confidence and promote efficient implementation.” The two countries also called for an “ambitious and legally binding” deal that will allow global warming to be limited to two degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels—the United Nations-declared threshold for avoiding the most dangerous climate change impacts—and they made a bilateral commitment to formulate low-carbon strategies within the next five years.

The statement was released during a visit by French President François Hollande to China in a bid to persuade Beijing to propel negotiations ahead of the Paris talks. As the world’s largest polluter, China—which has promised to cap its emissions by 2030 but has not yet said at what level—will be a key actor given disputes over whether developed or developing countries should bear a greater emissions reduction burden. New government data indicating that China is annually burning 17 percent more coal than thought will increase the complexity and urgency of achieving its emissions pledge.

The 55-page negotiating text forwarded to Paris at the conclusion of the latest round of talks in Bonn, Oct. 23, left unresolved the fundamental issues plaguing the climate agreement process for decades: common but differentiated responsibility for dealing with climate change impacts and poorer countries’ demands for climate adaptation finance.

The two issues were front and center at a meeting on Saturday of China, South Africa, Brazil, and India that was meant to produce a joint negotiating scheme. In a statement reiterating their “unequivocal commitment towards a successful outcome at the Paris Climate Change Conference through a transparent, inclusive and Party-driven process,” the four countries said that “existing institutions and mechanisms created under the Convention on adaptation, loss and damage, finance and technology should be anchored and further strengthened in the Paris agreement.”

The statement came just after the last major pre-Paris gathering of Pacific island nations, which produced a collective plea for help in addressing the health impacts of climate change (subscription).

U.N. Report on Emissions Pledges: More Cuts Needed

A new United Nations report finds that, if fully implemented, countries’ collective pledges toward a new international climate change agreement would eliminate 4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere by 2030—not enough to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (C) over preindustrial levels but sufficient to greatly improve the chances of meeting that goal (subscription). The report is based on a review of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) of 146 countries that collectively cover 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN’s climate agency, said in a statement with the report. She added that the INDCs are “not the final word” but do indicate a global decarbonization effort.

The European Union’s Joint Research Centre, which did its own review based on the plans of 155 countries representing some 90 percent of global emissions, put the increase at 3 degrees Celsius.

The UN report points to a sobering conclusion regarding the so-called carbon budget: approximately three-quarters of that budget will have been spent by 2030. Moreover, the report suggests that the world is losing out on the cheapest path to keeping warming under 2 C. That path would require emissions in 2030 to be no more than 41.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e), far lower than the 56.7 GtCO2e indicated by the UN analysis.

In a blog post, Paul Bodnar, the top climate official in the White House’s National Security Council, focused on the decelerated emissions growth indicated by the INDCs. He wrote that the UN report shows that the pledges to date “represent a substantial step up in global action and will significantly bend down the world’s carbon pollution trajectory. The targets are projected to significantly slow the annual growth rate in emissions—including a major decrease in rate compared to the most recent decade.”

Clean Power Plan: Latest Legal Developments

On Tuesday, 23 states submitted a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to strike down a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule establishing carbon dioxide emissions standards for new and modified power plants (subscription). Those same states, plus Colorado and New Jersey, have already challenged emissions standards for existing power plants. On Wednesday, the legal brawl expanded when 18 states led by New York and several cities submitted their own petition asking to defend the U.S. Environmental Protection’s Clean Power Plan (subscription).

A court ruling on whether to stay implementation of the regulation will come after the UN climate negotiations in Paris. According to a timeline announced last week, final stay motions are due today, the EPA has until Dec. 3 to respond, and final reply briefs are due Dec. 23, followed by as-yet-unscheduled oral arguments.

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.


Clean Power Plan Publication Triggers Wave of Challenges

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The recent publication of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan in the Federal Register triggered the filing of lawsuits by dozens of states in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, along with other challenges, including a petition from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-led industry coalition for a rule review and an immediate stay of the regulation. By Monday, 26 states, 15 trade groups, several labor unions, and a host of individual utilities and companies were suing the administration over the Clean Power Plan. By Tuesday, members in both the House and the Senate introduced Congressional Review Act resolutions to stop them (subscription)—resolutions described by The National Journal as “a bid to un­der­mine in­ter­na­tion­al cli­mate talks.”

Clean Power Plan critics—among them attorney generals from West Virginia (Patrick Morrisey) and Texas (Ken Paxton), who are leading the states’ legal challenge—allege that the state-by-state targets aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 represent a federal overreach and will hike utility rates and undercut grid reliability.

“The Clean Power Plan is one of the most far-reaching energy regulations in this nation’s history,” said Morrisey. “EPA claims to have sweeping power to enact such regulations based on a rarely used provision of the Clean Air Act, but such legal authority simply does not exist.” But the EPA and many environmental groups contend that the federal government does have the legal authority to curb power plant emissions, and The Huffington Post noted that in the past the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the EPA’s favor.

“The power plan is based on a sound legal and technical foundation,” said Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation Janet McCabe. “We feel strongly that given our authorities and legal precedents under the Clean Air Act that our application of [Section] 111(d) here conforms with those authorities and that legal precedent.”

As part of its efforts to help states figure out how to implement the regulation, the EPA last week released a memorandum to regional EPA directors that lays out elements to be included in initial plan submittals to the EPA in September, should states desire to extend their deadline for final plan submittals to 2018.

Even while challenging the Clean Power Plan, some states are simultaneously thinking about developing compliance strategies, which could include creation of carbon-trading plans that allow big polluters to buy emissions credits from lesser emitters.

Also published in the Federal Register last week was the final rule regulating carbon dioxide for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants and the proposed federal implementation plan. That plan—to be imposed on states that fail to submit a compliance plan to the EPA—will be the subject of public hearings in November and a 90-day comment period ending January 21.

Draft Climate Deal Text Sent to Paris

On Friday diplomats endorsed the outlines of a proposed global climate deal to be negotiated starting Nov. 30 in Paris. The hope is to come to an agreement— by the summit’s conclusion on Dec.11—that limits warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most significant effects of climate change. U.N. Climate Chief Christina Figueres said this week that based on some 150 plans submitted thus far, diplomats could only hope to limit warming to just below 3 degrees.

Even when talks start next month, countries that produce 92 percent of greenhouse gases in the world are expected to have submitted national plans. If fully implemented, they would hold temperature rise by the end of the century to 2.7 degrees Celsius.

“There’s nobody out there that wants a 3 degree world,” said Figueres. “Nobody. We are not giving up on a 2 degree world. In fact, we’re staying under 2 degrees. And what we’re doing is we are building a process that is going to get us there.”

But the goal will have to be met without a global carbon price, Figueres said, which could help create an incentive for power plants operators to switch to clean energy.

“[Many have said] we need a carbon price and [investment] would be so much easier with a carbon price, but life is much more complex than that,” she said. “…it’s not quite what we will have.”

There will be—and are—many pricing mechanisms in place around the globe. Many U.S. states are expected to develop trading-ready plans to meet the mandates laid out by the Clean Power Plan.

Report Finds New Highs in Store for Persian Gulf

A new Nature Climate Change study finds that climate change could render some cities in the Persian Gulf too hot for humans to live in—without mitigation measures.

“Our results expose a regional hotspot where climate change, in the absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future,” authors write.

It predicts that a 95-degree wet-bulb temperature—the indicator of humidity that matches the temperature of our skin when we sweat—is too hot for extended periods of time. And that temperature could be exceeded in summer months in certain parts of the region.

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.


Climate Change Gets Attention in Democratic Debate

October 15, 2015
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Four of the five candidates mentioned climate change a dozen times as a major campaign issue during at the Democratic presidential debates this week. Candidates at the Republican debate were largely silent on the issue.

“This debate shows that climate has become a central issue, right up there with income inequality and broader economic concerns,” said Paul Bledsoe, a climate official under the Clinton administration. “It’s a stunning evolution, one that also shows Democrats see climate change has a profound GOP vulnerability in the general election.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley touted their own efforts to combat climate change. “I’m the only candidate, I believe, in either party to do this—to move America forward to a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2050,” said O’Malley.

Sanders brought up his push for legislation that puts a price on carbon, and he identified climate change as the main threat for the country—repeating Pope Francis’s message that it was a moral issue.

“The scientific community is telling us: if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be inhabitable,” Sanders said.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, saw climate change as an economic opportunity.

“I’ve traveled across our country over the last months listening and learning,” Clinton said. “And I’ve put forward specific plans about how we’re going to create more good-paying jobs: by investing in infrastructure and clean energy, by making it possible once again to invest in science and research, and taking the opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy.”

Group Calls for Tougher Action on Climate Change

Twenty countries most at risk of climate change due to arid, landlocked, mountainous, or low lying terrain have formed a new group to demand tougher efforts to curb climate change. The Vulnerable 20 (V20), which held its inaugural meeting in Lima, Peru, last week, is calling for significant mobilization of finance for climate action ahead of a climate agreement set to be negotiated in Paris later this year, and it will share and scale up its own members’ innovative approaches to such finance.

The action plan by the V20 countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Kiribati, Madagascar, Maldives, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Tanzania, East Timor, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Vietnam—seeks to “strengthen economic and financial cooperation and action to address climate change risks and opportunities” as well as to promote a shift to a low-carbon global economy.

The V20 contributes only 2 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions but asserts that since 2010 it has recorded more than 50,000 annual deaths and suffered an estimated annual decrease in GDP of 2.5 percent attributable to climate change.

“We established this group recognizing the power and potential of finance as an integral tool in solving [climate change],” Cesar Purisima, the Philippines’ finance minister and chair of the V20. “Unified in our vulnerability, the economic threats and difficulties arising from climate change, and heightened sense of urgency on the issue, we stand together on the front lines of a battle we most certainly cannot afford to lose.”

V20 expects to both raise and manage climate monies, and it will establish a public-private “climate risk pooling mechanism,” an insurance-like fund for recovery from extreme weather events and disasters.

Without an effective global response, said Purisima, the V20’s annual economic losses due to climate change would exceed $400 billion by 2030.

New York Set to Explore Linkage with Carbon Markets

Last Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced four major actions by his state to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One is becoming a signatory to Under 2 MOU—a memorandum of understanding among states, provinces, and cities worldwide to help keep Earth’s average temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius, as measured against pre-industrial levels. Another is engaging partners in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in exploring the possibility of linking their power sector-only cap-and-trade program with California and Quebec’s economy-wide carbon markets and with Ontario’s cap-and-trade program, which may join California, Washington, and Quebec in the Western Climate Initiative as soon as 2017.

“Connecting these markets would be more cost-effective and stable, thereby supporting clean energy and driving international carbon emission reductions,” a release stated. “New York State will also engage other states and provinces to build a broader carbon market and further drive an international discussion that encourages government action on carbon emissions.”

ClimateWire reported that carbon trading among states is considered a key mechanism to comply with the Clean Power Plan, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, and acting EPA air chief Janet McCabe has said that interstate trading, for which RGGI is regarded as a model, could help states maintain an affordable and reliable power supply (subscription).

RGGI members are expected to meet through 2016 to discuss both the future of their program, currently slated to end in 2020, and the program’s use as a possible compliance mechanism for the Clean Power Plan.

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.