The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A new report from Moody’s outlines how the credit rating agency will evaluate the impact of climate change in its ratings for state and local bond issuers. The report warns cities and states to prepare for climate change or face increased difficulty maintaining or obtaining higher credit ratings.

Ratings from Moody’s also help determine interest rates on bonds issued by cities to fund roads, buildings and other civic projects. Cities not adequately preparing for climate change, then, may face higher rates.

“The interplay between an issuer’s exposure to climate shocks and its resilience to this vulnerability is an increasingly important part of our credit analysis, and one that will take on even greater significance as climate change continues,” the report notes.

Moody’s uses six indicators to assess exposure to the physical climate change, including hurricanes and extreme-weather damage as a share of the economy, and the share of homes in a flood plain.

Moody’s identifies Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas as the states most at risk for damage from climate change. It says it will assess both a city’s ongoing risk from climate trends and climate shock from extreme weather events such as natural disasters, floods and droughts.

“What we want people to realize is: If you’re exposed, we know that. We’re going to ask questions about what you’re doing to mitigate that exposure,” said Lenny Jones, a managing director at Moody’s. “That’s taken into your credit ratings.”

Mayors Sign Climate Charter

More than 50 North American cities signed the Chicago Climate Charter Tuesday during the North American Climate Summit in Chicago, where former President Barack Obama spoke, calling cities, states and nonprofit groups “the new face of leadership” on climate change.

“Obviously we’re in an unusual time when the United States is now the only nation on Earth that does not belong to the Paris agreement,” Obama said. “And that’s a difficult position to defend. But the good news is that the Paris agreement was never going to solve the climate crisis on its own. It was going to be up to all of us.”

The mayors, who attended the summit hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, hailed from cities across North America, including Mexico City, San Francisco and Phoenix.

“Climate change can be solved by human action,” said Emanuel (subscription). “We lead respectively where there is no consensus or directive out of our national governments.”

The charter calls for mayors to achieve a percent reduction in carbon emissions at least as stringent as the Paris Agreement; to quantify, track and report emissions; to support flexibility for cities to take action on climate issues; and to incorporate climate issues into emergency planning, among other provisions.

The charter also calls for cities to work with scientific and academic experts to find solutions. Some mayors have specifically agreed to commitments to expand public transportation and invest in natural climate solutions such as tree canopy and vegetation.

Study: Melting Arctic Sea Ice Will Lead to Increased Drought in California

Scientists have linked rapidly melting Arctic sea ice to warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels. Now new research shows it could also reduce rainfall in California, worsening future droughts in the state. By mid-century, according to a study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, loss of ice in the Arctic and warming temperatures there could drop California’s 20-year median for rainfall by as much as 15 percent.

“Sea-ice loss of the magnitude expected in the next decades could substantially impact California’s precipitation, thus highlighting another mechanism by which human-caused climate change could exacerbate future California droughts,” the study says.

The authors describe a series of meteorological events that lead to formation of storm-blocking air masses in the North Pacific—masses similar to the so-called Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, a nickname given to the persistent region of atmospheric high pressure that occurred over the Northeastern Pacific Ocean that kept rain from making landfall during California’s 2012–2016 drought. Although the study doesn’t attempt to explain that drought, its lead author, climate scientist Ivana Cvijanovic said it could help scientists understand future weather patterns.

“The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what the sea-ice-driven precipitation decline could look like,” she said.

Previous studies hypothesized that the North Pacific atmospheric ridge is due to increased ocean surface temperatures and heat circulation in the tropical Pacific. The new study elaborates on that understanding by describing the relation of Arctic sea-ice loss and tropical convection.

The authors say large-scale warming of the Arctic surface and lower atmosphere affects the way heat travels from Earth’s lower latitudes into the Arctic, in turn causing circulation changes in the deep tropics that eventually boost the buildup of a giant high-pressure system, like the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, off the California coast. In normal winters, high and low-pressure systems alternate. But when there’s a ridge, the wet and wintry Pacific storms instead slide north.

“We should be aware that an increasing number of studies, including this one, suggest that the loss of Arctic sea ice cover is not only a problem for remote Arctic communities, but could affect millions of people worldwide,” said Cvijanovic.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Scientists have warned that severe drought and precipitation are among the risks of greenhouse-gas-induced climate change, but a study published in the journal Nature finds that extremely warm temperatures do not always translate into record wet and dry extremes. Highlighting the complexities in predicting the effects of planetary warming on precipitation, lead author Fredrik Ljungqvist of Stockholm University said that more dramatic wet-dry weather extremes had occurred in centuries cooler than the 20th century.

“Several other centuries show stronger and more widespread extremes,” he said. “We can’t say it’s more extreme now.”

In this first hemispheric-scale, centuries-long water availability assessment, the researchers statistically analyzed evidence for changes in precipitation and drought, compiling hundreds of precipitation records across the Northern Hemisphere from historical accounts as well as archives on such things as tree-rings and lake sediments.

They detected a pattern of alternating moisture regimes throughout the last 12 centuries, suggesting that “the instrumental period is too short to capture the full range of natural hydroclimate variability.”

Their finding that the last century’s temperature rise may not have affected the hydroclimate as much as previously thought challenges the conclusions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In a News and Views article published in Nature, Matthew Kirby of California State University at Fullerton suggested that current climate models should not be discarded because their results, which indicate that “dry gets dryer and wet gets wetter,” do not match the Ljungqvist team’s proxy results, which indicate no difference in the water dynamics of the 20th century and those of the pre-industrial era.

“Do their results invalidate current predictive models?” Kirby asked. “Certainly not. But they do highlight a big challenge for climate modellers, and present major research opportunities both for modellers and for climate scientists who work with proxy data.”

Study: Climate Change Causing Earth to Shift

A study published in the journal Science Advances reveals that climate change affects how Earth tilts on its axis. Although scientists have known that Earth’s spin axis has been drifting due to ice cap melt in Greenland and Antarctica, the new research suggests that changes in terrestrial water storage also play a role in the planet’s decadal axis swings. The finding is based on data collected from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, which can detect changes in the mass of Earth’s ice sheets and oceans.

Before 2000, Earth’s spin axis was moving westward toward Canada, but since then, climate-change-driven ice loss has pulled the direction of drift eastward approximately seven inches a year—a shift that lead researcher Surendra Adhikari of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory described as “very dramatic” and that scientists say is meaningful.

“This is the first time we have solid evidence that changes in land water distribution on a global scale also shift which direction the axis moves to,” said Adhikari.

Although the study data doesn’t indicate whether the most recent shift in the pole is the result of human activities, the study authors think they will be able to use them to tease out man-made climate change later this year. Because polar motion and climate variability appear to be linked, scientists can examine historical records of the pole’s motion in relation to changes in Earth’s climate. If those changes are less dramatic than the ones evidenced today, scientists could assert that global warming has a controlling influence on Earth’s poles.

U.N. Climate Agreement Terms Studied, Launch Pegged Early

Next week on Earth Day (April 22), 130 countries are expected to sign the Paris Climate Agreement, which has a goal of limiting average surface temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. But already the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is looking into the feasibility of what U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres describes as “a moonshot”: limiting global emissions to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Figueres believes the Paris agreement will take effect in 2018—two years sooner than currently slated.

The agreement will come into force once 55 parties representing 55 percent of the world’s total emissions have both signed and ratified it.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The emissions trading program in the northeastern United States—the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—is responsible for about half the region’s emissions reductions—an amount far greater than reductions achieved in the rest of the country.

The study in the journal Energy Economics determined that even when controlling for other factors—the natural gas boom, the recession, and environmental regulations—emissions would have been 24 percent higher in participating states without RGGI (subscription). RGGI, the first market-based regulatory program in the United States, is a cooperative effort among states to create a “cap” that sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector—a cap lowered over time to reduce emissions. Power plants that can’t stay under the cap must purchase credits or “emissions allowances” from others that can.

“While the study focused on the northeastern states and the RGGI program specifically, the findings suggest that emissions trading could be a cost-effective strategy for states now considering how to comply with EPA’s recently issued regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide from power plants,” said Brian Murray, lead author and director of the Environmental Economics Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

A separate study in the journal Nature Climate Change found significant misuse of a key carbon offsetting scheme after several factories increased their production of industrial waste products—spiking emissions. It suggests that a loophole in the United Nation’s carbon market may have led to “perverse incentives” for some industrial plants to increase emissions so they could then make money by reducing them.

A companion study indicates that the majority of credits from Russia and Ukraine were a sham and that no emissions were reduced. In fact, the study estimates use of the sham offsets actually enabled greenhouse gas emissions to increase by some 600 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

“We were surprised ourselves by the extent, we didn’t expect such a large number,” said study co-author Anja Kollmuss. “What went on was that these countries could approve these projects by themselves there was no international oversight, in particular Russia and Ukraine didn’t have any incentive to guarantee the quality of these credits.”

Study Quantifies Global Warming’s Contribution to California’s Drought

How much of California’s drought is due to climate change? A study published in Geophysical Research Letters has an answer: up to 27 percent. The study also indicates that climate change has made the odds of severe droughts twice as likely.

Global warming has worsened the drought through increased evapotranspiration, the contribution of which was quantified in detail for the first time by researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the University of Idaho who analyzed 432 combinations of precipitation, temperature, wind, and radiation data gathered between 1901 and 2014 to simulate monthly changes in soil moisture across California. When they modeled these combinations against various greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, they concluded that the state’s lack of rainfall is due to natural variability—a finding that accords with most other studies—but that California’s drought is 8 to 27 percent drier because of human-cause climate change (subscription).

“By knowing how much global warming has contributed to the trend in California drought conditions over the past century, we can reliably predict how the future will play out,” said A. Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Lamont-Doherty who led the study. By the 2060s, Williams said, drought conditions will be more or less permanent, and evaporation will overpower bursts of intense rainfall.

Williams likened climate change to a “bully” that every year “demands more of your money than the year before. Every year, the bully—or atmosphere—is demanding more resources—or water—than ever before.”

He also said that California should more aggressively police groundwater withdrawals by agricultural operations, increasing use fees and fines for overuse. California is one of the few states that does not regulate such withdrawals, which after three years of drought have led to precipitous drops in groundwater tables and land subsidence.

Obama Announces Renewable Energy Initiatives

In the first stop on an 11-day climate and energy tour, President Obama announced a number of initiatives aimed at making it easier for homeowners and businesses to invest in clean energy technology.

“We are here today because we believe that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future than climate change,” said President Obama at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas. “But we’re also here because we hold another belief, and that is, we are deeply optimistic about American ingenuity.”

According to a White House fact sheet, these measures include:

  • $24 million for 11 projects in seven states to develop innovative solar technologies that double the amount of energy each solar panel can produce.
  • Approval of a transmission line for a 485-megawatt photovoltaic facility planed for Riverside County.
  • An additional $1 billion in federal loan guarantees available through a federal program for innovative versions of residential solar systems.
  • Creation of the Interagency Task Force to Promote a Clean Energy Future for All Americans.
  • Provision of residential Property-Assessed Clean Energy financing that facilitates investment in clean energy technologies for single-family homes.
  • Creation of a new HUD and DOE program to provide home owners with a simple way to measure and improve their homes’ energy efficiency.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said federal support is critical as the clean-energy industry seeks to become further established, noting “The playing field is not always as level and that’s where investors and developers can have risks. That’s where things like our loan program come in.”

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.

Pools of Oil, Plumes of Gas

On July 16, 2009, in Uncategorized, by

NI logoFirst Things First: The Washington-to-Beijing diplomatic shuttle shows no sign of slowing down. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke visited China this week to prod collaboration on clean energy technology. Chu announced the U.S. would contribute $15 million to a partnership that will study how to capture carbon dioxide emissions and trap them underground. The Wall Street Journal‘s “Environmental Capital” blogger Keith Johnson sums up mutual perceptions nicely by citing headlines in his paper (“Chu Warns China on Emissions”) and the China Daily (“Steven Chu: U.S. Ready to Lead on Climate Change”).

The New York Times reports that China is taking the lead on clean energy. The Washington Post surveys business trends there and in other Asian nations, places that “could outpace the programs in Obama’s economic stimulus package or in the House climate bill.” A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory official agrees that the U.S. is already left behind in some areas. And the number of U.S. “green jobs” is on the uptick–thanks to enterprising foreign firms.

The U.S. energy industry delivered a surprise this week. Exxon announced a plan to spend $600 million on research into fuel manufactured from algae. These simple plants, which include pond scum and seaweed, are a darling of many scientists and venture capital firms. Exxon’s investment further boosts the fortunes of maverick scientist Craig Venter, whose Synthetic Genomics is a partner in the project. Just a few years ago, Exxon’s previous CEO called ethanol “moonshine,” denigrating such projects, although it should be pointed out that moonshine is largely ethanol.

Count your carbs, count your carbon: Sweden assumed the presidency of the European Union earlier this month. The nation has had a carbon tax since the early 1990s, and continues to take the climate initiative, which now extends to food labeling.

With food or anything else, counting carbs is tricky business. Every facet of the climate story this week demonstrates why. In perhaps the most direct example, the Securities and Exchange Commission will take “a very serious look” at if or how to mandate that publicly traded companies disclose their climate risks.

Elsewhere, economic modeling spats continue. In California, small-business groups funded a study that suggests that, uh, small businesses will lose more than $180 billion in output –10 percent of the total–as a result of the state’s climate law. The California Air Resources Board says the study posits the climate law would bring no savings from increased efficiency or benefits from innovation and entrepreneurship, a supposition that “contradicts the track record of three decades” of state history.

Scientists are in the profession of keeping other scientists honest, theoretically. Computer simulations are such an easy activity to squawk at, scientists themselves do, in the most rarefied places, when they see less-than-rigorous studies published. As commentary on niche modeling, Nature publishes this paper that simulates the effects of climate change on Bigfoot habitats in North America.

The Washington Post runs another op-ed that pretends that climate change does not exist. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin pens this op-ed. She writes, “Westerners literally sit on mountains of oil and gas.” Climate Post usually thinks of mountains as solid, oil as liquid, and gas as gas. The latter two phases of matter seem harder to sit on.

Palin quotes Warren Buffett, the famed investor, describing predicted burdens the bill will have on low-income Americans. Buffett himself comes under scrutiny elsewhere. Bloomberg Columnist Eric Pooley untangles the assumptions in Buffett’s statements and those of David Sokol, chairman of MidAmerican Energy Holdings.

The next day, the WP ran an editorial supportive of the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, last week, possibly to balance the decision to run Palin’s op-ed the day before.  Guardian columnist, and now backseat economist, George Monbiot takes a calculator to the aspirational agreements struck last week among G8 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and prevent more than two degrees C of warming. The developed world would meet their targets in part by offsetting their emissions with credits generated by projects in the developing world. To generate enough offset credits, Monbiot calculates, developing nations would have to reduce their emissions by 125 percent.

Climate legislation allows regulated firms to meet their carbon caps by “offsetting” emissions–buying pollution credits generated by (mostly) forestry and agriculture projects. A comprehensive Greenwire article places offsets within the wider context of how markets can find efficient ways to protect ecosystem services–the many natural processes that clean water, or air, shuttle nutrients about, or cool the climate. Two Nicholas Institute colleagues are cited in the piece.

Summer Days:Exceptional drought” sears central and southern Texas, draining crops and straining herds. Just one of 12 boat ramps at Lake Travis, near Austin, can reach water, which is down 40 feet. Plus side: Young children can wade safely in nearby river.

Officials, scientists, and at least one reporter in Macon, Georgia, have read the White House’s June report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, which predicts a future of twice as many 90-degree days, with the hottest days 10 degrees hotter than usual. “When I read those numbers, I think about what that means to me and my family and my lifestyle, and that’s a very different picture of the South than what I grew up with,” a Georgia Tech scientist said.

The summer sun has desiccated San Joaquin Valley in California, and the U.S. need only look south to consider the effects of poorly managed water.

Dryness is crippling farming in India’s massive farming sector. Bhopal residents, all 1.8 million of them, are allowed 30 minutes of water every other day, in rationing undertaken in October. Downpours and flooding in Mumbai couldn’t help Mumbai, where officials cut water use by 30 percent given a drop in lake levels.

BBC reports from Char Atra, a beleaguered island in the Ganges, where “hardcore poor” residents cope as they can with natural hydrology. Villagers have rebuilt one woman’s home because last year, “there was so much water in her hut that she had to tie her children to their bed at night to stop them from rolling and drowning.”

Does he still count?: Love him or hate him, leading NASA climatologist James Hansen has become an embattled figure. ClimateWire turns in a thoughtful analysis of just how relevant the grandfather of global warming is or isn’t in his activist period, a skeptical complement to the lighter fare published by the New Yorker recently.

Hansen and Al Gore held a colloquium in Hell, which itself, apparently, has seen a 3.8 degree average temperature rise since 1955. “[O]ccupants of Hell who in 1955 were standing night and day in boiling pitch up to their knees report that, owing to the expansion of pitch at higher temperatures, they now must endure the torment all the way up to mid-thigh, or even higher, during Hell’s warmer seasons,” writes Ian Frazier, a satirist, the New Yorker’s tongue-in-cheek “Shouts and Murmurs column.”

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