In a Policy Forum article published in the journal Science, President Barack Obama says that the national policy trend toward a clean-energy economy is “irreversible” and that the trend will continue due to “the mounting economic and scientific evidence” of its value. The article points to the scientific case for actions on climate change, energy efficiency and emissions—the latest in a series of publications on different policy topics Obama has penned in academic journals, including the Harvard Law Review and the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The United States is showing that GHG [greenhouse gas] mitigation need not conflict with economic growth. Rather, it can boost efficiency, productivity, and innovation,” Obama writes in Science just days before President-Elect Donald Trump takes office Jan. 20. “Evidence is mounting that any economic strategy that ignores carbon pollution will impose tremendous costs to the global economy and will result in fewer jobs and less economic growth over the long term. Estimates of the economic damages from warming of 4°C over preindustrial levels range from 1 percent to 5 percent of global GDP each year by 2100.”
The article goes on to cover many of the environmental policies that Trump has said he may axe when he takes office, including 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.
“Were the United States to step away from Paris, it would lose its seat at the table to hold other countries to their commitments, demand transparency, and encourage ambition,” Obama writes. “This does not mean the next administration needs to follow identical domestic policies to my administration’s. There are multiple paths and mechanisms by which this country can achieve—efficiently and economically—the targets we embraced in the Paris Agreement.”
Obama also discusses the struggles of the coal industry, offering that because the cost of new electricity generation using natural gas is projected to remain low relative to coal, “it is unlikely that utilities will change course and choose to build coal-fired power plants, which would be more expensive than natural gas plants, regardless of any near-term changes in federal policy.”
While it will take some time to evaluate which of Trump’s statements about environmental policy actually provide guiding points for how he will govern, The Hill takes a look at what Trump has promised to date on environment and how much might actually be accomplished on day one. At a press conference Wednesday, Trump said he planned to make a decision on his nominee for the Supreme Court within two weeks of taking office—a decision that would have implications for environmental policy.
Trump Transition: Tillerson Confirmation Hearing
The Senate confirmation hearing for Trump’s pick to lead the Department of State began early on Wednesday with conversation and questions about Russian relations. Nominated for the most senior U.S. diplomat position, one responsible for enacting the U.S. government’s foreign policy, the former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson told senators that relations with Russia could be improved under his leadership despite concerns over his ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
“We’re not likely to ever be friends,” Tillerson said, noting that the United States and Russia do not hold the same values. “With Russia, engagement is necessary in order to define what that relationship going to be. There is scope to define a different relationship that can bring down the temperature around the conflicts we have today.”
On the topic of climate change, Tillerson expressed that the “risk of climate change does exist and the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken.” But he added, “Our ability to predict that effect is very limited,” and precisely what actions nations should take “seems to be the largest area of debate existing in the public discourse.”
Tillerson said he viewed the issue primarily as an engineering problem and that Trump has “invited my views on climate change. “He knows I am on the public record with my views. I look forward to providing those, if confirmed, to him and policies around how the United States should carry it out in these areas.”
What else was discussed? Tillerson clarified, and appeared to reconfirm, his support for a carbon tax, and made comments about the importance of maintaining a seat at the table on how to address climate change with international treaties.
EIA: United States Could Become Energy Exporter
The United States has not been a net exporter of energy since 1953, but it could regain that status by 2026. That’s the finding of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2017, which makes energy market projections through 2050 for scenarios with a high oil price, high and low oil and gas resource and technology, and high and low economic growth as well as for a scenario in which the Clean Power Plan is not implemented. In most of those projections, natural gas production increases.
“Natural gas production, we think, is actually going to go up quite a bit, with relatively low and stable prices, so that’s going to support higher levels of domestic consumption, especially in the electric power and industrial sectors, where we think there will be quite a bit of natural gas use,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski.
He noted that technology advances are helping reduce the cost for both fossil fuel production and renewables.
“EIA’s projections show how advances in technology are driving oil and natural gas production, renewables penetration, and demand-side efficiencies and reshaping the energy future,” he said.
Across the scenarios in the report, projections for energy consumption are more consistent than those for production, whose growth is dependent on technology, resource, and market conditions. The EIA finds that although zero-carbon renewables are expected to grow faster than any other energy source over the next three decades, their increase is not likely to significantly help the United States reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement (subscription). Instead, energy-related carbon emissions will nearly flatline, falling from an annual rate of 1.4 percent between 2005 and 2016 to 0.2 percent between 2016 and 2040. That’s because carbon reductions from electricity plants’ switch from coal to natural gas and renewables will be offset by emissions from a growing chemical industry.
The fate of the Clean Power Plan will affect energy-related carbon emissions, according to the report (subscription), though not as much as greater use of renewables and natural gas. If the plan is rescinded or overturned, annual emissions would slightly increase to 5.4 billion metric tons through 2040. If the plan is implemented, those emissions would drop to 5 billion metric tons. The scenario without the Clean Power Plan has the highest greenhouse gas emissions, but such a scenario does not include a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, which the Clean Air Act currently appears to require. However, other avenues under the Clean Air Act may be used to pursue greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
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 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-related environmental, ecological, and social changes in the Arctic are accelerating and are more extreme than ever recorded, undermining the sustainability of current ways of life in the region and potentially destabilizing climate and ecosystems around the world, according to a five-year report released last week by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organization formed to protect the region.
“Arctic social and biophysical systems are deeply intertwined with our planet’s social and biophysical systems, so rapid, dramatic and unexpected changes in this sensitive region are likely to be felt elsewhere,” the report states. “As we are often reminded, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”
The report noted that the Greenland Ice Sheet, which was thought to be resistant to climate change, is experiencing higher-than-expected thinning “over time scales of only years” due to warmer temperatures caused by climate change and that if it melts completely, global sea levels would rise an average of 7.4 meters.
The report outlines 19 “regime shifts” under way or on the horizon absent efforts to halt them. They range from sea-ice-free summers to ocean circulation changes and collapse of some Arctic fisheries.
“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the co-authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”
Trump Transition: EPA Prospects
Just days after stating his “open mind” to confronting climate change, president-elect Donald Trump was meeting with potential prospects to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would align with his campaign promises to roll back agency regulations.
Two rumored EPA leaders who have called for a significant rollback in regulations—Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and former Texas environmental regulator Kathleen Hartnett White—were scheduled to meet with Trump this week.
In an interview with McClatchy, White confirmed her consideration for the post, which she says she would take on with a new approach to address a “shifting environmental landscape.” White also shared details of her conversation with Trump.
“He wants the EPA to run more carefully, to use stronger science and be unabashedly conscientious to the effect of more and more rules on existing employment and job creation,” she said. “I have no desire to put words in his mouth. But as he is in other areas, he likes a good deal.”
Climate Change Conference in Marrakech Concludes
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22), which brought nearly 200 countries together to hammer out the details of last year’s Paris Agreement, concluded last month. What exactly came out of the two-week conference?
- A timeline for implementing 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. Countries participating in COP22 decided to complete detail setting for the agreement by 2018 and to review progress in 2017.
- The Marrakech Action Proclamation. The one-page document reaffirms countries’ commitments to the Paris Agreement’s goals following the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. On the campaign trail, Trump stated intentions to end U.S. involvement in the agreement.
- Forty-eight of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries pledged to turn in more ambitious targets to Paris before 2020 and to shift to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050.
- An agreement to continue the discussion on climate finance. There’s still uncertainty surroundingthe pathway to mobilizing $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, to establishing rules for reporting finance, and to scaling up adaptation finance.
- Nations also agreed on a five-year work-plan on “loss and damage” to address issues beyond climate adaptation like slow-onset impacts of climate change, non-economic losses and migration.
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.
Businessman Donald Trump became the next U.S. president-elect early Wednesday after beating his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Trump’s win could have great implications for the environment, as he’s promised a shift from the Obama administration’s energy and climate policies.
What could his presidency mean for energy policy? It may take some time to evaluate what part of President Trump’s statements remain in the realm of the campaign, and what provides the guiding points for how he will govern.
One thing seems clear—Trump has voiced plans to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Based on Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan was first proposed in June 2014 to put limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants and was finalized in August 2015. In setting those limits, the rule considers states’ ability to shift power generation to cleaner sources.
Currently, the Clean Power Plan is being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit as a result of a suit brought by 27 states and some corporate interests over whether the EPA properly exercised its authority under the Clean Air Act. The case is expected to go to the Supreme Court next year—where the next president’s pick for a vacant court seat could determine the rule’s fate.
Other commentators have noted that Trump could decide to stop defending the Clean Power Plan in court, take steps to rescind the rule, or seek Congressional support for blocking it.
But the Clean Power Plan is not the only environmental measure facing uncertainty. Trump has voiced his intention to repeal federal spending on renewable energy in favor of a more “fossil fuel-centric” energy policy. Nevertheless, Forbes reports, utility-scale solar and wind, which have grown consistently due to lower costs, will continue to thrive under Trump.
More dramatically, Trump’s campaign statements even called into question if and how much of the EPA remains. In previous speeches, like one delivered at a March GOP debate, Trump proposed dismantling the EPA and naming climate change skeptic, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head the EPA transition team.
I’d “get rid of [the EPA] in almost every form,” Trump said. “We are going to have little tidbits left but we are going to take a tremendous amount out.”
His presidency could also have implications for 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.
But Trump has vowed to withdraw from the agreement, which officially came into force Nov. 4 and which global leaders are discussing this week in Marrakech, Morocco. Pulling out of the climate agreement would not require senate approval and could be done in a variety of ways. The effect could be substantial, according to analysis by Climate Interactive, because a large chunk—20 percent—of emissions cuts produced under the agreement come from the U.S., the world’s second largest emitter.
“If the U.S. pulls out of this, and is seen as going as a rogue nation on climate change, that will have implications for everything else on President Trump’s agenda when he wants to deal with foreign leaders,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists at the U.N.’s annual gathering in Marrakech.
Nations Grapple with Implementation of Paris Agreement; UN Says World Off Path to Meet Its Goal
A day before election results were finalized, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that 2011–2015 was the hottest five-year period on record, evidencing an “increasingly visible human footprint.” The likelihood of many extreme events during the period was increased, according to the WMO, as a result of man-made climate change. The probability of some extreme high temperatures rose by a factor of 10 or more. The authors also said that 2016 will probably break the record for warmest year.
The report was released in Marrakech, Morocco, where nearly 200 nations are meeting at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22), the annual United Nations (U.N.) climate conference, to begin hammering out details regarding how they are going to live up to their pledges to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Paris Agreement. Delegates’ goal: to come up with a work plan for the next two years, at the end of which they’ll assess progress on implementing the agreement’s measures.
COP22 comes on the heels of the unexpectedly quick entry into force of the agreement—and none too soon finds another report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) that suggests the pledges underpinning the agreement will put the world on course for a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius this century.
A scientific assessment of how countries’ actions and pledges tally with emissions trajectories consistent with the long-term goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the report suggests that 2030 emissions will be 12 to 14 gigatons above levels needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and 15 to 17 gigatons above levels needed to limit it to 1.5 degrees—even with follow through on Paris pledges.
“We are moving in the right direction: the Paris Agreement will slow climate change, as will the recent Kigali Amendment to reduce HFCs,” said UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim. “They both show strong commitment, but it’s still not good enough if we are to stand a chance of avoiding serious climate change. If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy. The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster.”
The report points to energy efficiency and action by non-state actors—the private sector, cities, regions, and other sub-nationals—as ripe for reducing the emissions gap.
EPA Finalizes Voluntary Carbon Trading Model for Clean Power Plan Compliance
Last week, the EPA forwarded a voluntary carbon trading model for Clean Power Plan compliance to the Office of Management and Budget for review. The model rules would allow states to comply with the federal carbon regulations for reducing emissions from power plants by participating in an optional emissions trading program. It would also earn states additional credit for early investments in alternative energy through a finalized Clean Energy Incentive Program.
A lot of states and electric utilities are interested in carbon trading, E&E News reported, because modeling suggests it is likely the simplest and least expensive way to meet Clean Power Plan goals (subscription).
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.
Climate change has entered a new phase, said the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Monday. The WMO reported that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) “surged again to new records in 2016,” and it predicted that the annual average for CO2 would remain above 400 parts per million (ppm), 44 percent higher than before the Industrial Revolution, for generations.
The 400 ppm threshold, a symbolic red line in the methodical march of greenhouse gas concentrations, was continuously breached for the first time in 2015—a rise driven largely by fossil fuel emissions and aided by a strong El Niño, which “triggered droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of sinks like forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2,” the WMO said. Last year’s jump in carbon dioxide was the largest annual increase on record (subscription).
“The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations.” “The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not . . . Without tackling carbon dioxide emissions, we cannot tackle climate change and keep temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Paris Agreement does indeed enter into force well ahead of schedule on 4 November and that we fast-track its implementation.”
Taalas added that improvements in the climate will be seen by 2060 if countries begin to lower their carbon dioxide emissions now.
Between 1990 and 2015, Earth experienced a 37 percent increase in radiative forcing—the warming effect on the climate—because of greenhouse gases from industrial, agricultural, and domestic activities, according to the WMO.
WMO’s announcement comes within a week of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s report that found September was the 11th consecutive month to set record high temperatures.
Study: Glacier Melt in Antarctica Could Help Predict Global Sea Level Rise
A number of research studies have suggested Antarctica’s ice is melting faster than previously thought, but two new studies may help better predict future Antarctica ice loss and global sea level rise. The studies examined the Pope, Kohler, and Smith glaciers—part of the Dotson and Crosson ice shelves—in West Antarctica.
“Our primary question is how the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica will contribute to sea level rise in the future, particularly following our observations of massive changes in the area over the last two decades,” said University of California Irvine’s Bernd Scheuchl, lead author on the first of the two studies published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “Using satellite data, we continue to measure the evolution of the grounding line of these glaciers, which helps us determine their stability and how much mass the glacier is gaining or losing. Our results show that the observed glaciers continue to lose mass and thus contribute to global sea level rise.”
A second study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that a significant portion of Antarctica is subject to “intense unbalanced melting” revealing high rates of ice loss from glaciers’ undersides. It also blames receding glacial grounding lines for the ice loss—spurred by an influx of warm ocean water beneath the ice shelves.
The glacier that saw the most melt, the study says, was Smith. It lost about 1,000 feet of ice between 2002 and 2009, which authors think is “a strong piece of evidence” that these glaciers, along with the larger Amundsen region, were subjected to a large influx of warm ocean water during that period.
“If I had been using data from only one instrument, I wouldn’t have believed what I was looking at, because the thinning was so large,” said author Ala Khazendar, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, noting how the work shows how important it is to understand both the ocean circulation and seabed topography when determining future melt and sea level rise.
IEA: Significant Renewables Growth Expected by 2021
The renewable energy market is growing around the world, according to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA). IEA raised its estimate of the amount of renewable energy on power grids 13 percent from its 2015 forecast. It forecasts a 825 gigawatt boost in capacity by 2021 (a 42 percent increase from today).
“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
The growth will mostly be driven by four countries: China, the U.S., India and Mexico. China is the leader.
“About half a million solar panels were installed every day around the world last year,” according to the report. “In China, which accounted for about half the wind additions and 40 percent of all renewable capacity increases, two wind turbines were installed every hour in 2015.”
In the United States over the next five years, renewable capacity is forecast to grow to 328.2 gigawatts from 221.1 gigawatts. During this period, solar PV is forecast to nearly triple—from 26.1 gigawatts to 77.5 gigawatts—and wind to grow nearly 71.5 percent.
“Renewables are and still remain dependent on policies … to create the right market rules and the right framework to attract investments,” said Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division.
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.