Harvey Shines Light on Issue of Climate Change

On August 31, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas last week, dumping more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city. After drifting back out over the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm, Harvey made a second landfall near the Texas and Louisiana border Wednesday. By the time this extreme storm dissipates, damage is expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

As news coverage documents large swaths of destruction from flooding and high winds, many are asking whether climate change makes storms like Harvey more likely and more severe.

“Climate is not central, but by the same token it is grossly irresponsible to leave climate out of the story, for the simple reason that climate change is, as the U.S. military puts it, a threat multiplier. The storms, the challenges of emergency response, the consequences of poor adaptation—they all predate climate change. But climate change will steadily make them worse,” writes David Roberts in Vox.

Roberts’ words were echoed by said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University.

“The hurricane is a naturally occurring hazard that is exacerbated by climate change, but the actual risk to Houston is a combination of the hazard—rainfall, storm surge and wind, the vulnerability, and the exposure,” said Hayhoe of Houston’s particularly high vulnerability. “It’s a rapidly growing city with vast areas of impervious surfaces. Its infrastructure is crumbling. And it’s difficult for people to get out of harm’s way.”

The Washington Post also points a finger at a warming climate’s effect on storm surge, rainfall, and storm intensity.

Others, like Meteorologist Eric Holthaus, put it more bluntly. He writes in Politico that “Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.”

What’s clear is that like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina before it, Harvey has reopened the debate over the connection between hurricanes and climate change, and promises to increase climate’s resonance in the political debate.

Harvey is also leaving a mark on the infrastructure of the country’s largest oil and gas firms. Forbes offered a reminder that in 2008, refinery utilization dropped from 78 percent before Hurricane Ike and to 67 percent the week of the hurricane. Harvey has already knocked out 11 percent of U.S. refining capacity and a quarter of oil production from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as well as closed ports along the Texas coast. The shutdowns are resulting in a spike in gas prices across the United States.

The environmental fallout—escaping gasoline and releases of hazardous gases from refineries—could worsen.

RGGI States Look to Further Reduce Utility Emissions

Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic governors last week agreed to move forward with an extension of and additional emissions cuts through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a state-driven cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

According to their proposal, the RGGI states―Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont―would cap emissions at some 75 million tons in 2021 and decrease those emissions by 2.25 million tons every year until 2030, resulting in a total decline of 30 percent and leading to an overall reduction of 65 percent of emissions since RGGI began eight years ago. A separate provision would allow for deeper cuts, if not prohibitively costly to states.

The group is also proposing changes to the program’s rules, such as adjusting the emissions cap to remove some excess allowances, allowing states to delay the sale of some emissions allowances if they are too cheap and taking steps to mitigate excess allowances. Starting in 2021, an emissions containment reserve, in which New Hampshire and Maine will not participate, would hold back 10 percent of allowances if the price on carbon credits falls below $6 per ton. After 2021, the emissions containment reserve trigger price would increase by 7 percent annually.

After seeking public comments on the proposal at a hearing in Baltimore on Sept. 25, the RGGI group will conduct additional economic analysis and publish a revised proposal. Each of the nine states must then follow its own statutes to implement the new plan.

“With today’s announcement, the RGGI states are demonstrating our commitment to a strengthened RGGI program that will utilize innovative new mechanisms to secure significant carbon reductions at a reasonable price on into the next decade, working in concert with our competitive energy markets and reliability goals,” said RGGI Chairwoman Katie Dykes.

The RGGI auctions permits for utilities to buy electricity produced at power plants that produce greenhouse gases. RGGI officials say those auctions have raised more than $2.7 billion to invest in cleaner energy since 2009.

Program advocates point to several studies suggesting the program’s success, reported the Boston Globe. One by the Acadia Center in 2016 found that RGGI states reduced emissions by 16 percent more than other states, while growing the region’s economy 3.6 percent more than the rest of the country. At the same time, energy prices in RGGI states fell by an average of 3.4 percent, while electricity rates in other states rose by 7.2 percent.

Inside Climate News reported that although other regions have seen lower carbon emissions courtesy of low-cost natural gas, a study by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Duke University Energy Initiative found the cap-and-trade market was responsible for about half of the region’s post-2009 emissions reductions, which are far greater than those achieved in the rest of the United States.

Tillerson Signals Intent to Remove Climate Envoy Post

In a letter to Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shared his intent to reorganize, shift, or eliminate almost half of the agency’s nearly 70 special envoy positions. Among the positions in question: a high-profile representative on the issue of climate change.

“I believe that the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose,” Tillerson wrote.

Tillerson goes on to say that the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change—in charge of engaging partners and allies around the world on climate change issues—will be removed and that the functions and staff will be moved to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs.

“This will involve realigning 7 positions and $761,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES),” the letter states.

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

On Monday, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia order directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out an Obama-era rule that sets methane pollution limits for the oil and gas industry.

Nine of the 11 court judges issued the order upholding a July ruling that found that the Trump administration overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act when it tried to delay the methane rule.

Implemented in 2016, the rule targets new and modified sources of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas with long-term global warming potential thought to be many times that of carbon dioxide. The rule was expected to reduce 510,000 short tons of methane in 2025, the equivalent of reducing 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

After President Donald Trump asked the EPA to review the rule in a March executive order, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in an April letter, stayed the deadline for oil and gas companies to follow the new rule by 90 days. Pruitt later sought to pause the methane rule two years to “look broadly” at regulations and review their impact.

Studies Find Earth Tilting Hard toward Warming Tipping Point

Hope that limiting climate change to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures—the oft-cited threshold of “dangerous” warming—has been further diminished by recent studies published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

One study co-authored by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that human forces have heated the climate for longer than thought—since at least 1750—pushing the so-called “preindustrial” baseline for the planet’s warming backward and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that we can emit to avoid 2 or more degrees Celsius of warming.

The Mauritsen and Pincus study analyzed past emissions of greenhouse gases and the burning of fossil fuels to show that even if that burning suddenly ceased, Earth would continue to heat up about two more degrees Celsius by 2100.

This view was similar to that of another study led by the University of Washington’s Adrian Raferty. That study calculates the statistical likelihood of various amounts of warming by the year 2100 given three trends that matter most for carbon emissions: global population, countries’ GDP (on a per capita basis), and carbon intensity (the volume of emissions for a given level of economic activity). The research puts median warming at 3.2 degrees Celsius and concludes that there’s a 5 percent chance that the world can hold warming below 2 degrees Celsius this century. The authors say there’s a 90 percent chance that temperatures will increase by 2.0 to 4.9 degrees Celsius.

Raferty’s team built a statistical model covering a range of emissions scenarios, finding that carbon intensity will be the most important factor in future warming despite the expectation that technological advances will cut that intensity by 90 percent this century.

“The big problem with scenarios is that you don’t know how likely they are, and whether they span the full range of possibilities or are just a few examples,” said Raferty. “Scientifically, this type of storytelling approach was not fully satisfying. Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen. We’re closer to the margin than we think.”

Construction Ends on Twin Nuclear Reactors

South Carolina utilities SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper on Monday opted to end construction of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station’s two reactors. The first reactor at V.C. Summer had been expected to go online in August 2019, with the second following a year later.

“The best-case scenario shows this project would be several years late and 75 percent more than originally planned,” Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter said in a statement announcing the decision. “We simply cannot ask our customers to pay for a project that has become uneconomical. And even though suspending construction is the best option for them, we are disappointed that our contractor has failed to meet its obligations and put Santee Cooper and our customers in this situation.”

The move makes the future of the United States nuclear industry even more unclear. With just one nuclear plant under construction, as much as 90 percent of nuclear power could disappear over the next 30 years if existing units retire at 60 years of operation—the current maximum length of operating licenses.

In the southeast, where the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station reactors were located, it is unlikely that existing units can simultaneously be replaced with new plants given the long lead times and limited applications for new nuclear plants at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions study explores how the potential loss of existing nuclear plants in the Southeast interacts with the regions other electricity sector challenges—among them, increasing natural gas dependence, demand uncertainty, and emerging technology—and it proposes steps states can take to address these challenges.

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

Natural fluctuations specifically related to the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) are responsible for the increased growth of Antarctic sea ice, according to a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience. A negative shift in the IPO has caused cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific, allowing Antarctic sea ice to expand since 2000.

“The climate we experience during any given decade is some combination of naturally occurring variability and the planet’s response to increasing greenhouse gases,” said National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Gerald Meehl, lead author of the study. “It’s never all one or the other, but the combination, that is important to understand.”

But what’s new in the latest study, writes Chris Mooney in The Washington Post, “is the suggestion that this negative IPO phase had consequences that stretched all the way to the Southern Ocean waters surrounding Antarctica—and that this, in turn, explains why most climate models didn’t predict the observed growth of Antarctic sea ice.”

Study researchers suspect that the IPO began switching to a positive phase in 2014 and that ice in the region may shrink in the next decade.

Study Points to Human Influence on Changes in Earth’s Biggest Body of Warm Water

A study in Science Advances has provided the first quantitative attribution of human influences on and natural contributions to warming of the Indo-Pacific warm pool (IPWP), Earth’s largest region of warm sea surface temperatures and one “fundamental to global atmospheric circulation and the hydrological cycle.”

To “fingerprint” anthropogenic forcings and natural causes of substantial IPWP warming and expansion, researchers at Pohang University of Science and Technology and their international colleagues paired observations with multiple climate model simulations integrated with and without human influences. They found that the IPWP had warmed by 0.3 Celsius and increased in size by about a third over the last 60 years primarily due to an increase in human-made greenhouse gases.

About 12 to 18 percent of the warming has been due to natural variability in the ocean, but the remaining portion is due to the greenhouse gas increase, according to study co-author Seung-Ki Min of Pohang University in South Korea.

“We have more energy available from the hotter ocean,” said Min. “That means the atmosphere will be enhanced to transport more energy from the tropical ocean to the high latitude zone.”

The findings indicate that future ocean warming could increase storm activity over East Asia and strengthen monsoons over South Asia.

“This wasn’t entirely surprising. We’ve long suspected climate change to be behind the changes, but no one had yet proven it,” said Evan Weller, lead author, noting that what was surprising is that the western portion of the pool, near India, is expanding more than the eastern part in the Pacific. “We don’t really know why. We’ll try to figure that out next.”

Report: United States Is Oil Reserves Leader

The United States holds the largest share of the world’s oil reserves—264 billion barrels to Russia’s 256 billion and Saudi Arabia’s 212 billion, according to Rystad Energy, a Norwegian industry research group that tracks proved and probable reserves, discoveries and undiscovered fields. More than 50 percent of remaining oil reserves, it claims, are unconventional shale oil. Texas alone holds more than 60 billion barrels of shale oil.

On the basis of a three-year analysis of 60,000 fields worldwide, the group estimates global reserves to be 2,092 billion barrels—roughly 70 times the current production rate of some 30 billion barrels of crude oil per year.

“This data confirms that there is a relatively limited amount of recoverable oil left on the planet,” the report says. “With the global car-park possibly doubling from 1 billion to 2 billion cars over the next 30 years, it becomes very clear that oil alone cannot satisfy the growing need for individual transport.”

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

Just weeks before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was scheduled to hear challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, a rule intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the existing fleet of fossil fuel-fired power plants, the court announced it will push the hearing back four months and hear the case before the entire court.

Originally planned for June 2 before a three-judge panel, the hearing was postponed to Sept. 27 and will now take place in front of a full bench. The rare “en banc” review is allowed by procedural rules when the case involves a question of exceptional importance. According to The Washington Post, the decision to pursue such a review appears to be on the court’s own initiative. The move to skip the customary three-panel review, as was the case in 2001’s U.S. v. Microsoft, is almost unheard of and could signal that the judges feel the issues of the case are so significant that they all must weigh in.

“The court has anticipated, obviously, the significance of whatever the panel would say and the related likelihood that it would end up en banc. They’ve basically truncated that process,” Richard Lazarus, a Harvard Law School professor, told Bloomberg BNA.

The order follows an announcement by the D.C. Circuit last year that it would hear the Clean Power Plan on an expedited schedule and a stay on implementation of the plan in February by the U.S. Supreme Court while the lower court determines its legality.

Even so, some indicate the change may actually speed up the final resolution of the case.

“It definitely shortens the time period for this to get to the Supreme Court,” said Dorsey & Whitney Attorney James Rubin (subscription). “This does show that there is recognition for the need to move this forward. It’ll speed things up to some extent.”

EPA Targets Oil and Gas Industry Methane Emissions

The EPA has taken the first-ever steps under the Clean Air Act to regulate oil and gas industry emissions of methane, announcing a new rule aimed at new or modified oil and natural gas wells. The EPA said the regulations, which the EPA proposed last year, would lower methane emissions by 510,000 short tons—the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—in 2025, the year by which the Obama administration’s goal is to reduce the sector’s methane emissions by at least 40 percent compared with 2012 levels.

The rules will require energy companies to provide pollution information to the EPA so it can regulate methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells.

To begin regulating methane leaks from existing oil and gas wells, the EPA is requiring energy companies to notify the agency about their emissions and leak-stopping technology. The information request is expected to be finalized later this year and data collection from the industry, early next year.

According to the EPA, pound for pound, the impact of methane on climate change is “more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.”

Climate Negotiators Meet in Germany to Make Implementation Plan for Paris Agreement

Climate negotiators met in Bonn, Germany, for the first official meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since the Paris Agreement last year.

A note to Bonn participants stresses the importance of shifting from negotiation to implementation of the landmark agreement—whereby more than 190 countries pledged to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. More than 175 countries have signed the agreement.

The challenge ahead, writes French Environment Minister Segolene Royal and Morocco’s Foreign Prime Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, the previous Paris COP21 president and incoming COP22 president, is to “operationalize the Paris agreement: to turn intended nationally determined contributions into public policies and investment plans for mitigation and adaptation and to deliver on our promises.”

The two-week meeting is expected to produce an agenda for the ad-hoc working group tasked with implementing the Paris Agreement.

Addressing delegates at the start of the meeting, retiring U.N. climate director Christiana Figueres said “The whole world is united in its commitment to the global goals embodied in the Paris Agreement. Now we must design the details of the path to the safe, prosperous and climate-neutral future to which we all aspire.”

 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

A study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters finds that five of the uninhabitated Solomon Islands have submerged underwater and six more have experienced dramatic shoreline reductions due to man-made climate change. The study by a team of Australian researchers offers scientific evidence confirming anecdotal accounts of climate change impacts on Pacific islands. That evidence consists in part of radiocarbon tree dating and of aerial and satellite images of 33 islands dating back to 1947.

According to the study authors, the Western Pacific, where residents in many remote communities must constantly climb to higher elevations, is a hotspot for tracking sea-level rise.

The Solomon Islands have experienced nearly three times the global average of sea-level rise, 7–10 millimeters per year since 1993—rates consistent with those that can be expected across much of the Pacific in the second half of this century, reported Scientific American.

Previous research had attributed Pacific island shoreline changes to a mix of extreme events, seawalls, and inappropriate coastal development as well as sea-level rise. But the new study directly links island loss to climate-related phenomena.

Human disturbances, plate tectonics, hurricanes, and waves can mask the effects of climate change. So to hone in on those effects, the researchers studied islands with no human habitation—Nuatambu Island being the one notable exception.

“Rates of shoreline recession are substantially higher in areas exposed to high wave energy, indicating a synergistic interaction between sea-level rise and waves,” the study authors said. “Understanding these local factors that increase the susceptibility of islands to coastal erosion is critical to guide adaptation responses for these remote Pacific communities.”

U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fall But Global CO2 Concentrations Rise

Last year, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States fell 12 percent below 2005 levels as a result of electric power sector changes.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), which released the data, attributed the decline largely to “decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.” Such fuel use changes, the EIA reports, accounted for 68 percent of total energy-related carbon dioxide reductions from 2005 to 2015.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide concentrations at a remote Australia monitoring station—Cape Grim—are poised to hit a new high of 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide for the first time in a few weeks. Though that mark is largely symbolic, the United Nations suggests that concentrations of all greenhouse gases should not be allowed to peak higher than 450 ppm this century to maximize chances of limiting global temperature rise.

“We wouldn’t have expected to reach the 400 ppm mark so early,” said David Etheridge, an atmospheric scientist with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which runs the station. “With El Nino, the ocean essentially caps off its ability to take up heat so the concentrations are growing fast as warmer land areas release carbon. So we would have otherwise expected it to happen later in the year.”

The first 400 ppm milestone was hit in 2013 by a monitoring station in Mauna Loa. Cape Grim and Mauna Loa are among the stations that measure baseline carbon dioxide across the world. Their readings are unaffected by regional pollutions sources that would contaminate air quality.

Companies Relinquish Arctic Drilling Leases

Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips, and other major oil and gas companies have relinquished oil and gas leases worth approximately $2.5 billion and spanning 2.2 million acres of the Arctic Ocean.

The region is estimated to hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but tapping these resources has come at great risk for companies.

“Given the current environment, our prospects in the Chukchi Sea are not competitive within our portfolio,” said ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Natalie Lowman. “This will effectively eliminate any near-term plans for Chukchi exploration for the company.”

Marketplace reports that data secured through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Shell, ConocoPhillips, Eni and Iona Energy have renounced all but one of their leases in the Chukchi Sea—meaning 80 percent of all area in the American Arctic leased in a 2008 sale has or will be abandoned.

Shell Spokesman Curtis Smith said “After extensive consideration and evaluation, Shell will relinquish all but one of its federal offshore leases in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. Separate evaluations are underway for our federal offshore leases in the Beaufort Sea. This action is consistent with our earlier decision not to explore offshore Alaska for the foreseeable 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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments Thursday in a set of cases (Murray Energy v. EPA and West Virginia v. EPA) challenging the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to limit greenhouse gases from existing power plants under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. There was skepticism from at least two of the three judge panel about whether they could hear a challenge before the rule is finalized. Judges Griffith and Kavanaugh both questioned whether the rulemaking was “extraordinary” and requiring of immediate court review.

Whether the court decides to review the proposed rule or not, the argument also previewed future challenges claiming the EPA misused sections of the Clean Air Act to regulate pollution. The plaintiffs—a coalition of coal-producing states and a coal company—argue that the EPA rules violate the Clean Air Act’s language limiting regulation of the facilities for pollutants to just one section of the law. A drafting error in 1990 created conflicting language between the House and Senate versions that was never resolved, with the House limiting regulation under section 111(d) to those facilities that were not regulated otherwise, and the Senate limiting regulation only to those pollutants that were not otherwise regulated. The EPA claims that it has discretion to resolve such a conflict of language in the way it has proposed.

Obama Proposes New Offshore Drilling Rules

As the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico nears, the Obama administration is proposing dozens of rules aimed at strengthening oversight of offshore drilling equipment to ensure that wells can be sealed in emergency situations.

The draft rules would impose tougher standards on equipment designed to maintain well control (such as the blowout preventer that malfunctioned in the BP spill), require real-time monitoring of drilling in deep-water and high-pressure conditions, and establish annual third-part reviews of repair records.

“Both industry and government have taken important strides to better protect human lives and the environment from oil spills, and these proposed measures are designed to further build on critical lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and to ensure that offshore operations are safe,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (subscription).

Carbon Emissions from Permafrost: Good and Bad News

A new study in the journal Nature warns that a warming climate can induce environmental changes that hasten the microbial breakdown of organic carbon stored in permafrost (frozen soils) within the Artic and sub-Artic regions, releasing carbon dioxide and methane—a feedback that can accelerate climate change. Although a sudden or catastrophic release of these greenhouse gases from the top three meters of global permafrost soil and Arctic river deltas is unlikely, the projected release of 5–15 percent of an estimated 1,330–1,580 gigatons—equaling an extra 0.13 to 0.27 degrees Celsius of warming—by 2100 is troubling given the tight carbon budget to hold global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

The study’s authors said that target likely will be overshot if the Arctic’s soil carbon stores are not accurately incorporated into climate models used by policy makers to decide how to mitigate missions and limit global warming.

“If society’s goal is to try to keep the rise in global temperatures under 2 degrees C and we haven’t taken permafrost carbon release into account in terms of mitigation efforts, then we might underestimate that amount of mitigation effort required to reach that goal,” said study co-author David McGuire.

Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was aware of the potential for permafrost emissions, it didn’t factor them into its most recent major report because estimates from earlier studies were considered uncertain and unreliable.

According to McGuire, data from his team’s syntheses do not support a hypothesized permafrost carbon bomb. “What our syntheses do show,” McGuire said, “is that permafrost carbon is likely to be released in a gradual and prolonged manner, and that the rate of release through 2100 is likely to be of the same order as the current rate of tropical deforestation in terms of its effects on the carbon cycle.”

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

“Ambitious and achievable” is how the White House described its formal emissions reduction pledge—a cut of 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025—to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in preparation for negotiation of a binding climate agreement in Paris in December. Opinion about the aptness of the two adjectives was, predictably, mixed.

The U.S. pledge follows on the heels of a U.S. agreement to form a joint task force on climate policy co-operation with Mexico, which has become the first developing nation to formally announce its greenhouse gas emissions reductions ahead of Paris—25 percent by 2030.

The only other countries to meet an informal March 31 deadline to declare formal plans to the UNFCCC for voluntary greenhouse gas emissions cuts—so-called intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)—were the 28-nation European Union, Switzerland, Norway, and, at the midnight hour, Russia, which said it would cut its emissions by as much as 30 percent from 1990 levels. Gabon submitted its pledge April 1.

The delay in INDC pledges by the vast majority of the world’s countries complicates negotiation of a global climate change agreement in Paris in December, Reuters reports. The lag will shrink the time that other countries have to assess whether they will meet others’ offers, potentially leading to a “last-minute pile-up” like the one that scuttled climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009.

The U.S. target will entail a substantial ramp-up in reductions. According to the U.S. INDC, “Achieving the 2025 target will require a further emission reduction of 9–11 percent beyond our 2020 target compared to the 2005 baseline and a substantial acceleration of the 2005–2020 annual pace of reduction, to 2.3–2.8 percent per year, or an approximate doubling.”

Some of the required efforts have been launched or proposed: increased fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, methane limits for energy production, cuts in federal government emissions, and pollution rules for power plants. The U.S. INDC outlined no plans to meet INDC targets through international carbon trading, but it does suggest that agricultural land use and carbon sinks such as forests will play some role in achieving the targets.

According to the international analysis group Climate Action Tracker, “The U.S. will need to implement additional policies to reach its proposed targets. The planned policies (such as the targets in the Climate Action Plan), if fully implemented, are sufficient to meet the 2020 pledge [a 17 percent reduction in 2005 emissions levels by 2020]. Additional policies will have to be implemented to reach the 2025 pledge.”

Arctic Oil Exploration

A National Petroleum Council (NPC) draft report, out last Friday, indicates that the United States should tap Arctic oil and gas reserves to boost energy security.

“To remain globally competitive and to be positioned to provide global leadership and influence in the Arctic, the U.S. should facilitate exploration in the offshore Alaskan Arctic now,” the study’s authors wrote.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the Arctic contains an estimated 13 percent of all oil resources and up to 30 percent of all natural gas resources on the planet [measured in terms undiscovered conventional energy resources]. According to the NPC report, if drilling began now in Alaska and continued into 2030 or 2040, Arctic production would help sustain domestic supplies if shale and tight oils decline in the lower 48 states.

The report was released just days before the U.S. Department of the Interior reaffirmed a 2008 auction of Arctic drilling rights, giving Royal Dutch Shell the go-ahead to restart oil exploration in the Alaskan Artic. Despite that news, the National Geographic reports that three factors—permits, safety concerns, and oil reserve amounts—could still slow Arctic drilling.

Report: Renewables Could Help States Meet Clean Power Plan Requirements

Renewable energy investment worldwide totaled more than $270.2 billion in 2014—a roughly 17 percent increase from the year previous—according to a new report.

The American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association think renewables have potential. Their new handbook details how states can incorporate renewable energy to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which aims to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act by establishing state-by-state emissions rate goals for affected fossil fuel-fired power plants.

How much and how fast the Clean Power Plan could help renewable energy development depends on a laundry list of technical and policy questions involving the EPA’s final rule (subscription).

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

In an effort to increase energy security and resilience to climate change, President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget proposes a 7 percent increase in funding for clean energy and a new $4 billion Clean Power State Initiative Fund aimed at encouraging U.S. states to make faster and deeper cuts in power plant emissions.

The proposed $4 billion fund, which would help states pay for infrastructure improvements and renewable and clean-energy initiatives as well as prepare for more extreme weather, signals that the Clean Power Plan’s individual state targets are “minimums, not maximums,” according to U.S. News and World Report.

The proposed fund would be paid for by offsetting reductions from other programs—which congressional Republicans are likely to oppose, reports the Associated Press, given their aversion to the EPA’s climate efforts.

The budget called attention to the costs of delaying carbon-cutting measures, including $300 billion over 10 years for responses to extreme weather events. According to the Obama administration, unabated climate change could cost the United States $120 billion a year.

“The failure to invest in climate solutions and climate preparedness does not just fly in the face of the overwhelming judgment of science—it is fiscally unwise,” states the budget plan released by the White House.

The president’s proposed budget also calls for investments aimed at climate change adaptation. Several hundred million dollars are earmarked for initiatives such as protecting communities at risk from wildfires and assessing and addressing coastal flooding threats.

Also in the budget proposal: a $500 million contribution to the United Nation’s Global Climate Fund to help developing countries combat global warming and adapt to climate change.

Senate Pushes Ahead on Keystone, EPA Pushes Back

In a 62-to-36 vote on Jan. 29, the Senate approved a bill mandating completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has vowed to veto pending federal environmental reviews.

The Senate measure in effect transfers decision-making authority for Keystone from the administration to Congress. Because the measure differs from the House measure approving the proposed pipeline, the House could hold another vote on the project or a conference with Senate leaders. In either case, Congressional supporters of the project currently lack the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Because the State Department gave federal agencies a Feb. 2nd deadline to conclude their assessment of Keystone, the president could announce his decision on the project soon.

In 2013, Obama said that decision would be based on whether Keystone’s construction would worsen climate change. This week, the U.S. EPA urged the State Department to “revisit” its 2014 conclusion that the pipeline would not significantly increase the rate of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

The agency has zeroed in on the “potential implications of lower oil prices on project impacts, especially greenhouse gas emissions.” It said that with an oil price range at $65 to $75 a barrel, “construction of the pipeline is projected to change the economics of oil sands development and result in increased oil sands production and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions.”

The White House has not said whether the letter shows that Keystone fails Obama’s “climate test.”

Add Blackouts to Climate Change Effects

For major American cities along the Atlantic coast to the Gulf, climate change may mean more blackouts, according to a report published in the journal Climatic Change.

Using a computer simulation model, engineers at Johns Hopkins University examined how fluctuations in hurricane intensity and activity could potentially affect the cities’ electrical power systems. The cities at highest risk of power outage increases during major storms are New York City, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Fla., Virginia Beach, Va., and Hartford, Conn.

“Infrastructure providers and emergency managers need to plan for hurricanes in a long-term manner and that planning has to take climate change into account,” said study coauthor Seth Guikema.

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 U.S.-India climate agreement announced January 25 creates a new agreement between the second- and third-largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world but does not have the strength of the U.S.-China climate deal reached last year. Rather than committing India to cap its emissions, the U.S.-India deal called for “enhancing bilateral climate change cooperation” in advance of the United Nations effort to reach an international agreement on emissions and finance in Paris in December.

Specifically, the deal calls for cooperation on reducing emissions of fluorinated gases and beefing up India’s promotion of clean energy investment. The two countries also renewed their commitment to the U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center, extending by five years funding for research on advanced biofuels, solar energy, and building energy efficiency as well as launching new research on smart grid and grid storage technology.

“It’s my feeling that the agreement that has been concluded between the United States and China does not impose any pressure on us,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, adding, “But there is pressure. When we think about the future generations and what kind of world we are going to give them, then there is pressure. Climate change itself is a huge pressure. Global warming is a huge pressure.”

The agreements have not bridged the gap in the two countries’ perspectives on UN climate talks: the United States wants major emitters to take legal responsibility for climate change action, but India argues that the United States and other developed countries have not followed through on their own pledges and should not demand that developing countries take on new emissions reductions responsibilities.

President Moves to Shut Artic National Wildlife Refuge to Oil Drilling

While proposing to open portions of the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas extraction, an Obama administration plan would prohibit energy development on nearly 10 million acres off the Alaskan coast. The administration has also proposed setting aside more than 12 million acres in Alaska’s Artic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, squashing opportunities for oil exploration there.

Less than 40 percent of the refuge currently has the wilderness designation, the highest level of protection available for public lands. The president’s plan would block efforts to drill for oil on a 1.5-million-acre portion of the refuge thought to contain up to 10.3 billion barrels of petroleum.

In a press conference, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said that President Obama has declared “war” on her state. “The fight is on and we are not backing down.”

In a White House blog post, John Podesta a counselor to the president and Mike Boots, leader of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, noted that the United States today is the world’s number-one producer of oil and natural gas and that the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge “is too precious to put at risk” of an oil-related accident. “By designating the area as wilderness, Congress could preserve the Coastal Plain in perpetuity—ensuring that this wild, free, beautiful, and bountiful place remains in trust for Alaska Natives and for all Americans.”

Increasing Frequency of La Niñas Attributed to Climate Change

A new climate modeling study published in Nature Climate Change suggests that by century’s end human-caused climate change will double the frequency of La Niñas—weather patterns associated with a temperature drop in the central Pacific Ocean—resulting in floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events.

Extreme La Niña events might be experienced about every 13 years, rather than every 23 years, as they are now, but not like clockwork, according to lead study author Wenju Cai, a climate scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Aspendale, Australia. “We’re only saying that on average, we expect to get one every 13 years,” said Cai. “We cannot predict exactly when they will happen, but we suggest that on average, we are going to get more.”

The study finds that powerful La Niñas will immediately follow intense El Niños, causing weather patterns to alternate between wet and dry extremes.

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

“No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” said President Obama in his 2014 State of the Union address.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate,” he said, “and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

To combat climate change, the president said the government had taken actions ranging from the way we produce energy to the way we use it. Although he did not mention his use of executive power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, he did highlight the landmark agreement with China to cut greenhouse gases. “In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

Early in the speech, the president referenced the twin goals of reducing dependence on foreign oil and protecting the planet. “Today, America is number one in oil and gas,” he said. “America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.”

The president obliquely alluded to the Keystone pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to the United States, by noting the need to take a comprehensive look at infrastructure development.

In the GOP response to the SOTU, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst admonished the president for stalling a decision on Keystone.

“President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it,” she said. “The president’s own State Department has said Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact.”

Less than 24 hours after Ernst’s remarks, the House of Representatives approved a bill to fast-track federal approval of natural gas pipelines despite a veto threat from the White House.

2014 Hottest Year on Record

Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirm that 2014 was the hottest year on record and the 18th consecutive year that annual average temperatures have exceeded the previous century’s average.

A few of the 21 scientists interviewed by the Washington Post about 2014’s average global surface temperature of 58.24 F (14.58 C) noted that warming has not kept pace with climate model projections, but most thought the record matches what we should expect as heat-trapping greenhouse gases increasingly accrue in the atmosphere.

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. “While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The University of Illinois’ Don Wuebbles, a contributor to multiple reports from the International Panel on Climate Change, told a Forbes reporter, “We can safely say it’s probably the warmest year in 1,700 and 2,000 years.”

The most remarkable thing about the 2014 record, say climate experts, was that it occurred in a year without a strong El Niño, a large-scale weather pattern in which the Pacific Ocean pumps heat into the atmosphere.

States Get Help Meeting Clean Power Plan Targets

States are getting a $48 million boost to their efforts to meet emissions reductions targets for existing power plants under the Clean Power Plan. Bloomberg Philanthropies and the California Heising-Simons family announced the grants to “accelerate” a transition to cleaner energy.

“With the price of clean power falling, and the potential costs of inaction on climate change steadily rising, the work of modernizing America’s power grid is both more feasible and urgent than ever,” said former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. “But smart investments can reduce it while also strengthening local economies.”

Rather than going directly to states, the grants provided by the Clean Energy Initiative will support organizations that can help states with their energy planning, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. But the bulk of the money for technical assistance, including economic forecasting and legal analysis, will go to groups with a state or regional focus.

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.