The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Slowing coal use in China and India has put the two most populous countries on a trajectory to beat their carbon emissions goals under the Paris Agreement, making up for rollbacks in U.S. climate action under the Trump administration, according to a new analysis released by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) at intersessional climate talks concluding today in Bonn, Germany.

China, which had pledged to peak its carbon emissions no later than 2030 and to sharply reduce them thereafter, has seen a coal consumption decrease over three consecutive years (2013 to 2016), a trend expected to continue. India, which had pledged to slow its emissions growth by expanding its renewables sector, has stated that its planned coal-fired power plants may not be needed. If it fully implements recently announced policies, its emissions growth would significantly slow over the next decade.

“Five years ago, the idea of either China or India stopping—or even slowing—coal use was considered an insurmountable hurdle, as coal-fired power plants were thought by many to be necessary to satisfy the energy demands of these countries,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, a CAT consortium member. “Recent observations show they are now on the way towards overcoming this challenge.”

So much so that they will compensate for the anticipated failure of the United States to make good on its pledge. Together, India and China will reduce projected global carbon emissions growth by 2 to 3 gigatons in 2030 compared to last year’s CAT projections—significantly outweighing the impact of the Trump administration’s proposed rollbacks in U.S. emissions reduction efforts, which the CAT analysis calculated at some 0.4 gigatons of extra carbon emissions each year by 2030.

“The highly adverse rollbacks of US climate policies by the Trump Administration, if fully implemented and not compensated by other actors, are projected to flatten US emissions instead of continuing on a downward trend,” said Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, a CAT consortium member.

According to the CAT analysis, meeting the U.S. pledge to lower its carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 levels by 2025 would require implementation of the full climate action plan outlined by the Obama administration—which along with the Clean Power Plan called for expanding clean energy, energy efficiency programs and advanced transportation technology. But even then, the analysis suggests, the United States would reduce emissions only 10 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Without the Clean Power Plan, emissions would fall just 7 percent below 2005 levels.

Clean Power Plan: EPA, Rule Foes Seek Abeyance; Rule Supporters, a Remand

Following last month’s Court of Appeals ruling that put lawsuits challenging the Clean Power Plan on hold for 60 days without deciding on the rule’s legality, the Trump administration on Monday asked the court to make that hold indefinite rather than remand the litigation—send it back—to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while it decides what to do with the rule. A remand would end a halt that the Supreme Court placed on the rule last year, allowing supporters to file a new lawsuit if the EPA repeals the Clean Power Plan, which under a March executive order, it is almost certain to do.

“Abeyance is the proper course of action because it would better preserve the status quo [the Supreme Court’s stay of the rule], conserve judicial resources, and allow the new Administration to focus squarely on completing its current review of the Clean Power Plan (‘the Rule’) as expeditiously as possible,” said the EPA brief. “Whereas abeyance would maintain the Supreme Court’s stay, a remand would raise substantial questions regarding the stay’s vitality,” it continued.

Foes of the rule also argued in favor of an indefinite hold on the litigation, writing in their own brief that “holding these cases in abeyance best protects Petitioners’ rights to judicial review and this Court’s ability to resolve challenges to the Rule should EPA ultimately not revise or rescind the Rule.”

Environmentalists, states, cities and power companies that support the Clean Power Plan, along with wind and solar industry associations, all filed briefs in favor of remand.

Environmental groups said placing the cases in long-term abeyance would violate basic administrative law principles—a point also made by cities and power companies that support the Clean Power Plan—and that remanding the cases would avoid an improper extension of the Supreme Court stay. In addition, they argued that the courts should rule on the merits of the lawsuits.

“While remand is preferable to abeyance,” states their brief, “the only appropriate path is to issue a merits decision. Withholding a merits decision now would waste massive resources that the agency, the public, the parties and the Court have invested, and would very likely introduce sprawling new chapters to the long history of delay in curtailing the grave health and environmental consequences of power plant carbon pollution.”

Renewable energy trade groups said sending the cases back to the EPA would ensure that the agency goes through “reasoned decisionmaking.”

Even though the Clean Power Plan is unlikely to survive in its current form, on Monday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a directive to state air regulators to write a plan to cap power plant emissions and to allow companies to swap allowances “through a multistate trading program,” much like the Clean Power Plan.

“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” McAuliffe said. “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void.”

The order seems to lean toward linking to or joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state cap-and-trade system for power generators in the Northeast.

Arctic Council Declaration Stops Short of Reaffirming Signatories’ Paris Agreement Pledges

Last week the eight member nations of the Arctic Council released a consensus declaration that included references to climate change but merely acknowledged the existence of the Paris Agreement rather than reaffirming members’ commitment to it—a concession sought by the U.S. delegation (subscription).

At the two-day ministerial meeting in Fairbanks, which concluded the council’s U.S. chairmanship, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reflected the Trump administration’s uncertain Paris Agreement stance, telling fellow council members that “In the United States we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change,” and adding that “We’re not going to rush to make a decision. We’re going to work to make the right decision for the United States.”

The joint agreement by the Arctic Council did not recommit its members to meet their pledges to the 2015 global accord to limit global warming increases.

In its preamble, the so-called Fairbanks Declaration merely noted “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation” and reiterated “the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

The U.S. State Department said the statement should not be construed to require U.S. action.

“The Fairbanks Declaration notes what Paris claims to be,” said a State Department official. “It does not obligate the U.S. to enforce it.”

The declaration referenced the Arctic’s fast-rising temperatures and their threat to the region, noting that “The Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average” and calling climate change “the most serious threat to Arctic biodiversity.”

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Tuesday, the White House postponed a scheduled meeting of officials to discuss the fate of the Paris Agreement, which business leaders and the international community (subscription) have pressed U.S. President Donald Trump to continue to support and which Trump’s conservative allies have urged him to exit. The decision will now come after the Group of Seven summit in late May.

The president’s potential rejection of the agreement loomed over both this week’s intersessional climate talks, held under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, and the two-day Arctic Council ministerial meeting, where there’s anxiety that Trump’s dismissal of the science backing climate change will mean that the customary declaration on Arctic priorities will have to weaken wording (subscription) on Paris-related emissions targets and their impact on the Arctic.

The administration’s ambivalence toward the Paris Agreement was signaled by the number of U.S. representatives at the Bonn climate talks, which are focused on implementing the details of the deal to combat climate change. According to a list of registered participants, the U.S. government sent just seven representatives to the meeting—one fewer than Tonga and dozens fewer than the Obama administration sent to last year’s talks.

The U.S. State Department said the small team reflects the fact that the United States is working out its climate priorities.

“We are focused on ensuring that decisions are not taken at these meetings that would prejudice our future policy, undermine the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, or hamper our broader objective of advancing U.S. economic growth and prosperity,” a spokesperson said.

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. He has already begun to reverse regulations implemented by the Obama administration to help meet the U.S. pledge to reduce emissions by 26–28 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2025. U.S. action to make good on that pledge will come under review as part of the multilateral assessment process that will take place May 12–13 at the Bonn meeting.

Proponents of the Paris Agreement worry that without the participation of the United States, the second largest global emitter behind China, meeting the agreement’s goal of keeping temperature increases under 1.5 Celsius compared with preindustrial levels will be impossible and that a U.S. withdrawal from the deal would make it harder for other countries to maintain their ambitions. In his budget proposal, Trump is seeking to cut an outstanding $2 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund.

Although continued U.S. participation in the global climate accord remains a question mark, Washington will not withdraw from participation in climate science on the Arctic. That was the word from the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, David Balton, ahead of the biennial Arctic Council ministerial meeting hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“The U.S. will remain engaged in the work the Arctic Council does on climate change throughout,” said Balton. “I am very confident there will be no change in that regard.”

During the meeting, members are expected to sign off on a report by the council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme showing that the worst effects of climate change are already happening in the Arctic and could have significant implications for the rest of the world. That report recommends that the Arctic nations lead efforts “for an early, ambitious, and full implementation” of the Paris Agreement.

Senate Fails to Repeal Rule to Limit Methane Releases from Energy Extraction on Public Lands

Yesterday a U.S. Senate resolution to repeal an Interior Department rule that limits venting and flaring of methane from natural gas drilling sites on public lands was rejected (subscription). It was the second-to-last day that the Senate could attempt to roll back the rule under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to undo recent regulations through an act of Congress. But the Interior Department signaled that the 51 to 49 vote does not end efforts to alter the Obama-era rule.

“As part of President Trump’s America-First Energy Strategy and executive order, the Department has reviewed and flagged the Waste Prevention rule as one we will suspend, revise or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation,” said Kate MacGregor, Interior’s acting assistant secretary for land and minerals (subscription).

The methane rule, finalized last November, seeks to reduce energy companies’ burn off of vast supplies of methane, the primary component of natural gas, at drilling sites. That practice, along with leaks, is estimated to waste $330 million a year in natural gas—enough to power some 5 million homes a year—ABC News reported.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said, in a letter to Ohio Senator Rob Portman, that his department would continue to regulate methane emissions (subscription) and would take “concrete action to reduce methane waste” if Congress passed the resolution rolling back the Obama-era rule. But how the department would have done so is unclear (subscription). Under the CRA, agencies cannot issue “substantially similar” rules on regulations that Congress has repealed without new legislation (subscription).

Pruitt Recuses Himself from Lawsuits, Considers Replacing Academics with Industry Experts

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt last week recused himself from a dozen lawsuits against the EPA that he pursued as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Those suits include one against the Clean Power Plan—the key component of former President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda—which a federal appeals court may hold in abeyance or send back to the agency for review.

“To demonstrate my profound commitment to carrying out my ethical responsibilities, while I am the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, I will not participate in any active cases in which Oklahoma is a party, petitioner or intervenor, including the following,” Pruitt wrote in the May 4 memo, before listing 12 cases from which he is recusing himself.

Among those cases are several involving Obama-era air rules, including the EPA’s methane regulations for new oil and gas sources, the 2015 ozone standard, and the agency’s cost analysis of mercury standards for power plants.

Although Pruitt will not take part in legal challenges, the Washington Post notes he will not recuse himself from EPA rulemaking processes, meaning he will continue to direct reviews of the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era regulations.

In what appears to be a move to alter how it assesses the science that underlies those and other regulations, the EPA last week began an overhaul of the Board of Scientific Counselors, which addresses important scientific questions and advises the agency on the integrity and rigor of its research. At an April meeting, the board discussed the importance of climate change research at EPA and “the growing need for information on, and understanding of, climate change and responses to its impacts” (subscription).

Agency spokesman J.P. Freire said Pruitt is thinking of replacing the board’s academics with experts from the industries typically regulated by the EPA.

“The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said Freire.

Trump Evaluating Stance on Paris Agreement

On April 27, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Administration officials are reported to be meeting at the White House today to deliberate on whether the United States should stay in or exit the Paris Agreement, the global accord to address global warming.

Although candidate Trump said he would “cancel” U.S. participation, eight Republican House colleagues are urging President Trump to take a different route, weakening the Obama-era emissions reduction commitment and taking other steps to bolster domestic industries (subscription). They argue that the underlying United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which covers nearly all the world’s countries, and the Paris deal, which has been ratified by more than 140 parties, have become international energy forums—participation in which gives the United States a platform for advancing domestic energy, including coal, interests. Energy Secretary Rick Perry favors a treaty renegotiation, although how that would be accomplished remains unclear. Two other administration officials appear divided on the deal: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States should remain a party to the agreement, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt has said the country should exit it.

If the United States does stay in the Paris accord—Trump’s decision is expected in May—the Washington Post projects that it is unlikely to meet its pledge under the agreement to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, because the policies that made the pledge possible are being dismantled.

On “CBS This Morning” Monday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Charles Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club, offered a more optimistic view. Given recent emissions reductions and leadership from cities and states, Bloomberg suggested that the United States will meet the Paris goals. 

Study: Climate Change Increased Odds of Some Extreme Heat, Wet and Dry Periods

The latest research in the emerging field of climate science called “extreme event attribution” finds links between a warming climate and record-setting weather events. A paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first to present a four-step framework for testing such links for Earth’s hottest, wettest, and driest events in recent decades. Using a computer model and statistical analyses of climate observations, the authors concluded that climate change had increased the odds of a record-breaking heat in 85 percent of the surface area of the Earth that they studied.

“The world is not yet at a place where every single record-setting hot event has a human fingerprint, but we are getting close to that point,” said lead author Diffenbaugh of Stanford University. “Greater than 80 percent of those record hot events is a substantial fraction.”

The researchers also found that climate change had increased the probability of the driest year on record in 57 percent of the observed areas and that of the wettest five-day period in each of these areas by 41 percent (subscription).

Climate scientists typically examine potential links between warming of Earth and extreme weather events such as heatwaves or downpours on a case-by-case basis. But the group led by Diffenbaugh developed a more global, comprehensive approach to investigating such links.

The team first examined the historical weather trend without factoring in climate models and then asked whether the severity or the odds of a record-setting weather event had changed (subscription). It used climate models to determine whether the odds of an event changed after factoring in the effect of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. When the climate model simulations were consistent with the real-world data, and when the likelihood of extreme events increased in those simulations, the team determined that global warming had probably been influential.

One of the research’s high-profile test cases was the record-low Arctic sea ice cover observed in September 2012. In that instance, the research revealed overwhelming statistical evidence that global warming contributed to the severity and probability of the low ice.

March Highlights Concerns about Science Budget Cuts, Climate Change

On Earth Day, tens of thousands of scientists and science advocates rallied in Washington, D.C., and at some 600 other sites around the world at the first-ever March for Science. The event organized by the Earth Day Network was intended to encourage policy makers to use scientific evidence to craft legislation, adopting policies consistent with the scientific consensus on climate change and other issues.

Among the featured speakers at the march endorsed by major science advocacy groups and publishers, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union, was Christiana Figueres, a key architect of the Paris Agreement, a global accord to limit global warming increases.

The official march website said the event was meant to reaffirm “the vital role science plays in our democracy.” It asserted that “Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone—without exception. Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.”

Although organizers said the event was non-partisan, Reuters reported that many marchers were in effect protesting President Trump’s stance on climate change and his proposal to make deep cuts to agencies funding scientists’ work.

Although Trump did not react to the March on Science, he did release a statement recognizing Earth Day. “Rigorous science is critical to my administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” said the president. “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks.”

On April 29, the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities will again highlight calls for action on climate change.

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

President Donald Trump signed a long anticipated executive order greatly diminishing the role climate change plays in U.S. government decision making by directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel fired power plants.

The order directs each executive department and agency in the federal government to identify regulations, rules, policies, and guidance documents that slow or stop domestic energy production. In addition, the order also calls to review use the “social cost of carbon,” a metric for weighing the potential economic damage from climate change. Effective immediately, it instructs federal officials to use the 2003 Office of Management and Budget guidance “when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations, including with respect to the consideration of domestic versus international impacts and the consideration of appropriate discount rates, agencies shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law.”

Regulations affecting methane leaks at oil and gas production facilities and hydraulic fracturing will all be reviewed, and a moratorium on coal leases on federal lands will be eliminated.

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” said Trump. “I made them this promise. We will put our miners back to work.”

Coal’s share of the electric sector dwindled in the last decade to some 32 percent last year, according to The Associated Press, while gas and renewables have made gains as hundreds of coal-burning power plants have been retired or are on schedule to retire soon.

Low natural gas prices are, in large part, responsible for those retirements, making it unlikely that rolling back the Clean Power Plan will bring back coal jobs. Given the way market forces—rather than regulations—have hurt the coal industry and reduced employment Trump should “temper his expectations,” said Robert Murray, the founder and CEO of Murray Energy.

“[Utilities] are not going to flip a dime and say now it’s time to start building a whole bunch of coal plants because there’s a Trump administration,” said Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Scientists Propose “Carbon Law”; Human Fingerprint Evident in Extreme Weather Events

An article published in Science says that “alarming inconsistencies” remain between the Paris Agreement’s science-based targets and national commitments. To harness the dynamics associated with disruption, innovation, and nonlinear change in human behavior and to calibrate for “political short-termism,” the authors propose that the decarbonization challenge be framed as a global decadal roadmap based on a “carbon law” of halving carbon dioxide emissions every decade.

Inspired by Moore’s Law, which predicted steady advances in computing power, the carbon law, say the researchers, is a flexible way to think about reducing carbon emissions because it can be applied across borders and economic sectors and at both regional and global scales.

It would require fossil-fuel emissions to peak by 2020 and to fall to zero by 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The idea is to reduce the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget to stay below 2 degrees Celsius by making the greatest efforts to reduce emissions now rather than later.

The researchers call for a ramping up of technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, a rapid reduction of emissions from agriculture and deforestation, and a doubling of renewables in the energy sector every five to seven years.

“We are already at the start of this trajectory,” said lead author Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. “In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace, fossil fuels will exit the energy sector well before 2050.”

By 2020, according to the roadmap outlined by authors, the world would implement “no-brainer” policies, including ending fossil-fuel subsidies, putting a $50 per ton price on carbon emissions, and cracking down on energy efficiency. Both coal and polluting vehicles would have to be phased out, and new clean technology, including superconducting electricity grids, would have to be developed.

In the 2030s, coal use would end in the energy sector and in the 2040s oil use would end. By 2050, the carbon price would have risen to $400 per ton.

A study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports suggests human-caused global warming is changing the behavior of planetary waves such as the jet stream in a way that intensifies droughts, wildfires and floods (subscription).

“We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events,” said Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University and lead author of the study.

Authors used computer simulations, historical temperature data going back as far as 1880 and roughly 50 climate models to explore a series of unusual and deadly weather events, which they connect with an increase in the stalling of the jet stream, a phenomenon that occurs with a decreased temperature difference between the Arctic and tropical air streams. Conditions that favor that phenomenon have increased nearly 70 percent since the start of the industrial age—and most of that change has occurred in the past four decades, according to the study.

“The more frequent persistent and meandering jetstream states seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, which makes it even more relevant,” said co-author Dim Coumou from the Department of Water and Climate Risk at VU University in Amsterdam. “Such non-linear responses of the Earth system to human-made warming should be avoided. We can limit the risks associated with increases in weather extremes if we limit greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Keystone Pipeline Application Approved

President Donald Trump continued to tout restoration of American jobs with his approval of a Canadian firm’s application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska, linking existing pipelines to carry oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s a great day for American jobs, a historic day for North America and energy independence,” said Trump Friday. “This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families, and very significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

The Obama administration had cited environmental concerns in rejecting the Keystone permit in 2015. In the 30-page explanation that the State Department gave for its presidential permit, signed by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr., it said it relied on yet earlier environmental studies into the pipeline’s possible environmental effects. The only new material in the permit is communications from TransCanada.

“In making his determination that issuance of this permit would serve the national interest, the Under Secretary considered a range of factors, including but not limited to foreign policy; energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; and compliance with applicable law and policy,” a statement on the U.S. Department of State website reads.

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

On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an order that will require federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new rule and that will set an annual cap on the cost of new regulations with the exceptions of military and national security regulations. For fiscal year 2017, the cap will require that the cost of new regulations be completely offset by the rescinding of existing rules. Starting in 2018, the order directs the White House Office of Management and Budget head to give each agency a budget for increasing or decreasing regulatory costs.

Yet, legal experts suggest that the executive order could be impossible to implement because many regulations are required by laws written by Congress.

“It should be noted that no [executive order] can change underlying statutes adopted in the regular order by Congress and signed by the president,” Scott Segal, an industry lawyer at Bracewell LLP, told ClimateWire (subscription).

The new order comes on the heels of a Congressional Research Service study finding that the Clean Air Act’s regulatory structure “faces an unusual degree of uncertainty” this year, with one or more branches of government poised to weigh in on key existing EPA rules. Those rules include the Clean Power Plan, methane rules for new or substantially modified oil and gas operations, and EPA’s latest ambient air quality standards for ozone. Yet other rules could be vulnerable under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress 60 legislative working days from the time a federal regulation is finalized to pass a “joint resolution of disapproval” on the rule.

The House passed two bills on Wednesday invoking the seldom used Congressional Review Act to attempt to roll back the Stream Protection Rule and the Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to reveal payments made to foreign governments. The rules were among five Obama administration regulations, including the Bureau of Land Management’s restrictions on methane emissions from flaring and venting during oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands, being targeted for reversal.

Trump has targeted specific regulations he believes hamper job growth, including the Waters of the U.S. Rule and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which aims to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants but is under a Supreme Court stay.

Trump Nominates Supreme Court Justice; Some Cabinet Appointees Move Forward

President Donald Trump on Tuesday appointed 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant last February by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The decision, which has implications for environmental policy, comes as Trump promised—within two weeks of taking office.

Gorsuch’s parallels to Scalia were described by SCOTUSBlog writer Eric Citron as “eerie.”

“He is an ardent textualist (like Scalia); he believes criminal laws should be clear and interpreted in favor of defendants even if that hurts government prosecutions (like Scalia); he is skeptical of efforts to purge religious expression from public spaces (like Scalia); he is highly dubious of legislative history (like Scalia); and he is less than enamored of the dormant commerce clause (like Scalia),” Citron wrote.

Although Gorsuch hasn’t ruled on many environmental matters, Inside EPA reports that he has called for limiting the discretion of the EPA and other agencies to interpret their own authority. Last year, in Gutierrez-Brizuelo v. Lynch, Gorsuch indicated he was fine without Chevron deference, the legal doctrine granting government agencies interpretation of ambiguous statutes unless their interpretation of a statute is unreasonable.

“We managed to live with the administrative state before Chevron. We could do it again,” wrote Gorsuch in the majority opinion.

In that opinion, Gorsuch argued that the meaning of the law is for judges, not federal bureaucrats, to decide.

“Where in all this does a court interpret the law and say what it is?” Gorsuch said. “When does a court independently decide what the statute means and whether it has or has not vested a legal right in a person? Where Chevron applies that job seems to have gone extinct.”

Also this week, several of Trump’s cabinet picks—Department of Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry, U.S. Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions and Department of the Interior nominee Ryan Zinke—gained committee approval and now move forward for consideration by the full Senate.

All 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is tasked with considering whether to move Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA to the full Senate, opted to boycott the Wednesday meeting. They said Pruitt failed to provide substantive answers to questions about rules governing air pollution, toxic chemicals and lead in gasoline. But today, Republicans on the committee advanced Pruitt’s nomination on a party line vote after suspending committee rules because of the boycott.

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil, was confirmed by the Senate as the next Secretary of State by a 56-43 vote and was sworn in Wednesday evening. At his confirmation hearing, he acknowledged that the climate is changing but said that he believes science is not conclusive on the issue of how rising greenhouse gas emissions will affect life on Earth. He expanded on his views when providing written responses to questions posed by two senators.

“I agree with the consensus view that combustion of fossil fuels is a leading cause for increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he wrote to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. “I understand these gases to be a factor in rising temperature, but I do not believe the scientific consensus supports their characterization as the ‘key’ factor.”

Study Says Carbon Capture Necessary to Meet Paris Agreement Goal

The global climate can survive the possible withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, said the authors of a study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. The bigger threat, they said, is a world without widespread deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Absent those technologies, achieving the climate treaty’s goal to limit warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius could be impossible.

The authors reached that conclusion by reviewing past energy trends and examining nearly 150 countries’ pledged carbon reduction targets in the context of more than 100 climate simulations indicating how changes in energy production and use through 2040 could meet the 2 degrees Celsuis goal. To deal with the mix of targets—among them, straight emissions reductions (for example, 30 percent by 2030), lowered emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP), and technology deployment (for example, expansion of renewables)—the study used the Kaya Identity method, which breaks the carbon dioxide emissions rate into the human factors that affect it—broad factors such as GDP and more specific ones such as quantity of deployed renewables.

The study paints a good news-bad news picture of progress toward the 2 degrees Celsius goal. It indicates that the rate of global emissions has leveled off over the last few years due to a reduction in coal burning by China, a shift from coal to gas and renewables plus increased industrial energy efficiency in the United States, rapid expansion of renewables in the European Union, and slowed GDP growth in the U.S., EU and China. But sustaining this trend of decreasing carbon intensity of energy will not be easy. Although renewables development is keeping pace with 2 degree Celsius scenarios, nuclear power is lagging and CCS is barely past the starting gate. Only a few CCS facilities are operational, and only a couple of dozen are in construction.

“The greatest challenge is the slower-than-expected rollout of technologies to capture and permanently store carbon from fossil fuel and bioenergy combustion,” said study co-author Robbie Andrew of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). “Most scenarios suggest the need for thousands of facilities with carbon capture and storage by 2030, and this compares with the tens currently proposed.”

Thus far, high up-front costs have stymied development of commercial-scale CCS plants. If they don’t materialize, the world faces a harsh reality, suggests lead author Glen Peters of CICERO.

“If we don’t have CCS, then we will need to reduce use of fossil fuels much faster and in a much more disruptive way,” he said.

Study co-author Robert Jackson of Stanford University noted that CCS technology will prove even more crucial if President Donald Trump makes good on his pledge to revive the nation’s limping coal industry.

“There’s no way to reduce the carbon emissions associated with coal without carbon capture and storage,” Jackson said.

We may find out soon whether Trump will follow through on his pledge to remove the U.S. from the Paris climate deal when he issues an expected review of the U.S.’s involvement in multinational treaties.  InsideEPA lays out mechanisms through which the administration could do so (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

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

According to a study published in the journal Science, southern Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean region could become a desert by 2100 absent efforts to sharply limit global average warming.

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.

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

European Union (EU) environment ministers on Friday approved ratification of the Paris Agreement. The approximately one-month EU ratification process means that the requirements for a 30-day countdown for the agreement to take effect will be met in November.

“Today is an important day not only for our action on climate but also for unity we have demonstrated,” said László Sólymos, EU Environment Council president and the Slovak minister for the environment. “This means that EU and its member states will add their weight to trigger the entry into force of the Paris Agreement.”

Thus far, 61 countries representing 47.79 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have joined the Paris Agreement. Ratification of the agreement is complete when 55 countries accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sign on. The decision of the EU’s Environment Council to fast track ratification on behalf of the EU’s 28 member states, including the U.K., increases the share of ratifying nations’ emissions by 12 percent.

The Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 nations last December, aims to limit global warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times and to attempt to hold it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The move by the EU came a day after seven distinguished climate scientists led by Robert Watson, a former chairman of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, asserted in a report that the opportunity to meet the 1.5 Celsius goal “has almost certainly already been missed” and that even the 2 Celsius pathway would be irrevocably lost absent increased emissions cuts under the Paris Agreement.

“If governments are serious about trying to achieve even the 2 degree goal, they will have to double and re-double their efforts—now,” Watson said. “I think it is fair to say that there is literally no chance of making the 1.5 C target.”

According to Watson and the other report authors, the world could experience 2 Celsius of warming—the point at which many scientists believe climate change will become dangerous—as early as 2050.

Poll: Deep Distrust of Climate Scientists, Political Divide on Climate Change

Climate scientists have a problem. A new Pew Research poll finds that most Americans doubt their consensus on global warming and don’t have “a lot” of trust in them to provide accurate information about the issue. According to the in-depth survey on “the politics of climate” released Tuesday, only 27 percent of Americans agree that “almost all” climate scientists say that human behavior is mostly responsible for climate change—a figure Pew contrasted with a 2013 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stating with 95 percent certainty that human activity is the main cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century. Only one-third of those surveyed said that climate scientists understand “very well” whether global climate change is occurring.

Like other Pew surveys conducted from 2006 to 2015, the new survey finds that one of the strongest predictors of views on the causes, cures, and urgency of climate change is party identification: among the one third of Americans who say they care a great deal about climate change, 72 percent are Democrats and 24 percent are Republicans. Approximately three quarters of Democrats believe climate change is mainly a result of human activity; fewer than a quarter of Republicans concur.

“People on the ideological ends of either party—that is, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans—see the world through vastly different lenses across all of these judgments,” the report found.

The Pew survey also found no strong correlation between scientific knowledge and views on climate issues.

“To the extent that science knowledge influences people’s judgments related to climate change and trust in climate scientists, it does so among Democrats, but not Republicans,” wrote Pew researchers. “For example, Democrats with high science knowledge are especially likely to believe the Earth is warming due to human activity, to see scientists as having a firm understanding of climate change, and to trust climate scientists’ information about the causes of climate change. But Republicans with higher science knowledge are no more or less likely to hold these beliefs. Thus, people’s political orientations also tend to influence how knowledge about science affects their judgments and beliefs about climate matters and their trust in climate scientists.”

The political divide on solutions to climate change is as great as it is on causes: More than three quarters of liberal Democrats but less than a quarter of conservative Republicans said restricting emissions from power plants could make a big difference. A similar divide was evident in views on the usefulness of an international agreement to limit carbon emissions.

The survey did identify one area of agreement: more than 80 percent of Americans all across the political spectrum support greater use of wind and solar power, a view attributable to financial, health-related and environmental motivations.

EPA Data Says Power Plant Emissions Down

Greenhouse gas emissions from United States power plants dropped a little more than 6 percent last year compared to 2014 levels, according to data provided by 8,000 facilities and suppliers to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. These reporters account for about half of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Released annually, the data details emissions by industrial sector, geographic region and individual facilities. It found that in 2015, reported emissions from large industrial sources were 4.9 percent lower than 2014, and 8.2 percent lower than 2011. Petroleum and natural gas facilities were the second largest stationary source of emissions, reporting 231 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions—1.6 percent lower in 2015 than in 2014, but 4.1 percent higher than in 2011.

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 last week in Nature Geoscience provides the first measurements of greenhouse gases from permafrost under Arctic lakes in Alaska, Siberia, and Canada. Although the research reveals that only a small amount of old carbon has been released in the past 60 years, it also suggests that much more could be released as the Arctic warms up faster than any other place on Earth.

“It’s a lit fuse, but the length of that fuse is very long,” said lead author Katey Walter Anthony of the University of Alaska. “According to the model projections, we’re getting ready for the part where it starts to explode. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

The scientists determined that the permafrost-carbon feedback is thus far small by looking at aerial photographs and using radiocarbon dating to determine the age of methane emitted from the Arctic lakes that are expanding to consume and thaw terrestrial permafrost. As that permafrost melts and decomposes, it releases ancient carbon as carbon dioxide and methane. Analysis of 113 radiocarbon dating measurements and 289 soil organic carbon measurements showed that approximately 0.2 to 2.5 petagrams of permafrost carbon was released as methane and carbon dioxide in the past six decades.

The billions of tons of carbon stored in permafrost are approximately double the amount currently in the atmosphere. Many researchers are concerned that emission of that stored carbon will contribute to warming that then contributes to permafrost thawing in an accelerating feedback loop.

NASA: Temperature Reconstructions Suggest Achievement of Paris Agreement Goals “Unlikely”

The Paris Agreement’s goal to limit Earth’s temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is unlikely to be achieved according to temperature reconstructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA). Those reconstructions reveal that the world is heating up faster than at any other time within the past 1,000 years. Over the next 100 years, according to NASA, it will continue to warm at least 20 times faster than the historical average.

“In the last 30 years we’ve really moved into exceptional territory,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years. There’s no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination (of temperatures). Maintaining temperatures below the 1.5C guardrail requires significant and very rapid cuts in carbon dioxide emissions or coordinated geo-engineering. That is very unlikely. We are not even yet making emissions cuts commensurate with keeping warming below 2C.”

Using evidence left in tree rings, layers of ice in glaciers, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks, NASA figures that the past century’s warming of 0.7 degrees Celsius is roughly 10 times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.

This year, the average global temperature reached 1.38 Celsius above levels observed in the 19th century, just 0.12 Celsius below the 1.5 Celsius limit that nations aimed for in the Paris Agreement.

Climate Change Major Focus at G20 Summit

Climate change is among the topics world leaders are expected to discuss at a G20 summit in China, beginning September 4.

“This is the first time that the G20 leaders are gathering to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change, (and) how we implement them in parallel,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

President Obama, who began his 10-day trip to Asia on Wednesday, is expected to stress the urgency of climate change. And some media outlets are reporting that the United States and China are expected to announce their ratification of the Paris Agreement prior to the start of the G20 Summit, but the White House has made no formal statement to this effect.

“We’ve made the commitment that we will join in 2016. And we’ve made the commitment to do that as soon as possible this year,” said Brian Deese, senior advisor to the president. “With respect to exactly when, I don’t have any announcements on that front. But we’ve committed, and we’ve been working on that issue.”

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

Nations to Sign Paris Climate Agreement Friday

On April 21, 2016, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Four months after it was finalized by delegates to the Paris Climate Change Conference, the Paris Agreement will be signed by more than 100 nations on Friday. While the agreement is facially insufficient to meet its overall emissions objectives, the signing of the Paris agreement nevertheless is significant. It brings into effect the approach and policy infrastructure needed to tackle the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s ambitious goal to minimize human-caused climate change. The agreement does not solve the problem on its own, but it is a structured revisitation of the science and national commitments that provide the adaptive approach necessary to reach a solution. It is now on researchers and entrepreneurs to invent solutions; for governments, development banks and the private sector to deploy them; and for nations to hold each other accountable as this agreement goes into effect.

Energy innovation is just one of the benefits of the signing, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

“This will open up a market for energy innovation that U.S. companies have pioneered,” Earnest said. “This is going to open up a global market for the kind of renewable energy technology that U.S. companies are at the cutting edge of.”

Other shifts have occurred since the Paris Agreement was finalized, GreenBiz reports. Big companies have backed the Clean Power Plan, there’s a rise in “sub-national” climate action at the state and city level and President Obama has proposed $10-a-barrel-tax on oil, they say.

EPA Finds Benefits Outweigh Cost of Mercury Rule

Benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) rule outweigh cost, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in findings released in defense of its issuance of the first-ever federal regulations requiring power plants to cut mercury emissions and other toxics.

The Supreme Court found, last year, that the EPA should have considered compliance costs when determining whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury emissions from the power sector. In a June ruling, it did not strike down the regulation; rather, it required the EPA to take costs into consideration.

In its final 167-page report on the matter, now awaiting publication in the Federal Register, the EPA details how it considered cost in evaluating whether to regulate coal-and oil-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act (subscription).

“Based on this analysis, EPA has determined that the cost of complying with MATS, whether assessed as a percentage of total capital expenditures, percentage of power sector sales, or predicted impact on the retail price of electricity, is reasonable and that the electric power industry can comply with MATS and maintain its ability to provide reliable electric power to consumers at a reasonable cost,” the EPA wrote.

The annual cost of complying with MATS, the EPA found, amounts to between 2.7 and 3.5 percent of electricity sales, and the capital costs between 3 and 5.9 percent of annual power sector capital expenditures over 10 years.

Methane Emissions Greater Than Thought

In its newly released annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory, the EPA raised its estimate of total U.S. methane emissions in 2013 by 13 percent—an increase of more than 3.4 million metric tons and a long-term global warming impact of a year’s worth of emissions from some 20 million cars, Science News reported. The agency’s first estimate of methane emissions for 2014 is even higher, although only slightly so—29.233 million metric tons compared with 28.859 million metric tons.

Although there was a roughly 1 percent increase in total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions between 2013 and 2014, the inventory shows 2014 levels were 8.6 percent lower than 2005 levels, taking into account carbon sinks (subscription).

According to the EPA, the biggest methane emitter is the oil and natural gas industry—not animals like cattle and other livestock, as had been suggested by last year’s inventory. The data in this latest inventory are based on new techniques for estimating methane leaking from valves, compressors, vents, and other oil and gas equipment.

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.