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.
Climate-change-related environmental, ecological, and social changes in the Arctic are accelerating and are more extreme than ever recorded, undermining the sustainability of current ways of life in the region and potentially destabilizing climate and ecosystems around the world, according to a five-year report released last week by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organization formed to protect the region.
“Arctic social and biophysical systems are deeply intertwined with our planet’s social and biophysical systems, so rapid, dramatic and unexpected changes in this sensitive region are likely to be felt elsewhere,” the report states. “As we are often reminded, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”
The report noted that the Greenland Ice Sheet, which was thought to be resistant to climate change, is experiencing higher-than-expected thinning “over time scales of only years” due to warmer temperatures caused by climate change and that if it melts completely, global sea levels would rise an average of 7.4 meters.
The report outlines 19 “regime shifts” under way or on the horizon absent efforts to halt them. They range from sea-ice-free summers to ocean circulation changes and collapse of some Arctic fisheries.
“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the co-authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”
Trump Transition: EPA Prospects
Just days after stating his “open mind” to confronting climate change, president-elect Donald Trump was meeting with potential prospects to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would align with his campaign promises to roll back agency regulations.
Two rumored EPA leaders who have called for a significant rollback in regulations—Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and former Texas environmental regulator Kathleen Hartnett White—were scheduled to meet with Trump this week.
In an interview with McClatchy, White confirmed her consideration for the post, which she says she would take on with a new approach to address a “shifting environmental landscape.” White also shared details of her conversation with Trump.
“He wants the EPA to run more carefully, to use stronger science and be unabashedly conscientious to the effect of more and more rules on existing employment and job creation,” she said. “I have no desire to put words in his mouth. But as he is in other areas, he likes a good deal.”
Climate Change Conference in Marrakech Concludes
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22), which brought nearly 200 countries together to hammer out the details of last year’s Paris Agreement, concluded last month. What exactly came out of the two-week conference?
- A timeline for implementing the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries participating in COP22 decided to complete detail setting for the agreement by 2018 and to review progress in 2017.
- The Marrakech Action Proclamation. The one-page document reaffirms countries’ commitments to the Paris Agreement’s goals following the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. On the campaign trail, Trump stated intentions to end U.S. involvement in the agreement.
- Forty-eight of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries pledged to turn in more ambitious targets to Paris before 2020 and to shift to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050.
- An agreement to continue the discussion on climate finance. There’s still uncertainty surroundingthe pathway to mobilizing $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, to establishing rules for reporting finance, and to scaling up adaptation finance.
- Nations also agreed on a five-year work-plan on “loss and damage” to address issues beyond climate adaptation like slow-onset impacts of climate change, non-economic losses and migration.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next week, Thursday, November 24, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return Thursday, December 1.
A speech by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during the second week of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) focused, in part, on president-elect Donald Trump and his views on climate change. He tried to dispel doubts about the new U.S. government’s policies, saying it is a little bit “different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail.”
“The president-elect is going to have to make his decision,” said Kerry of Trump, who vowed while campaigning to withdraw the United States from the global Paris Agreement now under negotiation at COP22. “What I will do is speak to the assembly about our efforts and what we’re engaged in and why we’re engaged in it, and our deep commitment as the American people to this effort.”
He noted that the United States “is on our way to meeting all of our climate commitments,” and that the primary driver of emissions reduction is marketplace forces. “Investing in clean energy simply makes economic sense … [clean energy] is a multi-trillion dollar market, the largest the world has ever known.”
But he also acknowledged that even though the Paris Agreement came into force Nov. 4, there is no guarantee that its critical goals—holding the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius—will be met. He noted that, although government leadership will be essential, governments alone won’t solve the climate crisis and that private industry is more important than ever.
“And if we fall short, it will be the greatest instance in modern history of a generation in a time of crisis, abdicating responsibility for the future,” Kerry said. “And it won’t just be a policy failure; because of the nature of this challenge, it will be a moral failure, a betrayal of devastating consequence.”
CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels, Industry Flattening
A new study suggests that for the third consecutive year carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry have risen negligibly amid global economic growth, a slowdown driven by China. According to the study released at United Nations talks on climate change in Marrakesh, Morocco, and published in the journal Earth System Science Data, these emissions will grow by just 0.2 percent overall this year but will continue to rise in emerging economies.
“2016 we estimate to be flat again,” said Glen Peters, one of the contributors to the research and a scientist at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo in Norway. “It’s definitely three years, it’s fairly flat, which is quite a contrast to a decade ago, when it was growing at about 3 percent. It’s really leveled out the last few years.”
The decrease in Chinese emissions is particularly significant because China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter, accounting for some 30 percent of the world’s annual global emissions, though whether that decrease is due mainly to economic troubles or to environmental efforts is uncertain.
Like Chinese emissions, U.S. emissions have also fallen, a downward trend that began in 2007. According to the study, they were down 2.5 percent in 2015 and are projected to drop 1.7 percent this year due to lowered demand for coal.
Nevertheless, the leveling off falls short of the reductions called for in the Paris Agreement, implementation details of which are being hammered out during the second week of the U.N.’s COP22 in Marrakech.
“The break in emissions rise is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough,” said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at University of East Anglia and primary study author. “Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing. If climate negotiators in Marrakech can leverage ambitions for further cuts in emissions, we could be making a serious start to addressing climate change.”
According to a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report, implementing current international pledges will slow the projected rise in carbon emissions from 650 million tons per year in 2000 to 150 million tons in 2040 but put the world far off the Paris Agreement goals.
“While this (reduction) is a significant achievement, it is far from enough to avoid the worst impact of climate change as it would only limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2.7 (degrees Celsius) by 2100,” said the IEA.
Study Says Climate Change is Altering Earth’s Ecological Systems
A new study in the journal Science suggests that climate change is already having an impact on 82 percent of global ecological systems—affecting everything from genes to entire ecosystems. This impact could increase disease outbreaks and threaten food security.
“There is now clear evidence that, with only a ~1 degree C of warming globally, very major impacts are already being felt,” said co-author Brett Scheffers of the University of Florida. “Genes are changing, species’ physiology and physical features such as body size are changing, species are rapidly moving to keep track of suitable climate space, and there are now signs of entire ecosystems under stress.”
The study also indicates that the adaptive capacity in wildlife could be used applied to crops, livestock and fisheries.
“The level of change we have observed is quite astonishing considering we have only experienced a relatively small amount of climate change to date,” said study co-author James Watson from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Queensland. “It is no longer sensible to consider this a concern for the future. Policy makers and politicians must accept that if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions, an environmental catastrophe is likely.”
This study comes as nations discuss the Paris Agreement and the need to plan for its implementation.
Businessman Donald Trump became the next U.S. president-elect early Wednesday after beating his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Trump’s win could have great implications for the environment, as he’s promised a shift from the Obama administration’s energy and climate policies.
What could his presidency mean for energy policy? It may take some time to evaluate what part of President Trump’s statements remain in the realm of the campaign, and what provides the guiding points for how he will govern.
One thing seems clear—Trump has voiced plans to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Based on Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan was first proposed in June 2014 to put limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants and was finalized in August 2015. In setting those limits, the rule considers states’ ability to shift power generation to cleaner sources.
Currently, the Clean Power Plan is being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit as a result of a suit brought by 27 states and some corporate interests over whether the EPA properly exercised its authority under the Clean Air Act. The case is expected to go to the Supreme Court next year—where the next president’s pick for a vacant court seat could determine the rule’s fate.
Other commentators have noted that Trump could decide to stop defending the Clean Power Plan in court, take steps to rescind the rule, or seek Congressional support for blocking it.
But the Clean Power Plan is not the only environmental measure facing uncertainty. Trump has voiced his intention to repeal federal spending on renewable energy in favor of a more “fossil fuel-centric” energy policy. Nevertheless, Forbes reports, utility-scale solar and wind, which have grown consistently due to lower costs, will continue to thrive under Trump.
More dramatically, Trump’s campaign statements even called into question if and how much of the EPA remains. In previous speeches, like one delivered at a March GOP debate, Trump proposed dismantling the EPA and naming climate change skeptic, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head the EPA transition team.
I’d “get rid of [the EPA] in almost every form,” Trump said. “We are going to have little tidbits left but we are going to take a tremendous amount out.”
His presidency could also have implications for the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But Trump has vowed to withdraw from the agreement, which officially came into force Nov. 4 and which global leaders are discussing this week in Marrakech, Morocco. Pulling out of the climate agreement would not require senate approval and could be done in a variety of ways. The effect could be substantial, according to analysis by Climate Interactive, because a large chunk—20 percent—of emissions cuts produced under the agreement come from the U.S., the world’s second largest emitter.
“If the U.S. pulls out of this, and is seen as going as a rogue nation on climate change, that will have implications for everything else on President Trump’s agenda when he wants to deal with foreign leaders,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists at the U.N.’s annual gathering in Marrakech.
Nations Grapple with Implementation of Paris Agreement; UN Says World Off Path to Meet Its Goal
A day before election results were finalized, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that 2011–2015 was the hottest five-year period on record, evidencing an “increasingly visible human footprint.” The likelihood of many extreme events during the period was increased, according to the WMO, as a result of man-made climate change. The probability of some extreme high temperatures rose by a factor of 10 or more. The authors also said that 2016 will probably break the record for warmest year.
The report was released in Marrakech, Morocco, where nearly 200 nations are meeting at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22), the annual United Nations (U.N.) climate conference, to begin hammering out details regarding how they are going to live up to their pledges to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Paris Agreement. Delegates’ goal: to come up with a work plan for the next two years, at the end of which they’ll assess progress on implementing the agreement’s measures.
COP22 comes on the heels of the unexpectedly quick entry into force of the agreement—and none too soon finds another report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) that suggests the pledges underpinning the agreement will put the world on course for a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius this century.
A scientific assessment of how countries’ actions and pledges tally with emissions trajectories consistent with the long-term goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the report suggests that 2030 emissions will be 12 to 14 gigatons above levels needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and 15 to 17 gigatons above levels needed to limit it to 1.5 degrees—even with follow through on Paris pledges.
“We are moving in the right direction: the Paris Agreement will slow climate change, as will the recent Kigali Amendment to reduce HFCs,” said UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim. “They both show strong commitment, but it’s still not good enough if we are to stand a chance of avoiding serious climate change. If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy. The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster.”
The report points to energy efficiency and action by non-state actors—the private sector, cities, regions, and other sub-nationals—as ripe for reducing the emissions gap.
EPA Finalizes Voluntary Carbon Trading Model for Clean Power Plan Compliance
Last week, the EPA forwarded a voluntary carbon trading model for Clean Power Plan compliance to the Office of Management and Budget for review. The model rules would allow states to comply with the federal carbon regulations for reducing emissions from power plants by participating in an optional emissions trading program. It would also earn states additional credit for early investments in alternative energy through a finalized Clean Energy Incentive Program.
A lot of states and electric utilities are interested in carbon trading, E&E News reported, because modeling suggests it is likely the simplest and least expensive way to meet Clean Power Plan goals (subscription).
The Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, enters into force Friday. Just three days later, the Twenty-Second Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22), kicks off in Marrakech, Morocco. But, discussion of fundamental issues of the Paris Agreement’s implementation such as transparency rules, climate finance or pre-2020 carbon cuts may be overshadowed—at least in the first few days—by the results of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election reports Climate Home.
When it comes to implementing the Paris Agreement, there’s a lot of negotiating left.
“Whilst Paris’ entry into force is great news it’s a bit of a shock for negotiators who weren’t expecting it for a few years yet,” said Camilla Born, a policy advisor at E3G. “Decisions on how the sequencing will work now that particular landmark has been brought forward will be made and negotiators will begin work on the rulebook in earnest. The rulebook will be crucial to ensure that countries are able to consistently track progress and create the best foundation for securing upward ambition moving forward.”
So what exactly is left to decide? For one, financing. There’s still uncertainty surrounding the pathway to mobilizing $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, the rules for reporting finance, and how to scale up adaptation finance.
A new report published by the Harvard Belfer Center features a collection of expert briefs—two penned by colleagues at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions—that addresses the opportunities for, and challenges to, elaborating, implementing, and complementing the Paris Agreement.
Study Highlights Significance of Limiting Warming for Mediterranean
The authors reached that conclusion on the basis of historical vegetation data and computer models, which they used to forecast the likely impact of climate change on the region under four greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, including two scenarios reflecting the two ends of the Paris Agreement’s global warming limit range—1.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They found that the region would avoid desertification only if global warming remains at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. Average global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times.
“With 2 degrees of warming, for the Mediterranean we will have a change in the vegetation which has never been known in the past 10,000 years,” said lead author Joel Guiot of Aix-Marseille University.
“The main message is really to maintain at less than 1.5C,” he added. “For that, we need to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases very quickly, and start the decreasing now, and not by 2020, and to arrive at zero emissions by 2050 and not by the end of the century.”
Sea Level Rise May be Underestimated
The longest and highest-quality records of historical ocean water levels may have underestimated the amount of global average sea level rise that occurred during the 20th century, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
“It’s not that there’s something wrong with the instruments or the data,” said Phillip Thompson, associate director of the University of Hawaii Sea Level Center in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, Manoa, “but for a variety of reasons, sea level does not change at the same pace everywhere at the same time. As it turns out, our best historical sea level records tend to be located where 20th century sea level rise was most likely less than the true global average.”
The authors, from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Hawaii, suggest it is “highly unlikely” global average sea level rose less than 5.5 inches during the 20th century—most likely rise was closer to 6.7 inches.
Climate change has entered a new phase, said the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Monday. The WMO reported that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) “surged again to new records in 2016,” and it predicted that the annual average for CO2 would remain above 400 parts per million (ppm), 44 percent higher than before the Industrial Revolution, for generations.
The 400 ppm threshold, a symbolic red line in the methodical march of greenhouse gas concentrations, was continuously breached for the first time in 2015—a rise driven largely by fossil fuel emissions and aided by a strong El Niño, which “triggered droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of sinks like forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2,” the WMO said. Last year’s jump in carbon dioxide was the largest annual increase on record (subscription).
“The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations.” “The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not . . . Without tackling carbon dioxide emissions, we cannot tackle climate change and keep temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Paris Agreement does indeed enter into force well ahead of schedule on 4 November and that we fast-track its implementation.”
Taalas added that improvements in the climate will be seen by 2060 if countries begin to lower their carbon dioxide emissions now.
Between 1990 and 2015, Earth experienced a 37 percent increase in radiative forcing—the warming effect on the climate—because of greenhouse gases from industrial, agricultural, and domestic activities, according to the WMO.
WMO’s announcement comes within a week of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s report that found September was the 11th consecutive month to set record high temperatures.
Study: Glacier Melt in Antarctica Could Help Predict Global Sea Level Rise
A number of research studies have suggested Antarctica’s ice is melting faster than previously thought, but two new studies may help better predict future Antarctica ice loss and global sea level rise. The studies examined the Pope, Kohler, and Smith glaciers—part of the Dotson and Crosson ice shelves—in West Antarctica.
“Our primary question is how the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica will contribute to sea level rise in the future, particularly following our observations of massive changes in the area over the last two decades,” said University of California Irvine’s Bernd Scheuchl, lead author on the first of the two studies published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “Using satellite data, we continue to measure the evolution of the grounding line of these glaciers, which helps us determine their stability and how much mass the glacier is gaining or losing. Our results show that the observed glaciers continue to lose mass and thus contribute to global sea level rise.”
A second study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that a significant portion of Antarctica is subject to “intense unbalanced melting” revealing high rates of ice loss from glaciers’ undersides. It also blames receding glacial grounding lines for the ice loss—spurred by an influx of warm ocean water beneath the ice shelves.
The glacier that saw the most melt, the study says, was Smith. It lost about 1,000 feet of ice between 2002 and 2009, which authors think is “a strong piece of evidence” that these glaciers, along with the larger Amundsen region, were subjected to a large influx of warm ocean water during that period.
“If I had been using data from only one instrument, I wouldn’t have believed what I was looking at, because the thinning was so large,” said author Ala Khazendar, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, noting how the work shows how important it is to understand both the ocean circulation and seabed topography when determining future melt and sea level rise.
IEA: Significant Renewables Growth Expected by 2021
The renewable energy market is growing around the world, according to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA). IEA raised its estimate of the amount of renewable energy on power grids 13 percent from its 2015 forecast. It forecasts a 825 gigawatt boost in capacity by 2021 (a 42 percent increase from today).
“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
The growth will mostly be driven by four countries: China, the U.S., India and Mexico. China is the leader.
“About half a million solar panels were installed every day around the world last year,” according to the report. “In China, which accounted for about half the wind additions and 40 percent of all renewable capacity increases, two wind turbines were installed every hour in 2015.”
In the United States over the next five years, renewable capacity is forecast to grow to 328.2 gigawatts from 221.1 gigawatts. During this period, solar PV is forecast to nearly triple—from 26.1 gigawatts to 77.5 gigawatts—and wind to grow nearly 71.5 percent.
“Renewables are and still remain dependent on policies … to create the right market rules and the right framework to attract investments,” said Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division.
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.
Thirty-one new countries formally agreed to join the Paris Agreement to reduce global emissions—bringing the total committed countries to 60. The Paris Agreement takes effect when it is formally adopted by at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, so far, these 60 country commitments only account for 48 percent of total global emissions.
Among the 31 countries who committed this week during Climate Week—a meeting in New York of international business and government leaders to examine progress toward meeting Paris Agreement goals—were Brazil, the world’s seventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Mexico, Argentina, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kiribati and Bangladesh.
“Today we also heard commitments from many other countries to join the agreement this year. Their combined emissions will take us well past the required amount for the agreement to enter into force,” said Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. “I am convinced that the Paris Agreement will enter into force before the end of 2016.”
Germany, Austria, Australia, and the United Kingdom are among the countries planning to formally join the agreement by the end of 2016.
“And in a demonstration of our commitment to the agreement reached in Paris, the U.K. will start its domestic procedures to enable ratification of the Paris agreement, and complete these before the end of the year,” said U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.
Ban Ki-Moon said he hopes the agreement, which aims to limit the global temperature rise to 2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels with an aspiration of keeping it to 1.5 Celsius, can come into force by the 22nd Conference of Parties in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November 2016.
Arctic Sea Ice Hits Second-Lowest Summer Measurement
Arctic ice levels have shrunk to their second-lowest recorded level, tying the 2007 minimum extent, according to a new report released by the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA)-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). On September 10, ice covered just 1.6 million square miles; the lowest level, 1.31 million square miles, was recorded September 17, 2012. Satellites have observed a trend of marked decrease since 1979.
“September Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade, relative to the 1981 to 2010 average,” NASA says.
According to NSIDC, all 10 of the lowest summer extents in the satellite record have occurred in the past 10 years. NASA, which released an animation depicting the evolution of the Arctic sea ice cover in 2016 from its wintertime maximum extent to its apparent yearly minimum, has called this pattern the “new normal” for Arctic ice.
“It was a stormy, cloudy, and fairly cool summer,” said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. “Historically, such weather conditions slow down the summer ice loss, but we still got down to essentially a tie for second lowest in the satellite record.”
NSIDC scientists suspect that the unusually thin sea ice pack melted from below by unusually mild ocean waters and that the ice loss may have been accelerated by a particularly notable late August ice breakup triggered by powerful storms.
“We’ve always known that the Arctic is going to be the early warning system for climate change,” Serreze said. “What we’ve seen this year is reinforcing that.”
He added that sometime in the next few decades the Arctic Ocean is headed for ice-free summers.
Poll Says Americans Care about Climate Change
Sixty-five percent of Americans think climate change is a problem that the government needs to address, according to a new survey by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Of those polled, 57 percent would pay at least $1 month, 39 percent would pay $10 a month and 20 percent would pay $50 a month to combat it.
Nearly 8 in 10 of the poll’s nearly 1,096 respondents indicated that the U.S. should maintain its commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce global emissions, even if other countries do not. The United States has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below the 2005 level in 2025, and to make “best efforts” to reduce emissions by 28 percent.
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.”
Surveys conducted by Yale University and George Mason University suggest that 17 percent of Americans view climate change as an alarming threat and that another 28 percent are concerned about climate change but view it as a distant threat.
The subject has become highly contentious since 1997, when then Vice President Gore helped broker an international treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, to reduce heat-trapping gases from the burning of coal, oil and gas. The U.S. later withdrew from the treaty.
“And at that moment the two parties began to divide,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, who was involved in the surveys. “They begin to split and go farther and farther and farther apart until we reach today’s environment where climate change is now one of the most polarized issues in America.”
Climate change will again be in the spotlight as a group of climate scientists gather in Switzerland to discuss a United Nation’s report expected to detail the impacts of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. In Paris last year, some 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. But there are scientific questions not only about the costs and benefits of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but also about how to remain on a 1.5 C pathway. The Huffington Post shows what the Paris Climate Agreement is up against in a series of charts.
What we do know is this decade is the critical decade for action.
“The risks of future climate change—to our economy, society and environment—are serious, and grow rapidly with each degree of further temperature rise,” the Australian government’s Climate Commission wrote in a report. “Minimising these risks requires rapid, deep and ongoing reductions to global greenhouse gas emissions. We must begin now if we are to decarbonize our economy and move to clean energy sources by 2050. This decade is the critical decade.”
And the Host City of the Summer 2084 Games Is . . .
A study published in The Lancet says that only three North American cities—San Francisco, Calgary, Vancouver—will have a climate sufficiently cool and stable to host the Summer Olympic games in 70 years. The authors, who considered only cities in the northern hemisphere, where 90 percent of the world’s population lives, and only those with a population greater than 600,000 in 2012, the lower limit of host cities since World War II, said that climate change would make most of the 645 cities unsafe venues due to rising temperatures and humidity caused by climate change.
“You could take a risk, and plan your Olympics, and maybe not get the hot days you expect, but that would be a big risk when there are many billions of dollars at stake,” said Kirk Smith, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the lead author of the study.
To measure the suitability of future Olympics sites, the researchers used climate change projections and a “wetbulb” globe temperature—a measurement reflecting the combination of humidity, heat radiation, temperature, and wind. They picked 2085 as a target date and as their target event what they considered the Olympics’ most physically challenging outdoor endurance event: the marathon. They selected 82.5 degrees Fahrenheit as the “high-risk” temperature for marathoners.
“The findings indicate that by 2085, Istanbul, Madrid, Rome, Paris and Budapest—all cities that are or were in contention for either the 2020 or 2024 Summer Olympics—would be unfit to host the games,” the authors said. “Tokyo, the city that has secured the 2020 summer Olympiad, would also be too hot to ensure athlete safety, should these projections come to pass.”
Which cities would be viable hosts? None in Latin America or Africa, 25 in western Europe, 5 in eastern Europe and Asia, and 3 in North America.
“If the world’s most elite athletes need to be protected from climate change, what about the rest of us?” the study concludes.
One of the most startling implications of the research is that temperatures will be too high for laboring outdoors, where half the world’s population works.
Truck Emissions Limits Set
New emissions requirements affecting heavy- and medium-duty vehicles, which represent only about 5 percent of total highway traffic but account for 20 percent of transportation-related fuel consumption and carbon emissions, were announced this week. The requirements call for as much as a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions and fuel consumption in certain models by 2027. It also requires annual increases in efficiency of 2.5% from 2021-2027 for heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans.
“The standards promote a new generation of cleaner, more fuel-efficient trucks by encouraging the development and employment of new and advanced cost-effective technologies through model year 2027,” said Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which developed the new rules in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “These standards are ambitious and achievable, and they will help ensure the American trucking industry continues to drive our economy — and at the same time protect our planet.”
Official say the new requirements are expected to cut 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon emissions through the next decade and represent a global benchmark for reducing vehicle-exhaust pollutants linked to climate change.