The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

For the first time in recorded history, Earth has sustained an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in excess of 410 parts per million—a symbolic red line in the methodical upward march of greenhouse gas concentrations. The April Keeling Curve measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory are 30 percent higher than the first Keeling Curve measurements, 315 parts per million, at the observatory in 1958, and 46 percent higher than concentrations recorded during the Industrial Revolution in 1880. They are the highest in the 800,000 years for which scientists have good data, thanks to paleoclimate records like tree rings and ice cores.

Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 Program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which monitors the readings and calculates the one-month averages, said the rate of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has been increasing faster in the last decade than in the 2000s.

“It’s another milestone in the upward increase in CO2 over time,” said Keeling, who is also the son of Charles David Keeling, creator of the Keeling Curve. “It’s up closer to some targets we don’t really want to get to, like getting over 450 or 500 ppm. That’s pretty much dangerous territory.”

Last year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate department reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2016 were at levels not seen on Earth for millions of years, when temperatures were 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and sea level was 50 to 80 feet higher than today.

Powelson Reflects on PJM Fuel Security Announcement, Defense Production Act

What are the primary drivers of change in the PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for a 13-state region? Technology and people. That was the message from air and energy regulators from states in the PJM electricity market at an event co-sponsored by the Great Plains Institute and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The event, keynoted by Robert Powelson of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), focused on change and the tensions revealed as different actors drive these changes or respond to their effects. Powelson reflected on PJM’s late April announcement that it will conduct a study to understand “fuel-supply risks in an environment trending towards greater reliance on natural gas.” PJM said it will conduct a three-phase analysis over several months to determine whether it can withstand a cyberattack on a natural gas delivery system or a prolonged cold snap.

Powelson cautioned that people should not read into PJM’s announcement that PJM may pay coal and nuclear generators to be backstops in the event of fuel delivery interruptions. “I think what PJM is saying is ‘we’re going to look at it and we’re going to do it in a market-based approach.’ There might be other technologies out there that have the same [fuel security] characteristics. It could be an oxidized fuel cell. It could be storage. It’s going to be a level playing field discussion. … It’s going to be done in a fuel-neutral, technology-neutral way.”

He called PJM’s capacity market proposal before FERC “a jump ball” aimed at neutralizing the effects of some state subsidies intended to prop up nuclear. PJM wants FERC to direct operators to update market compensation for power plants to reflect resilience attributes.

Powelson also touched on the U.S. Department of Energy plan to look into whether it can keep some struggling coal and nuclear plants operating by invoking the Defense Production Act—a 1950 law giving the president a broad range of power to require businesses to prioritize contracts for materials deemed vital to national security.

Invoking the act, Powelson said, “would lead to the unwinding of competitive markets in this country.”

Climate Talks Stall, U.N. Schedules Extra Sessions

As the latest round of Paris Agreement talks wind down May 10, delegates are marking their calendars for extra sessions to accomplish what they could not in Bonn, Germany, over the last two weeks: finalize the text of a rulebook for the agreement that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. On Monday, Executive Secretary of U.N. Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said producing a rulebook was impossible at the current conference.

“A single negotiating text. No,” said Espinosa. “That would really not be possible. It will all come together when it comes to the level of the COP [Conference of the Parties], of the conference in December.”

Given insufficient progress in Bonn, U.N. officials announced on Tuesday that they were adding a week-long session in Bangkok in September in order to meet the deadline for a rulebook at the main summit in Katowice, Poland, in December. Without that document, negotiators would have no basis for those talks.

Several issues stalled the Bonn negotiations. Most developed countries want to know how much climate funding they are committing to developing countries, which contributed the least to climate change but suffer its worst effects. They also want to understand how that funding will be adjusted to support countries’ progressive emissions reductions every five years. There is also pushback from developed countries on funding for climate impacts to which developing countries can no longer adapt.

At the Talanoa Dialogue, an international storytelling side event aimed at increasing global ambition to reduce climate change, State Department climate negotiator Kim Carnahan described President Donald Trump’s vision of a “balanced” global energy landscape and said the administration’s “position on the Paris Agreement remains unchanged,” a reference to Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. She maintained that the United States would ensure the viability of its nuclear power sector, currently its largest single source of no-carbon energy. Carnahan also noted the power sector carbon reductions that have accompanied increased natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing.

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.

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