The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump replaced a 2015 executive order that directed federal agencies to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, instead asking agencies to set their own goals for efficiency.

The original executive order, signed by former President Barack Obama in 2015, aimed to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent in a decade. To do so, it asked agencies to reduce buildings’ energy use by 2.5 percent per year, shrink water use and use clean energy for 25 percent of their energy needs.

The new Trump executive order directs federal agencies to follow the laws related to energy use enacted by Congress “in a manner that increases efficiency, optimizes performance, eliminates unnecessary use of resources, and protects the environment. In implementing this policy, each agency shall prioritize actions that reduce waste, cut costs, enhance the resilience of Federal infrastructure and operations, and enable more effective accomplishment of its mission.”

Although the new order requires agencies to track their efforts in lowering energy use, it does not require them to set goals to limit greenhouse gases.

Report Paints Picture of Sea-Level Rise Risks to National Park Service Sites

A new report from the National Park Service (NPS) projects the risk of climate change-related sea-level rise and storm surge for each of 118 NPS sites situated on or near U.S. coasts. Using datasets from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authors illustrate the potential for permanent coastal inundation and flooding under multiple greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Their research resulted in a collection of storm surge maps for each studied site.

According to those maps, the parks that will be hardest hit are along the southeast coastline. At risk for the highest sea-level rise is the NPS’s National Capital Region (Washington, D.C., area). At particular risk from storm surge are parks in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, within the Southeast Region.

“Human activities continue to release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm,” the report indicates. “Further warming of the atmosphere will cause sea levels to continue to rise, which will affect how we protect and manage our national parks.”

The authors highlight significant differences in how coastal areas in the vicinity of NPS sites will experience sea-level change—driven by factors such as variable ocean currents, coastal topography, and the influence of localized land elevation changes. Given those differences, the authors point to the need for site-specific information about local conditions that might influence sea-level rise and storm surge effects.

The final report makes multiple references to the role of humans in climate change. It became the subject of concern for science advocates and some in Congress after drafts obtained earlier this year by Reveal, the publication of The Center for Investigative Reporting, indicated that park service officials had removed those references.

China, NGOs Assess Paris Agreement Progress

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, could meet its pledge to cap carbon emissions ahead of its 2030 schedule, according to China’s chief negotiator on the Paris Agreement in late 2015. Xie Zhenhua said China has already met several objectives it promised to fulfill by 2020, including cutting its carbon intensity by 40 percent to 45 percent three years early.

The Paris Agreement 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. The deadline for completing the Paris Agreement’s “rule book” is the November climate summit in Katowice, Poland. The agreement itself goes live in 2020.

Ahead of the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties, a number of organizations and NGOs have assessed progress toward the Paris Agreement’s goals. NGO Mission 2020, in a new report, focuses on how to attain the 1.5 degree goal. It outlines six milestones it suggests are critical to enable global peaking of emissions by 2020, including cities and states implementing policies and regulations to fully decarbonize buildings and infrastructure by 2050 and investment in climate action that surpasses $1 trillion U.S. dollars per year.

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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Regional Grid Operators Weigh in on Resilience

On March 15, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Regional grid operators filed comments on efforts to enhance the resilience of the bulk power system in a proceeding initiated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) after rejecting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants. The comments by the nation’s federally overseen regional transmission organizations and independent system operators (ISOs) came in response to two dozen questions FERC asked about resilience.

The message of operators to FERC: allow them time to develop additional resilience measures and respect their existing efforts aimed at ensuring that grids can cope with man-made and natural disasters that pose a risk of electricity service disruption. None of the operators suggested that resilience requires preservation of uneconomical power plants. All appeared to be open to, in the words of the New York ISO, “additional dialogue regarding concepts for market-based resilience services and practices.”

Nevertheless, the PJM Interconnection filing departed from the other operator filings. In essence, PJM wants FERC to direct operators to update market compensation for power plants to reflect resilience attributes. The request comes amid concerns that PJM’s resilience filing and ongoing price reforms could basically have the same effect as the DOE subsidy proposal rejected by FERC in January—a proposal that would have benefited coal and nuclear generators.

Those concerns were echoed in a “joint statement on power market principles,” released last week by U.S. public power and rural electric co-ops, state utility advocates, wind and solar energy groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Council on Renewable Energy. The group asked FERC to apply technology-neutral and market-based solutions to the resilience docket.

The Perry proposal and the FERC proceeding it inspired are likely to lead to some kind of change. Last week at CERAWeek in Houston, FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre said the lack of compensation to power plants for resilience contributions would be of concern to FERC and a particularly complicated element of the proceeding. He also said that “only hypothetically is nothing an option. I will be very surprised if we go through all that process and take no action.”

At the heart of that action could be how FERC defines resilience. In its filing, the California ISO questioned FERC’s working definition of resilience. It wrote that FERC’s reliance order “does not address any potential overlap between resilience and reliability, clearly articulate the differences between the two, state why a new, wholly separate concept is needed, or indicate what specific requirements a resilient system must meet.”

Two of my colleagues at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions made a similar point last month, noting that whether resilience is “a stand-alone concept or just a component of the well-recognized concept of reliability” is a “foundational question”—one that spells the difference between new market and regulatory responses or tweaks to existing reliability mechanisms. They conclude that “A well-functioning market that clearly defines and values the attributes needed for grid reliability and resilience—in a fuel-neutral, technology-neutral fashion—will comply with the law and support both concepts.”

China Unveils Environmental Restructuring Plan

A draft plan, introduced Tuesday, reorganizes China’s government into a State Council composed of 26 ministries and commissions. Compared with the current setup, the number of ministerial-level entities is reduced by eight and that of vice-ministerial-level entities by seven.

One of the changes is renaming the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The new Ministry of Ecological Environment would take over responsibility for climate change policy and become the only entity in charge of policies related to climate change, water resource management, and pollution.

“China’s decision to create a new environment ministry in China, which includes the country’s climate change agenda, is a big shake up in the country but may well be a positive long-term development,” said Jackson Ewing, senior fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and adjunct associate professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy. “Although the practical impacts of China’s reorganization are not yet apparent, the Ministry for Ecological Environment appears poised to carry a strong mandate to strengthen the country’s air, water, soil and ecological focus.”

Tonny Xie, director of the Secretariat for the Clean Air Alliance of China noted that the change is “ … also a sign that China will continue the unprecedented commitment and investment to improve environmental quality in future, which will generate significant market potential for clean technologies.”

The plan, submitted by the government to parliament is expected to be approved this weekend after deliberations by the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.

China, the world’s largest polluter, is in the midst of launching a nationwide emissions trading system to set emissions quotas for companies in the power sector. Announced in December, the program could more than double the volume of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions covered by tax or tradable permit policy.

Trump Fires Tillerson, Nominates New Secretary of State

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the exit of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the nomination of Mike Pompeo, the present director of the CIA, to replace him.

“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump said. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK … So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.”

Tillerson stood as a lonely voice in the Trump administration urging the president not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a global treaty 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. But Trump announced last year that the United States would be the only nation in the world not party to the agreement, though it cannot formally withdraw until 2020.

As a former Congressman, Pompeo described the new 2015 Paris Agreement as a “costly burden” to the United States. He noted then that “Congress must also do all in our power to fight against this damaging climate change proposal and pursue policies that support American energy, create new jobs and power our economy.”

Pompeo will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing in April, but his path to confirmation is uncertain.

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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Complicated Economics Challenging Nuclear

On February 22, 2018, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Speaking at the International Petroleum Week conference in London on Wednesday, International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Director Fatih Birol voiced concerns that the United States and Europe aren’t investing enough in nuclear power, while China is charging ahead.

“China is coming back strong. Today there are about 60 nuclear power plants under construction and more than one third of them are in China,” said Birol, noting that U.S. leadership in nuclear power is threatened by two trends, few additions to nuclear capacity and no lifetime extensions for existing plants.

In The Conversation, I write about how policymakers must address increasingly precarious economics of nuclear power if it is to be part of a U.S. climate change strategy over the next century.

Many experts predict that Vogtle—now the only large-scale nuclear construction underway in the United States—will be the country’s last commissioned traditional light-water reactor. According to the Department of Energy, the cost of generating electricity from newly constructed nuclear plants is almost double that from a new natural gas combined-cycle plant.

Natural gas combined-cycle plants aren’t just outcompeting nuclear power on price. They also give power system operators flexibility to adjust quickly to the ebbs and flows of intermittent renewable sources, such as wind and solar power. Nuclear plants are designed to run more than 90 percent of the time, but they can’t ramp up or down on short notice.

It is hard to make a business case for building new nuclear plants, even in regulated states like Georgia and South Carolina, where utilities are allowed to recover construction costs from their customers. In deregulated Northeast and Midwest power markets, where generators compete to deliver electricity at the lowest cost, no new nuclear unit has been permitted for construction since 1977.

Many analyses suggest that nuclear generation is essential for reducing U.S. carbon emissions. In late 2016, the Obama administration published a Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization, designed to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent or more below 2005 levels by 2050. Every scenario called for expanding nuclear power. A 2016 study by the Rhodium Group, an international consulting company, projected that if all “at risk” U.S. nuclear plants retire by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. power sector will double from 2020 to 2030.

What’s the best way to resolve this tension between nuclear power’s failing market prospects and its importance to U.S. climate strategy? The Vogtle decision offers some lessons and demonstrates how proactive and aggressive strategies will be necessary to maintain nuclear power’s role in the electric grid and to avoid opening a gaping hole in U.S. climate change strategy.

FERC Attempts to Boost Grid Resilience with New Rules on Electric Storage Resources

In Utility Dive, Norman Bay, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and a senior fellow at Duke University, wrote that utilities and green groups can advance each other’s aims “if the power industry commits to an even cleaner grid in exchange for support from environmentalists on electrification.” Utilities need electrification to counter flat demand, Bay said, and environmentalists seek investments in technologies for a cleaner grid.

FERC may have just facilitated investments in one such “win-win” technology: energy storage. Last week FERC members unanimously approved rules to remove barriers to batteries and other storage resources in U.S. power markets, a potential game-changer for integration of renewables onto the grid.

FERC directed the regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) that run wholesale electricity markets to establish market rules that “properly recognize the physical and operational characteristics of electric storage resources” after finding in November 2016 that existing market rules created barriers to entry for those resources.

The new rules will “enhance competition and promote greater efficiency in the nation’s electric wholesale markets, and will help support the resilience of the bulk power system,” FERC said.

Under the rules, grid operators can use technologies such as batteries and flywheel systems to dispatch power, to set energy prices, and to offer capacity, energy, and ancillary services.

Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur called storage a “Swiss army knife” because of its capacity to provide energy alongside variable renewable generation, to regulate frequency, and to help defer distribution and transmission needs.

The new rules take effect 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. At that point, RTOs and ISOs have 270 days to provide compliance findings and then one year to implement tariff revisions.

Judge Orders DOE to Implement Energy Efficiency Standards

A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to put into effect energy efficiency standards adopted in the last days of the Obama administration. Last week’s ruling arose out of two lawsuits, one filed by 11 states and the other by environmental groups. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) now has 28 days to publish the standards in the Federal Register, which would make them legally enforceable.

The standards languished after the Trump administration failed to publish final efficiency standard rules. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said in his ruling that the DOE’s failure to publish the standards “is a violation of the department’s duties under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act.”

Chhabria said he would consider putting his ruling on hold if it was appealed by the DOE, which said it was “looking into next steps.”

The states in the suit (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Oregon and Washington) argued that the standards reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve enough energy to power some 19 million households for a year.

The new standards relate to appliances such as commercial packaged boilers as well as to portable air conditioners, air compressors, and “uninterruptible power supplies,” all three of which, according to the states’ lawsuit, lack a federal energy standard.

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.

China Announces Long-Awaited Carbon Market Plan

On December 21, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next week in observance of the holiday. It will return on January 4, 2018.

China, the world’s top polluter, unveiled plans for an emissions trading scheme on Tuesday.

This carbon market, which would allow facilities to trade credits for the right to emit planet-warming greenhouse gases, would initially start with China’s power sector. It would include approximately 1,700 utilities that each emit more than 26,000 tons of carbon a year—adding up to more than 3 billion tons of carbon emissions annually. Experts indicate it will take at least a year for the program to get underway, although the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) gave no hard deadlines for launch. Over time, China is expected to gradually tighten annual allocations to force up the emissions credit price.

“Everything is gradual, step by step,” said Li Junfeng, a senior government adviser on the carbon market plan.

Nine regions and cities, including Jiangsu, Fujian and seven regions with pilot schemes, will coordinate to establish the program, the NDRC said.

Although details of the market’s expansion have not yet been released, once the market is fully operational, it is expected to cover eight sectors: power; iron and steel; non-ferrous metals, such as aluminum; chemicals; petro-chemicals; paper; building materials; and civil aviation. Designed to encompass as much as 40 percent of the nation’s total emissions, the program aims to be more than twice the size of the European Union’s emissions trading scheme.

Efforts to Replace the Clean Power Plan Underway

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Clean Power Plan Monday, asking the public to comment on what a replacement rule might look like. In October, the Trump administration proposed repealing the Obama-era rule, which sets state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants.

“EPA is considering proposing emission guidelines to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing electric utility generating units (EGUs) and is soliciting information on the proper respective roles of the state and federal governments in that process, as well as information on systems of emission reduction that are applicable at or to an existing EGU, information on compliance measures, and information on state planning requirements under the Clean Air Act (CAA),” the notice reads.

The notice followed an announcement Friday that the EPA plans to terminate the rule in 10 months. The agency has suggested that it could have a replacement by October 2018. The news came as part of a broader Trump administration agenda to retract many environmental and other regulations.

Studies Strengthen Link between Human-Caused Climate Change and Some Extreme Weather

On the heels of an announcement by the Trump administration that climate change would be removed from the list of national security threats, new studies are pointing to further connections between global warming caused by human activities and past extreme weather events such as heat, drought, flooding and wildfire outbreaks.

A United Kingdom Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) analysis of 59 studies published in the last two years examined the influence of climate change on extreme weather. It suggests that warming worsened that weather in 70 percent of cases.

A separate group of studies published last week in Explaining Extreme Events in 2016 from a Climate Perspective, a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), analyzed 27 extreme weather events from 2016, the hottest year in recorded history, and found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of them.

Many of the BAMS studies found a strong likelihood of a human influence on extreme weather events but stopped short of saying they were outside the realm of natural variability, and not all of the studies linked 2016’s extreme events to human activity.

But it’s the first time in BAMS history that scientists have found some events that could not have occurred in the absence of global warming. According to the new reports, the three definitively human-caused extreme events in 2016 were the overall global temperature increase; record heat in Asia; and marine hot spots in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea (where a mass of warm ocean water has been dubbed “the Blob”) and off the coast of northern Australia.

“For years, scientists have known humans are changing the risk of some extremes,” said Jeff Rosenfeld, BAMS editor in chief (subscription). “But finding multiple extreme events that weren’t even possible without human influence makes clear that we’re experiencing new weather, because we’ve made a new climate.”

 

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

Two laws signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will ratchet up California’s fight against climate change by launching efforts to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. SB-32 calls for increased renewable energy use, more electric cars, improved energy efficiency, and emissions cuts from key industries. AB-197 provides aid to low-income or minority communities located near polluting facilities and creates a legislative committee to oversee regulators, giving lawmakers a greater voice in how climate goals are met.

“What we are doing is farsighted and far-reaching,” said Brown  at the bill’s signing. “I hope it sends a message across the country.”

The new legislation extends the state’s 2006 climate change law, which imposed limits on the carbon content of gasoline and diesel fuel and introduced a cap-and-trade program for polluters. It does not address the cap-and-trade program, which provides economic incentives to companies that achieve reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases. For each ton of greenhouse gases emitted, companies covered by the cap-and-trade program must purchase a permit. The state issues a limited number of permits through quarterly auctions.

Permit sales fizzled during the last two quarterly permit auctions, reports ABC News, but state officials say they are still on track to meet emissions goals. Brown has said the new legislation could provide leverage to convince businesses to support extension of the cap-and-trade program after 2020. If lawmakers don’t act to reauthorize the program soon, Brown said he might try putting the matter before voters in 2018.

Studies: Air Pollution Causes Premature Deaths, Lingers in Brain

Some 87 percent of the world’s population lives in areas affected by air pollution, which a joint study by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) finds is the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths worldwide. In 2013, the most recent year for which relevant estimates are available, indoor and outdoor air pollution caused 5.5 million premature deaths globally and imposed an economic cost in lost wages alone of $225 billion.

“Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital and constrains economic growth,” said Laura Tuck, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank. “We hope this study will translate the cost of premature deaths into an economic language that resonates with policymakers so that more resources will be devoted to improving air quality.”

GDP losses due to air pollution are significant, according to the World Bank-IHME report. It estimates that in 2013 China lost nearly 10 percent of its GDP, India, 7.69 percent, and Sri Lanka and Cambodia, roughly 8 percent. Welfare costs to developed countries were also high—about $45 billion to the United States. China suffered the highest welfare losses—about $1.5 trillion—followed by India at about $505.

And a separate study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that industrial air pollution leaves magnetic particles in the brain. Because unusually high concentrations of these “magnetite” are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the findings raise the specter of an alarming new environmental risk factor for this and other neurodegenerative diseases.

“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes,” said the Lancaster Environment Center’s Barbara Maher, who led the new research.

Research Examines Increase in Methane Emissions

Scientists around the world have been trying to figure out whether oil and gas production, particularly a boom in that production in the United States, could be responsible for the global rise in methane since 2007. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences adds to the debate (subscription).

“What’s going on in the gas and oil sector has been the big question with methane,” said lead author Andrew Rice, a researcher at Portland State University. “It’s not settled, but we give some new pieces to the puzzle.”

The study suggests that since the 1980s leaks by the fossil fuel industry have been increasing—by an average of 24 megatons per year. The increase went up in 2000 when methane emissions from biomass burning and rice cultivation decreased.

“We were kind of surprised by these results, to be completely honest,” Rice said. “I’d say up until our work, the evidence was showing that [fugitive] fossil fuel emissions were decreasing, based on ethane data.”

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

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said on Monday that Arctic sea ice cover of 5.607 million square miles on March 24 represented the lowest winter maximum since records began in 1979. That’s 5,000 square miles less than last year’s record low. Contributing to the ice extent loss were record high air temperatures and relatively warm seawater.

“It is likely that we’re going to keep seeing smaller wintertime maximums in the future because in addition to a warmer atmosphere, the ocean has also warmed up,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “That warmer ocean will not let the ice edge expand as far south as it used to. Although the maximum reach of the sea ice can vary a lot each year depending on winter weather conditions, we’re seeing a significant downward trend, and that’s ultimately related to the warming atmosphere and oceans.”

After this winter’s record ice lows, scientists expect the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer months in the next few decades.

“Sometime in the 2030s or 2040s time frame, at least for a few days, you won’t have ice out there in the dead of summer,” said John Walsh, chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Centre. “The balance is shifting to the point where we are not going back to the old regime of the 1980s and 1990s. Every year has had less ice cover than any summer since 2007. That is nine years in a row that you would call unprecedented. When that happens you have to start thinking that something is going on that is not letting the system go back to where it used to be.”

The effects of diminishing sea ice may not be limited to just the Arctic.

“The Arctic is in crisis,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist. “Year by year, it’s slipping into a new state, and it’s hard to see how that won’t have an effect on weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere.”

A new paper in the Journal of Climate linked the vanishing Arctic sea ice, along with other sea ice melting and global sea-level rise, to climate change. The authors, who used computer models and field measurements to explore whether Arctic sea ice loss has contributed to melting of the Greenland ice sheet, say that melting Arctic sea ice can block cold, dry Canadian air, increasing the flow of warm, moist air over Greenland and contributing to extreme heat events and surface ice melting. If the Greenland ice sheet completely melted, the paper says, the global sea level would rise about 20 to 23 feet.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Files Brief Defending Clean Power Plan

The D.C. Circuit is set to begin hearing oral arguments challenging the Clean Power Plan—the Obama administration’s rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the existing fleet of fossil fuel-fired power plants—in June. On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed its defense of the Clean Power Plan, telling the court that the rule is well within the bounds of its authority (subscription). Dozens of states and industry groups last month called the rule a “breathtaking expansion” of the power Congress gave the EPA—with the Clean Air Act—to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

“The rule reflects the eminently reasonable exercise of EPA’s recognized statutory authority,” the EPA brief says. “It will achieve cost-effective [carbon dioxide] reductions from an industry that has already demonstrated its ability to comply with robust pollution-control standards through the same measures and flexible approaches. The rule fulfills both the letter and spirit of Congress’s direction.”

It is expected that whichever side loses in June will appeal to the Supreme Court, which in February issued a stay—sending the rule back to the D.C. Circuit Court.

Renewable Energy Investment Outpaced Other Technologies: Study

Investment in renewable energy generation last year was higher than in new coal- and gas-fired power plants, according to a new report from the Frankfurt School-United Nations Environment Programme collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). In fact, renewables added more to global energy generation capacity than all other technologies combined—though they still only account for 10 percent of global electricity production.

“Global investment in renewables capacity hit a new record in 2015, far outpacing that in fossil fuel generating capacity despite falling oil, gas, and coal prices,” said Michael Liebreich, chair of the BNEF advisory board. “It has broadened out to a wider and wider array of developing countries, helped by sharply reduced costs and by the benefits of local power production over reliance on imported commodities.”

All investment in renewables—which includes new renewable energy capacity as well as early-stage technology, research and development—totaled $286 billion in 2015. That’s roughly 3 percent higher than the previous record set back in 2011.

Countries contributing some of the most to these numbers included China, which in 2015 invested $102.9 billion (a 17 percent increase from 2014), representing 36 percent of the global investment total; Chile ($3.4 billion, a 151 percent increase), India ($10.2 billion, a 22 percent increase), Mexico ($4 billion, a 105 percent increase) and South Africa ($4.5 billion, a 329 percent increase).

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.

Majority Calls for More Ambitious Deal in Paris

On December 10, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

More than 100 countries, including the United States, Colombia, Mexico, and the European Union, have formed a “high ambition coalition” in an effort to secure a final agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. But members will not be satisfied with merely reaching a final agreement—they want an ambitious solution that includes a mechanism to review and raise countries’ emissions commitments every five years, that creates a unified tracking system to monitor countries’ progress on meeting their emissions goals, that recognizes the proposed 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature goal, and that contains a climate finance package.

“This is an ambition coalition,” said Giza Gaspar Martins, chair of the group of the 48 most vulnerable countries to climate change. “This is also a coalition that is open to recognizing the difficulties of others, because alone, we can’t achieve that high mitigation ambition that we have.”

European climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said the newly released draft text for the climate deal was not “bold enough, and not ambitious enough.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in address to the conference, echoed the need for a more in the final text. “We didn’t come to Paris to build a ceiling that contains all that we ever hope to do,” he said. “We came to Paris to build a floor on which we can and must altogether continue to build.”

Negotiations are now happening around the clock in the final days of the conference, set to wrap up Dec.11.  Nearly every country has declared discontent with the current draft, but none are rejecting the agreement either.

United States Attempts to Spur Momentum on Paris Talks with Funding Announcement

Yesterday the United States announced a doubling of the grant funding it provides to help developing countries adapt to climate change, a pledge that Reuters reports might help “clinch a climate pact.” The pledge announced by Secretary of State John Kerry is part of what the United States views as its contribution to a promise made in 2009 by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private money by 2020 to deal with impacts such as droughts, flooding, and sea level rise. The $860 million, which must be approved by Congress, would come from the State Department and Treasury budgets and would be distributed through both U.S. mechanisms, such as USAID, and multi-lateral systems like the Green Climate Fund.

“If we just continue down our current path, with too many people sitting on their hands and waiting for someone else to take responsibility, the damage is going to increase exponentially,” Kerry said. “To cut to the chase: Unless the global community takes bold steps now to transition away from a high-carbon economy, we are facing unthinkable harm to our habitat, our infrastructure, our food production, our water supplies, and potentially to life itself.”

The announcement appeared intended to give momentum to talks stalled by resistance by China and India to an outside monitoring system for emissions and to submission to a review process for pollution reduction plans.

“This impasse has slowed progress to a crawl, with the U.S. lacking leverage and China and India seemingly content to wait out the process,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton administration climate adviser who is attending the talks. “The decision to double U.S. adaptation funding itself is a strategic play to head off loss and damage calls by developing nations. This is why Kerry is pushing these lines right now.”

Study: Worldwide Carbon Emissions May Fall in 2015

As ministers work on a deal to cut post–2020 carbon emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that growth in those emissions has stalled, at least temporarily. Specifically, the authors say that in 2015 worldwide greenhouse gas emissions will fall, marking the first time they will have done so during a period of substantial economic growth. The reason? A decrease in coal consumption by China as well as increased use of renewables and decreased growth in demand for oil and gas. But it isn’t clear whether the decrease in China’s emissions is temporary due to the slowing economy or long-term due to changes in how the country consumes energy.

Using preliminary data through October 2015, the authors projected that total carbon emissions this year will be down by 220 million tons. But the decrease—0.6 percent—is so small that it may not be a decrease and could actually be a slight increase because of the margin of error. Nevertheless, the figure appears to mark a departure from an average annual growth of 2.4 percent over the last decade.

Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia and one of the paper’s authors, said that the Chinese think their emissions are going to rise, suggesting a resumption of an upward trajectory. Moreover, the emissions of India, which has emerged as a key player at the Paris talks, are likely to have risen 6.7 percent this year. The study authors warned that for global emissions to peak soon, part of India’s new energy—designed to spur economic growth and connect 300 million people to the grid—must come from low-carbon sources. And even more must be done to avoid dangerous climate change.

“Global emissions need to decrease to near zero to achieve climate stabilization,” said Le Quéré. “We are still emitting massive amounts of CO2 annually—around 36 billion tonnes from fossil fuels and industry alone. There is a long way to near zero emissions. Today’s news is encouraging, but world leaders at COP21 need to agree on the substantial emission reductions needed to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.”

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a joint statement on Monday, China and France signaled that any deal reached at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, Nov. 30–Dec. 11, should include five-year reviews of emissions reductions commitments in order to “reinforce mutual confidence and promote efficient implementation.” The two countries also called for an “ambitious and legally binding” deal that will allow global warming to be limited to two degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels—the United Nations-declared threshold for avoiding the most dangerous climate change impacts—and they made a bilateral commitment to formulate low-carbon strategies within the next five years.

The statement was released during a visit by French President François Hollande to China in a bid to persuade Beijing to propel negotiations ahead of the Paris talks. As the world’s largest polluter, China—which has promised to cap its emissions by 2030 but has not yet said at what level—will be a key actor given disputes over whether developed or developing countries should bear a greater emissions reduction burden. New government data indicating that China is annually burning 17 percent more coal than thought will increase the complexity and urgency of achieving its emissions pledge.

The 55-page negotiating text forwarded to Paris at the conclusion of the latest round of talks in Bonn, Oct. 23, left unresolved the fundamental issues plaguing the climate agreement process for decades: common but differentiated responsibility for dealing with climate change impacts and poorer countries’ demands for climate adaptation finance.

The two issues were front and center at a meeting on Saturday of China, South Africa, Brazil, and India that was meant to produce a joint negotiating scheme. In a statement reiterating their “unequivocal commitment towards a successful outcome at the Paris Climate Change Conference through a transparent, inclusive and Party-driven process,” the four countries said that “existing institutions and mechanisms created under the Convention on adaptation, loss and damage, finance and technology should be anchored and further strengthened in the Paris agreement.”

The statement came just after the last major pre-Paris gathering of Pacific island nations, which produced a collective plea for help in addressing the health impacts of climate change (subscription).

U.N. Report on Emissions Pledges: More Cuts Needed

A new United Nations report finds that, if fully implemented, countries’ collective pledges toward a new international climate change agreement would eliminate 4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere by 2030—not enough to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (C) over preindustrial levels but sufficient to greatly improve the chances of meeting that goal (subscription). The report is based on a review of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) of 146 countries that collectively cover 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN’s climate agency, said in a statement with the report. She added that the INDCs are “not the final word” but do indicate a global decarbonization effort.

The European Union’s Joint Research Centre, which did its own review based on the plans of 155 countries representing some 90 percent of global emissions, put the increase at 3 degrees Celsius.

The UN report points to a sobering conclusion regarding the so-called carbon budget: approximately three-quarters of that budget will have been spent by 2030. Moreover, the report suggests that the world is losing out on the cheapest path to keeping warming under 2 C. That path would require emissions in 2030 to be no more than 41.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e), far lower than the 56.7 GtCO2e indicated by the UN analysis.

In a blog post, Paul Bodnar, the top climate official in the White House’s National Security Council, focused on the decelerated emissions growth indicated by the INDCs. He wrote that the UN report shows that the pledges to date “represent a substantial step up in global action and will significantly bend down the world’s carbon pollution trajectory. The targets are projected to significantly slow the annual growth rate in emissions—including a major decrease in rate compared to the most recent decade.”

Clean Power Plan: Latest Legal Developments

On Tuesday, 23 states submitted a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to strike down a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule establishing carbon dioxide emissions standards for new and modified power plants (subscription). Those same states, plus Colorado and New Jersey, have already challenged emissions standards for existing power plants. On Wednesday, the legal brawl expanded when 18 states led by New York and several cities submitted their own petition asking to defend the U.S. Environmental Protection’s Clean Power Plan (subscription).

A court ruling on whether to stay implementation of the regulation will come after the UN climate negotiations in Paris. According to a timeline announced last week, final stay motions are due today, the EPA has until Dec. 3 to respond, and final reply briefs are due Dec. 23, followed by as-yet-unscheduled oral arguments.

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.

China Announces Cap-and-Trade Program

On October 1, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On his visit to Washington last week, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced that his country, the world’s biggest carbon polluter, will launch a national cap-and-trade scheme in 2017. The move would make China the world’s biggest carbon market and could strengthen global efforts to put a price on carbon.

The planned emissions trading program will consolidate China’s seven existing regional carbon markets and cover industries not currently regulated for carbon in the United States: iron and steel, chemicals, building materials, and paper manufacturing.

China has yet to announce specifics of its cap-and-trade plan, which will face political and technical challenges. “The devil of course is in the details,” said Timmons Roberts, a professor of environmental studies at Brown University. “It really does matter what the actual cap is.” He added that limits leading to a pre-2030 emissions peak would be a huge move.

Frank Jotzo, the director of the Center for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra and a close tracker of developments in China said the national emissions trading scheme will have a major signaling effect. “The world’s second-largest economy puts in place a price on carbon emissions, and this will be noted the world over,” he said. “If successful, it can grow into playing a major role in facilitating China’s objectives for a cleaner energy and industrial system.”

Jinping’s announcement occasioned this ironic observation in The Atlantic in reference to Republicans’ rejection of a cap-and-trade proposal in Obama’s first term, which led to enactment of climate control policy through regulation of the electric power industry in the form of the Clean Power Plan: “China, the largest self-avowedly communist nation in the world, has created a market to reduce its carbon emissions. And the U.S., the anchor of global capitalism, will limit them through government command-and-control.”

China also made a substantial financial commitment to help poor countries fight climate change—$3.1 billion.

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals Adopted

The United Nations General Assembly agreed to 17 new sustainable development goals, which expand on the eight Millennium Development Goals. The new goals are broken down into 169 specific targets each country has committed to achieve over the next 15 years. They focus on everything from eradicating extreme poverty and climate change to providing energy access for all.

Goal 7 is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Two targets to put the world on this path are to increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix and to double the rate of improvement of energy efficiency by 2030.

World Energy Council Secretary General Christoph Frei welcomed the agreement on the goals. “The adoption of energy among sustainable development goals is timely, critical, and historic,” he said. “Timely because we need to master the energy transition at a time of greatest uncertainty in the energy sector. Critical because we will not solve energy access or achieve energy efficiency objectives without moving the agenda from those who want to those who can. Historic because the development community for the first time recognizes the fundamental role energy is playing in the achievement of most of the other sustainable development goals.”

Goal 13 is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. A few targets to get there—integrate climate change measure into national policies, strategies and planning as well as advance the Green Climate Fund—requiring developed countries to follow through on commitments to provide $100 billion by 2020 to aid developing nations’ efforts to adapt and mitigate climate-related disasters.

With the adoption of the 17 goals, attention now turns to the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris—where member states hope to adopt a global climate agreement. In a CNN editorial, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, said all could take a lesson from Pope Francis’s message on climate change.

“Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, clearly articulated that climate change is a moral issue, and one of the principal challenges facing humanity,” said Ban Ki-Moon, mentioning the Pope’s recent visit to the U.S. where he address the U.N. and Congress. “He rightly cited the solid scientific consensus showing significant warming of the climate system, with the most global warming in recent decades mainly a result of human activity.”

Shell Suspends Arctic Drilling

Royal Dutch Shell suspended its search for oil and gas off the coast of Alaska for the “foreseeable future,” saying that Arctic oil reserves were insufficient and that the regulatory environment was too unpredictable to continue.

“Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the U.S.,” said Marvin Odum, president of Shell USA. “However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

Although the decision was celebrated by some environmental activists who had protested Shell’s decision to drill offshore, it should give people on both sides pause, Mike LeVine of Oceana told U.S. News and World Report.

“Meaningful action to address climate change is almost certainly going to mean we can’t keep looking for oil in remote and expensive places,” he said. “Rather than investing in programs like this, we need to figure out how to transition away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy.”

Alaska House of Representatives member Ben Nageak told the Associated Press that the state must act quickly to find another source to fill its 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

“We stood on the cusp of another economic boom that could have propelled our young people and their children to better futures,” Nageak said. But “a draconian and poisoned federal government” shut it down.

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

Cities in China and the United States pledged to take ambitious steps to address climate change at the state and local level in the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Declaration this week.

In China, 11 cities will peak greenhouse gas emissions—some as early as 2020—to eliminate nearly 25 percent of China’s urban total carbon pollution. In the United States, pledges from 18 cities range from carbon neutrality to carbon reduction. Seattle plans to be carbon neutral by 2050. Houston commits to a 42 percent reduction by 2016 and to 80 percent by 2050 (based on a 2007 baseline). Los Angeles aims for reductions of 45 percent by 2025, 60 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 (based on a 1990 baseline).

In addition to these greenhouse gas targets, the declaration also conveys intentions to regularly report emissions and to establish climate plans to reduce them.

“The commitments that the Chinese and American cities are taking … are a very important component of our broader efforts to deepen climate cooperation and to show that … the two largest emitters in the world are taking seriously our obligation to meet the ambitious goals that we set out last year,” said Brian Deese, a senior adviser to President Obama. He noted that the declaration builds on a climate change deal reached in November by Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping last year. That deal called for the United States to lower greenhouse gas emissions as much as 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China agreed to peak emissions by 2030.

The pledges come a little more than two months before nations gather for international climate negotiations Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris—a meeting intended to produce a deal that would commit all nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the 62 climate commitments leading up to the COP—may not be enough to keep global warming to the 2-degree Celsius threshold recommended by the United Nations, said U.N. Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. Her “guestimate” of the pledges, which cover approximately 70 percent of global emissions, is that they would equate to 3-degrees Celsius of warming, compared with pre-industrial levels.

Met Office Report Predicts Warmer Times to Come

The same week researchers released a study finding that the snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada has shrunk to a 500-year low, the U.K. government agency that studies global weather patterns released a peer-reviewed report suggesting the world is moving into a warming trend.

Several global changes, the Met Office says, are occurring simultaneously to cause the change. One is El Nino—warm bands of ocean water in the central and east-central Pacific—which is expected to occur this year and to be particularly strong.

“We know natural patterns contribute to global temperature in any given year, but the very warm temperatures so far this year indicate the continued impact of increasing greenhouse gases,” said Stephen Belcher, head of the Met Office Hadley Centre. “With the potential that next year could be similarly warm, it’s clear that our climate continues to change.”

Southern Ocean’s Carbon-Storing Capacity Increases, but for How Long?

A new study in Science finds that the Southern Ocean carbon sink has been reinvigorated, helping limit climate change. Its uptake of greenhouse gases stalled in the 1980s but roughly doubled to 1.2 billion tonnes—equivalent to the European Union’s annual man-made greenhouse gas emissions—between 2002 and 2011.

“It’s good news, for the moment,” Nicolas Gruber, an author of the study at Swiss university ETH Zurich, told Reuters. But he said it was unclear how long the higher rate of absorption by the Southern Ocean, the strongest ocean region for mopping up carbon, would last. Moreover, increased carbon dioxide could be bad news for marine life because, once absorbed in water, some of it becomes carbonic acid, which disrupt shellfishes’ ability to grow their protective shells.

Gruber and his colleagues analyzed 2.6 million measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the surface waters of the Antarctic Ocean made by ships over three decades. They concluded that the ocean’s carbon uptake fluctuates strongly, rather than increasing monotonically in response to the growing atmospheric CO2 concentration. Wind and temperature changes appear to drive these shifts, which are linked to low-pressure systems in the Pacific and high pressure over the Atlantic section of the Southern Ocean.

Peter Landschützer, a postdoctoral researcher involved in the study, said existing models can’t predict how patterns will change in the future, “so it is very critical to continue measuring the surface ocean CO2 concentrations in the Southern Ocean.” Currently, long-term datasets are the only reliable means for determining the evolution of the ocean’s carbon-storing capacity.

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.