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January 08 2014


NY Governor Launches $17B Plan to Enhance Resiliency to Extreme Weather

Hammered by an unprecedented nine federally declared disasters since he took office three years ago and with much of the state now frozen solid as a result of the southward drifting polar vortex, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled details of a far reaching rebuilding plan that aims to enhance New York state’s resiliency to climate change and its emergency preparedness.

Dubbed “Reimagining New York for a New Reality,” the $17 billion plan will see the state invest a wide range of projects “that will transform New York’s infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, weather warning system and emergency management system to better protect New Yorkers from future extreme weather,” the governor’s office explained in a press release.

Credit: New York State Office of the Governor

Extreme weather is “The New Reality”

Along with its own funds, the state government is putting federal disaster funds granted in response to 2012′s Superstorm Sandy and 2011′s Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee to work to implement the far reaching plan to enhance New York’s climate change resiliency and emergency preparedness. Its key aspects include:

  • Building the most advanced weather detection system in the nation, with 125 interconnected weather stations to provide real-time warnings of local extreme weather and flood conditions;
  • Launching the nation’s first College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity;
  • Replacing and repairing 104 older bridges at risk due to increasing flooding;
  • Implementing the largest reconstruction of the state’s transit system in 110 years with $5 billion of federal funds;
  • Creating a statewide Strategic Fuel Reserve, and statewide gas station back-up power on critical routes throughout the state;
  • Hardening the state’s electric grid and creating 10 “microgrids” (independent community-based electric distribution systems);
  • Building new natural infrastructure to protect the New York’s coastline, and provide advanced flood control for inland waterways;
  • Training a new Citizen First Responder Corps to make New York residents the best prepared in the nation to deal with emergencies and disasters; and
  • Expanding the $650 million NY Rising Community Reconstruction program to allow 124 communities around the state to create their own individualized storm resilience plans.
  • Issuing special license plates for first responders

Avoiding climate change catastrophe

Besides enhancing New York’s emergency preparedness and climate change resiliency, carrying out the $17 billion plan is sure to provide the state economy with a big, much needed, economic boost.

Unveiling the strategic plan at a press conference in Albany, the state capitol, Governor Cuomo highlighted the new reality of more frequent extreme weather events and recounted the unprecedented disruption and devastation that resulted, both downstate, in and around New York City, as well as across the length and breadth of upstate New York.

Of the one-year process that resulted in creation of the plan, the governor stated,

“This was a special challenge for us, because it called for us to literally reimagine the state in light of what we went through with Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy, storms Irene and Lee, and taking those lessons, and taking really that trauma, and reshaping our vision of New York through that experience. We call it ‘Reimagining New York’ because we are now facing a new reality after what we went through.”


“Extreme weather is the new reality, like it or not. What caused it is a separate discussion for a separate day, but the reality is extreme weather and we have to deal with it.”

The governor also acknowledged that the plan couldn’t have come to fruition without extraordinary support and assistance from the Obama Administration and federal government, as well as local leaders throughout New York State.

Joining Governor Cuomo at the press conference, Vice President Joe Biden praised the plan and Governor Cuomo. “Governor, I am delighted to be able to be here with you today,” the vice president began.

“I think you rebuilding New York, reimagining a future is exactly what we have to do in this country. And once again, in the tradition of this state and the tradition of Andrew Cuomo, you’re leading. You’re not just leading in New York, you’re leading the country. And I think a lot of governors and a lot of folks can learn an awful lot from what they see and what you do here.”

For more on this, check out the Office of the Governor’s press release or watch the press conference below:

Image credit: New York State Office of the Governor

The post NY Governor Launches $17B Plan to Enhance Resiliency to Extreme Weather appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 10 2013


EPA Launches 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on December 5 released its 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan as it looks to build on four years of efforts to streamline operations, cut expenditures, and reduce waste and the carbon footprint of federal government operations.

The inaugural Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan for the federal government was produced in October 2009 in the wake of President Obama issuing Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, which set “aggressive targets for reducing waste and pollution in Federal operations by 2020,” according to an EPA press release.

The EPA launches its Strategic Sustainability Performance PlanThe Federal government’s Green Economy leadership

Strengthening the federal government’s leadership in forging a “greener,” more dynamic economic model, the President this past June launched the nation’s first Climate Action Plan.

Coincident with the release of EPA’s 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, the President on December 5 issued a Presidential Memorandum that further reduces federal government waste and pollution by setting a target of more than doubling the amount of renewable energy consumed to 20% by 2020.

The 2013 Strategic Sustainability Plan adds impetus to and seeks to realize the aims of these initiatives, providing “an overview of how the agency is saving taxpayer dollars, reducing carbon emissions, and saving energy.

“Meeting this renewable energy goal will reduce pollution in our communities, promote American energy independence, and support homegrown energy produced by American workers,” the EPA stated.

As the EPA highlighted, in just the past four years, the Obama Administration’s waste, energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives have:

  • Reduced energy use by almost 8 percent; allowing EPA to avoid $1.5 million in utility costs annually. Compared to the 2003 baseline, EPA has reduced energy by more than 25 percent
  • Used renewable energy and purchased Green Power Renewable Energy Credits equal to 100 percent of its conventional electricity use. Use of Green Power, coupled with energy conservation and fleet management efforts, reduce EPA Scope 1 and 2 Greenhouse Gas emissions by nearly half from FY 2008 levels.
  • Reduced annual water use by more than 25 percent – that’s more than 30 million gallons per year.

The principal goals the EPA aims to achieve in the 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan include:

  • Pursuing reconstruction of key EPA research infrastructure. Projects completed at the Cincinnati, OH, A.W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center, EPA’s second largest research center, have already reduced energy use by more than 30 percent.
  • Consolidating the Research Toxicology Laboratory in Durham, NC into the Main laboratory at Research Triangle Park, NC. This project will reduce agency rent costs, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and result in a net reduction in EPA space without impacting research capacity.
  • Continuing work on EPA’s award winning water conservation program.

The EPA has published Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans for federal agencies online.

The post EPA Launches 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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September 03 2013


A Roadmap of a Roadmap for a Sustainable, Fossil-Fuel Free Central America

Credit: Costa Rica News

Credit: Costa Rica News

A rapid transition to sustainable, fossil fuel-free Central American economies and societies powered and fueled entirely by renewable energy resources is not only technically possible and cost effective, but would be socioeconomically beneficial, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, with support from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and Costa Rica’s INCAE Business School.

Central American governments and societies continue to try to cope with, manage and address deep seated socioceconomic and environmental problems and improve overall living standards and quality of life for fast growing populations. While contributing little in the way of global greenhouse gas emissions (they’re in fact ‘frontrunners’ when it comes to renewable energy use), Central American countries – as is true for all nations around the world — are nonetheless increasingly challenged to address the effects and potential threats climate change and ecosystems degradation pose to their economies and societies.

Though unique in significant aspects, Central America can serve as a microcosm for the state of regional and global affairs when it comes to energy policies, markets, industry and investment, and their ramifications across societies and the ecosystems upon which they ultimately depend. While blessed with an abundance of untapped renewable energy resource potential, Central American governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels heavily. Energy policies, incentives and practices that lock in and assure ongoing fossil fuel dependence and more in the way of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions remain in place, increasing the threats and costs.

It doesn’t have to, and indeed should not, be that way, according to authors of “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America.” Whether or not unaccounted for costs to the health and integrity of society and ecosystems are factored into policy and investment decisions, the high, and growing, costs of fossil fuel reliance are becoming increasingly clear and real. So are the benefits, and cost effectiveness, of making a rapid transition to complete reliance on a diversified mix of renewable energy resources.

A “Roadmap of a Roadmap” for sustainable energy, economies & societies

“The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” Wordlwatch Institute, CDKN, INCAE

The first phase of a holistic and comprehensive initiative to develop “a roadmap of a roadmap” for sustainable energy, economic and social development, “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” assesses the status of renewable energy technologies in Central America, “scopes the improvements that need to happen with regard to the key components of a sustainable energy system and establishes the necessary methodology and groundwork for comprehensive national energy strategies,” Worldwatch explains in a press release.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Central America, long a frontrunner in hydropower and geothermal energy, is exploring its potential for expanding these technologies in a more sustainable manner while also developing other renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, biofuels, and agricultural waste. Costa Rica is leading the world in its ambition to be “carbon neutral” by 2021.
  • Still, as the economies of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama expand, use of fossil fuels is on the rise, while the use of fuelwood, primarily for cooking, continues to be unsustainably high.
  • Across the region, an estimated 7 million people still have limited or no access to electricity services. Renewables are the only convincing and affordable solution to provide underserved communities that are far from existing grids with access to modern energy services.
  • Central America’s non-hydro renewable electricity share is 13 percent, impressive when compared to the global average of only 5 percent. The urgent challenge for the region is to build on past successes and avoid locking in economically, socially, and environmentally costly fossil fuels for decades to come.
  • The potentials for renewables are enormous: Geothermal alone could satisfy nearly twice the region’s predicted electricity demand through 2020. Existing regional wind powerinstallations currently use less than 1% of the available resource potential. Solar and biomass have enormous potentials throughout the region.
  • Despite their sustainable energy ambitions and policy statements, the seven countries of Central America have been unable to comprehensively design, synchronize, and implement the program of work necessary to promote sustainable energy solutions to their full potential.
  • The full costs and benefits to society of specific energy development options remain unclear. What is evident, however, is that the region pays an enormous socioeconomic price for its reliance on fuelwood and imported fossil fuels.
  • Most Central American countries have been able to greatly improve their investment climate for sustainable energy. Still, powerful financial barriers remain, ranging from the unavailability of capital and the lack of human expertise, to investment insecurity and costly administrative processes.
  • Most countries in the region have concrete policy mechanisms in place for advancing renewables.These policies and measures, however, are not always sufficient to level the playing field with fossil fuels, which are subsidized (directly and/or indirectly) in all Central American countries.

Going beyond Levelized Cost of Energy


Source: “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” Worldwatch Institute, CDKN, INCAE

The Worldwatch report authors devote a significant amount of time and effort in analyzing the comparative costs and benefits of renewable versus fossil fuel energy. They found that an increasing range of renewable energy resources are cost effective and yield greater and wider benefits whether they are evaluated on conventional levelized cost of energy (LCOE) terms, or broader, more holistic and comprehensive terms, using LCOE+, a methodology that factors in the effects of fossil fuel that are typically ignored, or shunted aside, for the public sphere to bear. As they note,

“A recent LCOE study of Central America by the World Bank compared geothermal, hydropower, and fossil fuel technologies and concluded that renewables are more cost competitive than fossil fuel energy sources.

“The report estimates the cost of geothermal power at 5–8.9 U.S. cents per kWh (kilowatt-hour) and the cost of hydropower at 7–8 cents per kWh. In contrast, for plants powered by heavy fuel oil, generation can beas high as 12–15 cents per kWh; costs of coal-powered generation are 10–11 cents per kWh.

They go on to highlight that,

“standard LCOE estimates still fail to include the true cost of energy due to externalities associated with power generation, as well as the market distortions caused by the heavy use of subsidies. In Central America, both fossil fuels and renewables currently receive subsidies,but the balance leans disproportionally in favor of fossil fuels despite their detrimental external costs.”

A methodology exists to account for these unaccounted for costs exists, however. “Extending the standard LCOE analysis to account for these externalities—through an approach known as LCOE+—can help address these missing factors. Te LCOE+ is an important tool for analyzing the real societal costs of fossil fuel energy and to demonstrate the actual cost gap between renewable and non-renewable electricity production.”

Making climate change mitigation and adaptation a core, strategic element of decision making across the government, public and private sector spheres is increasingly seen as an imperative. Similarly, extending current decision making frameworks and methodologies to account for the unaccounted for public, social and ecological costs of industrial and commercial decisions — as does LCOE+ — is imperative if climate change mitigation and adaptation is to be “mainstreamed.”

The post A Roadmap of a Roadmap for a Sustainable, Fossil-Fuel Free Central America appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 01 2013


Detroit was Killed by Decades of Environmental Abuse

Detroit environmental abuse: a cities left in ruins - socially, economically, and environmentallyThe findings in this post-mortem of Detroit suggest that the city was killed by environmental abuse compounded by the failure to adapt to a changing economic landscape. Understanding the fall of Michigan’s largest city has important implications for cities across America and around the world.

With a population of more than 700,000 people, Detroit is now the largest U.S. municipality to file for bankruptcy. Detroit’s seeming obliviousness to changing economic realities and history of environmental neglect have made the city unsafe. This has crushed the local economy and contributed to one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Although the city recently adopted an ambitious sustainability strategy, it was too late to save the city from decades of ecological insanity.

Detroit environmental abuse

One argument explaining the demise of Detroit is that the city fell prey to rampant pollution and monumental environmental shortsightedness. In April 2013, the Sierra Club Detroit released a report that reviewed the city’s environmental abuse.  The report concluded that more than most communities in Michigan, metro Detroit’s proximity to industrial pollution is an “environmental injustice” that constitutes “human rights abuse.”

According to the Sierra Club assessment, the levels of contamination in Detroit are the cause of inordinately higher levels of asthma, cancer, neurological disorders and birth defects. The report cites statistics from the Michigan Department of Community Health that show that Detroit adults suffer from asthma 50 percent more than the state of Michigan as a whole.

Pollution comes from a wide range of nearby industries including auto plants, steel mills, an oil refinery, a wastewater treatment plant and others. Some of the worst sources of pollution were identified as Severstal Steel plant, DTE Energy’s coal-fired River Rouge power plant, Marathon’s oil sands refinery; EES Coke and Battery

Detroit Renewable Power is one of the nation’s largest solid waste incinerators. The facility is the fourth-largest producer of nitrous oxide emissions in the state, which according to studies, affect people’s nervous, cardiovascular and reproductive systems.

The Great Lakes Works, a U.S. Steel facility, released more than 10.1 million pounds of toxic substances in 2010, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Sierra Club’s study notes that manganese levels at the site were found to exceed residential particulate inhalation standards set by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Detroit Wastewater Treatment Facility is the largest source of discharge into the river with 47 billion gallons of diluted raw sewage released during combined sewer overflows in 2011.

Large corporations have been abusing Detroit’s environment for decades, but one of the city’s most agregious polluters are the Koch Brothers. These two oil barrons are infamous for their three story high pile of petroleum coke in the city near the banks of the Detroit river. The mountain of petroleum coke, a by product of oil production, belongs to Koch Carbon which is owned by David and Charles Koch, the wealthy climate change denying conservative industrialists.

The emissions laden petroleum coke originates from the refining of Canada’s tar sands. The waste byproduct comes from extracting bitumen produced by Marathon oil which as mentioned above, has its own shameful legacy of environmental abuse. The EPA does not allow coke to be burned in the U.S. so it is exported overseas to places like China. There are currently 79.8 million tons of the dirty inefficient fuel stockpiled.

In 2010, residents began complaining of a strong smell coming from their basements and sewers. The fumes were so pervasive that it had discolored painted walls of homes, and prompted the growth of unknown substances on furniture. An examination of the fumes showed twenty different toxic gases emanating from one house while hydrogen-sulfur seeping up from sewers was identified as the main culprit. Marathon Oil hushed up the issue by quietly purchasing thirteen homes in the area.

Detroit and Rouge Rivers

Although we have seen some improvements, decades of environmental abuse to the Detroit’s local waterways have taken their toll. As explained by the EPA, industrial pollution of the Detroit and Rouge Rivers dates back to the end of 19th Century. In the late 1940s, oil pollution started to cause massive winter duck kills. In 1948, the situation climaxed when approximately 11,000 ducks were killed due to oil pollution in the Detroit River.

Even though there were a series of relevant legislative events to address the problem, in 1962, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare reported that oil slicks were still being reported on the Detroit River one-third of the time during the winter and spring.

An International Joint Commission in 1968 identified other sources of pollution in the Detroit River including municipal wastewater treatment plants, government installations, combined sewer overflows, and shipping.

More recent data collected by the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center in 2005 indicated that there are still years in which the total volume of oil and other petroleum products spilled in the Detroit and Rouge Rivers is comparable to the estimated oil releases in 1961. Some of the more noteworthy spills include a 100,000 gallon oil spill in the Rouge River in 2002.

Oil pollution continues to be a serious problem because of combined sewer overflow events and industrial releases. Since 1995, up to 40 percent of all the reported oil spills in Michigan occurred in the Detroit and Rouge Rivers.

A sustainable plan for the city

In December 2012, Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit Works project did make an attempt to address the city’s woeful environmental record. They crafted a 350-page plan known as the “Detroit Future City” report. The 50-year plan includes a number of sustainable ideas like building “blue and green infrastructure” to help address water and air-quality issues, creating new open space networks that incorporate habitat for local wildlife, and diversifying the city’s public transportation modes. The report calls for adding new, large areas of greenspace, but it’s also emphatic about the need to reuse old buildings.

To help finance the plan, the W.K. Kellogg, Kresge, and Ford Foundations collectively pledged millions.

While the Detroit Future City project is laudable, it was far too late to save the city.


The absence of transparency in Detroit has been put forth as a reason contributing to the city’s demise. The issue of transparency is central to sustainability and across the nation and around the world transparency, is being advanced as a bulwark against environmental abuse.

Despite concerns and reservations, businesses are embracing transparency acknowledging that this is the only way forward. At the municipal level, transparency in decision-making processes is fast becoming a central strategy for engaging stakeholders, combating corruption and improving the quality of urban governance overall.

Transparency supports sustainability and good governance. There is no denying that Detroit municipal democracy and local sustainability initiatives could have been improved by a framework that encourages greater transparency.

It is important to have access to public records if for no other reason than to hold accountable those in power. Although local media have been reporting on Detroit, many question the public’s access to information in the lead up to the city’s filing for bankruptcy.

While greater municipal transparency may have helped, it is unlikely that it could have saved the city on its own.

Demographic data

Demographic data is one of the keys to understanding Detroit’s decline. In 1960, Detroit was the richest per capita city in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now, 60 percent of all of Detroit’s children are living in poverty. Almost half of the city’s population are functionally illiterate, a third of Detroit’s 140 square miles are vacant or derelict, and almost one fifth are unemployed.

The city’s unemployment rate has nearly tripled since 2000 and the city’s homicide rate is at the highest level in nearly 40 years. The FBI considers Detroit to be one of the most dangerous cities in America.

In the 1950s, there were more than 1.85 million people in the city, now there are only 706,000 people. Over the last 13 years alone, Detroit’s population has plummeted more than 25 percent.

U.S. 2010 Census data notes that Michigan lost almost half (48%) of all its manufacturing jobs from 2000-2010. This includes high-skill, high-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs, many of which were in the auto industry. In 1970, the EPA was created and the city did not develop a strategic plan to transition to more environmentally responsible manufacturing. Nor did they have a plan to source sustainable energy supplies upon which heavy industry depends.

The auto industry

The fall of the American auto industry was a central factor in Detroit’s demise. The city’s big automakers were beholden to a business model that was way out of step with a changing world.  From this perspective, Detroit was a casualty of the changing global reality and the resultant economic paradigm shift. The Michigan based auto industry did not adjust as demand waned for the wasteful gas guzzling behemoths that defined Detroit in its heyday.

As explained in a Forbes article:

“American carmakers are best at producing muscular, noisy, gas guzzling rides (think GM’s Suburban, Cadillac and Corvette, Ford’s Bronco and Lincoln lines)….the biggest factor [for the demise of Detroit] has to do with the quality of American cars…Put simply, Michigan and its city most known for the rise of the automobile clung to a business – car manufacturing – that was long ago rendered yesterday’s commercial news.”

Part of the reason that Detroit declared bankruptcy can be attributed to the demise of the old auto industry that was the lifeblood of the city. Big auto’s failure to anticipate and respond to economic and environmental concerns helped to divest the city of its tax base and push Detroit into bankruptcy.

The fall of great cities in history

Like Detroit, other cities have fallen due to their unresponsiveness to changing realities. Wanton pollution and unbridled exploitation of resources made Detroit a textbook recipe for decline. Detroit seemed oblivious to the need to develop new business models designed to address growing resource scarcity and climate-change-causing emissions.

Throughout history, once great civilizations have perished due to their failure to adapt. During the golden age of Mayan civilization (250 AD to 900 AD), there were more than 15 million people living in 40 cities. These were some of the most advanced city states in the world at that time. However, like many other technologically advanced civilizations these cities came to an abrupt end.

According to one theory, the Mayans were the victims of their own success. Over-farming to feed growing populations combined with drought and cultural upheavals may have caused the Mayan decline.

Some researchers have suggested that climate change caused Mayan cities to fall. Climate change has also been a predominant theory put forth to explain the abandonment of Cambodia’s ancient city of Angkor as well as the decline and fall of Roman civilization.

What we must learn

There is much we all can learn from Detroit; the fate of the city is a cautionary tale that we all would be well advised to heed. This is not just a theoretical concern for the distant future, climate change is an existential threat faced by many cities today. According to a PNAS study published at the end of July, within a decade, more than 1,300 U.S. cities and towns and ultimately a quarter of Americans could be submerged under water due to climate change.

We cannot afford to ignore the environment and the changing climate. Failure to curtail adverse ecological impacts imperils more than our cities, it is a threat to civilization itself.

We are all called to do what we can in terms of mitigation, however, for many of the impacts of climate change, it is already too late. Like Detroit, we are faced with a stark choice, either adapt or die.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Don Harder, courtesy flickr

The post Detroit was Killed by Decades of Environmental Abuse appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

July 16 2013


Study Shows Growth in Climate-Themed Bonds

“Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2013,” HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence, Climate Bond Initiative

Climate change adaptation is a core aspect of President Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan. Developing the institutional framework and cost-effective private-sector financial mechanisms to stimulate and leverage public policies and programs remains a key hurdle that needs to be surmounted if the aims of the President’s national strategy are to be realized, however.

Continuing a pioneering effort to monitor and assess “green” infrastructure financing and investments, the HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence commissioned and the Climate Bond Initiative produced, “Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2013.” The number of climate-themed bonds outstanding nearly doubled in 2013, researchers found, reaching some $346 billion.

Bonds for climate change adaptation

Focusing on seven climate themes – Transport, Energy, Climate Finance, Agriculture & Forestry, Waste & Pollution Control, and Water – the study corresponds “to our view of the emerging low-carbon, climate-resilient economy,” the study partners state. “It is designed to ring-fence goods and services that enable the transition to low-carbon growth that is also resilient to the impacts of a changing climate.”

Climate Bond Initiative used the seven climate change themes to screen the use of proceeds of bonds issued in markets worldwide and “arrive at a universe that is 100% aligned with the low-carbon, climate-resilient economy.”

Researchers found climate change bonds were issued by corporations, financial institutions, municipalities, state-backed entities and project special purpose vehicles (SPVs). A second level of filters entailed verifying their selection using Bloomberg descriptions and revenue breakdowns “cross-checked with company disclosures and other market sources to confirm alignment with climate themes,” the report authors explain.

According to the report’s authors,

“Our updated 2013 estimate has reiterated the perception that the climate-themed bond market is not niche, lacking scale or liquidity.”

Ultimately screening over 10,000 bonds from 2,300 issuers, 1,200 from 260 issuers with a total outstanding principal of $346 billion qualified across all seven climate themes. That’s just shy of double – 99 percent higher – than the $174 billion estimate of the amount outstanding in 2012.

“Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2013,” HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence, Climate Bond Initiative

“Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2013,” HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence, Climate Bond Initiative

With a total $263 billion in climate bonds outstanding, the Transport sector accounted for the large majority, just over 70 percent. Climate bonds outstanding for the Energy ($41 billion) and Finance sectors ($32 billion) ranked second and third, respectively.

The Climate Bonds Initiative expects institutional investors – pension funds, insurers, etc. – will expand the range of criteria used to expand the range of climate-theme bonds they invest in. Two factors will add momentum and fuel growing investment in climate-theme bonds, they say: 1) growing focus on implementation of environmental, social and governance goals of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) to fixed income portfolios, and 2) the need for institutional investors to adjust their portfolios in light of the expected advent of a 2015 international climate accord.

More than 1,000 companies representing some $32 trillion in assets under management have signed the PRI. Meanwhile, some “$22 trillion of assets under management fall undr the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change that issues regular policy statements outlining investor requirements on international and national climate policy,” the report authors point out.

The post Study Shows Growth in Climate-Themed Bonds appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

July 09 2013


The EU: Climate Change Threats at the Water-Energy Nexus

Credit: European Environment Agency

Climate change poses a growing threat across European Union society – at the nexus of water and energy resource availability and use in particular. Warming water temperatures and reduced river flows will make thermal coal and nuclear, as well as hydro power, plants vulnerable to rising costs, reduced availability and decreasing output, according to long-term study published by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Warming water temperatures and reductions in mean annual river flow will reduce gross hydropower capacity and the water resources available for cooling thermal coal and nuclear power plants an average 4-5% across the EU between 2031 and 2060 as compared to 1971-2000, an international team of hydrological researchers from across Europe concluded. Large declines in southern and southeastern EU member countries will more than offset forecast increases in the northern EU countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland, according to their paper, “Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices.”

Reduced water, hydro, coal and nuclear power availability, rising costs

Wholesale electricity prices will rise in most EU countries as a result relative to that during 1971-2000, the research team concludes. The highest increases will occur in Slovenia (12%-15%), Bulgaria (21%-23%) and Romania (31-32%). Increased water availability in Sweden and Norway, in contrast, will result in lower annual price averages as lower cost hydro power pushes out more expensive thermal coal, natural gas and nuclear power generation, they anticipate.

Seasonal factors have a substantial impact on electricity costs, however. “For most countries, the increases in wholesale electricity prices are higher for summer period than on mean annual basis, because restrictions in cooling water use for thermoelectric power and reductions in water availability for hydro power potential are highest during this season. Strongest increases in wholesale prices during summer are projected for Slovakia (14–19%), France (14–17%), Austria (22–25%), Slovenia (25–33%), Romania (55–60%), and Bulgaria (44–45%).”

Replacement of coal-fired power plants by more expensive natural gas plants is also expected to contribute to rising wholesale power costs, according to the report authors.

"Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices,"  Michelle T H van Vliet et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 035010 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/035010 © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd

Source: “Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices,” Michelle T H van Vliet et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 035010
© 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd

Hydropower and water resource usage in the EU

Hydro power accounted for 10 percent of total electricity consumption and around 80 percent of electricity generated from renewable sources in Europe in 2006, according to the European Commission (EC). In addition to the direct use of water to generate electricity, thermal coal and nuclear power plants also make use of a large share of the region’s water resources for cooling purposes.
Renewable energy sources in the EU

“On average, 44 percent of total water abstraction in Europe is used for agriculture, 40% for industry and energy production (cooling in power plants), and 15 percent for public water supply,” according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The vast bulk of Europe’s hydropower comes from large-scale hydroelectric plants: some 16,800 small hydropower plants installed in the EU-27 had a total capacity of 11 gigawatts (GW) accounted for about 3% of total electricity generation, according to the European Small Hydropower Association (ESHA).

There’s not much water left to squeeze. The EC estimates that more than 82 percent of all economically feasible small hydropower (SHP) potential has been exploited in the former EU-15. In contrast, the SHP exploitation rate is much lower in EU-10, less than half that of the EU-15. It’s also very small, around 6 percent, in EU Candidate Countries, according to the EC.

Climate change’s varying impact on water resource use across the EU

Those countries with the highest SHP potential include Italy, France and Spain, along with Poland and the Czech Republic. These are among the countries where climate change poses the greatest threat to water resources and power plants, however, according to the study.

Moreover, thermal coal and nuclear, as well as hydropower plants, are vulnerable to a warming climate. In their study, the researchers conclude that “the combination of increased water temperatures and reduced summer river flow under climate change is likely to affect both hydropower and thermoelectric power generating capacity in Europe, with distinct impacts on electricity prices.

“Useable capacity of thermoelectric power is expected to be most strongly impacted in countries in the central, southern and south-eastern part of Europe, where strong declines in low summer river flow are projected in combination with large increases in water temperature. This is expected to increase environmental restrictions on cooling water uses, and can result in substantial reductions in power plant capacities during summer (up to 16–20 percent for Bulgaria and 15–21 percent for Spain for 2031–2060).

“Replacement in cooling systems and changes in sources of fuel (increased efficiency) reduce water demand of thermoelectric power plants for cooling, and therefore decrease the vulnerability to climate change and aggravated cooling water shortage. However, estimated reductions in power plant useable capacities for power plants with recirculation (tower) cooling systems were smaller but still non-negligible, especially for countries in southern, central and south-eastern Europe.”

Climate change adaptation at the Water-Energy Nexus

The researchers recommend the EU take several proactive steps to prevent or at least alleviate what appears to be a looming decline in water resource availability. The climate change adaptation steps they recommend include retrofitting or replacing existing thermal coal and nuclear power plants and diversifying the EU’s energy mix by relying more on renewable energy resources that are not dependent water availability and water temperature.

“Considering the high shares of hydro power, coal-fueled and nuclear-fueled power plants in most European countries, the vulnerability to declines in summer river flow and increased water temperatures can be high,” they wrote.

“Planned adaptation strategies are therefore highly recommended, especially in the southern, central and south-eastern parts of Europe, where overall largest impacts on thermoelectric and hydro power generating capacity are projected under climate change. Considering the high investments costs (EPRI 2011), retrofitting or replacement of power plants might not be beneficial from the perspective of individual power plant operators, although the social benefits of adaptation could be substantial.

“An increased diversification in the electricity sector, with a larger contribution of renewable energy resources that are independent from water availability and water temperature (e.g. solar PV, wind power), might reduce the vulnerability of the electricity sector to climate change, although wind power can also be negatively affected by climate change.”

Main image credit: European Environment Agency
Featured image credit: underclassrising.net, courtesy flickr

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July 05 2013


Making Good on Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan, Part 3

obama-climate-speech-2013This is the third of a three-part series on energy, environment and US law in light of the launch of President Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan. Here in Part 3, we conclude our discussion regarding US climate change legislation with Robert B. McKinstry, Jr., Practice Leader for Ballard Spahr’s Climate Change and Sustainability Initiative, and move on to discuss the ramifications of the president’s National Climate Change Action Plan for the US energy industry with Darin Lowder, Associate in Ballard, Spahr’s Energy and Project Finance practice.

Limiting carbon, greenhouse gas emissions from existing, as well as new, power plants

Back in April 2012, the Obama administration EPA issued a proposed new rulemaking for federal standards to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, an action that the EPA had refrained from taking during President GW Bush’s two terms in office. Though required to issue a final rule within one year, the EPA, inundated with with more than 2 million comments, has yet to do so.

Legal actions from opponents also factored into the delay, McKinstry recounted.

“EPA got a lot of adverse comments from coal industry and coal state interests. They didn’t take action on existing source standards, and sat on the new source standards published in the Federal Register. When they missed the deadline, environmental groups filed suit to force their hand.”

The President took executive action on June 25, seeking to put the EPA’s initiative back on track with the launch of his National Climate Change Action Plan. Part and parcel of the national strategic plan, a Presidential Memorandum was issued directing the EPA “to work expeditiously” to finalize carbon and greenhouse gas emissions limits not only for new, but for reconstructed and existing power plants, as well.

Setting a definitive timeline for issuing new rules governing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, in the memorandum the President directs the EPA “to issue a new proposal by no later than September 20, 2013…and further direct you to issue a final rule in a timely fashion after considering all public comments, as appropriate.”

Furthermore, McKinstry noted, the President’s memorandum directs the EPA to:

  • issue proposed carbon pollution standards, regulations, or guidelines, as appropriate for modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants by no later than June 1, 2014;
  • issue final standards, regulations, or guidelines for modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants by no later than June 1, 2015; and
  • require states to submit implementation plans required under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to the EPA no later than June 30, 2016.

The establishment of target dates for new EPA limits on carbon and greehouse gas emissions – which are also to include new limits on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – will result in another surge of legal activity on the part of coal and fossil fuel power plant owners and operators, according to Darin Lowder, Associate in Ballard Spahr’s Energy and Project Finance practice.

Spurring action across government and industry

The President’s National Climate Change Action Plan will spur and renew momentum not only at EPA, but across federal government departments and agencies, and not only when it comes to reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, but in terms of fostering further gains in renewable and clean energy, energy efficiency and clean technology, Lowder told GWIR.

“I’d expect HUD (the Department for Housing & Urban Development) to quickly come up with a policy to incentivize all this. The Department of Defense (DoD) has 3-gigawatts (GW) of clean energy installed on military installations.”

The military’s situation is a particularly interesting one, he continued, “because of additional value off-grid redundancy renewables provide. They’ve had a very robust discussion in the military about benefits of diversifying the energy supply chain, not only on bases and other facilities, but in the field as well.

“Grid power plus renewables makes life a whole lot easier and safer, even in the case of catastrophic attacks. The benefits are worth the additional cost, and though they don’t like to, they are authroized to pay the additional costs. Plus, they have some locations that are great for renewables.”

Fundamental shifts in mindset

The President’s climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives have spurred a shift in the military’s mindset and attitude when it comes to energy and the environment, he continued. In traditional fashion, branches of the US Armed Forces, and units within them, are now competing to see who can be the most energy efficient, who can best minimize resource use and ecological impacts, and who can deploy the most in the way of renewable energy resources, Lowder continued.

“All of a sudden, you see competitions over who’s the most energy efficient. It’s a very fundamental shift. The way they had it done in past, you had facilities that had just one meter for an entire base. That’s changing radically now, and for a lot of reasons. One of the mechanisms pushing this is the things we’re discussing. Things like energy performance contracts push that change. Measurement is the first step.”

That fundamental change in values and attitudes towards energy and the environment needs to be replicated across the energy, industrial, financial, government and public sectors if the President’s vision of building a greener, sustainable low-carbon society and economy are to be realized. Stakeholders across the economy and society need to come together in a genuine spirit of collaboration, overcome their differences and join forces in identifying and aggressively implementing practical solutions, Lowder said.

Such movement is already well under way, he added.

“There are huge opportunities in all this, and there are numerous examples of people trying to understand each other’s view and aggressively pursue common goals…You’re seeing a blending of diverse views and interests taking place around these opportunities. Housing authorities, for instance, have to satisfy banks and investors’ requirements. It’s not completely foreign to them, but it’s set in a new and different context.

“It’s similar with the military regarding contracting with private housing developers to install solar and renewable energy systems, which entails bringing project developers and banks into the picture as well, familiarizing them with federal procurement and compliance requirements, as well as raising their overall comfort level to the point they’re willing and able to move forward.”

Despite all the gains of the past decade and more, the entire movement toward building a sustainable, low-carbon society is still in its infancy, Lowder pointed out.

“Housing authorities, especially in New England have been using co-generation – capturing and using heat as well as using electricity. You can do that with natural gas. Some facilities are replacing old heating systems, fuel oil boilers that are literally 50-60 years old with new equipment and combined heat and power (CHP) systems. There are tax credits available for that. They’re less than that for solar, but the same potential exists for private developers to enter the field.

“Energy mangement, demand management, even fostering changes in behavioral patterns — like showing people how much power they’re using – there’s growth potential in all these areas. The same is true in the military. It seems basic in retrospect, but a fundamental shift in awareness and information availability is helping spur all this forward.”

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series

The post Making Good on Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan, Part 3 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

July 02 2013


Making Good on Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan

Part one of interview with attorneys from Ballard, Sphar on climate policy and president Obama's National Climate Action PlanBypassing Congress in a bid to set the US firmly on course in developing a low-carbon society and green economy, President Obama on June 25 launched his administration’s National Climate Change Action Plan, a more comprehensive and fully realized version of a climate change strategy that builds on and adds momentum to long-fought-over and hard-won legal and legislative efforts that stretch back at least two decades.

President Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan marks a major milestone in a long line of historic marking posts in US environment and energy law, one that charts the course for the federal government not only to mitigate and adapt to climate change by spurring the creation of a healthier, greener, and more sustainable US economy and society, but to actively promote and foster the realization of these ends around the world.

Aiming to offer our readers a longer term and more in-depth perspective on what’s been achieved to date and how efforts to implement the president’s National Climate Change Action Plan might play out in future, GWIR interviewed leading members of Washington, D.C.-based Ballard, Spahr’s environmental and energy practices.

Turning the Ship of State to address climate change

Creating and weaving together all the diverse elements of a coherent, cohesive national strategy to address climate change has proven to be no simple, easy, smooth, or short-lived, task. It entails turning the massive ship of state by enacting fundamental, often bitterly contentious changes to the vast web of government policies, legislation, and regulations that have favored, subsidized, and created an economy and society dependent on fossil fuel production and use, one in which ecological health and integrity have typically been sacrificed for the sake of short-term economic and financial gain, leaving the public – either through taxes or increasing public debt – to pay the costs.

It also entails transcending the well-established boundaries of longstanding energy, environmental, economic, and social policy and politics, crossing over lines and surmounting barriers in order to bring together and marshal the resources of stakeholders throughout society – private sector and civil society groups and organizations, as well as federal, state, and local government levels. Once again directing national attention to his administration’s ongoing efforts to develop a comprehensive strategic plan to tackle climate change, President Obama and his administration appear to be aiming for nothing less.

Ballard, Spahr attorneys Robert B. McKinstry, Jr. and Darin Lowder have been working at the cutting edge of US environmental and energy law for decades. They’ve witnessed, and often been a part of, initiatives that have brought about fundamental changes and helped established a legal and public-private institutional framework for the development of a low-carbon US society and green economy.

In doing so, they’ve worked with clients from across government, the private sector, and civil society to help forge agreements on groundbreaking pollution, carbon, and greenhouse gas emissions legislation, policies, standards, and governance mechanisms, and they have helped played key roles in bringing copious amounts of clean, renewable energy generation capacity online. This includes pioneering efforts that helped establish the two regional carbon and greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade systems up and running in the US, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Western Climate Initiative.

The work they and others like them do will be key, pivotal factors if the goals set out in the president’s National Climate Change Action Plan – curbing US carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, boosting renewable energy development and energy efficiency improvements, and taking the lead in forging international agreements that call on national governments around the world to take actions to adapt to, as well as mitigate, climate change – are to be realized.

The US and climate change: Hard-won progress

Speak to Robert McKinstry, Jr., Practice Leader for Ballard, Spahr’s Climate Change and Sustainability Initiative, about climate change, environmental governance, and efforts to regulate and reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and you can’t help but come away with a better understanding and appreciation of the tremendous amount of time, effort, and resources stakeholders across US society have dedicated to advancing the climate change agenda even this far forward, and the tremendous amount of opposition and variety of obstacles that have had to be overcome.

The US government effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change can be traced back to 1992 and the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, when then President George HW Bush signed and Congress subsequently ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the treaty in which 195 parties — national and regional governing authorities — have pledged to take actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change throughout society.

Real progress in the US, particularly at the federal level, has been slow and difficult to come by. The George W. Bush administration, for instance, stonewalled efforts that would have enabled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, not only in the power sector, but in transportation, agriculture, forestry, waste and the built environment.

In contrast, it has been the inability of Congress to agree to take sustained, meaningful action to address climate change that has thwarted progress during President Obama’s tenure. With his June 25 speech and launch of the National Climate Change Action Plan, the President has decided to take executive action, moving forward with or without Congress’s support.

Establishing the legal framework to address climate change

Accounting for some 40 percent of national carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and as much as 80 percent from the energy sector, reducing emissions from large power plants offers the biggest bang for US society’s climate change buck. The legal road forward toward regulating power plant emissions and environmental impacts has been filled with obstacles, however. As McKinstry pointed out,

“Existing coal-fired power plants have been exempt from a whole raft of environmental regulations for a long time. Finally, the EPA is acting to regulate those emissions…The Obama Administration is now moving forward, but there are lots of interests that can comment on the regulations, in particular, on the application of Section 111 (b) of the Clean Air Act in regulating carbon, greenhouse gas, and other power plant emissions.

“Anything that causes the fossil fuel industry to bear the costs of the pollution it emits is going to benefit non-emitting sources of energy, basically renewable energy sources, including hydro and nuclear power,” he added.

McKinstry ticked off and recounted the long, arduous path of three major federal initiatives that aim to significantly reduce greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions across society and the economy: the issuance of the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), issuance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule (MATS), and the EPA’s efforts to regulate and reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Finalized by the EPA in July, 2011, CSPAR is designed to help US states reduce air pollution and meet 1997 ozone and fine particle and 2006 fine particle National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). It “requires states to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that cross state lines and contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution in other states,” the EPA explains on its website.

CSAPR would require reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the eastern U.S. by January 1, 2012 (Phase 1) and January 1, 2014 (Phase 2). In sum, CSAPR requires a total of 28 states to reduce annual SO2 emissions, annual NOx emissions and/or ozone season NOx emissions to assist in attaining clean air standards.

CSAPR is still being challenged in the courts, however, McKinstry pointed out. The EPA ruling was vacated by a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court in August 2012. The full D.C. Circuit refused to hear the case in January. In March this year, EPA and environmental groups appealed the decision on up to the Supreme Court, which on June 24 agreed to review the D.C. Circuit’s decision.

To be continued…

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June 25 2013


President Turns Up the Heat On US Carbon Pollution, Revealing Details of National Climate Change Action Plan

Obama outlines his National Climate Action Plan. Photo credit: AP

President Obama once again raised the bitterly, politically divise issues of US fossil fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change to the forefront of the national political agenda today, revealing new aspects of his administration’s national climate change action plan during a speech given at Georgetown University.

The president characterized US efforts “to lead the global fight against carbon pollution as a moral obligation to act on behalf of future generations.” The president’s plan centers on taking action on three broad fronts: cutting carbon pollution across the US; preparing the US for the impacts of climate change; and leading international efforts to address climate change.

“Climate change represents one of the major challenges of the 21st century, but as a nation of innovators, we can and will meet this challenge in a way that advances our economy, our environment, and public health all at the same time,” according to the White House.

Obama sets the stage for the US to lead the global effort to reduced carbon pollution, combat climate change

Taking action to both mitigate and adapt to climate change throughout society, President Obama’s laid out his agenda for tackling climate change in his speech at Georgetown University. The comprehensive strategic plan takes action to:

  • Cut Carbon Pollution in the US:
    In 2012, U.S. carbon pollution from the energy sector fell to the lowest level in two decades even as the economy continued to grow. To build on this progress, the Obama Administration is putting in place tough new rules to cut carbon pollution—just like we have for other toxins like mercury and arsenic —so we protect the health of our children and move our economy toward American-made clean energy sources that will create good jobs and lower home energy bills. For example, the plan:
    • Directs EPA to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholder to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants;
    • Makes up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects to support investments in innovative technologies;
    • Directs DOI to permit enough renewables project—like wind and solar – on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes; designates the first-ever hydropower project for priority permitting; and sets a new goal to install 100 megawatts of renewables on federally assisted housing by 2020; while maintaining the commitment to deploy renewables on military installations;
    • Expands the President’s Better Building Challenge, focusing on helping commercial, industrial, and multi-family buildings cut waste and become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020;
    • Sets a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 – more than half of the annual carbon pollution from the U.S. energy sector – through efficiency standards set over the course of the Administration for appliances and federal buildings;
    • Commits to partnering with industry and stakeholders to develop fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles to save families money at the pump and further reduce reliance on foreign oil and fuel consumption post-2018; and
    • Leverages new opportunities to reduce pollution of highly-potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons; directs agencies to develop a comprehensive methane strategy; and commits to protect our forests and critical landscapes.
  • Prepares the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change:
    Even as we take new steps to cut carbon pollution, we must also prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that are already being felt across the country. Building on progress over the last four years, the plan:
    • Directs agencies to support local climate-resilient investment by removing barriers or counterproductive policies and modernizing programs; and establishes a short-term task force of state, local, and tribal officials to advise on key actions the Federal government can take to help strengthen communities on the ground;
    • Pilots innovative strategies in the Hurricane Sandy-affected region to strengthen communities against future extreme weather and other climate impacts; and building on a new, consistent flood risk reduction standard established for the Sandy-affected region, agencies will update flood-risk reduction standards for all federally funded projects;
    • Launches an effort to create sustainable and resilient hospitals in the face of climate change through a public-private partnership with the healthcare industry;
    • Maintains agricultural productivity by delivering tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers, and landowners; and helps communities prepare for drought and wildfire by launching a National Drought Resilience Partnership and by expanding and prioritizing forest- and rangeland- restoration efforts to make areas less vulnerable to catastrophic fire; and
    • Provides climate preparedness tools and information needed by state, local, and private-sector leaders through a centralized “toolkit” and a new Climate Data Initiative.
  • Lead International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change:
    Just as no country is immune from the impacts of climate change, no country can meet this challenge alone. That is why it is imperative for the United States to couple action at home with leadership internationally. America must help forge a truly global solution to this global challenge by galvanizing international action to significantly reduce emissions, prepare for climate impacts, and drive progress through the international negotiations. For example, the plan:
    • Commits to expand major new and existing international initiatives, including bilateral initiatives with China, India, and other major emitting countries;
    • Leads global sector public financing towards cleaner energy by calling for the end of U.S. government support for public financing of new coal-fired powers plants overseas, except for the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries, or facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies; and
    • Strengthens global resilience to climate change by expanding government and local community planning and response capacities.

The White House has put together an excellent, visually rich infographic that summarizes the President’s national climate change action plan.

And then there’s this video of the president’s speech:


Main image: Associated Press

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June 19 2013


Hawaii’s Fishermen: Scapegoats for Forces Outside their Control

Are Hawaii's fishermen the scapegoats over environmental problems of which they have no control?Climate change is affecting fisheries in the Western Pacific and around the world, but a host of other factors, including land use, are threatening fisheries and the health and integrity of marine ecosystems. Aiming for sustainable fisheries, marine policymakers, resource managers, fishermen and other stakeholders are increasingly looking to take a more holistic, integrated approach to fisheries management, as evidenced during the latest meeting of the Western Regional Fishery Management Council (WRFMC) meeting, which was held in Oahu.

Often blamed for overexploiting fish stocks, local fishermen in Hawaii are keenly aware of external impacts on the health and integrity of marine ecosystems and fish populations. At the latest WRFMC meeting in Honolulu, they argued in support of taking a more comprehensive ecosystems management approach, specifically zooming in on how land use and associated runoff from cities, agriculture and industry are harming marine ecosystems and fisheries.

“Hawaii fishermen asked policymakers to address how runoff caused by land development harms reefs, fisheries and oceans when they consider how to cope with the effects of climate change,” the AP’s Audrey Mcavoy wrote in news report.

Adopting an ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management

Established by Congress in 1976 per the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act (MSA), the WRFMC is one of eight Fishery Management Councils in the US. Its regulatory authority stretches from the Pacific Ocean waters off Hawaii to include those off Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. MSA was amended in 1996 “to prevent overfishing, minimize by-catch and protect the fish stocks and habitat.”

Adopting a bottom-up approach to fisheries and marine resource management, the Council is made up of 16 Council members, which draw on input from local and community fishermen and the broader public, as well as marine scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Pelagic Fisheries Research Program.

Local fishermen have wound up being “scapegoats” for declining fish stocks and catches, one fishermen told committee members, arguing “that what happens on land is one cause of deteriorating reefs.”  But he says fishermen can’t control what happens ‘up mauka,’ or “toward the mountains,” Mcavoy reported from the Regional Ecosystem Advisory Committee for Hawaii fisheries meeting.

Said local fishermen Carl Jellings,

“We fight every day so we can continue fishing. It’s getting harder and harder because more things are happening in the environment that we’re getting blamed for.”

Push for public-private collaboration on climate change adaptation strategies

Scientists at the meeting highlighted the rise in global mean temperatures and a drop in local rainfall, pointing out how different fish species differ in their ability to adapt to climate change.

They also highlighted that ongoing increases in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in ocean acidification, putting additional pressure on coral reefs and marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

These threats are very real and pose very difficult problems that involve fundamental trade-offs and controversy, they added.

The committee drafted recommendations proposing public-private sector collaboration to craft climate change adaptation strategies. These are to be considered by WRFMC members.

A proposal that the state also study Hawaii’s carrying capacity – how many people can live in and visit Hawaii without irrevocably harming natural resources – was also adopted. “How are you going to say we’ve got to reduce 1 million tourists to be sustainable? Or 10 million tourists to become sustainable? How are you going to tell the hotel industry that? The tourism industry that?” Jellings was quoted as saying.

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May 09 2013


Resiliency Index Will Assess Climate Risks for Cities

New resiliency index announced with C40 Cities at the Clinton Global InitiativeWorking under the umbrella of C40 Cities, an international collaborative  of cities working to assess and reduce their climate risk impacts, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and former president Bill Clinton are launching a climate change adaptation and resiliency measurement program aimed at identifying the cities most at risk. Clinton and Bloomberg announced the initiative on Monday at the midyear meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

The new effort will work alongside a separate and ongoing c40 initiative that now accounts for the greenhouse gas emission for 75 percent of C40 member cities. The new program adds a “resiliency yardstick” to help governments and insurers assess and plan for future damage and what specific areas and cities are most vulnerable to the worst damage.

As we’ve written about in past articles, cities are at the nexus of change and effective action; planning and implementing strategies at the regional and municipal level can be the most effective means in many cases of protecting citizens from climate disruption and preparing for the future.

Bloomberg estimates that at least 500 million people are affected by climate to varying degrees within 63 C40 partner cities across the globe:

“Cities can’t afford to close their eyes and hope for the best,” he said. ”We just have to face up and respond to all the risks that we face,” he said, listing more intense storms, heat waves, droughts and floods in his remarks. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Quantifying risks and possible adaptive responses within a common framework will give lenders and insurers better information to defend and protect vulnerable populations and infrastructure, says Bloomberg, citing how work done in the past decade in New York City helped mitigate the destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy.

Also on hand at the event was Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, where he spoke of the extreme risks of the people living in Shantytowns (favelas) throughout the city. ”There’s no way to save those lives in a big flood,” Paes said, adding that he hopes the new resiliency index will help move those in areas of highest risk.

Additional source:
ClimateWire (subscription required)



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August 28 2012


California Start-Up Looks to Scale Up Algae Biofuel-Agriculture-BioPharma System

Aurora Algae seeks to scale up biofuel and food productionNow slamming into the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Isaac is the latest in what’s turning out be a notoriously bad year for extreme weather events in the US, the increasing frequency and severity of which fall right in line with climate scientists’ predictions of the effects rising human greenhouse gas emissions will have on global climate. Considered alongside severe drought, wildfires, shrinking Arctic sea ice cover, melting glaciers and other natural phenomena, the profound impacts of climate change on essential economic activities and broader society is becoming increasingly clear.

Oil prices, for instance, began to rise on first word of Isaac coming together as a tropical storm. It is estimated that the storm, gathering strength to reach hurricane status as it swept over warm Gulf of Mexico waters, could result in 90 percent of offshore oil platforms in the Gulf being shut down. The effects and costs flow well beyond the energy sector, notably in terms of US agricultural production.

Agricultural methods and practices used in the US are heavily dependent on a ready, cheap supply of petroleum products and fossil fuel energy. Already hit hard by another record-setting drought, rising oil prices will put another whammy on US farmers and food prices. Though many are not commercially ready, growing numbers of agricultural scientists, researchers, farmers and ranchers are working on less costly, water, energy and natural resource-intensive alternatives that function more in harmony with natural processes and the environment, as well as adaptable to changing climatic conditions.

One such example can be found at Aurora Algae. The Hayward, California-based start-up is developing a photosynthetic production platform that uses seawater, carbon dioxide (CO2), sunlight, and–you guessed it–algae to produce biofuel, fertilizer, essential food nutrients– protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as pharmaceutical products.

A Sustainable Agriculture, Biofuel and BioPharma System Takes Shape in Western Australia

With financial backing and other support from venture capital investors including Oak Investment Partners, Aurora Algae is looking to scale its operations from the pilot-test stage to commercial scale. Aurora Algae’s currently operating a pilot plant in Western Australia, about a 2-hour flight north from Perth, where it’s cultivating a proprietary strain of algae in saltwater ponds that span six acres of desert land.

Results thus far have been such that management is keen to raise the company’s public profile. Working with initial customers, the local and national Australian government and its “seed” stage investors, Aurora Algae’s production system yields 38-times as much usable protein while using just a small fraction of the freshwater required to produce the equivalent amount of soy protein, VP of business development Leslie van der Meulen and director of corporate marketing Paul Brunato told Global Warming is Real.

Aurora Algae was born in 2006 out of a research project company founders conducted while at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB). Initially focusing on using their strain of algae to produce biodiesel, they also began to analyze its other components. Realizing the algae they were cultivating was also an excellent source of protein and essential Omega-3 fatty acids, management, with backing from their VC investors, changed tack and broadened their strategy to encompass fertilizer, protein and Omega-3 fatty acid production in 2010.

Aurora’s VC investors “have been very supportive throughout the changes– from clean and green tech to life sciences,” van der Meulen related. “It’s been a very rewarding journey with them. We’re now at a phase where we’re looking forward to achieving some significant milestones over the next 12-18 months.”

Aurora management and staff, along with its investors, initial customer/partners and the Australian government are all excited about the prospect of “creaing a new [energy and food production] technology,” he added.

The benefits and advantages of Aurora Algae’s biofuel/agriculture/pharmaceutical production system are numerous and substantial. Feeding, employing and seeing to the health care needs of a world population that’s forecast to grow from a currently estimated 7 billion to reach 9 billion by 2045 is placing ever greater strains on natural resources and the environment, as well as governments’ ability to provide essential support and regulation. Compounding the challenges and problems is growing use of fossil fuels, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with the growing impact that’s having on global climate.

Aurora and its backers believe they’re developing a technology and system that can turn deserts into productive land capable of producing biofuel, fertilizer, essential protein, Omega-3 fatty acids and bio-pharmaceuticals that’s not only cheaper and more productive, but requires a fraction of the freshwater, energy and other inputs derived from natural resources required using current, conventional methods.

Adding to the benefits and advantages, Aurora Algae’s biofuel and food production system can be put to work in any area of the world where sufficient qualities of sunlight, CO2 and seawater are available. Faced with feeding and employing fast-growing populations, the Middle East, along with substantial areas of land in Asia, Latin America and Africa are all prospective project sites.

At their pilot project site in northwestern Australia, Aurora Algae’s pumping seawater “straight from off the coast” and into six, 1-acre saltwater raceway ponds, van der Meulen and Brunato explained. Brackish water is used to wash salt out of the algae biomass. The harvesting process also entails passing the algae biomass through a series of centrifuges that “ultimately dry it out.”

Aurora Algae’s now producing agricultural products and biofuel in a desert region where extracting and exporting finite mineral and energy resources has resulted in cycles of economic, and employment, booms and busts, the Australian government’s supported the project to the extent of extending grants and investing in the pilot project. The prospects of creating a new, sustainable industry capable of creating jobs, as well as long-term economic and environmental benefits was enough to convince the Australian government to back the project. “The local and national government have been extremely supportive of our operations. That’s one of the reasons for choosing the location,” van der Meulen said.

Aurora Algae and its backers believe they’ve hit upon an environmentally sustainable and economically and socially beneficial technology for producing food and fuel. “We’ve had discussions with folks regarding different approaches,” van der Meulen said. “Corn, sugar cane, palm oil…We consider ourselves the most sustainable option from Day 1, and any subsequent improvements we make will just be additional pluses.

“The next step is to expand from pilot-scale to commercial-scale operations,” van der Meulen and Brunato said, vastly increasing the surface area covered of its saltwater ponds and production.  “We’re planning on breaking ground on a commercial facility in early 2014. Right now, the immediate first step is to expand from six acres of ponds to 250 acres,” they related.

Aurora’s uploaded a 7-minute video of the process on Vimeo. Check it out.

Aurora Algae – Strain Development, Cultivation & Harvesting from paolobrunato on Vimeo.

August 21 2012


Glacial Melting, Growing Population and Agricultural Practices Threaten Farmers, Communities in Northwest China

Climate and population pressured combined with unsustainable agricultural practices threaten communities and farmers in northwestern ChinaA crossroads for human migration and trade between Europe and Asia since time immemorial, modern ways of life in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are facing challenges brought about by global warming. Higher temperatures in the high, arid and mountainous region are causing glaciers to melt, while population growth and increasingly intensive agriculture– cotton farming in particular– are draining aquifers at faster rates.

Surrounded by ancient, legendary mountain ranges, the Tarim Basin is the largest arid inland basin in China. Glacial meltwater accounts for 40 percent of the region’s water supply. Glacial meltwater runoff has been increasing as a result of rising temperatures, but that also means the glaciers are shrinking, which, in turn, means they’ll be storing and providing less water in future. That’s going to leave growing communities and downstream farmers “high and dry,” according to a report from Yale Environment 360.

Melting Mountain Glaciers

More than half the 800-mile Tarim River has run dry in four of the last 10 summers, Hanoi-based writer Mike Ives reports for Yale Environment 360. The region’s cotton farmers, who irrigate their crops six or seven times per growing cycle, are among the hardest hit.

The response to date has been to drill more and deeper water wells and to implement a water rationing system. The former, as it further depletes groundwater reserves, only exacerbates the problem, however, and the latter is proving very difficult to manage effectively. The Chinese Army indirectly or directly controls the region’s cotton farms, and they tend to put their own narrow commercial interests above all others.

Researchers participating in a joint, five-year, $9.3 million Chinese-German research project are looking for more sustainable, more equitable long-term solutions. Researchers from 12 German universities are working with Chinese counterparts to enhance regional water security in what’s been dubbed the Sustainable Management of River Oases Along the Tarim River project (SuMaRiO).

Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the SuMaRiO team will “work with farmers, communities, and officials in the basin to plan for a day when groundwater reserves are further depleted and runoff from glaciers may be considerably reduced,” according to Ives’ report for Yale Environment 360.

Shrinking Water Resources

The severe challenges posed by melting glaciers and shrinking water resources extends across borders in the region, as well as to other regions similarly affected, Ives notes. Four former Soviet Central Asian republics border northwest China also rely on the region’s glaciers for much of their water. Communities that relay on glacier meltwater for a signficant portion of their water in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca are facing the same problems.

“It doesn’t mean people in these regions ‘will no longer have a glass of water to drink, but it does mean they will need to considerably adapt how they make a living and their expectations of livelihoods,’” Ives quoted Jeffrey S. Kargel, a University of Arizona geologist not affiliated with SuMaRiO.”

Rain and snowmelt in many mountain ranges around the world, not glacial meltwater, feed river systems. Not so in the Himalyas and Cordillera Blanca, however, Ives notes. About half of Himalayan glaciers lie at elevations above 5,500 meters (17,875 feet), which means they won’t be melting anytime soon. In contrast, populations in the Tarim River basin and those in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes depend significantly on glacial meltwater runoff.

Runoff from some 14,000 glaciers supply water in the Tarim River basin. The region, which spans an area roughly the size of Vermont, is surrounded by mountains shrouded in history and legend, including the Tian Shan, the Kunlun, the Karakorum and the eastern Pamir. Communities in China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan rely on meltwaters to water and feed growing populations.

Glaciers feeding water throughout the Tarim River basin have shrunk about 8% in volume and 7% in surface area during the past forty years, according to Ives’ report. That’s slower than what’s been taking place in many parts of the Andes and Alps. That’s caused glacial runoff to increase—13% since the 1990s due to rising temperatures.

River flows are shrinking in the Tarim River basin nonetheless, however, due to an even sharper increase in irrigation. The growth of water-intensive cotton farming is responsible for much of the increasing demand for water for irrigation. Increasing glacial melting also means they’ll be less water stored in glacial ice in years to come.

Tarim River basin cotton farms account for more than 1/3 of China’s total cotton production. Increasingly intensive cotton farming is also causing other problems that will come to haunt the region’s farmers and communities if left unchecked. Soil quality, and hence yields, are declining due to salinization, and surrounding areas are increasingly suffering from desertification.

Being arid, the region is actually a poor choice for cotton farming. The Tarim River Basin receives an average of only 3 inches per year of rainfall. Substituting other native crops for cotton is one avenue being explored by the SuMaRiO project team, Ives explains.

Working in tandem with counterparts from China’s National Climate Center and local science institutes, they’re also working on more basic and fundamental tasks, such as comprehensively mapping the region’s watersheds. Recommendations are being communicated to Xinjian Province’s Tarim River Basin Water Management Bureau, which is aiming to halt wasteful irrigation practices as well as “investigate strategies that could help people in the basin adapt to an altered hydrological landscape.”

Image credit: livepine, courtesy flickr

May 08 2012


UN, Indigenous Leaders Meet to Share Knowledge, Join in Climate Change Initiatives

Representatives from UN bodies have been meeting with indigenous community leaders, experts and climate scientists in a series of meeting during the last few years, the overarching aim of which is to ensure that indigenous peoples have a say in international climate negotiations and treaties, and that traditional knowledge is incorporated in a globally shared knowledge base of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, methods and tools.

The latest such meeting took place last month in Cairns, Australia, where attendees gathered for a three-day workshop entitled, “Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples: Practices, Lessons Learned and Prospects.”

Case studies presented “identified current and emerging opportunities for indigenous peoples and local communities to contribute to climate change mitigation through carbon abatement and sequestration activities, including opportunities based on the provision of ecological services through application of traditional knowledge and practices,” according to a UNU-IAS news release.

Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples & Traditional Knowledge

“This meeting examined the current and potential contribution of indigenous peoples and local communities to climate change mitigation, as well as the impact on indigenous peoples and local communities of mitigation efforts,” said Govindan Parayil, Vice-Rector of the United Nations University (UNU), a co-convener of the workshop.

“What is unique about this workshop was the open dialogue between Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) authors, indigenous experts and community representatives,” continued Parayil. “We do hope it will enrich the IPCC assessment process.”

Lead authors responsible for preparing the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report participated in the workshop, discussing issues related to updating the UN IPCC’s definitive assessment of global climate change, which is due to be published in 2014. The Fifth Assessment Report is to provide the latest knowledge on the scientific, technical and socioeconomic aspects of climate change, UNU’s news release explains.

“For the Fifth Assessment Report, we are trying to consider all available human options for mitigating climate change”, said Youba Sokona, Co-Chair of the IPCC WGIII, who chaired the Cairns workshop. “The dialogue with experts and scientists on indigenous and local communities is inspiring, and we are grateful to the United Nations University to have set the stage for this dialogue.”

UNU and the IPCC organized two workshops to reach out to indigenous leaders and experts to ensure that they are included in UN processes related to climate change treaties, knowledge gathering, sharing and action program efforts. The first, which focused on adaptation and vulnerabilities, was held in Mexico City last July. The second focused on climate change mitigation, more specifically assessing the impacts such efforts have on indigenous peoples and communities, as well as identifying barriers preventing them from being directly involved and garnering benefits, according to UNU.

Indigenous people’s traditional knowledge base can be and is of great value in efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, the UN representatives noted. Reducing emissions through fire management techniques, adopting renewable energies and engaging in resource management projects that conserve natural resources and enhance local communities’ ability to adapt to a changing climate were among the examples of traditional knowledge mentioned.

Living in comparatively marginalized, less developed areas still rich in natural resources, traditional indigenous communities are on the front lines in terms of having to mitigate and adapt to climate change. “There is a high level of interest in climate change mitigation within these communities, not least because climate change impacts on their territories and communities are likely to be both early and severe, posing a direct threat to many indigenous and marginalized societies given continuing reliance upon resource-based livelihoods,” UNU-IAS stated in its news release

*Video courtesy: UNU, IPCC

April 24 2012


Drying Up: How Should China Deal with Growing Threat of Water Scarcity & Drought?

China grapples with water scarcity With its massive population, China’s focused on massive infrastructure projects to address what remain growing problems of water scarcity and drought. In the spirit of a grand scheme that dates back to early medieval Chinese times, China’s government is now looking to build the South-North Transfer, a vast new water pipeline that would transport massive amounts from the country comparatively water-rich south to its more water-starved north, according to a ClimateWire report (subscription required).

Pressed by population growth, climate change and rapid industrialization, China’s now facing a water crisis, one that feats of large-scale engineering alone will not solve, according to “Drying Up,” a new Asian Development Bank report.

The incidence of frequent and severe droughts is on the rise in China, yet it is China’s increasing demand for water, over-extraction of water and its inefficient use that pose the greatest threats to sustainable management. “Over extraction and inefficient use of water resource is creating water shortages in cities and putting large populations at risk when a drought occurs, the ADB notes in a press release.

“The country’s traditional approach of building more infrastructure is not enough to fill the widening gap between water supply and demand,” said Qingfeng Zhang, ADB’s Lead Water Resources Specialist and one of the authors of the report. “An integrated water resources management approach is needed to bring balance and prepare safety net supplies for droughts.”

The Chinese government has been trying to reduce Chinese society’s water use, but doing so is proving very difficult. Local governments are not taking advantage of opportunities to mitigate the impacts of these extreme weather events. Meanwhile, the rapidly industrializing country is experiencing “increasingly frequent and intense droughts.”

“Between 2001 and 2006, over 400 cities in the PRC suffered perennial water shortages and 11 suffered severe water shortages,” the report authors point out. “The 2011 drought which affected the Yangtze River left 3.5 million people with minimal drinking water. The 2009 drought affected 60 million people and compromised 6.5 million hectares of land. Between 2004 and 2007, droughts cost the PRC an estimated $8 billion of annual direct economic losses.”

Mitigating the Effects of Drought, Shortages: Disaster Preparedness, Demand Management, Efficient Use

Drawing on experience inside China, in “Drying Up” the ADB water resources team proposes a three-pronged approach for reducing the impacts of drought in China.

  • Strengthen its disaster preparedness, including risk monitoring and early warning systems, to reduce response time and costs incurred by losses, damages and rebuilding.
  • Manage demand through water savings, building better capture and storage facilities, re-evaluating tariffs, and boosting water efficiencies in agriculture, industry, and cities.
  • Take an integrated approach to water management at the municipal level based on water allocation schemes and monitoring that ensure nature, people, and the economy have secure supplies.

The authors draw on the experience of Guiyang residents in the southwestern Guizhou province to illustrate the social, economic and ecological benefits such an approach offers. A severe drought affected the city in 2010, leaving people without drinking water. Some 170,000 needed rations of grain to survive.

The municipality would have had 20% more water during the drought had Guiyang government officials taken the step of requiring the use of water-saving fixtures in residential and commercial buildings, imposing higher industrial water efficiency standards and reducing system leakage.

“Demand management alongside a system that monitors flows and water allocation can propel the country to greater resilience,” according to the report. “This would significantly close the supply-demand gap, which cannot be done by infrastructure alone.”

*Graphic courtesy: ADB – Water for All

April 13 2012


TD Bank Group Launches TD Forests Conservation Initiative, Highlighting ‘Deep Roots’ in Environmental Sustainability

With severe drought conditions threatening US forests and agriculture for a second-year running, Canada’s TD Bank Group today announced TD Forests, a forest conservation program that in addition to unifying the bank’s longstanding forest conservation community programs “under one canopy,” also includes “a major conservation and education program to protect critical forest habitat across North America,” according to a company press release.

More than 90% of North Americans consider forests as natural areas in need of protection, TD noted in announcing the TD Forests initiative. “The approach we’re taking with TD Forests is very much part of our goal of embedding an environmental perspective into our business,” says Karen Clarke-Whistler, TD Bank Group’s chief environment officer. “TD Forests is built on the twin pillars of reduce and grow – reduce paper use and grow the area of protected forest habitat.”

Mutually supportive, the banking and financial services group’s forestry program dovetails with its commitment to reduce its paper usage by at least 20% by 2015. Through TD Forests, TD expects “to protect forested areas equivalent to the paper it uses.”

Conserving North American Forests

TD Forests is similarly part-and-parcel of the bank’s broader commitment to carbon-neutral and environmentally sustainable operations. TD in 2010 became the first carbon-neutral bank based in North America, according to the company.

Realizing this environmental sustainability milestone has entailed renovating its facilities. Such efforts have included opening “net zero energy retail outlets and introducing innovative green product options.” Similarly, TD intends to leverage the TD Forests program, addressing “customer demand for more paperless product offerings” that “will reduce business expenses and will benefit the environment.”

To realize the goals of TD Forests, the bank group’s partnered with then Nature Conservancy of Canada and its conservation partners to expand the protected forest habitat across TD’s North American operations in Canada and the eastern US at a rate equivalent to the paper it uses. That amounts to “roughly two football fields of forest each and every day,” the company explains.

Forging an Environmental Ethic in Response to Customer Demand

More than 70% of people identified air quality as the greatest benefit provided by forests and nearly 90% indicated concern about air quality and the loss of natural areas and wildlife habitat due to deforestation, TD noted.

“Forests are an iconic symbol of our North American story and essential to the health of our planet. The lungs of the earth, they play a vital role in cleaning the air and moderating temperatures, and they’re critical habitats for plants and wildlife,” commented John Lounds, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“Even a forest the size of a football field has a tremendous impact on the air we breathe and on moderating our climate. It can provide a day’s oxygen for more than 1,000 people and also absorb the carbon dioxide. That’s why forest conservation is so important.”

The TD Forests program will focus on three areas during its first five years:

  1. Business commitment – to radically reduce paper usage in products, services and business operations
  2. Community commitments – to greening urban environments, forest protection, biodiversity and education
  3. Volunteerism – dedicated to employee initiatives such as TD Tree Days, the bank’s flagship volunteer initiative

TD Forests is the latest major environmental initiative in the bank group’s more than 20 years and counting of fostering environmental conservation. Highlighting its ‘deep roots’ in environmental conservation, TD’s achieved the following:

  • Since 1990, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD FEF) has supported more than 20,000 local environmental projects. Almost 80 per cent of the $3.6 million that TD FEF provided to organizations in 2011 went to fund educational, conservation, and biodiversity initiatives
  • TD Tree Days was introduced in 2010. During the first two years of the program TD volunteers planted more than 46,000 trees across Canada. In 2011, the program was expanded to the U.S. This year more than 40,000 trees will be planted in North America through the program
  • Since 2010, TD has provided nearly $1 million in matching grants to municipalities, Aboriginal communities and business improvement associations through TD Green Streets, a national program that supports innovative practices in urban forestry

“Our business commitment is to create value, provide great service to our customers and engage our employees. Our commitment to the environment is an integral part of that,” explained Mike Pedersen, group head of Wealth Management, Insurance and Corporate Shared Services, and the bank’s senior executive champion for the environment.

“Through initiatives like this one, we will enhance customer choice, while building on our employee and community commitments and benefiting the environment.”

April 03 2012


Broadband Report Highlights ICT’s Role in Low-Carbon Economy Transformation

A new Broadband Commission report illustrates “the kind of transformative solutions” information and telecommunications (ICT) and broadband technology can provide to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. “The Broadband Bridge: Linking ICT with Climate Action for a Low-Carbon Economy” report includes ten recommendations that information and communications (ICT) and other government policy makers can use to “strengthen and hasten the ability of ICT and broadband to accelerate global progress towards the low-carbon economy.”

A new and global policy framework is required in order to address climate change, which the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Climate Change deems “one of biggest challenges humankind has ever faced.”

“No country will remain untouched: some may experience extreme weather events, others severe drought, or sea level rises resulting in the loss of coastal areas…To contain the most severe risks and consequences…will require substantial reductions in greenhouse gases (GHGs), in particular CO2– a daunting task that can only be achieved with transformation to a low-carbon economy.”

ICT as a Key Enabler

ICT and broadband technology can, and already are contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation by reducing CO2 and GHG emissions, increasing energy and resource efficiency– thereby conserving increasingly precious natural resources, and reducing human waste. “Broadband can deliver vastly enhanced energy efficiency, mitigation, adaptation, real-time monitoring and emergency response, as well as broader benefits such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and job creation, social inclusion and improved governance and wider access to education and health,” the report authors’ write.

In addition to ten recommendations for policy makers, the report “showcases best government practices in mobilizing ICT to reduce GHGs and build inclusive societies,” according to Hans Vesterberg, Ericsson president and CEO, who chaired the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Climate Change, which produced the report.

Top Ten Areas for Action

The report’s authors reference a 2008 report in which WWF and Ecofys identified 10 key areas where ICT ‘could help deliver up to 1 billion metric tons of strategic CO2 reductions.’ All of them revolve around employing ICT to make “things” environmentally aware and intelligent. They are:

  1. Smart city planning
  2. Smart buildings
  3. Smart appliances
  4. Dematerialization services
  5. Smart industry
  6. i-optimization
  7. Smart grid
  8. Integrated renewable solutions
  9. Smart work
  10. Intelligent transport

A follow-up report, Smart 2020, produced by the Boston Consulting Group, Climate Group and GeSI estimated reductions from ICT-enabled energy efficiency at between 13-22%, while a 2008 American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy showed that overall US energy savings increased by a factor of 10 for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity consumed by ICT, the authors note.

ICT in Action

The report illustrates how ICT is already being used to mitigate and adapt to climate change. One example of climate change adaptation included in the report is China Mobile’s Rural Communication and Information Networks program, which as of year-end 2010 had connected some 89,000 remote villages to its mobile telecoms network.

More than 19 million rural customers were sending out an average 19.5 million SMS a day on the network’s Agricultural Information Service. Among the ICT applications related to climate change mitigation and adaptation are automated, machine-to-machine (M2M) monitoring and control systems, automatic drip irrigation, wireless water quality monitoring of fresh water aquaculture and water conservancy.

For all the promise ICT and broadband technology hold out in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change, there are significant challenges and obstacles to realizing its full potential, the report authors write, particularly when it comes to government policy and regulatory environments.

Current regulatory environments are organized and promote an isolated “silo” approach to gathering data and information and solving problems, according to the report, with separate communications networks built in parallel. “High licensing fees, spectrum charges and high tariffs also inhibit market development and discourage investment and expansion,” the authors state.

In terms of government policy, there’s a glaring lack of policies specifically tailored for and targeted to adopt “greener ICT solutions,” while at the same time “dismantling barriers to implementation like the subsidization of CO2-intensive industries.”

The report is produced by a global industry association and it does promote its self-interest. Climate change is real and human activity is accelerating it significantly. Likewise are the benefits ICT can provide in terms of meeting the challenges posed by climate change, however. The report is well worth reading.

March 29 2012


Closing in on Climate Tipping Points: Irreversible Climate Change, Managing the Risk and Learning to Adapt

Could the warnings be any clearer? Climate tipping points are upon us and adaptation as will as mitigation are key to grappling with global warmingIn the past days and weeks several scientific reports indicate that, even while advocating a 1.5 to 2 C degree rise in average global temperatures over the next century, we may now be at or even passed critical tipping points and heading into a world of irreversible global warming.

Earlier this month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report warning that without more ambitious climate policies to counter the rising dominance of global fossil fuel in the energy mix, greenhouse gas emissions could rise 50 percent by 2050. By mid-century energy demand will increase by 80 percent from what it is today. But without aggressive action to adopt to more sustainable energy sources, the energy mix will look much as it does today.

“Unless the global energy mix changes, fossil fuels will supply about 85 percent of energy demand in 2050, implying a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening urban air pollution,” the OECD said in its environment outlook to 2050.

The OECD report states that international climate action needs to begin in earnest by 2013. The cost of inaction far outweigh the cost of climate action, says the report, and a business-as-usual approach could lead to a reduction of global economic output of 14 percent by mid-century. Also at risk is political stability in climate and resources-stressed areas of the world as well as an increase in human suffering, much of it in the developing world.

Climate scientists this week reinforced the OECD findings, warning that we are now in a “critical decade” beyond which tipping points will likely be crossed, making irreversible dramatic climate shifts such as melting ice caps and loss of rainforest.

Indeed some of  tipping points may have already been crossed, especially for the world’s glaciers and ice caps. Oceans are now so saturated with carbon that they are now more acidic than at any time in the past 60 millions years and can’t absorb much more carbon.

“This is the critical decade,” said Will Steffen, one of the 2800 climate scientists attending the Planet Under Pressure Conference this week in London. “If we don’t get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines. The last 50 years have without doubt seen the most rapid transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in history,” says Professor Steffen.

“Many human activities reached take-off points sometime in the 20th Century and sharply accelerated towards the end of the century. It is the scale and speed of the Great Acceleration that is truly remarkable. This has largely happened within one human lifetime.” Steffen is executive director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University.

Despite the mounting evidence and urgency of the message, the international community remain mostly stalled on climate action. The latest round of international negotiations at the COP17 conference late last year in South Africa leaves nations until 2015 to sign any binding agreement that won’t take effect until 2020 – that’s the best case scenario and clearly not enough if the world is to heed scientists’ warning.

 IPCC report on managing climate risk, learning to adapt

Where mitigation fails, adaptation must become a core strategy. Once seen by some climate activists as a “cop-out” in lieu real action, adaptation is now an inevitability, says the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), released yesterday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Evidence suggests that climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century,” the IPCC said in a press release.

“Climate extremes, or even a series of non-extreme events, in combination with social vulnerabilities and exposure to risks can produce climate-related disasters,” says the SREX report.

“While some extreme weather and climate events lead to disasters, others do not. Policies to avoid, prepare for, respond to and recover from the risks of disaster can reduce the impact of these events and increase the resilience of people exposed to extreme events.”

Building resilient communities able to withstand and recover from severe storms, floods, drought, and heat waves are now a critical component in dealing with long-term climate change. Mitigation is needed to offset the most disastrous consequences of global warming, but to a large extent, the “horse has already left the barn.” Without effective adaptation policies, there is a much higher risk of catastrophic economic loss and social collapse.

“The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not,” said Chris Field, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group II, which together with Working Group I produced the report. “The challenge for the future has one dimension focused on improving the knowledge base and one on empowering good decisions, even for those situations where there is lots of uncertainty.”

We guard against many risks in our daily lives. The convergence of messages just in the past few weeks of climate scientists from across the globe serve as a clear warning that now is the time to meet the challenge of an unsustainable energy economy and climate change through cooperation and action, to both mitigate and adapt to a warming world.

Image credit: Celsias.com

March 27 2012


New UK Research Center to Focus on Climate, Carbon Markets and Green Technology

A new center for climate change research has emerged in the UK. With support from government, academia and businesses large and small, the UK’s National Physical Laboratory yesterday officially launched the Centre for Carbon Measurement (CCM), a multidisciplinary climate change research institution with a focus on climate modeling, global carbon markets and green technology.

CCM “will provide reliable climate data on which to base policies; support international regulations and voluntary schemes for carbon trading and monitoring; and help to develop and measure the performance of low-carbon technologies,” a press release explains.

“The science of measurement is essential in underpinning the transition to a low carbon economy. As the UK is a world leader in both measurement science and the centre of the global carbon market it is only right that we develop the right infrastructure to support this transition,” commented David Willetts, UK Minister for Universities and Science.

The Centre for Carbon Measurement at NPL is designed to do this, to provide reliable measurements with a sound scientific and technical basis that will improve the understanding of the global climate, support policies for mitigating climate change, and accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies.”

The Centre elaborated on its three focal points and its objectives as follows:

  • Climate Data: CCM will improve the accuracy and consistency of climate data through improved ground-based and satellite measurement technology and better data analysis. This will feed into climate models to give a better understanding of the long-term impact of climate change and enable governments to develop more focused policies for mitigation and adaptation.
  • Carbon Markets: the Centre will develop the underpinning measurement science and technology to support carbon markets and accounting. This will enable comparisons across projects, companies and borders, ensure a fair and stable carbon market and support businesses in reporting, managing and offsetting emissions. London is currently the centre of the carbon market with over 80% of carbon traded there in 2009. Developing fit-for-purpose measurement capabilities will be important to the long-term success of emissions trading and offsetting schemes and assuring the UK’s place as the global centre of carbon markets.
  • Green Technology: the Centre will provide access to the best measurement techniques for developers of low carbon technologies, allowing scientific validation of their performance and thereby giving confidence to investors and buyers. Such support is key to commercializing advances in areas such as energy efficient technology, fuel cells, photovoltaics and offshore renewables, according to CCM’s press release.

Strengthening UK Climate Research, Carbon Markets & Green Technology

“There must be a robust scientific foundation of carbon measurement if we are to address the risks of climate change. The power industry is a key stakeholder here, not only in managing emissions from power generation, but also in technologies that underpin energy conservation and efficiency, such as carbon capture and storage, monitoring energy loss from buildings, and smart metering,” added Dr Richard Busby, environment manager for multinational power company E.ON. “All of these rely on accurate and reliable measurement and E.ON will offer continuing support for this endeavour.”

CCM’s got a head-start toward achieving its goals, having identified and placed research projects to do with each of these three topical areas in its development pipeline. These include: reducing uncertainties in climate data; providing technical input to guidance for companies reporting climate impact; detecting and quantifying leaks from Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) demonstration projects; and providing a scientifically robust framework for estimating carbon savings from smart grids and large-scale building energy efficiency projects.

CCM is also taking on a role in fostering UK economic development and growth related to its research focus. Small and large businesses, government and academia will have access to the knowledge, advice and technology at NPL and wider UK carbon measurement capabilities, it explains. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) “which will bring value to the UK economy and environment will have opportunities to apply for match-funded support, including an initial half-million pound fund for low carbon innovators.”

NPL is already active in the climate and carbon-free science, policy and economic development. It’s involved in more than 6 million pounds ($9.58 million) of low carbon projects a year which have yielded a 1:20 return to the UK economy.

CCM intends to triple this volume over three years. It also intends to ‘up-skill’ the UK workforce in carbon measurement and attracting business to the UK. The Centre will report on the environmental and economic impacts of its activities later this year.

*Image credit: The Guardian

March 13 2012


Water, Food, Mass Migrations and Mexico’s Climate Bill: Climate Change Week in Review


There was much in the way of climate change and global warming news released this past week. While a lot of it, as is typical, was politically, emotionally and otherwise rhetorically slanted, there also was much of substance in terms of efforts to better understand what’s happening globally and locally in terms of climate change, as well efforts to do with climate change mitigation and adaptation.


  • Perhaps most alarmingly portentous of the impact of climate change for human societies and civilization was news that the government of the South Pacific island of Kiribati are considering a range of relocation options, including relocating the entire population to man-made islands built along the lines of giant oil rigs, according to a report from the UK’s The Independent. Another option: relocating the populace to Fiji. Spanning some 33 coral atolls dotted across 2 million square miles of the Pacific, Kiribati’s highest point is a mere two meters above sea level. The island nation is losing land and crops to rising sea levels and seeing its freshwater sources contaminated by salt water. Attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland, New Zealand last week, President Anote Tong last week told the Associated Press (AP) that his cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy some 3,000 hectares on Vita Levu, Fiji’s main island with as a climate change insurance policy, should the nation’s 103,000 residents be forced to relocate. The government is also considering building massive sea walls, as well as super-sized, man-made derricks, but these would cost billions of dollars. Those dollars, largely, would have to come from international lending and aid agencies.
  • Examining the issue of water supplies, food security and climate change from a global perspective, “an unprecedented rise in the demand for food, rapid urbanization and climate change are significantly threatening global water supplies,” according to the UN World Water Development Report, which is being released at the sixth UN World Water Forum in Marseille. Demand for food will increase 70% by 2050, prompting a 19% increase in demand for water by agriculture, which already consumes 70% of fresh water supplies, according to the report, entitled, “Managing Water Under Uncertainty and Risk. “The impact of climate change on water supplies will also increase, as a changing climate “will alter rainfall patterns and soil humidity, melt glaciers and cause water-related disasters such as floods and droughts, which impact food production.”  These will affect as many as 44 million people around the world, the report authors estimate.
  • Examining the issue of mass migrations caused by climate and environmental changes, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is warning governments that they need to prepare for mass migrations due to rising sea levels, soil and fresh water degradation and seasonal droughts and flooding. Natural disasters, such as 2011′s floods in Thailand, forced 42 million people to relocate in the Asia-Pacific region in 2010, though exactly how much of this was caused by climate change remains uncertain. The Asia-Pacific is home to six of the ten countries considered most vulnerable to climate change. Fully 1/3 of Southeast Asia’s population lives in areas “at-risk,” including residents of Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the report.
  • Increasingly aware of the threats posed by climate change, Mexico’s government is moving forward with climate change legislation. Mexican states including the Federal District of Mexico City, Tabasco and Veracruz have individually enacted climate change bills. With nearly all of the country’s political parties in agreement, a national “unified General Climate Change Bill” is now progressing in the Mexican Senate. Aiming to consolidate and better organize Mexico’s climate change strategy and action plans, the draft bill would establish:
    • a national system for addressing climate change;
    • a national climate change policy, based on defined principles; and
    • an independent authority, to be known as the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, which will be directed by a government committee created by certain federal ministries.

Image credit: the Independent

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