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January 14 2014

22:25

An Uptick in US Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Utilities Use More Coal

Greenhouse gas emissions rise slightly in 2013

Finalizing its 2013 report on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects an increase of 2 percent for the year, the first in three years. Looking out over the longer term, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been in a downtrend, one that the EIA expects will continue, with emissions from energy generation declining four out of the past six years since their 2007 peak.

2013 national greenhouse gas emissions will come in at slightly more than 10 percent below 2005 levels, according to an EIA press release, “a significant contribution towards the goal of a 17 percent reduction in emissions from the 2005 level by 2020 that was adopted by the current Administration.”

2013 uptick belies longer term downward trend


The EIA attributes 2013′s expected rise in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions to a small increase in coal consumption in the U.S. power sector. With U.S. natural gas prices coming off lows, electric utilities have been using more coal this past year.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions reached a peak in 2007. Since then, utilities switching to cheaper natural gas from coal, along with growing use of non-hydro renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, helped drive U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to a historic low in April, 2012, when they were 12 percent below 2005 levels.

The EIA identifies key drivers of a changing U.S. energy landscape in its press release:

  • Weak economic growth in recent years, dampening growth in energy demand compared to pre-recession expectations;
  • Continuously improving energy efficiency across the economy, including buildings and transportation;
  • High energy prices over the past four years, with the exception of natural gas, since about 2010;
  • An abundant and inexpensive supply of natural gas, resulting from the widespread use of new production technologies for shale gas (i.e. fracking);
  • Power sector decarbonization since 2010, as natural gas and renewables displaced coal.

Though coal regained some market share among electric utilities in 2013, the EIA forecasts that the downtrend in national greenhouse gas emissions will continue.

Rising tide of renewables

Renewable energy supply continues to rise in the United States

In its latest “Short-term Energy Outlook,” the EIA predicts that emissions-free hydropower and non-hydropower renewables for electricity and heat generation will grow at a 4.7 percent rate in 2014. Use of hydropower to generate electricity and heat will rise 2.2 percent, while non-hydropower renewables will rise 6.1 percent.

U.S. installed wind power capacity will increase 8.8% in 2014 to reach some 66 gigawatts (GW). The EIA pegs growth in 2015 at 14.6 percent, with total installed capacity reaching 75 GW. Wind-driven electricity generation will increase 2.2% this year and 11.4% in 2015, accounting for over 5 percent of the national total.

EIA also foresees ongoing growth in capacity and use of electricity from utility and end-user solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy sources.

The EIA doesn’t forecast “customer-sited” solar energy capacity or use, though it does expect this largest segment of the solar power market to continue to exceed that for utility-scale solar power in terms of capacity and use. The EIA does track and forecast utility-scale solar power capacity and use, however. The EIA projects that utility-scale solar will increase through 2014 and 2015, though it will account for just 0.4% of overall U.S. electricity generation.

Utility-scale solar power installations more than doubled in both 2012 and 2013, the EIA highlights. It forecasts the sector will grow another 40% or so between year-end 2013 and year-end 2015, “with photovoltaic (PV) capacity accounting for 85 percent of that growth.”

EIA also highlighted the commissioning of the 280 megawatt (MW) Solana solar thermal power plant in Arizona. Designed and built by Abengoa, Solana is the first utility-scale solar thermal, or concentrating solar, power plant to come online since 2007.

Solana is unique: it’s the only solar thermal plant in operation in the U.S. with integrated storage capacity, which enables the system to store and distribute electricity at maximum capacity for up to six hours. EIA expects more of these to come online in 2014.

All images courtesy of Energy Information Administration

The post An Uptick in US Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Utilities Use More Coal appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 31 2013

18:42

2013 A Promising Start for California’s Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program

If California were a nation, its economy would be the twelfth largest in the world. Not only does the Golden State have the largest and one of the most diverse economies in the U.S., it has been at the leading, even cutting, edge of efforts aimed at forging a leaner, cleaner, low-carbon society for the 21st century.

When it comes to government-led efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate and adapt to the potentially devastating effects of rapid climate change, 2013 marked another path-setting year for California. In 2013, its first full year of operation, the value of carbon allowances traded under the state’s pioneering carbon emissions Cap-and-Trade Program totaled $1.1 billion and brought nearly $500 million in much needed revenue to a fiscally challenged state government.

California's first year of its cap-and-trade program is a successSetting a price on carbon pollution

As  News10 ABC reported, California’s climate change law sets annual caps on greenhouse gas emissions for heavy polluters, such as coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, and industrial companies. The carbon/greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pollution cap will slide lower 3 percent each year beginning in 2013.

Those that cannot reduce their GHG emissions to the cap level or below are required to offset their emissions by investing in cleaner, less polluting operations, such as reforestation projects, or purchase carbon emission offset allowances on the cap-and-trade market. These are offered by companies whose emissions fall below the cap or issuers that have developed projects that effectively offset quantifiable amounts of carbon and GHG emissions.

Auctions of carbon cap-and-trade allowances brought in nearly $477 million for the California treasury in 2013, News10 ABC reported. “Those pollution allowances are selling like hotcakes,” commented political editor John Myers.

California’s carbon cap-and-trade program “brings together the best aspects of regulation and using the market to drive flexible mechanisms,” added Stanley Young of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (CARB).

Making polluters pay for pollution

As CARB explains on its website,

“Market forces spur technological innovation and investments in clean energy. Cap-and-trade is an environmentally effective and economically efficient response to climate change.”

As originally enacted, California’s cap-and-trade auction revenues were earmarked to be invested in efforts to combat climate change. Struggling to balance the state’s budget, the governor and state congress suspended that aspect of the legislation and used them to help balance the state’s budget, however.

With huge budget surpluses projected in coming years, proponents and supporters of the cap-and-trade bill are now urging Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators to repay that money and invest it in the type of projects for which it was originally intended.

“Let’s spend the climate change revenues to reduce the pollution that causes climate change,” Bill Magavern of the Coalition for Clean Air stated in an News10 interview, such as home weatherization or subsidizing solar panel installations for low-income households.

Moreover, even more in the way of cap-and-trade revenue would have come the state’s way had oil companies and other big polluters not been given carbon emissions allowances for free, Magavern noted.

“The oil companies are essentially getting off the hook…I think politics has everything to do with it,” he commented.

Other governments are now looking to emulate and/or link to California’s carbon cap-and-trade market. Quebec looks like it will be the first. An announcement was made back in October that representatives from the respective U.S. state and Canadian provincial governments had signed “an agreement outlining steps and procedures to fully harmonize and integrate the two programs.”

With some luck, opposition legislators in Washington D.C. may finally see the light and hold polluters responsible for the pollution they create and the health and environmental damage that results. Enacting a national carbon emissions cap-and-trade program, or perhaps even a national carbon emissions tax, would be a historic step in that direction.

The post 2013 A Promising Start for California’s Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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December 10 2013

23:31

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.

November 26 2013

19:15

Ocean Acidity Rising 10x Faster Than At Any Time in the Past 55 Million Years

Credit: Christopher Krembs, TAMU

Ocean acidification continues to rise at a rate “unprecedented in Earth’s history,” a direct result of past and current increases in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, posing significant threats to the health and integrity of marine ecosystems and the diverse range of products and services they provide the world over, according to a report produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) and released for the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World..

The latest scientific research on ocean acidification indicates the pH of the oceans is decreasing 10-times faster than at any time in the past 55 million years and may be decreasing faster “than at any time in the last 300 million years,” according to “Ocean Acidification: A Summary for Policymakers” presented at the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World.

The culprit: rising anthropogenic (human) emissions of CO2. The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere has risen 40 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The oceans historically have absorbed about ¼ of all the CO2 released into the atmosphere by humans since that time. Today, they absorb some 10 million metric tons of CO2 on a daily basis, the report authors note in an executive summary. To date, those emissions have led ocean acidity to increase 26 percent.

Ocean acidification: Rising human carbon emissions the culprit

Increasing ocean acidification lowers the capacity of the oceans to absorb seawater and hence also threatens the viability of marine ecosystems. That spells potential trouble for already troubled ocean plant and animal species, many of which are of vital importance to human societies the world over.

As the authors highlight, the gathering of 540 experts from 37 countries in Monterey, California for the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World attests to the growing amount of interest, scientific research, and sense of urgency, regarding “ocean acidification, its impacts on ecosystems, socio-economic consequences and implications for policy.”

What do we need to do in respone to what amounts as a “clear and present danger” to the health and integrity of marine ecosystems? The report authors state the solution plainly and succinctly:

“Reducing CO2 emissions is the only way to minimise long-term, largescale risks.”

Source:

Source: “Ocean Acidification Summary for Policymakers”

Considerations for Policy Makers

In the executive summary, they go on to highlight a summary of considerations they recommend policy makers take into account in their decision making:

  • The primary cause of ocean acidification is the release of atmospheric CO2 from human activities. The only known realistic mitigation option on a global scale is to limit future atmospheric CO2 levels.
  • Appropriate management of land use and land-use change can enhance uptake of atmospheric CO2 by vegetation and soils through activities such as restoration of wetlands, planting new forests and reforestation.
  • Geoengineering proposals that do not reduce atmospheric CO2 – for example, methods that focus solely on temperature (such as aerosol backscatter or reduction of greenhouse gases other than CO2) – will not prevent ocean acidification. Adding alkaline minerals to the ocean would be effective and economically feasible only on a very small scale in coastal regions, and the unintended environmental consequences are largely unknown.
  • The impacts of other stressors on ocean ecosystems such as higher temperatures and deoxygenation – also associated with increasing CO2 – will be reduced by limiting increases in CO2 levels.
  • The shellfish aquaculture industry faces significant threats and may benefit from a risk assessment and analysis of mitigation and adaptation strategies. For example, seawater monitoring around shellfish hatcheries can identify when to limit the intake of seawater with a lower pH, hatcheries can be relocated, or managers can select larval stages or strains that are more resilient to ocean acidification for breeding.
  • At local levels, the effects of ocean acidification on ecosystem resilience may be constrained by minimising other local stressors3,4,5 through the following:
  1. Developing sustainable fisheries management practices such as regulating catches to reduce overfishing and creating long-term bycatch reduction plans. If implemented and enforced, this type of management has been shown to sustain ecosystem resilience.
  2. Adopting sustainable management of habitats, increased coastal protection, reduced sediment loading and application of marine spatial planning.
  3. Establishing and maintaining Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that help manage endangered and highly vulnerable ecosystems to enhance their resilience against multiple environmental stressors.
  4. Monitoring and regulating localised sources of acidification from runoff and pollutants such as fertilisers.
  5. Reducing sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and ship exhausts that have significant acidifying effects locally.

Main image credit: Christopher Krembs, TAMU

The post Ocean Acidity Rising 10x Faster Than At Any Time in the Past 55 Million Years appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 19 2013

23:21

Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants

Energy and climate scientists call for a coal moratorium, saying unabated coal is the road to climate catastrophe

Coal Sunrise over Beijing

An international group of 27 prominent energy and climate scientists are calling for a moratorium on construction of new coal-fired power plants, a policy they say has become a global imperative if “climate catastrophe” is to be avoided this century.

Their call comes amid renewed efforts by coal and power utility lobbies “to portray ‘high efficiency low emissions coal combustion’ as a climate solution.” Global carbon emissions are set to hit another new record high this year, according to a report released earlier this week as UN climate treaty negotiators meet in Warsaw. Ironically, taking place at the same time in the Polish capital is the Coal and Climate Summit.

The assertion that coal combustion to produce electricity should be considered a “climate-friendly” power technology flies in the face of the facts, all good judgment, and, needless to say, any semblance of adhering to the “precautionary principle.” Agreeing to it would set humanity and ecosystems around the world firmly on course for global warming of 6°C (10.8°F) , according to the scientists.

That’s three to four times the 1.5-2°C cap (compared to pre-industrial era levels) and climate warming threshold world leaders agreed to at the UN’s climate treaty negotiations in Cancun in 2010.

On the road to climate catastrophe

The world’s known coal reserves contain more than 2,000 gigatons (Gt) of CO2. Burning or combusting these reserves “would dramatically overshoot the remaining global carbon budget of about 1,000 gigatons CO2. This comes on top of oil and gas reserves accounting for more than 1600 gigatons,” the scientists highlight in a press release.

“The current global trend of coal use is consistent with an emissions pathway above the IEA’s 6°C scenario. That risks an outcome that can only be described as catastrophic, beyond anything that mankind has experienced during its entire existence on earth,” the scientists state.

Source:

Source: “New Unabated coal is not compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“The IEA’s medium-term coal market report (IEA, 2012) projects a further expansion of coal use that is even higher than IEA’s own 6DS scenario for 6°C warming in the long-term,” they elaborate.

“The 6DS scenario assumes around 4°C warming by 2100 (Schaeffer and Van Vuuren, 2012). As the Secretary General of the OECD warns: ‘Without CCS, continued reliance on coal-fired power is a road to disaster. (OECD, 2013)”

Source:

Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“We are not saying there is no future for coal”, added Professor P.R. Shukla of the Indian Institute of Management, “but that unabated coal combustion is not compatible with staying below the 2°C limit, if we like it or not.”

Following is a short list of the main points of the climate and energy scientists’ statement:

  • Unabated coal is not a low carbon technology
  • Avoiding dangerous climate change requires about 3/4 of known fossil fuel reserves to stay underground
  • Current trends in coal use are harbouring catastrophic climate change
  • To keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial, use of unabated coal has to go down in absolute terms from now on
  • Alternatives are available and affordable
  • Public financing institutions and regulatory agencies are reining in unabated coal, but more is needed to prevent new unabated coal to be built

False claims, Sustainable energy scenarios

The group of scientists also noted that “false claims about ‘high-efficiency coal’ as a low-emissions technology” were made by the World Coal Association (WCA) in their recently released Warsaw Communiqué. In it the WCA “calls for ‘the immediate use of high-efficiency low-emissions coal combustion technologies as an immediate step in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”

Contrary to such assertions, Dr Bert Metz, former Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group on Climate Change Mitigation, stated,

“New or retrofitted coal plants without CO2 capture and storage will have a life time of 40-50 years. We need to dramatically reduce emissions over the next 40 years. That is not possible with unabated coal.”

“Alternatives to fossil fuels are already available and affordable. It is therefore up to the coal industry to show that coal-fired plants with CCS can compete with other zero carbon options.”

The scientists welcomed the growing number of prominent multilateral and international financing institutions and regulatory agencies, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, to curtail or “rein in unabated coal.” Much more action is needed, and now, however, they added.

As Professor William Moomaw of the Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA pointed out:

“The trend of future coal use is changing rapidly. The World Bank, US development assistance and the US Import-Export Bank will no longer finance or support new unabated coal power plants internationally, except in rare cases.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency has proposed carbon dioxide emission standards that rule out unabated coal power plants altogether. The European Investment Bank and Scandinavian countries have taken similar steps.”

Genuinely low-emissions alternative, renewable energy technology are readily available, competitive with fossil fuels, and continue to decline in cost, the scientists highlight. This stands out in stark contrast to trends in fossil fuels, which are increasingly costly in narrowly defined dollars-and-cents terms, and much more expensive over the long-term when their environmental, health and other socioeconomic costs, such as military interventions, are factored into the equation.

In their statement, the scientists lay out a range of alternative energy and emissions scenarios:

Source:

Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

For more on this topic, check out the scientists’ full statement on coal

 

Main and featured image credit: Shel Israel, courtesy flickr 

The post Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 13 2013

23:05

Record Greenhouse Gases – Is 2 Degrees Still Possible?

A new report from the WMO shows record greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, and rising. Can we get our act together in time to avoid the worst of climate change?The latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin released last week by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed that global atmospheric greenhouse gases hit a new record high, rising 2.2 parts-per-million (ppm) from 2011 levels to an average 393.1 ppm in 2012. The rate of change accelerated in 2012 as well, up from the 2.02 annual ten-year average to 2.2 ppm. The volume of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently at least 41 percent above pre-industrial levels, before the wholesale burning of fossil fuels began.

The WMO report also said that the current year-on-year upward and accelerating trend of greenhouse gas levels are on track to be 8 to 12 billion tonnes higher in 2020 than what is required to keep warming within the 2 degree Celsius limit scientists say is needed to avoid the worst of global warming in the coming decades.

“The more we wait for action, the more difficult it will be to stay under this limit and the more the impact will be for many countries, and therefore the more difficult it will be to adapt,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said at a press conference last week.

For years scientists, analysts and advocates have called for aggressive climate action, warning of the “closing window” on global warming. Writing earlier this year in WRI Insights, Kelly Levin, Senior Associate of the World Resource Institute’s Climate & Energy Program, said that the most recent data suggests the developed world must commit to halving emissions by 2020 over 1990 levels to contain warming within the 2 degree target this century. Levin says that current emission reduction targets from developed countries only add up to between a 12 to 18 percent reduction from 1990 levels, far short of what is needed.

“The findings from this most recent study suggest that the challenge we already knew was great is even more difficult,” writes Levin. But even with an increased level of reductions necessary, the study does show that a 2°C goal is still attainable – if we act ambitiously and immediately.”

So the window has not slammed shut just yet, but with each passing year the ambition and immediacy required grows, along with greenhouse gas emissions. Can we rise to the challenge of climate change? I could say “time will tell,” but there really is none left. What is clear, right now more than ever, is that what we decide to do today will determine the fate of many generations to come.

Soon the hour will pass when we can no longer say there is still time to offset at least some of the worst consequences of climate change, but only hunker down for what we’ve brought upon ourselves.

 

Image credit: Mikael Miettinen, courtesy flickr

The post Record Greenhouse Gases – Is 2 Degrees Still Possible? appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 12 2013

20:19

Is Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Even on the Agenda in Warsaw?

A sunny day in Beijing

A sunny day in Beijing

For all their potential promise, apparent earnestness and gravity – not to mention their possible effects and potential ramifications – it’s hard at times not to be cynical about high-level political negotiations. Such might be felt of the United Nations (UN) climate treaty negotiations which got under way this week in Warsaw, Poland.

People have good reason to be skeptical of the climate treaty process, not because global warming and climate change are based on faulty science or because viable options aren’t in hand, but because governments and societies around the world are so invested in fossil fuels that the thought that political leaders would collectively take aggressive action to phase out carbon and greenhouse gas emissions is nigh unthinkable.

Take, for example, that even as representatives from the 195 UN member nations party to the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet to establish the framework of an agreement to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that G20 governments doled out $523 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers in 2011, the latest year such figures are available. What’s more, fossil fuel subsidies are rising, even as the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) just last week reported that global greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high in 2012.

To say such subsidies are counterproductive would be gross understatement. Perverse would be a better modifier. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would remove a perverse incentive that stands in the way of leveling the energy markets “playing field,” putting a true cost on carbon in an attempt to address global warming and climate change.

Releasing a report entitled Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) documents “the scale of fossil fuel subsidies and sets out a practical agenda for their elimination in the context of the global goal of tackling climate change.”

Climate treaty negotiators convene in Warsaw

Against the backdrop of devastation in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan – reportedly one of, if not the largest and strongest, typhoon ever recorded – the 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC is convening November 11-22 in (ironically enough) Warsaw, Poland, a nation with a government that has steadfastly resisted efforts to shift off coal and fossil fuels toward a more diversified energy mix centered on cleaner, renewable alternatives.

Convening at COP 19 in Warsaw over the next 11 days, representatives from the 195 UN member nations that are parties to the international climate treaty (the U.S. included) and the 192 that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol (the U.S. excluded) will attempt to hammer out the framework of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Full details of a new accord to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are to be ready for signing by 2015 to go into effect in 2020.

Trying to make the negotiations as inclusive as possible, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) has become a major public event. At COP 19 in Warsaw, representatives of 195 UN member nations will be joined by a host of NGOs, civic groups, other public and private sector organizations, the press, and, more than likely, large numbers of demonstrators.

Enhancing the efficacy and credibility of global climate change action

The UNFCCC’s public credibility – not to mention its efficacy – would be greatly enhanced if the national governments party to the international treaty were to take one expedient, cost-effective step: eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, ODI asserts, and they are by no means the first to advocate taking such a step.

Source:

Source: “Time to change the game,” ODI, 11/2013

Straight from the executive summary of “Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate,” here are ODI’s key points:

  • Fossil fuel subsidies are expensive. They were at over $500 billion globally in 2011, and up to $90 billion in the OECD alone.
  • These subsidies are increasing and are a major obstacle to green investment, and seriously undermine attempts to put a price on carbon.
  • In developing countries the majority of benefits from fossil fuel subsidies go to the richest 20 percent of households.
  • Domestic and international support for fossil fuels dwarfs spending on health and education in a number of countries, and outstrips climate finance and aid.
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in G20 countries by 2020 (and globally by 2025), with proper safeguards for the poor, would enable the triple win of inclusive green growth.

Perverse incentives indeed, and the above is only a short list. According to ODI’s study, “international financial institutions (IFIs) also support carbon-intensive energy systems.

“Over 75 percent of energy-project support from IFIs to 12 of the top developing-country emitters went to fossil fuel projects. There has been no significant shift in this trend: in the last financial year alone (2012-13), the World Bank Group increased its lending for fossil fuel projects to $2.7 billion, including continued lending for oil and gas exploration (Oil Change International, 2013).”

As ODI goes on to state:

“If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet. They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.

“Coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel of all, is taxed less than any other source of energy and is, in some countries, actively subsidized (OECD, 2013a). For every $1 spent to support renewable energy, another $6 are spent on fossil fuel subsidies (IEA, 2013).”

Following, in summary form, are the key actions ODI is urging G20 UNFCCC climate treaty delegates take in Warsaw:

  •  G20 countries use the Warsaw CoP meeting to agree a broad timeline for action
  • G20 governments call on technical agencies to agree a common definition of fossil fuel subsidies
  • G20 governments commit to phasing out all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020, with early action by rich-country members on subsidies to coal and to oil and gas exploration by 2015
  • that governments and donors work together to ensure that measures are put in place to protect vulnerable groups from the impact of subsidy removal.

Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would be one of the most straightforward, cost-effective and effective steps world governments could take to address the profound threats and rising costs of addressing global warming and climate change. Will they muster the will and toughness to do so? Not likely, but one can at least hope for the best.

The post Is Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Even on the Agenda in Warsaw? appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 05 2013

16:44

14 Steps to Reduce Black Carbon and Stabilize the Cryosphere

on_thin_iceClimate change is causing unprecedented changes in the Earth’s regions of snow and ice, portents of profound, dramatic change for ecosystems and societies around the world, according to a joint report released by The World Bank and The International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) November 4.

The Earth’s cryosphere is warming more rapidly than anticipated – “at a pace unprecedentd in the historic record.” Rather than abating, in most cases warming and melting is accelerating, posing ecosystems and societies around the world with a variety of fundamental threats, including an increasing frequency of droughts and floods, and dramatic shifts in water, food and energy resource availability, according to “On Thin Ice: How Cutting Pollution Can Slow Warming and Save Lives.”

The Earth’s cryosphere: “On Thin Ice”

Stabilizing and preserving the cryosphere merits inclusion as a global imperative, the report authors stress. Leadership – in the form of explicit and sustained guidance, direction, support and incentives – is needed across markets, industries, the government, private and public sectors if there is any chance of this objective being realized, however.

In “On Thin Ice,” the World Bank and ICCI report authors lay out 14 practical measures that if enacted by 2030 could drastically reduce short-lived carbon pollutants (SLCPs) – primarily black carbon and methane – and stabilize conditions in the world’s threatened snow and ice-bound regions. Doing so, they assert, would bring “multiple health, crop, and ecosystems benefits and decrease risks to development from water resource changes, including flooding and other major impacts or climate feedbacks we may not foresee today.”

The effects of climate change are being seen and felt disproportionately in the Earth’s cryosphere, whether it’s Arctic sea ice, Antarctic ice shelves, the Greenland ice sheet, the Alaskan coast or the freshwater glaciers of the Andes, Rockies and Himalayas. Moreover, “rapid changes in the cryosphere observed during the first decade of this century are continuing or accelerating,” according to the report.

“Warming in the cryosphere poses serious threats to disaster preparedness, to water resources in some heavily populated regions, and to adaptation and ecosystems preservation. Intensified monitoring in cryosphere regions is needed to provide better and earlier warning of changes.”

Ongoing warming “has the potential to trigger disastrous feedback mechanisms from the cryosphere into the global climate systems,” the report authors continue, including “loss of albedo from sea ice and snow cover and loss of permafrost leading to greater carbon fluxes into the atmosphere (particularly where emissions occur as methane.”

Credit:

Credit: “On Thin Ice,” World Bank, ICCI

Methane emissions from thawing permafrost alone could increase atmospheric carbon “as much as 5-30% by the end of this century if current cryosphere warming is not slowed,” they warn.

Reducing Black Carbon and methane emissions

Implementing the 14 measures recommended in the report by 2030 “could slow warming in the Arctic by more than a full degree by 2050, resulting in up to 40 percent reduced loss of summer sea ice and 25 percent reduced loss of springtime snow cover compared to the baseline,” however.

As stated in the report’s executive summary,

“Accelerating actions to decrease short-lived pollutants from key sectors can make a real difference by slowing these dangerous changes and risks to development while improving public health and food security.”

Rapidly scaling up just four cleaner cooking solutions alone could save as many as 1 million human lives a year. Reducing diesel emissions in transportation can prevent 340,000 deaths Achieving a 50% reduction in open field and forest burning could avoid 190,000 deaths from air pollution, according to the report.

Source:

Source: “On Thin Ice,” World Bank, ICCI

There’s no time to waste, they emphasize. “With projections of large cryosphere impacts such as Arctic sea ice loss occurring by mid-century, speed is of the essence in addressing and operationalizing these cryosphere and development challenges.”

Of potentially profound significance for coastal regions and populations, “rates of sea-level rise might be significantly slowed by 2050, with a potential near-leveling-off in rates before the end of the century if SLCP measures are combined with CO2 emissions held to 450ppm.

“This decrease in sea-level rise could range from 10 cm to half a meter or more. Perhaps more important, temperature reductions in polar regions from these measures would help minimize the risk of essentially irreversible ice sheet loss or disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland, which could ultimately raise ocean levels by several decimeters by 2100—and by many meters over a period of centuries or millennia.”

The post 14 Steps to Reduce Black Carbon and Stabilize the Cryosphere appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

October 29 2013

20:22

Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible

rosietheriveterCompletely phasing out net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 is not only technically feasible, but could be done at very manageable cost, according to a comprehensive study by Ecofys for the Global Call for Climate Action.

“It is technically and economically feasible to reduce emissions to zero for roughly 90% of current sources of GHG emissions with technological options that are available today and in the near future.” The remaining 10% of GHG emissions could be offset by enhancing carbon sinks, the Ecofys’ report authors conclude. The cost of doing so: around 5% of GDP per year.

Realizing this goal would effectively assure that mean global temperature would not exceed the 2ºC climate change tipping point theorized by the world’s leading climate scientists and agreed to by world leaders in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009. It would also improve the odds of keeping global mean temperature increase to 1.5ºC by the end of the century to 50%.

Phasing out GHG emissions by mid-century

Affecting the changes required to phase out net GHG emissions by 2050 would require globally coordinated action of unprecedented speed, scope and scale, the report authors rightly point out:

“Reducing net emissions close to zero by mid-century means fundamentally restructuring all of our economic sectors in the coming decades.”

“The energy system presents the greatest potential for emission reductions through efficiency savings and fuel shift,” the Ecofys report authors found. Use of fossil fuels for energy, transport, buildings and industry accounts for some 2/3 of global GHG emissions. The other 1/3 results from land use, raising livestock and industrial processes, they explain.

imageedit_3_5663497138

In their study, “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century,” Ecofys modelled “several low emissions scenarios that result in (nearly) zero net GHG emissions by 2050…Thse are categorized as one of two types, reflecting two slightly different modelling approaches and resulting strategies:

  • Scenarios with (near) 100% renewable energy by 2050: These scenarios aim, at the outset, at a certain emissions target as well as a certain contribution of renewables. They find that 100% renewable energy by 2050 is possible. Saving energy is a key strategy in these scenarios because high efficiency facilitates an energy supply based almost entirely on renewable sources.
  • Scenarios with less than 100% renewable energy but carbon capture and storage (CCS): So-called integrated assessment models are commonly used to choose from different technological options to achieve a cost optimal global energy system within certain economic boundary conditions, e.g. very low emissions. Energy efficiency is modelled on a more generic level. Consequently, these scenarios result in a higher use of energy and a lower share of renewables. To still meet certain emissions targets, the models assume that carbon capture and storage (CCS), and possibly also nuclear power, are deployed on a large scale. The use of biomass with CCS enables these scenarios to sometimes reach net negative emissions in the second half of the century.”

The possible and the probable

While technically and economically feasible, the likelihood of such fundamental, globally coordinated change occurring is remote given current political, economic and social conditions and trends. While GHG emissions are on the wane in the world’s largest industrialized countries, including the EU and US, responsible for the bulk of anthropogenic GHG emissions in the atmosphere, they’re increasing by greater amounts in rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India.

Barring a series of climate-linked disasters, it seems clear that enacting anything remotely akin to a national strategic plan to phase out GHG emissions in the US would continue to be stymied in a Congressional quagmire of opposition and debate. For their parts, China, India and other large, emerging market economies are clearly unwilling to accept the uncertainty and take the risks of seeking to develop their economies and societies in ways that don’t require locking in their own dependence on fossil fuels.

In their report, Ecofys’ authors echo calls by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the conclusions reached in groundbreaking, comprehensive studies such as the “2010 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.” As the Ecofys report authors state,

“Initial steps taken to decarbonise need to be amplified drastically. The longer we wait to act, the more expensive change becomes. Whether a phase-out is politically feasible will be determined in the coming years.”

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October 08 2013

19:50

New Research Reveals Climate Warming 55 MYA was Geologically Instantaneous

PETMfig1 (1)New research into past changes in climate indicates that global warming can take place much more suddenly than previously thought – over the course of only about 13 years. Temperatures at high latitudes rose as much as 8ºC (14ºF) and oceans warmed from surface to bottom some 55 million years ago during what’s known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

The rapid rise in global temperature caused massive disruptions and changed climate conditions, weather patterns, the distribution of plant and animal species, and ecology the world over. Driving it all was a massive increase in the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. The massive, abrupt injection of CO2 into the atmosphere, in turn, was driven by intense volcanic activity on the seafloor, which also drove a further separation of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates and the widening of the North Atlantic Ocean basin.

Instantaneous Global Warming

The scientific consensus was that a massive release of CO2 into the atmosphere over a period of some 10,000 years drove the PETM temperature rise. Research conducted by two Rutgers University geologists indicates that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 during the PETM occurred in a geologic instant, over a mere 13 years, driving a global temperature rise of 5ºC (9ºF), however, according to a Phys.org report.

Studying drilling core samples from an area of southern New Jersey that was covered by a warm sea during the PETM, Rutgers’ geologists Morgan Schaller and James Wright discovered an alternating, cyclic pattern of dark clay bands about 2 centimeters thick rich in organic material. Analyzing the clay bands, the pair of researchers found changes in ratios of heavier carbon-13 and lighter carbon-12 isotopes.

The 20% drop in atmospheric carbon-13 concentration they measured in the core samples can “plausibly account” for their observations is “a large, instantaneous release of C-13-depleted carbon,” associated with intense volcanic activity, according to their report, “Evidence for a rapid release of carbon at the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum,” in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Scientists have been using this event from 55 million years ago to build models about what’s going on now,” Schaller was quoted as saying. “But they’ve been assuming it took something like 10,000 years to release that carbon, which we’ve shown is not the case. We now have a very precise record through the carbon release that can be used to fix those models.”

The research pair estimates the intense marine volcanic activity some 55 million years ago caused some 3,000 gigatons of carbon to be released into the atmosphere from hydrocarbon-rich, organic mudstone, and methane hydrate deposits on the seafloor of the continental margins.

In addition to forcing rapid warming, this led to an abrupt rise in the acidity of the oceans, which, in turn, led to mass extinctions of the phytoplankton that not only form the base of the marine food chain, but produce as much as half the oxygen in the atmosphere and absorb as much as half the total atmospheric CO2 sequestered as part of the carbon cycle. Similarly drastic changes have been found in terrestrial flora and fauna.

Though nowhere near the same order of magnitude, human CO2 emissions are causing similarly profound and abrupt climate and ecological change today. “We’ve shown unequivocally what happens when CO2 increases dramatically – as it is now, and as it did 55 million years ago,” Wright was quoted.

“The oceans become acidic and the world warms up dramatically. Our current carbon release has been going on for about 150 years, and because the rate is relatively slow, about half the CO2 has been absorbed by the oceans and forests, causing some popular confusion about the warming effects of CO2. But 55 million years ago, a much larger amount of carbon was all released nearly instantaneously, so the effects are much clearer.”

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September 24 2013

15:30

More Wind & Solar Can Reduce Utility Costs and Emissions

renewable-energy-girlThose opposed to spurring development and adoption of renewable solar and wind energy resources continually assert that their intermittent nature not only reduces grid reliability and raises the cost of electricity, but negates the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions reductions that contribute so greatly to their rapid adoption in the first place.

While it’s true that bringing greater amounts of solar and wind-generated electricity on grids means utilities have to cycle more frequently – ramp down and ramp up or stop and start – fossil fuel generators to ensure a smooth, reliable flow of electricity, a study by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that the carbon emissions that result from cycling are negligible – less than 0.2% – of the carbon reductions realized by generating electricity from the sun and winds.

Not only that, but the research revealed that bringing “high levels of wind and solar power [on to the grid] would reduce fossil fuel costs by approximately $7 billion per year across the West, while incurring cycling costs of $35 million to $157 million per year.” That amounts to an increase in operations and maintenance costs of only $0.47-$1.28 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generation for the average fossil fuel power plant, according to a September 24 NREL press release.

How can this be?  The explanation lies in the fossil fuel costs utilities avoid by making greater use of solar and wind energy generation.

Avoiding fossil fuel costs, and pollution

According to Debra Law, the project manager for NREL’s study,

“Grid operators have always cycled power plants to accommodate fluctuations in electricity demand as well as abrupt outages at conventional power plants, and grid operators use the same tool to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation.

“Increased cycling to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation increases operating costs by 2% to 5% for the average fossil-fueled plant. However, our simulations show that from a system perspective, avoided fuel costs are far greater than the increased cycling costs for fossil-fueled plants.”

Besides determining that the carbon emissions associated with greater cycling of fossil fuel generating capacity is negligible (<0.2%) compared to the reductions from bringing wind and solar energy generation on to the grid, the NREL project team found that sulfur dioxide emissions reductions from wind and solar are 5% less than expected due to greater cycling of fossil fuel generators. Nitrogen oxide emissions reductions were 2% greater than expected.

This latest study, entitled “Phase 2 of the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study” (WWSIS-2), is a follow-up to NREL’s initial, May 2010 research into “the viability, benefits, and challenges of integrating high levels of wind and solar power into the western electricity grid.”

Source: Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Phase 2; NREL

Source: Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Phase 2; NREL

NRELchart_cycling_cost_system

Impacts of 33% renewable energy on the Western Interconnection grid

To calculate the emissions and cost of wear-and-tear, the NREL research team designed five hypothetical scenarios to examine generating as much as 33% of the U.S. portion of the Western Interconnection power system for the year 2020 from wind and solar energy. “This is equivalent to a quarter of the power in the Western Interconnection (including Canada and Mexico) coming from wind and solar energy on an annual basis,” the report authors explain.

The researchers’ model also assumes a future average natural gas price of $4.60/MMBtu – an optimistic assumption given the volatility and uncertainty inherent in natural gas prices – as well as “significant cooperation between balancing authorities, and optimal usage of transmission capacity (i.e., not reserving transmission for contractual obligations).”

Modeling the entire Western Interconnection power system at five-minute intervals for each year, the researchers found “that high wind and solar scenarios reduce CO2 emissions by 29%-34% across the Western Interconnection, with cycling having a negligible impact.”

The modeled reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) were 5% less than anticipated due to greater cycling, yet SO2 emissions would nonetheless be reduced by 14%-24% in the high solar and wind scenarios. Nitrogen oxide emissions would be reduced by 16%-22%, 1%-2% greater than expected. Added Lew,

“Adding wind and solar to the grid greatly reduces the amount of fossil fuel — and associated emissions — that would have been burned to provide power. Our high wind and solar scenarios, in which one-fourth of the energy in the entire western grid would come from these sources, reduced the carbon footprint of the western grid by about one-third. Cycling induces some inefficiencies, but the carbon emission reduction is impacted by much less than 1%.”

On average, it takes 4 MWh or renewables to displace 1 MWh of coal generation and 3 MWh of natural gas, according to the researchers, with the ramping up and down of coal-fired power plants having the biggest potential increase in terms of cycling.

Other key takeaways from the report include:

  • Because of sunset and sunrise, solar power creates the biggest ramping needs on the grid in this study. However, because we know the path of the sun through the sky every day of the year, system operators can predict these large ramping needs and plan accordingly. Solar variability due to fast-moving clouds is much less predictable, but it creates relatively smaller ramping needs.
  • Errors in day-ahead wind forecasts can make it challenging for operators to decide which power plants need to be online the next day. However, because forecast accuracy increases four hours ahead compared with 24 hours ahead, a four-hour-ahead decision on whether to start up those power plants that can be ramped up relatively quickly can help to mitigate these forecast errors.
  • Despite the differences between wind and solar in terms of grid operations, the study finds their impacts on system-wide operational costs are remarkably similar.

The post More Wind & Solar Can Reduce Utility Costs and Emissions appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 06 2013

18:32

Analogues from Earth’s Past Bode Ill for Coral Reefs, Marine Ecosystems

Marine ecosystems in danger in a greenhouse worldIn a bid to anticipate the effects of a warming world, climate scientists around the world are scouring the geological record for modern-day analogues – periods of Earth history when the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached or exceeded the 400 parts per million (ppm) we find today.

Delving into climate, marine biology, ecosystems and the marine ecology of 42 million to 57 million years ago – encompassing the so-called Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) – paleobiologists and colleagues at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography conclude that the human population just 80 years hence may be living in a “greenhouse world,” dependent, in part, on vastly different marine food webs.

Life in a “Greenhouse World”

The level of CO2 in the atmosphere – the primary contributor to the Greenhouse Effect – hasn’t exceeded 280 ppm throughout human history – up until modern times that is. Having exceeded 400 ppm for the first time in human history several times this May, annual global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at ever greater rates despite best efforts to contain and reduce them.

Reporting in the August 2 special edition of Science, Scripps researchers found indications that atmospheric CO2 concentrations between 42 million and 57 million years ago reached 800-1,000 ppm. Tropical ocean temperatures, moreover, were comparable to that of a hot tub (35º C, 95º F), polar ocean temperatures were similar to those of San Francisco Bay today (12ºC, 53º F), and there were no polar ice sheets.

Moreover, marine “food webs did not sustain the abundance of large sharks, whales, seabirds, and seals of the modern ocean,” Scripps News reports. Coral reefs – the “rainforests of the sea” – largely disappeared. Instead, the researchers found the seabed was dominated by accumulations of the tiny, microscopic shells of foramenifera akin to “gravel parking lots.”

The Scripp’s research team project that humans may be living in such a “greenhouse world” in only 80 years, dependent on vastly changed, less rich and less productive marine food webs. Larger diatoms and other plankton typically support the highly productive marine ecosystems and food webs that help us, as well as large marine animals survive and thrive today. The base of the “greenhouse ocean” marine food web of 50 million years ago, in contrast, was characterized by much smaller picoplankton.

“The tiny algae of the greenhouse world were just too small to support big animals,” Scripps Institution, UC San Diego paleobiologist Richard Norris was quoted as saying. “It’s like trying to keep lions happy on mice instead of antelope; lions can’t get by on only tiny snacks.”

Troubling portents of climate change

Rapid warming events similar to those projected today, such as the PETM, occurred during this period of Earth history can serve as indicators for what we can expect should concentrations of atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gases continue to increase, climate scientists say. Global mean temperatures rose 5-9º C (9-16º F) during the PETM, causing dramatic changes in ecosystems and their productivity, including “massive migrations of animals and plants and shifts in climate zones.”

“Notably, despite the disruption to the Earth’s ecosystems, the extinction of species was remarkably light, other than a mass extinction in the rapidly warming ocean,” according to Scripps News’ report.

“In many respects the PETM warmed the world more than we project for future climate change, so it should come as some comfort that extinctions were mostly limited to the deep sea,” Norris was quoted. “Unfortunately, the PETM also shows that ecological disruption can last tens of thousands of years.”

In another recently released study, scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Arctic and Alpine Research Center found similarly troubling portents of ecosystems disruption in the Arctic. Sea levels during the Pliocene some 3 million to 5 million years ago – the most recent period of geologic time scientists believe atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached 400 ppm – global mean temperatures were some 3-5ºF (2-5ºC) warmer. What is now Arctic tundra was covered in forest and sea levels were some 65-80 feet (20-24m) higher.

What can be done to avert such relatively rapid and drastic change?

“An abrupt halt to fossil fuel use at current levels would limit the period of future climate instability to less than 1,000 years before climate largely returns to pre-industrial norms,” Scripps News’ paraphrased Norris.

Continuing to burn fossil fuels at our current rate in this and coming decades “magnifies the period of climate instability” and bring about a period of major ecological change stretching out some 20,000 years or more and lasting for 100,000 years, according to the report authors, which included researchers from Yale and the UK’s University of Bristol.

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July 23 2013

21:25

Keystone XL: First Big Test of President’s Climate Change Action Plan

Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline: The destruction to communities and habitats outweigh the benefits of tar sands oil

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport liquefied bitumen from massive tar sands deposits in Alberta south through Midwest US watersheds and agricultural areas and on down to the Gulf of Mexico would significantly boost the carbon emissions that fuel climate change and thus fails to meet the criteria set out in President Obama’s recently announced National Climate Change Action Plan, according to a detailed analysis undertaken by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Just how polluting would Keystone XL be? The amount of additional carbon dioxide (CO2) that would be added to the atmosphere is staggering, even when compared to transporting conventional oil: Keystone XL would add as much as 1.2 billion metric tons more CO2 to the atmosphere over its 50-year life than if it were used to transport conventional oil. That’s more in the way of CO2 emissions than that pumped into the atmosphere by all the cars in the US in a year, according to an NRDC press release.

Looked at from another perspective, the additional CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by Keystone XL would offset all the reductions anticipated if all the new emissions reductions targets for heavy trucks and fuel efficiency set out in President Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan were to be realized, NRDC says.

Keystone XL: Drawing a line in the Tar Sands

The Keystone XL pipeline project has become a key battle ground for those looking to literally and figuratively draw a line in the sand when it comes to just how far societies – Canada and the US specifically – will go to explore for and produce climate-changing fossil fuels. Pioneering climate scientist turned social activist Dr. James Hansen stated that exploiting the Athabasca Oil Sands would mean “it’s essentially game over” in terms of our chances of mitigating human-induced climate change.

Yet exploitation of Canada’s tar sands and other uncoventional fossil fuel deposits proceeds. In a recent Guardian article, environmental journalist Stephen Leahy provides an account of the Tar Sands Healing Walk recently organized by local First Nations’ community groups and international environmental activists including Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein.

Protecting the Sacred One Step at a Time – Tar Sands Healing Walk 2013 from Zack Embree on Vimeo.

Part and parcel of the Tar Sands Healing Walk, nearly 15,000 Canadians called on Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver and Alberta Premier Alison Redford to meet local community members being affected by Tar Sands exploitation face-to-face.

Conversely, NRDC estimates that 18.7 million-24.3 million metric tons per year of CO2 emissions would be avoided if the Obama Administration were to deny approval of Keystone XL. That, the environmental organization adds is “comparable to savings from new US heavy duty truck emissions rules – 27.4 million metric tons a year – and from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in New England the Mid-Atlantic – 11.9 million metric tons a year.”

Furthermore, denying approval of Keystone XL would greatly decrease the likelihood of further expansion of tar sands oil production, NRDC points out.

Tar sands expansion is not likely without the Keystone XL pipeline; the expanded development of tar sands oil it would drive; tar sands transportation alternatives such as other pipelines and rail; the destruction of peatland that naturally pulls carbon out of the air; and total new carbon pollution added to the atmosphere.

“Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the Keystone XL pipeline would dramatically boost the development of dirty tar sands oil, significantly exacerbating the problem of climate pollution,” director of NRDC’s international program Susan Casey-Lefkowitz was quoted as saying.

“Approve it, and our children’s future is jeopardized. Deny it, and we’ll avoid sending over a billion tons of additional carbon pollution into the air. The right choice is obvious: Keystone XL fails the president’s climate test and he should reject it to protect our national interest.”

The following is NRDC’s list of bullet points for its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project analysis, how and why it fails to meet the president’s National Climate Change Action Plan and other criteria, and hence why the State Dept. should deny approval of the project:

  • Over the project’s 50-year timeline, Keystone XL would add between 935 million and 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution to our atmosphere. Today, the roughly 230 million cars on the road kick out about 1 billion metric tons of carbon pollution annually.
  • The extraction, production, and refining of tar sands oil is more carbon-intensive than conventional oil. The State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency both concluded that from the tar sands mine to the gas tank, tar sands emissions are 81 percent higher than conventional oil.
  • Keystone XL’s climate impact should be considered within the broader context of U.S. policy regarding high-carbon infrastructure. In addition to Keystone XL, the State Department is considering other tar sands pipeline projects that could increase carbon emissions by 16.2 million tons.
  • Due to limited refining capacity, Keystone XL is a necessary component of expansion of tar sands production – and its associated climate emissions. Because of refinery limits in the U.S. and Canada, Keystone XL is the only viable way to deliver tar sands oil to the Texas Gulf Coast to be refined and sold to overseas markets.
  • Export pipelines from the tar sands region are expected to reach capacity by 2014, and Keystone is the only major pipeline proposal for transporting bitumen in the near-term.
  • In the absence of pipelines, rail is not an economically viable alternative for heavy tar sands transport. The State Department was incorrect in its Draft Supplemental Impact Statement by asserting that tar sands development and transportation would happen regardless of whether Keystone XL is approved. Rail is expensive for tar sands crude, which is why it has been largely absent in the current crude-by-rail boom.
  • Industry and market opinion say Keystone XL is a linchpin for tar sands expansion.
  • Canada is not pursuing climate policy that would effectively counteract significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions, or meet its international climate target.

Main image credit: BPOffCampus.org

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July 05 2013

21:34

Video Friday: Los Angeles, Paris to Participate in Megacities Carbon Project

Cities are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Los Angeles and Paris are both participating in the Megacities Carbon Project, a research study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop and test methods for more accurately measuring greenhouse gas emissions from cities and power plants.

The stated goal of the project is to “demonstrate a scientifically robust capability to measure multi-year emission trends of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and carbon monoxide (CO) attributed to individual megacities and selected major sectors.”  The methods and data collected will be shared between international partners to enhance global emissions monitoring from megacities across the globe.

The post Video Friday: Los Angeles, Paris to Participate in Megacities Carbon Project appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

18:20

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

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July 03 2013

21:08

Making Good on Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan, Part 2

Part 2 of a discussion from expert attorneys and policy advisors on the course of climate and environmental policy in light of president Obama's National Climate Action PlanThis is the second in a three-part series on energy, environment and US law in light of the launch of President Obama’s National Climate Action Plan. In it, we continue our discussion with Robert McKinstry, Jr., Practice Leader for Ballard, Spahr’s Climate Change and Sustainability Initiative.

In Part 1, McKinstry began recounting the long, arduous path of three major federal initiatives via which the Obama Administration aims 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). Having discussed CSAPR, we move on to the second and third of these federal regulatory initiatives.

MATS: the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule

Finalized by EPA in December 2011, the Utility MACT or “Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule” (MATS) requires existing and new coal-fueled power plants to limit emissions of toxic air pollutants, such as mercury, arsenic and metals, by installing the best available emissions control technology by 2015.

Initially enacted in 1990, the Clean Air Act  (CAA) empowers the EPA to establish the standards and guidelines via which state governments develop plans to regulate toxic air pollutants. However, though proven technologies existed, no federal standards requiring power plants to limit their emissions of toxic air pollutants had been established until the MATS ruling.

MATS finalizes standards to reduce power emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants under sections 111 and 112 of the CAA. Setting emissions limits based on the best available control technology (BACT), it requires the EPA to set emissions standards for existing sources “that are at least as stringent as the emissions reductions achieved by the average of the top 12 percent best controlled sources.”

Though CSAPR and MATS imposes additional costs on polluters, the EPA’s new source performance standards (NSPS) apply only to new and modified power plants. The omission of existing power plants actually creates a perverse market incentive, McKinstry explained. Excluding existing coal and oil-fueled power plants from NSPS provides an incentive for power utilities to keep older, more polluting plants up and running rather than modifying or decommissioning them or replacing them with new, cleaner power generation capacity.

Massachusetts vs. EPA: A landmark ruling

As opposed to mercury and air toxic emissions, the EPA has not and said it doesn’t intend to set ambient air quality standards for carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, standards which typically precede the establishment of emissions limits (national performance standards), reduction targets and state implementation plans to realize them. More fundamentally, the EPA’s effort to deem CO2 a pollutant has been vociferously challenged in the courts for some 13 years’ running.

Concerned with rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, the Clinton Administration determined that the Clean Air Act could be applied to CO2 and other greenhouse gases back in 1998. Opponents thwarted any attempts to move forward, however.

That changed in April 2007 in Massachusetts vs. the EPA, wherein the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision that was deemed “a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration,” ruled that not only does the EPA have authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon and greenhouse gas emissions from new automobiles and light-duty vehicles, but that it could not avoid doing so without providing a scientific basis for inaction. It also gave the EPA the leeway to move forward without having to establish national ambient air quality standards for carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, McKinstry noted.

By concluding that the EPA could consider CO2 and other greenhouse gases pollutants, the Supreme Court’s ruling was a precedent-setting milestone in the effort to regulate US carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. It paved the way for the EPA to not only establish standards and guidelines for mobile sources of CO2, but for also for stationary sources, such as power plants, oil refineries, other industrial plants, and factories. It would not go unchallenged.

As the EPA began the long, arduous process of developing a broader, more comprehensive institutional framework and mechanisms to limit and reduce CO2 emissions, the Coalition for Responsible Regulation Inc. and other plaintiffs challenged the Supreme Court ruling. Of even greater import, the Bush administration issued an advance notice of rulemaking that delayed implementation.

The situation changed radically when President Obama took office. EPA began “providing a number of opportunities for stakeholders to have a say in how it should actually implement this,” McKinstry recounted. “They reached a settlement, agreeing to regulate mobile sources under rule 202 [of the CAA] and for heavy duty vehicle emissions, which the Bush admin refused to do,” as well as agreeing to limit carbon and greenhouse gas emissions limits and standards to new, not existing or even modified, power plants.

Significantly, one of the first, and fundamental, things the Obama Administration EPA did in the wake of Massachusetts vs. EPA was make an endangerment finding, concluding that carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can threaten the health and well-being of the American public.

Setting limits on fossil fuel power plants’ carbon emissions

As McKinstry elaborated, the EPA in March 2012 proposed a limit on carbon and GHG emissions of 1,000 tons per megawatt-hour (MWh) for new source coal-fired power plants of greater than 25 MW capacity. Based on the emissions vented to the atmosphere by current commercial natural gas combined cycle power plants, the EPA watered this down, reasoning that new coal-fueled generation capacity may be desirable for reasons of national energy security, drastic changes in market conditions or other factors.

The EPA said it will maintain the new standard, but gave fossil fuel power plant operators the option of meeting it based on 30-year averaging, McKinistry noted.

“New coal-fired or pet coke-fired units could meet the standard either by employing carbon capture and storage (CCS) of approximately 50 percent of the CO2 in the exhaust gas at start up, or through later application of more effective CCS to meet the standard on average over a 30-year period,” the EPA wrote in its proposed rulemaking.

Meanwhile, opponents were mustering their resources. In total, “a cluster of four rulings was appealed by opposing interests,” McKinstry explained: the EPA’s endangerment finding, the “Tailpipe Rule” in which it set emissions standards for car and light-duty vehicles, and the “Timing Rule” and Tailoring Rule,” which ease requirements for major stationary sources of greenhouse gases to obtain construction and operating permits.

Initially rebuffed in December 2011, the Coalition for Responsible Regulation and other plaintiffs’ appeal of the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts vs. EPA was heard in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last year. The Appeals court in June 2012 upheld the Supreme Court’s decision and subsequently, in December, denied a petition to rehear the case.

The Coalition of Responsible Regulation hasn’t quit yet. In April, it  filed a petition requesting the Supreme Court rehear to review the Appeals court’s ruling. Word in the legal community is that the petition is unlikely to be accepted, according to McKinstry.

The tale doesn’t end there, however…To be continued

The post Making Good on Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan, Part 2 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

July 02 2013

18:49

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…

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

June 25 2013

22:17

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

The post President Turns Up the Heat On US Carbon Pollution, Revealing Details of National Climate Change Action Plan appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

June 11 2013

18:33

UN, World Bank, IEA Gear Up to Achieve Sustainable Energy for All

The UN and World Bank seek to motivate the international community toward sustainable energy with the "Sustainable Energy for All" initiativeLast year UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon created and set in motion “Sustainable Energy for All,” a global initiative that aims to realize what to many may seem irreconcilable goals: mitigating climate change by fostering deployment of green, renewable energy systems and boosting energy efficiency while also stimulating socioeconomic development and growth by providing access to modern energy services for all those who lack it.

A year on, some 170 national governments have signed on to SE4ALL, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by doubling renewable energy capacity and energy efficiency, and providing access to modern energy services to all those living in their countries. Private sector businesses and other organizations have pledged to invest billions of dollars to achieve SE4ALL’s goals. Aiming to raise the public profile of the initiative, the UN General Assembly has declared the decade 2014-2014 a “Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.”

While notable gains in energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment have been made worldwide, rapid industrialization, population growth and ongoing growth in the use of fossil fuels has all but negated progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stimulating green, responsible socioeconomic development. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record high of 31.6 billion tons, that despite reductions in the world’s developed economies (emissions in the the US were at their lowest level since the mid-1990s), the IEA announced while presenting its latest annual World Energy Outlook in Stockholm this week.

An institutional “Sustainable Energy for All” framework emerges

Fossil fuels continue to account for more than 80 percent of the world’s energy mix, while “a population four times the size of the United States still lives without access to electricity,” according to the recently launched Global Tracking Framework, a multi-agency effort led by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank.

SE4ALL’s ambitious goals are to help foster a doubling of energy efficiency, a doubling of renewable energy capacity and universal access to modern energy services by 2030. Putting an institutional framework and mechanisms in place to monitor and track progress and share information is critical to success. To that end, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and World Bank launched the Global Tracking Framework.

“The Sustainable Energy for All initiative is a rallying cry to tackle the twin crises of energy poverty and climate change, and this Global Tracking Framework is an important first response,” Maria van der Hoeven, IEA executive director and a member of the Advisory Board of the SE4ALL initiative, was quoted in a press release.

“By measuring the scale of the challenge, it provides a crucial reference against which the partners of the SE4ALL initiative, and all of us, can track progress towards building a cleaner energy system for all. The IEA has advocated stronger action to tackle energy poverty for more than a decade as part of its World Energy Outlook, but more needs to be done to tackle the problem. It is a moral imperative and we cannot afford to ignore it.”

Local challenges to achieving global “Sustainable Energy for All”

Renewable energy made up 18 percent of the global energy mix and energy efficiency had increased an average 1.3 percent per year since 1990 as of 2010, according to the Global Tracking Framework’s initial report. An estimated 17 percent of the global population lacked access to electricity and 41 percent “still relied on wood or other biomass to cook and heat their homes.”

Focused, determined action is needed worldwide if SE4ALL goals are to be achieved, but “the nature of the challenge differs across countries and, for each of the SE4ALL goals,” the report authors note. Looking to address this, the report singles out “20 ‘high-impact’ countries that are crucial to making major progress.”

In addition, the IEA and World Bank found that realizing SE4ALL goals will require green energy investment increases of at least US$600 billion per year out to 2030 as compared to the current level. Of that total, investment in boosting energy efficiency will need to increase $394 billion, that for renewable energy by $174 billion per year, that for universal access to electricity by $45 billion per annum, and that for universal access to modern cooking by $4.4 billion per annum.

The post UN, World Bank, IEA Gear Up to Achieve Sustainable Energy for All appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

May 31 2013

20:58

Video Friday: Grasslands, Carbon and Climate Change

Jeff Goebel of AboutListening discusses the importance of preserving and restoring grasslands for stabilizing habitats, species and the carbon cycle. The interview was conducted by Barry Heidt of Sustainability Action Media on the EarthSayer YouTube channel.

The post Video Friday: Grasslands, Carbon and Climate Change appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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