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February 16 2014

19:41

February 11 2014

20:17

EPA Leader McCarthy Talks Good Jobs, Green Jobs at D.C. Conference

Global warming, job creation and the growing divide in incomes and wealth – three controversial, divisive issues that have come to take center stage in U.S politics and society since the dawn of the new millennium. Though his efforts have wholly pleased neither left nor right, Democrat or Republican, oil industry executive or environmentalist, President Obama and his administration have sought to address all three, and in an integrated manner, to a greater degree than any of his predecessors.

Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference highlights the benefits of the green economyHeard, read about and seen in various guises – sustainable development, the green economy or low-carbon society – the President has been assembling the elements of a new self-organizing paradigm for the U.S. economy and society in the 21st century, one that recognizes that while economic development and growth are vital to the health and well-being of society, so is a fair, equitable and inclusive distribution of income and wealth, and so are clean air, clean waters, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

Taking this green economy platform out to the public, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is one of a host of prominent Americans speaking today and tomorrow at the eighth Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C.

Environment, economy, ethics

In the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference’s first plenary session, a panel that included United Steelworkers International president Leo W. Gerard, BlueGreen Alliance Foundation President David Foster, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar discussed U.S. infrastructure needs.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was the featured speaker in an afternoon panel session that also included Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Ms. McCarthy opened with a strong statement of values and environmental ethics:

“Whether it’s the teachers union or the steelworkers, the moral of the story is the same, our work and our family values have little value without fair protections that keep us all safe and healthy. At the end of the day, what is economic productivity worth if our water is too dirty to drink and our air is too dirty to breathe?”

The terrible, and rising, costs of climate change inaction

Times they are a’changing, the EPA Administrator continued, highlighting the emergence of a new, clean energy economy and the growing costs and threats posed by climate change. “Climate impacts are not only hurting our people and our planet, they are a threat to our economy.”

By how much exactly?  Emergency and disaster relief cost the U.S. government and taxpayer $110 billion in 2012, the second highest price tag in American history, “all off budget,” Ms. McCarthy highlighted.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka earlier this month talked about the already high and terrible costs of climate change inaction, Ms. McCarthy noted. Repeating Trumka for emphasis, “The nation that goes all in on innovation today will own the global energy [of] tomorrow,” she stated.

“That’s what this president, President Obama, said in his State of the Union. President Trumka, President Obama know what they’re talking about. They agree on these issues. That’s why we need to work together to explore creative approaches to meet our energy demands.

Making lemonade

“That’s why President Obama reiterated his commitment to climate action in the State of the Union. And we need to take action without sacrificing the health protections, without sacrificing jobs in our communities, and without sacrificing a reliable, affordable energy system. And we need to do it with every sensitivity to the workers who have brought energy to American families for decades.

“It’s not just about jobs, it is about fairness, it is about communities, communities where those workers live, and we need to be sensitive to those issues as we struggle to find the right solutions moving forward.”

Strong words. Good words. Positive words, delivered with what sure looks like hones belief and genuine commitment. Tune in and listen to Ms. McCarthy’s entire speech

*Image credit: Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference

The post EPA Leader McCarthy Talks Good Jobs, Green Jobs at D.C. Conference appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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February 05 2014

10:17

Seeing Over the Horizon: Sharp Rise in Ocean Temperatures in 2013

ocean-heat-content

What the recently stalled polar vortex over much of the eastern half of the United States makes clear is that we humans are, by nature, not well equipped to think globally. At least not when it comes to their physical surroundings. After all, cold is cold. So, for instance, if there is two inches of snow outside my Atlanta home and a city brought to its knees because of it, then global warming must be false, right? Just look outside!

It isn’t our fault. It’s the way we were made. To respond to our immediate surroundings and shut out the rest. Long ago, in the mists of time, it was a matter of survival. Times have changed. Our ability to see beyond our own horizon, both in time and space, is critical for our survival. We’ve gotten a lot better at it. But for some, it falls apart when considering global climate vs. local weather.

Where does global warming go?Ocean surface temperatures – where does the heat go?

All this by way of saying that, despite the repeated claims of a “global warming pause,” the climate system continues to absorb more and more heat energy. If land surface temperature hasn’t risen as much as some models predicted, then were is all this energy going? Consider that oceans cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface and you’ll have your answer.

In fact, oceans are 1000 times better at retaining heat than the atmosphere and for the past several decades (not just the past few years) the oceans have absorbed more than 93 percent of the CO2 released by human activity.

Figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (see the chart above), show a sharp rise in ocean surface temperatures in 2013. As noted in Skeptical Sciencethe recent NOAA data doesn’t necessarily portend a sharp acceleration in global ocean temperatures  due to “substantial year-to-year variation in heat uptake by the oceans.” But it does remind us that heat energy in the global climate system continues to accumulate. There is no “pause” in global warming.

The significance of warming oceans is more than data points on a chart. From bleached coral to disrupted fisheries, acidifying oceans and rising seas, the impact of heating oceans do not happen over some distant horizon, it is here and now, even as some dig out from a snowstorm.

Featured and secondary image credit: Skeptical Science
Ocean temperature graph: NOAA

 

The post Seeing Over the Horizon: Sharp Rise in Ocean Temperatures in 2013 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 24 2014

23:51

Video Friday: Extreme Weather, the Jet Stream, and Global Warming

With the eastern half of the United States under a deep freeze and the phrase “polar vortex” making the rounds (and no, despite Rush Limbaugh’s breathless ranting, it isn’t a term just made up by evil climate scientists), we circle back around to the discussion of climate vs. weather  and get a grasp on how the jet stream works in this video from The Film Archive.

The irony is that global warming my cause more bitterly cold winters in the eastern U.S. due to a rapidly warming Arctic and its effect on the jet stream. Of course, in any case, winters are still cold.

The post Video Friday: Extreme Weather, the Jet Stream, and Global Warming appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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.

January 08 2014

18:38

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

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

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

Credit: New York State Office of the Governor

Extreme weather is “The New Reality”

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

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

Avoiding climate change catastrophe

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: New York State Office of the Governor

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

December 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.

December 20 2013

20:18

Video Friday: Climate Change Impacts on the Alaskan Ecosystem

The northern latitudes are experience some of the most dynamic impacts from climate change. Done by a student as a final project for a Climate Dynamics Class, this video explores some of the effects and consequences climate change will have in Alaska.

 

Featured image credit: Berkeley Lab, courtesy flickr

The post Video Friday: Climate Change Impacts on the Alaskan Ecosystem appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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.

December 06 2013

20:26

Video Friday: Growing Concern Over Sea Level Rise

From the Yale Climate Forum. Scientists studying the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets express growing concern over the fragility and vulnerability of the world’s ice sheets and the potential impact on sea level rise.

Researchers in Antarctica are using sophisticated equipment to drill down 500 meters below the ice shelf to measure ice loss, temperature, salinity and speed of melt. In one location measured melt rates of more than two inches per day have been observed.

“We still are potentially underestimating the instability of the ice sheets,” cautions Stefan Rahmstorf of Potsdam University in Germany.

 

Featured image credit: Simon Bisson, courtesy flickr

The post Video Friday: Growing Concern Over Sea Level Rise appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 05 2013

22:41

Massive US Temperature Fluctuations and Climate Change

The increasingly wide temperature fluctuations over short periods of time indicate we could be approaching climate tipping points. What are the implications of wild swings in temperature for the veracity of climate change? Everyone who follows climate science knows that the planet is warming, but many are unaware of how temperature fluctuations may also be a part of the climate change picture. Scientific observations provide an overwhelmingly compelling body of evidence for global warming. Many lines of scientific evidence show that as a consequence of global warming, the Earth’s climate is changing,  however, increasing global mean temperature is only one element of observed climate change phenomena.

Evidence of global warming can be seen in a number of scientific observations including melting ice and sea level rises. Anomalies like increased precipitation and extreme weather events support the data generated by climate models. However, radical temperature fluctuations are another dimension of climate change that is often overlooked.

Both Dallas and Colorado recently experienced some of the most extreme temperature fluctuations on record. After enjoying balmy temperatures, Dallas was hit with a powerful cold front that caused temperatures to plummet below freezing. On Wednesday December 4, the observed high was 80 degrees, on Saturday December 7, the temperature plunged to just over 30 degrees. That is a temperature change of 50 degrees. Similarly, Denver went from being 67 degrees on Monday to 14 degrees on Wednesday. This represents a temperature difference of 53 degrees.

During the first week of December, 33 million Americans in 27 states were hit by a cold spell. Deniers have commonly looked at cold weather as evidence that disproves global warming. However, when examined over much longer time spans we see a clear warming trend. Further, high and low temperature data from recent decades show that new record highs occur nearly twice as often as new record lows.

Of course, individual temperature readings over the course of a few days cannot be taken as evidence for or against climate change. However, the anomalous temperature fluctuations are part of a trend that is consistent with what many scientists predict will occur as the planet warms.

As H.J. Weaver and his colleagues at the Australian National University explained, “Climate change is predicted to alter the physical environment through cumulative impacts of warming and extreme fluctuations in temperature and precipitation, with cascading effects on human health and well being, food security and socioeconomic infrastructure.”

A NOAA report (PDF) on the 2009/2010 Cold Season stated that a changing climate produced “Extreme fluctuations in temperature and precipitation in the mid-latitudes in 2009 and 2010.”

The winters of 2010 and 2011 in the northern hemisphere have resulted in the record-setting freezes and warm spells. According to an analysis of the past 63 winters from the American Geophysical Union, the warm extremes were more widespread and severe than the cold extremes in the winters of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Natural variability may explain the cold temperatures, but researchers concluded the extreme warmth cannot be explained by natural cycles, suggesting a possible role of climate change. The report’s co-author Alexander Gershunov and Scripps climate researchers indicated that these temperature swings are consistent with global warming trends.

In Nowata Oklahoma, in the winter of 2011,  the temperature went from a low of -31 degrees on February 10 (the all-time coldest temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma) to a record high of 79 degrees on February 17. According to the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Okla., this 110-degree temperature rise is the greatest change within seven days in Oklahoma history.

A 2011 report out of the UK examined the possible infrastructure impacts of climate change and indicated that extreme temperature fluctuations are likely.

A July 2013 study on plant physiology and climate change talked about “expected extreme fluctuations in temperature and global warming in general.”

It is important to understand as we approach irreversible tipping points that the impacts of climate change may at times appear to be counterintuitive. Far from disproving global warming, radical fluctuations in temperature are another dimension of the same problem.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Ted Eytan, courtesy flickr

The post Massive US Temperature Fluctuations and Climate Change appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

00:16

Diversified Renewable Energy Base Emerging in the US Northeast

A mix of renewable energy sources are emerging in the US Northeast

Renewable energy initiatives and investments in the northeastern US are producing results and paying dividends economically, socially and environmentally, according to a report from ACORE, the American Council on Renewable Energy.

Northeast region state governments have been at the leading edge of the drive to craft and implement policies to foster development and use of a distributed, diversified mix of renewable energy resources. With supportive policies in place in nearly every state in the 12-state region, the Northeast ranks second in the US for both solar and biomass power capacity. This progressive policy framework, which includes establishment of the pioneering Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is driving renewable energy deployment and driving down costs to the point where they are competitive with fossil fuel power, ACORE’s “Renewable Energy in the 50 States: Northeastern Region,” the third in a four-part series of reports on renewable energy conditions and prospects nationwide.

As the ACORE report authors highlight:

“Renewable energy is steadily becoming more cost competitive in the Northeast. Three large utilities in Massachusetts recently signed long-term contracts to purchase renewable energy at less than $0.08 per kilowatt hour, below the cost of most conventional sources. If the contracts are approved by state regulators, they would save customers between $0.75 and $1.00 a month.5 Likewise, if it doubles the amount of wind power it plans to build, the PJM Interconnection could actually reduce wholesale energy market prices and save nearly $7 million per year in the mid-2020s.”

Renewable Energy Resource Diversity: The Northeast’s Strength

“Renewable Energy in the 50 States: Northeastern Region,” ACORE

Heavily dependent on imported energy and affected by retirements of fossil fuel power plants, Northeastern states have good reason to develop and deploy local renewable energy sources, ACORE notes in its latest regional report. Supportive state and local policy initiatives are proving instrumental in helping residents, businesses and the public sector realize the economic, social and environmental benefits that renewable energy resource development, along with greater energy conservation and energy efficiency, offer.

Eleven of the 12 states profiled in the report have instituted renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that mandate power utilities increase their use of renewable energy resources. Vermont, the 12th, has instituted a standard contract program along the lines of a renewable energy feed-in tariff (FiT), the first of its kind in the US, ACORE highlights in its report. Established to spur clean energy and energy efficiency investments across the region and reduce the regional greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change, the RGGI, is also helping fund New York’s $1 billion Green Bank, the report authors note.

With less in the way of large, utility-scale wind and solar farms, the US Northeast ranks lower overall than other regions profiled in ACORE’s “Renewable Energy in the 50 States” series. It’s comparatively strong when it comes to local, distributed renewable power capacity, as well as the diversity of renewable energy resources available, however.

“An array of policies and incentive programs, including feed-in tariffs, renewable energy credits (RECs), green banks, and rebates, support the development of renewable power, heat, and fuels in the Northeast.

“Many Northeastern states have set targets for solar energy generation, which, coupled with financial incentives, are largely responsible for driving more solar power capacity in the Northeast than in the Midwest or the Southeast. In fact, ISO New England, the regional transmission organization serving six Northeastern states, anticipates distributed generation installations within its territory to increase from 250 MW in 2012 to 2 GW by the end of 2021, with generation forecast to be mostly solar power.”

Moreover, most of the states in the region are working to produce clean energy from waste and biomass by  making use of municipal solid waste, wood waste and landfill gas. They’re also looking to produce more and make greater use of biodiesel and ethanol to reduce reliance on petroleum, an area where they have lagged other regions.

“To reduce reliance on expensive heating oil, some states, such as New Hampshire, have set goals for renewable thermal energy use. With the availability of wood waste from the forestry sector, homes in New England use wood for space heating, water heating, and cooking at nearly twice the national rate, and growth in this sector is expected to continue.”

Large-scale hydropower has and will continue to play a large role in the Northeast region’s energy mix. Meanwhile, recent developments suggest that offshore wind power could play a significant role in fueling renewable energy growth.

“The Northeast’s wind power market has grown more slowly than other regions’, but this fact could change soon,” the report authors state.

“Coastal states in the region have identified immense offshore wind power potential, and developers are in the advanced stages of planning what would be the first offshore wind projects in the country. In August 2013, the U.S. Department of the Interior held the nation’s first offshore wind lease sale off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the scale of which could support enough turbines to power one million homes.”

“Renewable Energy in the 50 States: Northeastern Region,” ACORE

 

Main and featured image credit: All Earth Renewables

The post Diversified Renewable Energy Base Emerging in the US Northeast appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 02 2013

19:06

EarthTalk: Solar GeoEngineering

EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental MagazineIs soalr geoengineering feasible or even a good idea? 

Dear EarthTalk: What is solar geoengineering and how can it help stave off global warming? – Jamie Renquist, Salem, OR

Solar geoengineering is a term describing any of various techniques for reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth and its atmosphere. Researchers are exploring the feasibility of utilizing solar geoengineering to reflect some of the sun’s heat back into space before it can reach the Earth and further contribute to the greenhouse effect that is causing our climate to warm. Some ways of doing this include pumping sulfur aerosols into the atmosphere, sending huge space mirrors or reflective balloons into Earth’s orbit, enhancing the reflectivity of clouds by spraying water into them, and even just painting everybody’s roofs white.

While solar geo-engineering can’t do anything about the carbon dioxide already in our atmosphere that will be causing more warming for decades to come or longer, it can help reduce the planet’s carbon load moving forward, and is thus generally viewed as part of the climate solution but not the whole enchilada. That is, no matter what it is still in our best interest to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible regardless of the whiz bang technologies scientists are developing to help.

The most practical of the solar geoengineering techniques involves sending a specially modified fleet of jets around the globe spraying sulfates into the atmosphere that would combine with pre-existing water vapor to form aerosols. When dispersed by the wind, these sulfates would cover the globe with a haze that could reflect an estimated one percent of solar radiation back out into space. The model for such a scenario occurred naturally in 1991 when the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines sent some 10 million metric tons of sulfur into the atmosphere and caused a reduction in global temperatures by about one degree Fahrenheit for more than a year.

While employing such techniques might seem like a no-brainer, there are inherent risks. Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University, warns that adding sulfur to the skies, for instance, could shift rainfall patterns and hasten the thinning of the ozone layer. “We are going to put the entire fate of the only planet we know that can sustain life on this one technical intervention that may go wrong?” he asks. Another issue is the so-called “abrupt cessation” risk whereby shutting off whatever solar geoengineering techniques are in effect could cause a sudden rise in global temperatures to previously unforeseen levels.

Given reticence about applying quick technological fixes for our climate problem, proponents of solar geoengineering are calling for the federal government and other concerned parties to fund more research. “The balance of evidence so far suggests that solar geoengineering could reduce climate risks, but early science might be wrong,” he says. “We need experiments, which might show that it does not work.”

But perhaps the biggest hurdle to implementation of solar geo-engineering is getting the nations of the world to agree on the need for it. “With solar geoengineering, at some level you’ve got just one knob,” says Harvard energy and climate researcher David Keith, a big proponent of solar geoengineering. “That demands collective global decision-making.”

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EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine.

 

Image credit: Sergei Golyshev

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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

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November 21 2013

19:45

Extreme Weather and Existential Reflections on Life in the Anthropocene

Extreme weather is a harbinger of life in a climate-changed worldThe recent spate of deadly tornadoes in the U.S. and the carnage of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines are poignant opportunities for us to reflect on the future of civilization. These events are tangible reminders of the sometimes intangible reality of human existence in the anthropocene. Extreme weather affords an opportunity to come to terms with the evidence that shows how human activities are degrading the Earth’s ecosystems.

While it is difficult to attribute any individual extreme weather event to global warming, when looked at over time, we see an interesting pattern emerge.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), from 1953 to 1983, the U.S. Averaged 26.65 disasters per year. In the last 29 years, the average number of U.S. disasters has risen to 91.4 per year, representing an increase of more than 240 percent.

According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, whether or not global warming is responsible for this increase in natural disasters, it does speak to our future. As stated in the Earth Observatory website, climate change will impact future catastrophes, “changes in climate not only affect average temperatures, but also extreme temperatures, increasing the likelihood of weather-related natural disasters.”

The intense thunderstorms that swept across the U.S. Midwest on Sunday are yet another warning calling us to deal with climate change. This storm follows on the heals of the devastating Typhoon that recently wreaked havoc in the Philippines.

On Sunday, November 17th, a large number of violent thunderstorms and as many as 77 tornadoes touched down in 12 U.S. states. These events killed at least 8 people, wounded many others and left a trail of destruction. Entire towns have been decimated and scores of homes have been wiped off the face of the earth. As terrible as this is, it is nothing compared to Typhoon Haiyan which has killed between four and ten thousand and rendered four million people homeless.

Scientists like Professor Will Steffen, a researcher at the ANU and member of the Climate Council, have linked Typhoon Haiyan to climate change, others describe it as being exacerbated by global warming. The relationship between tornadoes and climate change is more complex and harder to predict than hurricanes (typhoons, cyclones).

Understanding convective available potential energy, (CAPE) may offer us insights into the relationship between tornadoes and climate change as this measure represents the energy that powers storms. It is determined by the combination of moisture and temperature differences between the ground and higher regions of the atmosphere. It is known that global warming leads to an increase in CAPE and this in turn leads to an increase in thunderstorms which can spawn tornadoes.

The relationship between global warming and tornadoes was discussed in a 2007 Scientific American interview with climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. While he predicted more hurricanes due to global warming he also suggested there may be an impact on tornadoes.

“Of course, tornadoes are very much a weather phenomenon. They come from certain thunderstorms, usually supercell thunderstorms that are in a wind shear environment that promotes rotation,” Trenberth said. “The main climate change connection is via the basic instability of the low-level air that creates the convection and thunderstorms in the first place. Warmer and moister conditions are the key for unstable air. The oceans are warmer because of climate change.”

Grady Dixon, an associate professor of geosciences at Mississippi State University who studies tornado climatology also weighed in on the connection between tornadoes and global warming.  ”The most common finding is a warming environment leads to more storms and more intense storms.” Paradoxically, Dixon also pointed out that a warming climate means warmer temperatures in the north which should decrease wind shear and may lead to fewer tornadoes.

Harold Brooks of the National Weather Center recently talked about a condensing effect, meaning more tornadoes could occur on fewer days of the year.  Jeff Trapp, a professor of atmospheric science at Purdue University said the tornado season may be expanded by a warming world. ”We would see an increase in the number of days that could be favorable for severe thunderstorm and tornado formation,” he said.

Trapp also said that the “CAPE increases with time in a globally warmed world, mainly because the temperature near the ground and lower parts of the atmosphere increases and becomes more humid…In a globally warmed future world, that thunderstorm should be more intense.”

Applied environmental geoscience major Derrek Davey said the devastation from the storms has a lot to do with global warming.

“We have measured that we have increased our global temperature 1 degree. This does not seem like much, but it is a huge factor with ice caps melting. More water equals . . . more devastation from storms.”

We know that storms and weather-related events are clearly connected to temperature. “So it should not be a big surprise to find that the rapid average global warming we’ve seen since the Industrial Revolution would affect them.” said Alice Mulder, chair of the Environmental Issues Committee.  “[G]lobal warming does change the base conditions that make some of these events more likely.”

It is important to note that the exact relationship between climate change and tornadoes is still not very well understood. Scientists do not know how global warming will impact the frequency or intensity of tornadoes. However, the absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

In 2011, the U.S. suffered through 1,700 tornadoes which is the second-deadliest tornado season in history. But 2012 and 2013 did not see elevated numbers of tornadoes. However, just as looking at one extreme weather event does not prove or disprove climate change, looking at tornado data over the course of a few years does not necessarily contradict the notion that there is a trend.

Over the course of a few years we can expect to see some variability, science looks at weather trends over much larger time frames. While the nature of science will always entertain a degree of uncertainty, more than 95 percent of climate scientists are in agreement about anthropogenic global warming. They also acknowledge that this will have serious implications for the health of the planet.

It remains to be seen whether seas will rise by 3 feet or by 10 feet, we also are not certain if the average global temperature will climb by 4 degrees or by 7. What we do know is that it is getting warmer and seas are rising. We know that warming is related to extreme weather.

We should leave investigation of the details to climate scientists and the public should be focusing on what we do know and its implications for the planet. The relationship between global warming and extreme weather should not be derailed by the few remaining — albeit powerful – skeptics who try to undermine the veracity of the vast body of climate science by pointing to examples of uncertainty.

These impacts of climate change are catastrophic. This is not some theoretical notion for the distant future, this is a fact here and now. People are already dying due to disease, food shortages, heat waves and air quality. As reported in the Daily Beast, a 2012 Climate Vulnerability Monitor report indicates that global warming is already killing four-hundred thousand people each year.

Anthropogenic climate change adversely impacts the health of humans and many other species of animal and plant life. This is a fact borne out in numerous studies and reports including those published by the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change is the greatest threat the United States faces — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles.

Extreme weather events help people to see what climate change looks like. People in the U.S., even those that belong to the Republic party, traditionally a bastion of climate denial, are coming to terms with the veracity of global warming. As reported in the Guardian, a new study from Stanford University’s social psychologist Jon Krosnick found that “a vast majority of red-state Americans believe climate change is real and at least two-thirds of those want the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether or not Typhoon Haiyan or the tornadoes in the U.S. are directly caused by climate change is not the point. The issue that is highlighted by these phenomenon encourages us to embrace the scientific evidence. We know that extreme weather events are expected to intensify as global warming proceeds.

Violent climatic occurrences are consistent with climate models which predict increasingly severe extreme weather events as the earth warms. While we may not be able to be certain about the attribution of specific weather events, we know the earth is warming, we know that the oceans are rising as well. We also know that a warmer world increases the likelihood of precipitation, storm surges, flooding and extreme weather.

As the Prince of Wales said recently, ‘The devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines should surely have been a poignant and telling reminder of the intimacy and interdependence of man’s relationship with the natural world.”

Despite critics who claim Charles overstated the case, we have good reason to question the ways in which we relate to the planet. Even if we are foolish enough to ignore climate models that predict more extreme weather, we will still be subject to sea level rise and ocean acidification among other adverse affects.

Extreme weather demands that we face the civilization-altering impacts we are having on the planet. The challenge of the Anthropocene forces us to reflect on what it means to be human. This is the great existential question of our times.

To quote the immortal words of Shakespear’s Hamlet:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,”

We are destroying the Earth upon which all life depends, and we must reconcile ourselves to the implications of our actions. As Roy Scranton commented in the Times, “If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.”

Regardless of the causal attribution for Typhoon Haiyan and the recent U.S. Tornadoes, it is no exaggeration to say that climate change poses a threat to life on earth. Extreme weather events offer a glimpse into the future and this provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the choice between accepting our impending death or collectively resolving to change our ways.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Ingo Meironke, courtesy flickr

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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 

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November 14 2013

19:36

Climate Finance and Why We Cant Give Up on the UN COP Process

Progress, however halting, in climate finance and other important issues is reason to not give up on the COP processDespite the expectation that we will see progress on climate finance, there are a number of people who are cynical about the outcome of COP 19. Every year around this time, as we settle in for UN climate talks, an army of pundits come out and tell us why we will not see anything of great consequence from the negotiations. They usually end up being right, even if their attitudes are dead wrong.

With current atmospheric carbon readings around 400 parts per million, it is not hard to see why they are so pessimistic. Concentrations of CO2 have increased by 40 percent since pre-industrial times and global average temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud recently indicated that growing levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) mean “our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising.” Given our current trajectory, temperatures are set to increase well beyond the upper threshold of 2C (3.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

The nineteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC convened in Warsaw on November 11 and runs until November 20. According to the 2012 Doha Climate Gateway, the timetable for a universal climate agreement is 2015, but it will only come into effect in 2020.

In the twenty years since climate change became a global policy priority, we have yet to find a way to secure a binding deal on mitigation. It is understandable why so many environmentally concerned citizens feel betrayed by the successive failures to address the climate crisis. However, given the magnitude of the threat we face from the climate crisis, we do not have the luxury of behaving like jilted lovers. The UN climate negotiations are the best hope we have of reigning in climate change and without popular support, we are even less likely to succeed.

No matter how long it takes, we need to tirelessly press our political leaderships to act. The reasons why we must be so doggedly determined should be obvious, we simply cannot afford to fail.

As the most powerful storm ever to make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan graphically illustrates why we urgently need immediate action to reduce climate change causing greenhouse gases.  We need concerted international action that can only come through global negotiations. This is indeed a Herculean undertaking, but as demonstrated by the carnage in the Philippines, we cannot accept the cataclysmic implications of failure.

If we are to succeed, we must stand together as a community of nations, which is a difficult task at the best of times. We are being driven together by a powerful impetus, namely the right of future generations to inhabit an earth that is livable. No one said it would be easy, but it is work that must be done.

A key part of this collaborative effort entails some form of climate finance and here we have reason to be hopeful that we will see progress at COP 19.  Developed nations are mainly responsible for climate change and they are expected to move forward with provisions that will allocate funds for developing countries to help them with mitigation and adaptation efforts.

New institutional support for developing nations in finance, adaptation and technology will include progress on the Green Climate Fund (GCF), loss and damage mechanisms, compensation and adaptation funds. All of which were agreed in 2010 at the Cancun climate talks (COP 16).

Added support for climate finance comes from two reports shared with delegates at COP 19. Typhoon Haiyan also adds urgency and highlights the importance of these finance issues. If all goes well, we will be on the road to seeing these issues finalized at the Paris climate conference in 2015 and developing nations will make good on their $100 billion a year promise by 2020.

Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, reiterated this point, saying that she believes COP 19 can make progress on GCF.

“We must clarify finance that enables the entire world to move towards low-carbon development,” she said. “We must launch the construction of a mechanism that helps vulnerable populations to respond to the unanticipated effects of climate change.”

During the opening session of the Summit, Mr. Yeb Sano, the lead negotiator of the Philippines, demanded real commitments on climate finance.

“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness,” Sano said. “We call on this COP to pursue work until the most meaningful outcome is in sight – until concrete pledges have been made to ensure mobilization of resources for the Green Climate Fund; until we see real ambition on stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations. We must put the money where our mouths are.”

Developed nations should also lead the effort to phase out fossil fuels, adopt energy efficient technology, shift towards renewable energy and prevent greenhouse gas emissions. This is the type of leadership that will help less developed nations move in the right direction.

The U.S. must lead because it is both the richest country on the planet and the biggest cumulative contributor of climate change causing greenhouse gases. President Obama and the Democrats are trying to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For their part, Republicans continue with their denial and they are likely to ignore pleas for action. This effectively precludes any hope for legislative progress before at least 2014.

The urgency of action is supported by reams of science, not the least of which is the latest IPCC AR5 document. However, the sad truth is that those who most need to understand the science are the least interested in the facts.

Nonetheless, we must not allow the heartless self interest of the GOP to undermine our efforts. Quite the contrary, their intransigent partisanship should bolster our efforts to expose them for what they are, an impediment to climate progress.

It is true that we are very unlikely to secure a binding global agreement before 2015, if at all. Global leaders have failed to grasp the urgency of the threat and take immediate bold action. After several years with little progress, many are left feeling understandably hopeless.

Sano challenged this lethargy and urged his fellow negotiators to take a bold stance.  “[L]et Warsaw, be remembered as the place where we truly cared to stop this madness.” Sano said. “Can humanity rise to this occasion? I still believe we can.” To highlight his dedication, Sano is fasting as he awaits a successful outcome.

We may have to settle for another small, but meaningful step forward, but this should not erode our support for the COP process. We are less likely to succeed if there is a widespread expectation of failure. Popular support buoys negotiations while public indifference or outright cynicism  detracts from their ability to get things done.

We must strive to build a better future with an unshakable tenacity. The message that needs to be heard in Warsaw must affirm the belief that we can get this done. However, we must make it emphatically clear that we will accept no more delays and we demand bold movement toward a binding deal.

Because we so desperately need to see results in Warsaw, it is incumbent upon all who have the audacity to hope that we press our elected officials and those at the negotiating table to work tirelessly to secure a deal.

Some of the cynical pundits will be quick to say that there is no chance that we will ever see a comprehensive global treaty. They may be right, but we must not let realism temper our advocacy. We are engaged in the most important struggle our civilization has ever known. The fact that we may not succeed should not be an excuse for inaction. Even if it amounts to tilting at windmills, tilt we must, till the very last.
——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Karoli, courtesy flickr

The post Climate Finance and Why We Cant Give Up on the UN COP Process 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 06 2013

23:49

Oceans heating up faster now than in the past 10,000 years, says new study

Oceans heating up faster now than in the past 10,000 years, says new study (via Skeptical Science)

Posted on 5 November 2013 by John Abraham If the latest research is correct, our oceans are heating up much faster now than they have in the past 10,000 years. This is one of the conclusions that is drawn from a recently published paper in Science.…



The post Oceans heating up faster now than in the past 10,000 years, says new study appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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