Climate 411

Carbon markets reward 10 pioneering states. Who's next?

Source: Flickr/Nick Humphries

A handful of states are already proving that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand in hand – and they’re using market forces, price signals and economic incentives to meet their goals.

These results are particularly salient as states consider how to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit dangerous pollution from power plants.

So let's take a closer look at what's happening on our two coasts.


California: 4% cut in emissions, 2% growth

California’s landmark cap-and-trade program is closing out its second year with some strong results. Between 2012 and 2013, greenhouse gas emissions from the 350+ facilities covered by the program dropped by 4 percent, putting California solidly on track to meet its goal to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

During the same period, the state’s gross domestic product jumped 2 percent.

What’s more, the climate change and clean energy policies ushered in by California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 helped slash carbon pollution from in-state and imported electricity by 16 percent between 2005 and 2012.

All this while attracting more clean-tech venture capital to California than to all other states combined.

Northeast: GDP rises as emissions and power prices drop

Those who would rather turn east for inspiration can look to the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system stretching from Maryland to Maine.

Since the RGGI program launched in 2009, participating states have cut their greenhouse gas emissions 2.7 times more than non-RGGI states, while growing their gross domestic product 2.5 times more than non-RGGI states.

The states have experienced these dramatic win-win benefitswhile also seeing retail electricity prices across the region decline by an average of 8 percent.

With 70 percent of Americans supporting EPA’s Clean Power Plan – and given that everyone warms up to the notion of a sound economy – can these carbon markets be replicated elsewhere?

States choose their own path

EPA’s rules aim to cut power plant pollution by 30 percent by 2030, giving states individual reduction targets along withgreat flexibility to meet that national goal.

Hitting the sweet spot of supporting economic growth and environmental protection will be a primary objective, and the options are virtually endless. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, power plant efficiency and cap-and-trade are all good bets.

Expanded markets offer new options

Not surprisingly, EPA mentioned RGGI numerous times in its proposed power plant standards as an efficient way to cut carbon pollution. Since then, experts have suggested that regional markets, or even a single national market in which all 50 states participate, may be a way to make the plan affordable.

States still have some time to ponder their options.

EPA is expected to finalize the rule in summer 2015, and states have another year after that to submit plans to EPA detailing how they intend to meet their targets. Those entering into multistate agreements have three years.

The good news is that they wouldn’t be starting from scratch. The experiences of California and the RGGI states can provide useful, real-world insights as states plot their path toward a clean energy future.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Leave a comment

Young professionals tackle Solar Radiation Management research governance

This post was written by EDF's Alex Hanafi and Cassandra Brunette.

What do 45 young environmental leaders from around the world have to say about the governance of emerging climate engineering technologies?

The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) and EDF teamed up with the University of California, Berkeley to ask that question at a recent workshop.

It’s a question that has important implications for the future governance of solar geoengineering research. Also known as “solar radiation management” (or “SRM”), emerging solar geoengineering technologies are designed to cool the Earth by blocking or reflecting some of the sun’s energy back into space.

These techniques could — in theory — stop global warming quickly and relatively cheaply. However, they have potentially serious and uncertain environmental, political, and social implications. At present, few international governance mechanisms exist to ensure that SRM research would be transparent, safe, and internationally acceptable.

Our workshop was part of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) at Berkeley. Participants explored the science, ethics, and governance of SRM research through a series of interactive discussions and participatory exercises.

This year’s 45 participants hailed from 33 different countries, with the overwhelming majority from developing nations. Participants were encouraged to brainstorm and share ideas about the potential role of their home countries in research governance.

Attendees expressed a wide range of opinions on SRM:

  • Some suggested SRM could provide a technological solution to some of the temperature-related impacts of climate change.
  • Others maintained that the root causes of anthropogenic climate change should be addressed before exploring SRM any further.
  • The majority of participants called for SRM research transparency, and inclusivity in global discussions about possible governance structures for SRM research.

The diversity of participants, all convened in one location, made an ideal fit with SRMGI’s mission to develop informed international dialogue on SRM research governance. SRMGI’s goal is to bring currently underrepresented voices, particularly from developing nations, into an informed conversation about how to responsibly manage SRM research.

SRM’s potentially cheap deployment and quick effect on global temperatures could lead to the rapid and unilateral development of SRM programs, potentially provoking international tension and mistrust. Multi-stakeholder dialogue and international cooperation is critical to ensure that research into SRM is governed responsibly and transparently.

While SRMGI has hosted workshops in the United Kingdom, China, India, Pakistan, and Africa, this was SRMGI’s first event in the United States.

Stay tuned for more — SRMGI is preparing a report that will provide more details on the workshop’s agenda, interactive activities, and outcomes.

In the meantime, read more about SRMGI’s work here.

Posted in Geoengineering, Science| Comments closed

Why these leading companies welcome EPA's carbon pollution rules

Copyright: istockphoto.com

Who’s for carbon emission rules? For starters, some of America's largest companies and most innovative industry leaders, who are moving aggressively to wean themselves off fossil fuel-fired power through energy efficiency and conservation.

So far, more than 120 corporations have come out in favor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants, including some of our most well-known brands.

It’s not hard to understand why.

Regulatory certainty and a growing market for increasingly competitive renewable energy will help these companies manage risk, meet changing customer expectations and achieve corporate sustainability goals.

Added bonus: They earn recognition for being on the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.

"Just what we need"

The California headquarters of The North Face is 100 percent powered by solar and wind, and it feeds excess electricity into the grid. Other buildings owned by the outdoor products company have similar ambitions.

"EPA’s plan will help spur additional investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency and that’s just what we need,” says James Rogers, North Face’s sustainability manager.

JLL, a commercial real estate giant that has made energy-efficiency a key part of its portfolio, agrees. Since 2007, the company has helped clients reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12 million metric tons and energy costs by $2.5 billion.

“I’d like to think that more efficiently managing our electricity and power facilities is truly a ‘no brainer,’” writes JLL’s chairman of energy and sustainability services, Dan Probst, who has also spoken publicly in favor of EPA’s plan. “It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our impact on the planet, reduce costs for both power companies and consumers, and help drive the economy.”

And in September, IKEA’s chief executive and group president, Peter Agnefjäll, and Steve Howard, the home furnishing company's chief sustainability officer, marched with 400,000 others in the People’s Climate March in New York City to call for stronger policies on global warming.

“We need strong policy leadership in order for us and others to accelerate innovation,” Agnefjäll noted.

Climate change bad for business

But business leaders at the forefront of the clean energy movement are also driven by concern that unabated climate change will hurt the long-term viability of their businesses.

For example, Starbucks’ sustainability manager Jim Hanna has been warning for several years that soil changes and increased threats from pest infestations are altering the way coffee can be grown. Global warming already poses "a direct business threat to our company," he has said.

And today, the private sector is becoming increasingly concerned that water scarcity may hamper business growth in coming years.

Resources for businesses

Here at Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that the Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for any business that wants to get ahead of the game.

Building on our long track record of partnerships with the private sector, we’ll be working with businesses to help them make their voices heard as the Clean Power Plan takes shape – and to prepare them for a new reality.

Interested in learning more? We're hosting a webinar on November 19 to get the conversation started and look forward to the collaboration.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, Green Jobs, Jobs| Comments closed

US-China climate pact a "game changer" for clean energy

(This blog by Karin Rives originally appeared on EDF Voices)

President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China. Source: Flickr/White House

For the first time, the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters have pledged to reduce carbon pollution. This is a game changer, writes Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

The agreement between the United States and China will be a giant boost for clean-energy markets.

Having the world’s two largest economies competing to accelerate the adoption of no-carbon and low-carbon technologies will send one of the most powerful market signals we have ever seen, Fred writes.

China, spurred by its smog-burdened cities and the growing costs from the impact of climate change, will be increasing its already substantial investments in solar and wind, working with the U.S. on new approaches to cleaner energy and reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

And America’s fears of competition from China may now be cast in a new, positive direction: Who will dominate – and profit from – the renewable-energy resources that will power the world’s low-carbon economy?

In the past century, fossil fuels were the surest route to wealth and power. Now, the companies that produce and sell carbon-free and low-carbon technologies – from solar and wind to energy efficiency and nuclear – will be advantaged.

And the U.S. must demonstrate that it is up to the task of competing with China in all of these areas, Fred writes.

His full article is available to subscribers of the Wall Street Journal.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, News, Policy| Comments closed

History 101: Pollution rules good for economy and pocketbooks

Source: Flickr/Ervins Strauhmanis

This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices

So our political landscape is morphing yet again, and the future looks uncertain. But there are some things we know will happen over and over, like rituals.

We know that next time it snows, someone will make a tired joke about how global warming must be over. And next time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveils another plan to reduce air pollution and protect public health, opponents will claim it’ll cost a fortune and ruin our economy.

I'm sure they're now trying to sell a recent study claiming that EPA’s plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will hit consumers, when the best available data points to the complete opposite.

History shows that opponents of environmental regulations consistently miss the mark on costs.

Economic benefits of clean air offsets costs, by far

The benefits of the Clean Air Act and its amendments, which have been around since 1970 and 1990, have outweighed costs 30 to 1.

In fact, EPA estimates that in 2020, the Clean Air Act amendments will prevent 230,000 early deaths. The monetized benefits are expected to approach $2 trillion by 2020.

And still, when the amendments were first enacted, opponents claimed they would be financially ruinous. They said the same thing about efforts to limit acid rain pollution.

When in reality, we achieved the Acid Rain Program reductions in less time, and for less money, than anyone expected.

As states implement the Clean Power Plan, look for environmental regulations to prove themselves cost-effective once again. Early benefit-cost analyses of the plan show net benefits (benefits minus costs) of almost $70 billion annually by 2030.

Smart energy choices pay off

There’s also plenty of evidence that EPA is not the reason for the coal industry’s decline, or for the economic struggle in coal-producing states. The real story is that coal is losing to cheaper natural gas in the marketplace.

Clean energy sources and energy conservation are also emerging forces in what used to be coal’s monopoly market – and they’re providing benefits for both our wallets and our lungs. Between 2008 and 2013, savings from utilities' energy efficiency programs rose 116 percent, and power from renewables more than doubled.

But the best argument against the “sky-is-falling” frenzy is to look at the alternative.

Right now, the United States has no national limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

Climate change is expensive

Carbon pollution is the main underlying cause of climate change, and power plants are America’s single biggest source of carbon pollution. Climate change is already costing us, and will cost a lot more in the future.

The latest IPCC report lists some of the many ways that climate change puts humanity at risk – through heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise, storm surges and threatened food supplies.

The National Climate Assessment says “climate change threatens human health and well-being.” The Pentagon, meanwhile, calls climate change a “threat multiplier” that will affect national security.

Continuing to allow unlimited carbon pollution is the expensive and irresponsible option.

Time to act

The Clean Power Plan will set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It will protect public health and the environment, and help us avoid the worst damage from climate change – and it will do so without costing anywhere near what opponents are claiming it will.

In fact, EPA estimates that by 2030, when the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented, electricity bills will be about 8 percent lower than they would have been otherwise. That would save Americans about $8 on an average monthly residential electricity bill.

So we can afford the Clean Power Plan. In fact, we can’t afford a future without it.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments closed

An Urgent Call to Climate Action in the IPCC Synthesis Report

Photo: IPCC

It was released two days late for Halloween, but an international report on the dangers of climate change still has plenty of information about our warming planet that will chill you to the core.

The report is the latest from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC releases a series of reports every six or seven years that assess the latest data and research on climate change. This latest is the Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report—a culmination of three earlier reports in this series.

The Synthesis Report summarizes the physical science of climate change; current and future impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation of the human and natural worlds; and mitigation opportunities and necessities.

More than anything else, the report underscores the urgent need for action.

Here are 13 details from the report that illustrate why:

1.  “Warming of the climate is unequivocal… The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.”

2.  Changes in climate have impacted all continents and the oceans.

3. The period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere.
Glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide. Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover has continued to decrease.

4. Permafrost temperatures have increased in most regions since the early 1980s. Arctic sea-ice has decreased in every season and in every successive decade since 1979.

5. From 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by more than half a foot. The rate of sea-level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia.

6. In the future, it is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes in most areas, on both daily and seasonal timescales. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer. The oceans will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.

7. A large fraction of species face increased extinction risk due to climate change during and beyond the 21st century. Most plant species cannot naturally shift their geographical ranges sufficiently fast to keep up with climate change.

8. Climate change puts humanity at risk from heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise, and storm surges. Climate change is projected to undermine food security.

9. “Human influence on the climate system is clear.” Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.

10. Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

11. It is virtually certain that global mean sea-level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100, with the amount of rise dependent on future emissions.

12. Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Adaptation can reduce the risks of climate change impacts, but there are limits to its effectiveness.

13. Substantial emissions reductions of greenhouse gases – including carbon dioxide and methane — over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.

According to the IPCC Synthesis Report, planet Earth is in pretty dire shape – but the report isn’t hopeless.

Imagine our planet as a patient at a doctor’s office. It’s too late to just stay healthy – we’ve already caught a cold. But we can prevent the cold from deteriorating into pneumonia.

In order to do that, though, we need to act now. We need people, and governments, across the world to join together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support adaptation efforts, and help reduce the damages from climate change.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, News, Policy, Science| Comments closed
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