Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, International, News, Policy, Science| Comments closed

The Clean Power Plan and Early Action by States to Reduce Carbon Pollution

(This post originally appeared on Resources for the Future's Expert Forum on EPA's Clean Power Plan, on October 24, 2014)

Should EPA credit early action taken by states to reduce carbon emissions? If so, how?

Under the Clean Power Plan, the United States will finally have Clean Air Act standards to address carbon pollution from existing power plants. During the long wait for these standards, a diverse group of states and companies have acted, leading the way in reducing carbon pollution. They have done so by deploying renewable energy, harvesting demand-side energy efficiency, and by shifting utilization away from high-emitting and toward lower-emitting power plants.

State and private sector leadership in addressing pollution is something that should be recognized and supported. Action at the federal level to address climate-destabilizing pollution is lagging perilously far behind the scope and pace of action that scientists tell us is necessary to mitigate harmful climate impacts and reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change. For these reasons, we have long supported the recognition of early action in the context of the Clean Power Plan. Yet the question of how to do so is complex.

Under Section 111(d), EPA identifies the “best system of emission reduction” available to address dangerous air pollution from stationary sources, and sets emissions performance targets achievable using that best system. This framework—like other frameworks under the Clean Air Act—looks at existing pollution problems and how they can be addressed going forward. It does not provide for an assessment of past emissions reductions by those sources (or that state).

Of course, under the Clean Power Plan, states and companies that have already transitioned toward lower-carbon and zero-carbon energy and energy efficiency are closer to the full deployment of the best system of emissions reduction than others—and EPA should consider clarifying that states that go beyond their targets under the Clean Power Plan would receive credit for those actions under future updating of the carbon pollution standards for power plants.

The years between 2012 and 2020 present a distinct quandary. EPA uses 2012 data on power sector infrastructure in assessing the potential for emissions reductions to be secured under the best system during the 2020 to 2029 compliance period. Crediting emissions reductions secured between 2012 and 2020 would encourage states and companies to act earlier, moving emissions reductions forward in time. All else being equal, earlier action to reduce emissions is certainly better than later action. But the potential to reduce carbon pollution during 2012 to 2020 was not taken into account in setting the state targets. As such, giving compliance credit to those actions taken during this time that would have happened regardless of the Clean Power Plan—take, for example, renewable energy deployed under a renewable energy standard in a state strongly committed to clean energy—would create a bank of compliance credits. Those banked credits would be used by that state during the compliance period in the place of other, beyond business-as-usual actions to reduce emissions—and the overall emissions reductions achieved by the Clean Power Plan would be reduced by the same amount.

There are, of course, highly compelling reasons to begin to take action now to reduce carbon pollution. States and companies can take advantage of the five years between the finalization of the standards and the beginning of the compliance period to gradually build out renewable generation and build up energy efficiency programs so that these resources are ready to deliver carbon reductions. The reductions in co-pollutants that will result will help states deliver cleaner air for their citizens and meet other clean air standards. Companies can develop business models built on a foundation of clean energy and efficiency, and investments in cleaner energy and efficiency will create jobs. Improvements in energy efficiency will cut utility bills for homes and businesses, and spending those savings in their communities will stimulate the local economy. These are simply common sense actions, with tremendous co-benefits—and the existence of an initial compliance date for the long-awaited carbon pollution standards does not alter that common sense.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan| Comments closed

Flexible Pollution Rules can Boost the Economy: 5 Reasons Why

By Diane Munns, Senior Director, Clean Energy Collaboration

economy_378x235

Source: Flickr/Brookhaven National Lab

Nobody likes being told what to do.

Gina McCarthy, head of Environmental Protection Agency, knows that. So she asked her agency to craft a plan that leaves it up to states to shape their energy future – as long as they cut carbon emissions from power plants.

Often lost in the heated debate over EPA’s Clean Power Plan, however, is the fact this built-in flexibility will also give a boost to clean technology ventures, and speed up energy innovations already under way in many states. It could bring down costs for consumers, and maybe even give a much-needed boost to our economy.

Here’s how.

1. Flexibility will foster creativity.

All states have different strengths and weaknesses, and their infrastructure varies. Under EPA’s plan, a state can choose to close or upgrade coal plants, join a carbon market such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, invest in zero-carbon renewable energy sources, boost energy efficiency programs, or take any other step to meet the individual goal EPA set for the state.

Chances are, many state strategies will be multi-pronged and collaborative. The best and most viable solutions will surface to the top and be exported as best practices to other states. In fact, states and utilities looking to get ahead of the game are already beginning the discussions needed to one day craft plans.

2. State plans can be tweaked and improved over time.

States have 15 years to meet their individual carbon reduction goals. This is not supposed to be a rush job, no matter how urgent the climate challenge.

So a state that needs to abandon plans for a certain new technology, or that wants to switch to a more affordable solution, will likely have time to do so. The long-term planning horizon will allow new technologies and business models to be tested and take hold.

3. As old plants close, new and cost-effective technologies move in.

The EPA rules are being proposed at a time when utilities nationwide are pondering how to best replace aging infrastructure. Three-quarters of all coal-fired power plants are at least 30 years old, which means they only have about a decade left to operate.

This transition is expected to speed up over the next few years as a 2015 deadline for reducing mercury emissions and other harmful pollutants from power plants draws near.

With carbon storage still out of reach, no off-the-shelf technology available to affordably cut pollution from coal plants – and with natural gas, a fossil fuel, not a long-term viable alternative – we expect utilities to increasingly turn to renewable generation and energy efficiency solutions to meet EPA’s goals.

Energy efficiency remains the single best value for the dollar and it can easily be deployed within the 15-year timeframe.

4. A changing energy landscape will bring new business.

As zero and low-carbon technologies become more valuable and competitive over time, there will be more opportunities for companies to move into this space – and to flourish.

For years already, utilities have been switching from coal to natural gas, a cleaner and cheaper fuel that emits about half the carbon coal does. Industry analysts expect this transition to speed up in anticipation of the new power plant rules.

As state regulators push utilities to comply with the EPA emissions targets, look for new opportunities for industry and entrepreneurs to reduce emissions and improve efficiencies at natural gas plants.

Other businesses will scale up investment in alternative energy sources as the market for such technology gains value and broadens. There are already many active players in this emerging industry, and they want to grow in the United States and beyond.

5. Coming: A new way to produce and consume energy.

States working to cut emissions from fossil plants will be exploring new approaches – not just for energy production, but also for how we consume energy. There is “low-hanging fruit,” untapped opportunities for carbon reduction and customer savings, that won’t require additional power plant investments.

Expect EPA’s plan to fuel smarter utility business models where power companies are rewarded for helping consumers save energy rather than wasting it. The environment will benefit, as will American households and businesses.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Green Jobs, Policy| Comments closed

Why California thirsts for rain and the East Coast gets soaked

Source: Flickr/Jared Tarbell

If you think the weather’s acting strange, you’re correct. Extreme weather in the United States is trending upward, and human-caused climate change has already been blamed for much of it – most recently in connection with theCalifornia drought.

But along with extreme weather we’re also getting extreme contrasts. What on Earth is going on when New York gets endless rain and San Francisco none, and when one part of the country is freezing while another suffers under record heat?

You guessed it, rising temperatures have something to do with it – and here’s how.

Rain patterns are changing

In the Northeast, the combination of more moisture in the atmosphere from a warmer world and changes in circulation patterns are bringing more rain. In the Southwest, meanwhile, rainfall is suppressed by a northward expansion of high pressure in the subtropics.

The crippling drought now plaguing California is due to a persistent high pressure system off of the coast that is deflecting storms away from the region. A recent study shows that these systems are much more likely to occur with human-caused climate change.

Rain is more intense

Heavy downpours are controlled by cloud mechanisms and moisture content, which are both changing as global temperatures rise. Clouds that can dump a lot of rain are more common in a warmer atmosphere.

More evaporation has led to more moisture in the atmosphere which, in turn, leads to more intense rainfall when it rains. That helps explain why the entire U.S. is experiencing more heavy downpours – even in the drought-stricken West.

Droughts are taking hold

Rain and evaporation will determine how moist the soil will be. So although evaporation is increasing nationwide due to warmer temperatures, higher precipitation in the Northeast yields a net increase in soil moisture in that part of the country.

In the Southwest, on the other hand, the drop in overall precipitation brings drier conditions that spawn or magnify drought. As the soil there dries out, the incoming sunlight will heat the ground instead of evaporating water from the soil. This creates a vicious cycle of more heat and less rain.

Flooding is more common

The potential for flooding, meanwhile, depends a lot on what's going on with the soil. The higher the soil moisture content, the higher the chance that there will be more runoff from rainfall.

Because soil moisture is increasing in the Northeast, flooding events are on the rise. Fortunately for the region, many heavy rain storms occur in the summer and fall when soil moisture is low and the ground can absorb more water.

On the other hand, the sea level has risen by a foot since the 1900s in the Northeast. That, in turn, contributes to more flooding.

Disaster costs are also rising – but there is hope

In 2013, intense storms, severe regional drought, and extreme flooding led to more than $9 billion in disaster costs in the U.S. alone. It’s uncertain what the total bill was if you factor in ongoing agriculture, human health and infrastructure losses from changing weather conditions

Unless we curb emissions of heat-trapping gases, scientists expect these trends to continue and worsen – and the contrast between wet and dry areas of the U.S. will likely become even sharper. Our hope now is that the push for climate action amps up so we can finally set ourselves on a better path for the future.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices 

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Science| Comments closed

Victory for Healthy Air: Court Rejects Nebraska Attorney General's Attempt to “Short-Circuit” the Law in Challenge to Carbon Pollution Standards

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s attempt to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants failed yesterday.

The federal district court in Nebraska dismissed the Attorney General’s lawsuit challenging EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for new fossil fuel power plants.

The court held that:

[the Attorney General’s] attempt to short-circuit the administrative rulemaking process runs contrary to basic, well-understood administrative law. (Decision, Page 1)

The Attorney General’s challenge was flawed because it was filed only one week after EPA published proposed carbon emission standards for new power plants, in January 2014.

But the law is this case is clear and anchored in common sense.

As the court explained, legal challenges may only be brought against final standards:

Simply stated, the State cannot sue in federal court to challenge a rule that EPA has not yet actually made. (Decision, Page 1)

EPA’s proposed action is still in draft form and has been the subject of extensive public comment.

In December 2012, the D.C. Circuit rejected a similar challenge to EPA’s original proposal for the very same reason — that the standards had yet to be finalized.

This latest attempt at an end run around the Clean Air Act would have deprived the public of a chance to comment on a proposed rule and present its diverse viewpoints to the agency.  Moreover, for a court to review standards that are still being developed would be a waste of judicial resources and Americans’ tax dollars.

The court also noted a defect in the Nebraska Attorney General’s central legal claim.

The Attorney General argued that EPA’s reliance, in part, on data from facilities receiving federal assistance was unlawful.

The court explained:

The merits of this claim are not before the Court. But the Court notes that [Energy Policy Act section] 402(i) only forbids the EPA from considering a given technology or level of emission reduction to be adequately demonstrated solely on the basis of federally-funded facilities. 42 U.S.C. [section] 15962(i). In other words, such technology might be adequately demonstrated if that determination is based at least in part on non-federally-funded facilities. (Decision, Footnote 1, Page 5)

EDF previously examined the flaws with the Nebraska Attorney General’s legal claim in a detailed white paper. (You can read my blog about the white paper here)

Unfortunately for the citizens of Nebraska, Attorney General Bruning is devoting precious taxpayer resources to misguided legal attacks.

It’s not the only way in which Nebraska’s taxpayer dollars are being deployed to block vital clean air progress for our nation.

The Guardian reported that Bruning, on a conference call organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told other state attorneys general that Nebraska has challenged EPA authority more than 30 times and will keep on doing so.

Yet the Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants have won broad public support from millions of Americans — including public health associations, Moms Clean Air Force, faith-based organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and leading power companies.

Nebraska’s failed lawsuit is just one more misguided attempt to prevent vital limitations on the carbon pollution emitted by power plants from moving forward.

According to the Guardian, Bruning claims that:

EPA continues to try and ‘fix things’ that are not broken.

Tell that to the millions of Americans who are experiencing the harmful impacts of climate change.

While EPA takes steps to address carbon pollution from the single largest source in the country, Attorney General Bruning is devoting Nebraska’s tax dollars to flawed lawsuits.

Fortunately, millions of Americans in red and blue states alike are working together to forge solutions for our families, our communities and our nation.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Policy| Comments closed

Traveling to the climate march: Worth the carbon footprint?

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Lauren Frohne/Flickr

Looks like the simmering “climate swerve” may come to a boil on September 21 in New York City for what’s billed as the People's Climate March.

Bill McKibben called for it in the Rolling Stone magazine. Tens of thousands are slated to respond to his call, ostensibly to channel Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ghost and make world leaders "do it" – push for strong climate policies, now.

Except that it wouldn’t be the climate movement if it weren’t beset with self-doubt and second-guessing. Going to New York, you see, produces carbon dioxide emissions, the very cause of the problem. So how then can climate activists justify riding, driving or – heaven forbid – flying in the name of climate action?

We do because traveling to Manhattan, and expanding our carbon footprint in the process, may be better for the planet in the long-run than if we stayed home.

Real climate policy is what we need

Every cross-country roundtrip flight causes about a ton of carbon dioxide, per passenger. Driving emits carbon, if not quite as much. Trains do, too. Even if you bike or walk, you will need extra calories, which also come with additional carbon emissions.

A plethora of online calculators can help you decide how to minimize your own footprint. You could get positively crazy making these calculations, and some possibly have.

If you spend so much time online researching your carbon footprint that your power consumption shoots up, you may be on the wrong track.

We should all be decreasing our carbon footprint. The emphasis is on “all.” Real climate action, then, must go far beyond individual action by the committed core.

The People’s Climate March will take place on the eve of the United Nations’ Climate Summit, convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on September 23, and for good reason. It’s policy that needs to change.

Coal cannot be banned, but it can be priced

The headwinds are strong, to say the least.

King Edward I banned the burning of coal in 1306, replete with the death penalty for repeat offenders. It didn’t take long for the ban to be lifted, and the coal-fueled industrial revolution has brought untold riches to many.

The coal question, in many ways, goes to the heart of the matter. Banning coal is out. It is neither possible nor necessarily desirable.

What we need is to incorporate the full societal cost of burning that coal into everyone’s private decisions.

At the moment, each ton of coal and each barrel of oil used causes more in external damage to human health and the environment than it adds in value to the economy. That doesn’t mean we should not burn any coal or any oil, but it does mean putting a price on carbon, ideally directly via carbon markets or taxes.

It means regulation. It means standards. It means tax reform. It means taking significant policy steps to restructure misguided market forces so they lead us off of the current high-carbon, low-efficiency path.

Composting counts, but it’s not enough

Going green is fine. I don’t drive, don’t eat meat, and do all sorts of other things that minimize my own carbon footprint. The climate movement is home to quite a few who go the full-on vegan, composting, skip-coffee-because-it’s-bad-for-the-climate route.

But going green is only good if it actually gets somewhere.

If you compel your in-laws to compost more and drive less – go forth and proselytize. But if this makes them ignore efforts to achieve critical policy changes, your campaign for a voluntary green lifestyle should probably stop.

Many actions needed for a climate revolution are akin to a bootstrapping problem. Building a wind turbine takes steel, which in turn takes energy. The green energy revolution then may well mean an increase in current, largely fossil-fueled energy use for the sake of decreased carbon emissions later.

The Climate March falls into the same category. Going to New York implies emissions, as do most other things we hold near and dear in our daily lives.

Participating in the march won’t change that fact overnight. But calling for real, measured climate action just might. Helping to build the momentum toward policy change is precisely what’s needed.

If you can do it while also decreasing your own footprint, so much the better. If not, choose policy change.

Bike if you can, fly if you must. By all means, go to New York on September 21.

Also posted in News, Policy| Comments closed
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