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Votes Reveal Increasing Senate Support for Clean Power Plan — Resolutions to Block It Are Going Nowhere


Courtesy: Wikipedia

It can be hard to interpret political maneuvering inside the Washington Beltway, and today’s Senate votes on the U.S. Clean Power Plan are no exception. So take it from someone who keeps a close eye on these votes in Congress — this was a good day for the Clean Power Plan, for U.S. climate leadership, and for a clean energy future.


Because today’s votes showed that the Clean Power Plan has gained support in the Senate since a test vote earlier this year.

More importantly, today’s votes demonstrated that the Senate is well short of what is needed if Senators truly want to stop the Clean Power Plan from taking effect.The measures that were passed narrowly today (52-to-46) are going nowhere. President Obama will veto these efforts to undo the Clean Power Plan, and there are more than enough supporters of the plan in Congress to sustain the veto.

The Clean Power Plan is a Clean Air Act initiative to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and spur growth in clean energy. It is an important part of America’s leadership strategy on climate change, which is helping not only to accelerate the transition to clean energy here at home but also to inspire actions by other nations, including China. With world leaders set to convene global talks on climate change in the coming weeks, it’s important to put today’s votes in context.

For two years — even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was developing the Clean Power Plan — Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been promising to block the rules any way he could. In March, he launched a symbolic attack on the Clean Power Plan that passed the Senate 57-43.

In today’s vote, which was based on an infrequently used procedure called the Congressional Review Act, McConnell’s margin of victory grew smaller. Three Republicans (Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois) broke from McConnell and supported the Clean Power Plan.

Since the rule’s release this summer, public support for limits on carbon pollution have only increased. According to a Public Policy poll done this month, 60 percent of voters in Iowa support the Clean Power Plan, while 70 percent of voters in Illinois and 64 percent in Virginia support it.

The Clean Power Plan comes at a time when shifts in technology are opening new pathways to clean energy. Even utility companies recognize that a fundamental shift has taken place. The CEO of one of America’s largest coal burning power companies, AEP, recently said he views the Clean Power Plan as a:

catalyst for the transformation that’s already occurring in our industry

The Clean Power Plan is also just one element of a bigger turning point in American policy on clean energy and climate in recent years. The adoption, a few years ago, of dramatically increased gas mileage standards and greenhouse gas limits for cars is no longer a matter of controversy. States like California and a consortium of nine northeastern states are demonstrating that market-based climate pollution limits are good for economic growth.

The bottom line is that today’s votes to “overturn” the Clean Power Plan were all about political theater. Everyone involved knows the congressional resolutions will ultimately fail, so it’s a free vote for politicians who want to appeal to a relatively narrow slice of the electorate.

The larger narrative, which is the transformation of the United States into a global leader to protect the next generation from climate pollution, is the real story.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Climate Change Legislation, Policy| Comments are closed

China's underestimated carbon emissions: What does it mean for climate action?

By Dan Dudek

The New York Times revealed in a Nov. 4 article that China has been burning as much as 17 percent more coal annually than previously thought, citing new Chinese government data.

It was sobering news to all of us who are working to reduce China’s dependency on fossil fuels, but not necessarily a verdict on the country’s – or the world’s – prospects going forward.

It’s important to note, first of all, that China’s revised coal consumption numbers have not changed scientists’ estimates of global carbon dioxide levels in the air. Unlike national emissions data, which is based on fuel consumption statistics, global levels are measured directly.

So what do we make of the news that China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, has been underestimating coal use since 2000?

China needs good data, and knows it

Significantly higher emissions in any country increase the urgency and difficulty of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change – and this is especially true for an economy the size of China’s. However, it is significant that this story was prompted by the Chinese government reporting its own data corrections, and not by an external watchdog.

China has acknowledged the challenges it faces trying to develop robust emissions estimates, and the new numbers, though troubling, are a sign that the country is making progress in this regard.

This is important not just for the international climate negotiations that kick off in Paris later this month, but also for China’s long-term strategy.

China has made it a priority to upgrade its baseline inventory emissions data, especially for sources that might be included in its national emissions trading system. Good baseline data is a prerequisite to the effective carbon trading and reduction program Environmental Defense Fund has been working toward for 25 years.

Needed now: Deeper emissions cuts 

It’s also important to note that while the emission data was revised, China’s growth in coal consumption has actually been declining, a trend that remains unchanged and will likely continue.

The government has recently targeted 6.5 percent economic growth as the official target for the next five years, down from the recent 7- percent rate. Slower growth, air quality concerns, new requirements to invest in renewables and energy efficiency, and the international commitments to peak emissions and introduce a carbon market will all put continued downward pressure on coal.

China’s data correction does not change our basic understanding of what it will take to reach the crucial turning point where global emissions finally level off and begin to decline.

We have long known that much deeper reductions will be required to get us there. The Paris commitments are shaping up to be a major milestone on that road, but won’t by themselves get us where we need to go.

For China, the solution remains a national carbon market that creates the incentives to  lower emissions as efficiently as possible. China remains committed to launching the market  in 2017.

For all of us who understand the urgency of global climate change, The New York Times story is a reminder that there is still a great deal of work still to be done – in China and beyond.

Image source: Flickr/Nicolò Lazzati 

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Read 1 Response

4 undeniable signs we're making progress on climate change

Seven months ago, I made a strong statement that may have left some people shaking their heads. I said that we can turn the corner on climate change – end the centuries-long rise in greenhouse gas emissions and see them peak and begin to decline – in just five short years.

As it turns out, 2015 is shaping up to be a year of giant steps toward that goal.

In a deeply reported New York Magazine piece, political writer Jonathan Chait calls it “the year humans finally got serious about saving themselves.” Says Chait, “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with – by the standards of its previous behavior – astonishing speed.”

I agree. Here are four reasons I believe we’re headed in the right direction:

1. America is tackling greenhouse gas pollution

The United States remains among the world’s largest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants. But thanks to this year’s action by the Environmental Protection Agency, America now has a Clean Power Plan that will cut emissions from power plants, our single largest source of carbon, by 32 percent over the next 15 years.

The era of unlimited climate pollution is over.

On the heels of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan came a proposed rule to cut methane from newly built facilities in the oil and gas industry. More needs to be done, but this is an important step in dealing with a potent greenhouse gas that accounts for 25 percent of Earth’s current warming.

These climate laws will help the U.S. meet our target to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, a commitment we made to the international community that is key to getting other large polluters to do their share.

We’ll need further reductions, but this is a very significant start.

2. China is building momentum for global action

The world’s No. 1 greenhouse gas emitter, China submitted its climate plan to the United Nations in June, confirming it will let emissions peak by 2030 – and possibly sooner. I know from my colleague Dan Dudek in China that “sooner” is possible because this is a country that’s serious about climate action.

Pollution is choking Chinese cities and threatening economic growth, but the country’s leaders also see opportunity in the emerging clean energy industry. China has pledged to have 20 percent of its energy come from wind, solar and other non-fossil energy sources within 15 years – a massive investment in a nation of 1.4 billion.

This year alone, China is expected to add 18 gigawatts of new solar capacity. By comparison, the U.S. recently surpassed 20 gigawatts total.

To have China and the U.S. making such significant commitments has transformed the dynamic going into the U.N. climate summit in Paris. Instead of making excuses for inaction, the leading emitters have launched a virtuous cycle of increasing ambition.

That changes everything.

3. Clean energy is lifting people out of poverty

One billion people worldwide still have no energy, and more than 1 billion live in extreme poverty. Turning the corner on climate cannot mean that economies can’t develop.

But just as some developing economies adopted cellular technology without ever having land lines, some will leap-frog the dirty energy phase of economic development and go straight to clean.

In fiscal 2014, the World Bank more than doubled lending for renewable energy projects to nearly $3.6 billion – or 38 percent of its total energy lending.

As Rachel Kyte, the bank’s vice president and special envoy for climate change, recently said, what poverty-stricken people of the world need now is a “a low-carbon revolution.”

And this is starting to happen. In 2014, the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa invested $131 billion in clean energy, just 6 percent less than the developed world did.

4. Pope Francis is galvanizing world opinion 

When Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical on environmental stewardship in June, he made an urgent moral appeal to the world.

As my colleague Paul Stinson noted at the time, “A leading voice without political boundaries, the pope has the ability to reach people who previously could not or would not face the reality of climate change.”

Pope Francis called on us to push harder to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy sources – and people are listening.

The day he speaks to Congress later this month, a climate rally is expected to draw many thousands to the nation’s capital in a unified call for action. Environmental Defense Fund will be there, too.

The momentum is growing. We’re on our way to turn the corner on climate change – and the race of our lives is on.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

Lima climate talks showcase another path to global climate action: through states, provinces and cities

Kevin de Leon Peru COP
California state Senate President Kevin de León arrives at the conference center for the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru. Image used with permission from Senator de León.

The chattering classes of the climate policy world are abuzz with their customary post-mortems following the latest breathless two-week session of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change 20th Conference of Parties (also known simply as COP 20), held in Lima, Peru.

Consensus is forming around a “slightly better than nothing” assessment of the Lima Call for Climate Action, which was adopted in the wee hours of Sunday amidst the usual skirmishes over money, monitoring, and mandates.

Lima clarified some of the expected content of the national pledges (“Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” INDCs in COP shorthand) to be presented by all countries next year.

Notwithstanding the softness engendered by the word “intended,” at least we aren’t firmly stuck in the “old world order” where only developed countries are taking on mitigation actions.

Subnational cooperation and pathways to climate progress outside UN process

While nations squabbled about intentions, another story was playing out on the sidelines of the COP, showcasing real, groundbreaking and consequential progress at the subnational level – within states, provinces, and cities.

After spending the vast majority of my time in Lima with innovative and dynamic subnational leaders, I came away with an unbridled sense of optimism and renewed hope that there are pathways to climate progress, even if many of them go around rather than through the formal UN process.

California, laboratory of climate change solutions

California delegation to COP 20
California's delegation to the Lima climate negotiations. Image used with permission from Senator de León.

California has long been a laboratory of climate change solutions and will be expanding its cap-and-trade program to cover transportation fuels in two short weeks.

Meetings with the California contingent are always a sought-after ticket at the COPs, and California delegates are always eager to learn from and trade ideas with their counterparts around the world.

California’s low-carbon leadership was amplified in Lima by Senate President Kevin de León, who regaled delegates with his always charismatic case for the connection between climate action, jobs, and economic growth, pointing to California’s cap-and-trade system as an example of how California can "lead the world and show other nations the way to de-carbonize their economies."

A very encouraging trend is the evolution of subnational cooperation from platitudes to concrete plans.

Partnership between California and China

I moderated a panel highlighting the collaboration between California and China, a partnership that involves a substantive, two-way exchange of ideas and expertise on issues such as emissions trading, clean vehicles, sustainable infrastructure, and technology deployment.

In less than two years, cities and provinces in China have developed pilot cap-and-trade programs that are paving the way for a future national emissions trading system in China. California has a lot to learn from the Chinese experience, and Chinese leaders studied the design of California’s system as the pilots were being developed.

Cooperation among North American states and provinces

Subnational partnerships in North America are taking off, in part because of the lack of action at the national level, particularly in the U.S. and Canada.

California and Quebec recently completed a successful joint allowance auction, the final step in fully linking the two jurisdictions’ cap-and-trade systems.

In Lima, the top environmental officials from California, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec issued a joint statement resolving to “work together towards mid-term greenhouse gas reduction goals,” a key step towards locking in long-term action and unleashing innovation in low-carbon technologies.

California Governor Jerry Brown announced his support for a 2030 GHG target at the UN Climate Summit in September, and legislation has been introduced in California that would establish a 2050 mandate and require interim targets in 2030 and 2040.

Commitments from subnational governments

While countries are submitting their INDCs, subnational governments are also putting their commitments to paper.

An important initiative called The Compact of States and Regions, launched at the UN Climate Summit by The Climate Group, will aggregate and evaluate the commitments being taken by subnational governments around the world.

States, provinces, and cities are not waiting for the UN or their national governments to act.

Meanwhile, Governor Brown’s indefatigable policy czar Ken Alex is spearheading a “subnational INDC process,” wherein subnational leaders around the world will be invited to sign an agreement, to be unveiled over the next year, committing to reducing their emissions at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, or to cutting their per capita emissions to below two tons.

Thankfully, states, provinces, and cities are not waiting for the UN or their national governments to act. There is a lot to be optimistic about, and subnational and subnational governments are showing leadership and forging ahead in what could be seen as a friendly competition to develop and implement the boldest and most successful climate change initiatives.

These leaders are restless, motivated, and they realize that the future of people and the planet are at stake. As my friend Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, said time and again in Lima: “We’re going to do this.”

This post originally appeared on our EDF Talks Global Climate Blog.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Read 1 Response

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.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments are 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.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Science| Read 1 Response
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