Climate 411

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

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.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 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.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments closed

The Clean Power Plan and the Deployment of Renewable Energy

(This post originally appeared on Resources for the Future's Expert Forum on EPA's Clean Power Plan, on October 2, 2014)

The proposed Clean Power Plan identifies the “best system of emission reduction” to address carbon pollution from power plants as comprised of four building blocks: (1) efficiency improvements at coal-fired power plants; (2) shifts in utilization away from higher-emitting fossil plants towards lower-emitting fossil plants; (3) deployment of zero-carbon generation sources such as wind and solar; and (4) harvesting demand-side energy efficiency improvement opportunities.

This system best satisfies the statutory command of the Clean Air Act, which directs EPA to identify the system that maximizes emissions reductions, considering cost and impacts on energy and other health and environmental outcomes.

This system also reflects what is happening across the country (and indeed, around the world) to reduce carbon pollution—states and companies are using the interconnected electric system as a whole to cut carbon pollution, deploying zero- and low-emitting generation and reducing reliance on high-emitting generation, and doing so flexibly to ensure that reliability is maintained and emissions reductions are achieved cost-effectively.Fifteen states wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as the Clean Power Plan was being developed to describe the success they have had in deploying this system, cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 20 percent between 2005 and 2011, with some states achieving reductions of over 40 percent during that period.

Renewable energy is our future.

More than 60,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity have been installed in 39 states and an additional 12,000 megawatts are under construction. Wind power capacity in the United States has increased nine times over since 2005, supporting over 80,000 jobs and driving a new manufacturing sector with over 550 facilities across the country. Solar generating capacity is also rising rapidly—increasing by 418 percent between 2010 and 2014. PG&E has connected more than 100,000 customers with solar panels to the grid, saving the average residential customer with solar panels $130 a month. Costs of renewable generation have been falling rapidly, and power companies such as Xcel, DTE, MidAmerican, Georgia Power, and Austin Energy have announced renewable energy purchases that are outcompeting fossil-fueled alternatives and that will lower customer bills by saving fuel costs.

The Clean Power Plan’s assessment of the potential for renewable energy to reduce carbon pollution bases state targets on an average of existing renewable energy policies in different regions of the country. By taking this approach—effectively looking backward—the proposal fails to reflect the dynamism in renewable energy deployment that is happening across America, and fails to satisfy Section 111’s technology-forcing framework.

The proposed alternative approach, which would consider the technical and economic potential to harvest renewable energy in each state, has the potential to better reflect the country’s vast renewable energy resources. The analysis underlying the alternative approach needs to be updated to reflect current technologies (such as taller wind turbines and distributed generation) and current costs (which are falling rapidly).

An up-to-date analysis of the technical and economic potential for renewable energy to cut carbon pollution will provide a strong legal and technical foundation for the Clean Power Plan, and help facilitate our transition to the clean energy–fueled economy of the future.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy| Comments closed
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