Sunday, May 31, 2015

World Has No Choice but to Decarbonize: U.N. Climate Chief

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), listens during a news conference after a week long preparatory meeting at the U.N. in Geneva February 13, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse) Click to Enlarge.
"It makes fundamental economic sense" for countries to push forward on tackling climate change because of the benefits it will bring in terms of food, water and energy, as well as employment," Christiana Figueres told a carbon market conference in Barcelona.

This, together with the speed at which businesses are acting on climate change and efforts to put a price on carbon, mean "a decarbonized world is now irreversible, irrefutable," the head of the U.N. climate change secretariat told the conference.
Rachel Kyte, the World Bank's special envoy for climate change, said to decarbonize economies, "we will need to begin with extraordinary ambition at the end of this year" in Paris where countries are due to agree a new global deal to tackle climate change.
Market Mechanisms Needed
Market mechanisms, such as carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes, would be key in mobilizing a global response on a big-enough scale, Kyte said.

"Every country will need to manage an orderly transition to low-carbon growth and resilient development," she said, adding that carbon pricing would be one necessary element of that transition.

On Tuesday, the World Bank said in a report that emission trading schemes were worth an estimated $34 billion on April 1, up from $32 billion in 2014, while the value of carbon taxes around the world amounted to about $14 billion.

Countries introducing such initiatives include developing nations such as China, Mexico and South Africa.

Putting a price on carbon would be the foundation for unlocking investment in low-carbon economies "with hope for jobs and competitiveness - not a picture of sacrifice and of loss and giving things up", Kyte said.

Read more at World Has No Choice but to Decarbonize:  U.N. Climate Chief

Reflections from Below the Fossil Subsidy Iceberg

As close observers have long suspected, governments historically underestimate the cost subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, development, and production.  By far.  The International Monetary Fund has just calculated far in a study distributed by its Fiscal Affairs department: How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies? (IMF working paper 15/105).

Here’s IMF’s basic reasoning.  If you incorporate what governments have to pay to clean up after companies burn oil, coal, and natural gas for power, you see that this factor has not been counted in the economic equation of using fossil fuels.  Humans have to counter emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in order to combat their harmful effects (air pollution, the greenhouse effect, climate change, and related disaster response, normally considered “externalities”).  Government is usually pegged as the industry’s housekeeper.  Until recently, the costs of remediation have been invisible. It turns out that they are unbelievably high.

The IMF—sometimes a fairly conservative voice, considering its purpose—calls them “shocking.”  Figuring in all necessary government actions to counter greenhouse gas emissions, global subsidies amount to not only the numbers usually cited (of around $500 billion a year), but to $5.3 trillion a year.  The Guardian puts this government expense, which the public pays for, at $10 million per minute.  In 2015, this total exceeds the amount all world governments spend on health.  It shows that we price fuel remarkably low, considering its real cost, and that true subsidies are a far cry above the usual calculation.

“The IMF provides five trillion reasons for acting on fossil fuel subsidies,” UN climate chief Christiana Figueres states.  Says Nick Stern, well-known climate economist at the London School of Economics:
“This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are.  There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damage economies, particularly in poorer countries….  A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”
Read more at Reflections from Below the Fossil Subsidy Iceberg

China’s Investment in Renewables Soars by a Third

Despite a slowdown in its economy and the continued reliance on coal, China is pumping billions of dollars into its renewable energy industry.

Hydropower stations such as the Three Gorges Dam are a major source of China’s renewable energy. (Image Credit: Kathy via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
China invested more than US$89 billion in renewable energy projects in the country in 2014 – a growth of 31% on the previous year, according to a detailed report on the country’s energy sector.

The soaring increase is revealed in a report by the US government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). But it adds that fossil fuels - particularly coal - still look set to continue to dominate China’s power sector.

Coal is by far the most polluting fossil fuel, and China is the world’s leading emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Wind power production went up by nearly 40% in the 2012-13 period.  Although there are still big gaps in the transmission infrastructure, the aim is to generate 200 gigawatts (GW) of electricity from wind by 2020.

Government subsidies
“China is also aggressively investing in solar power and hopes to increase capacity from 15 GW at the end of 2013 to 100 GW by the end of 2020,” says the EIA.  Substantial government subsidies have helped to fuel growth in the solar sector.

The EIA says similar levels of expansion are happening in other non-fossil fuel industries, in line with the Beijing government’s goal of producing 15% of total energy consumption from non-fossil fuels by 2020.

A large-scale hydroelectricity program continues, with dams being constructed throughout the country.

“Because of its cost effectiveness and sizeable resource potential, hydroelectricity has become China’s key source of renewable energy generation,” says the EIA’s analysis.

At present, China produces 230 GW of power from hydro, accounting for about 8% of total energy consumption.  The goal is to increase this to 350 GW over the next five years.

Read more at China’s Investment in Renewables Soars by a Third

New Campaign Seeks to Bring Electricity to Hundreds of Millions

Boy reading (Image Credit: Power For All) Click to Enlarge.
A new campaign wants to bring electricity to hundreds of millions of people in areas where there currently is none. Power For All was founded on the belief that universal electricity access can be achieved before 2030. Currently, over one billion people worldwide don’t have access to electricity.

The organization advocates for decentralizing electricity production and getting off of fossil fuels.  In other words, using renewable energy sources like solar power combined with some energy storage technology, rather than building new coal plants.  Going “beyond the grid” can bypass special interests that want to control electricity production and determine consumer costs, while influencing politics and public policy to their own financial advantage.

When cities, towns and villages make their own electricity, they have control of that vital element, and are not subject to authoritarian structures that manipulate and even sometimes abuse them.  Decentralized electricity production may also increase competition in the marketplace because of the diversity of systems, and greater community involvement.

Africa has plenty of sunlight, and solar panels have never been cheaper.  Their cost may drop again in the next several years.  Also, energy storage in the form of battery systems appears to be catching up with renewable energy.

“In East Africa, only 23% of Kenyans, 10.8% of Rwandans and 14.8% of Tanzanians have electricity, the World Bank says,” according to a recent BBC article.  Many Africans currently use kerosene for lamps, but it is subject to price gouging and cost fluctuations and must be purchased continually.

Read more at New Campaign Seeks to Bring Electricity to Hundreds of Millions

Tall Trees Sucked Dry by Global Warming

Climate change will challenge tall trees like California's redwoods.

Tall trees (Credit: David Ashford/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
A well-known scientific principle describing how water moves through plants can help explain why trees may struggle to survive as the planet warms, scientists say in a new study.

Using an equation called Darcy’s law, the research also helps explain why iconic giant trees like the California redwood could be especially vulnerable to rising temperatures. The concept was outlined in a paper published this month in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Plants’ vascular systems can be likened to bunches of straws, explained lead author Nathan McDowell, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, meaning water moves from the roots to the branches through tension.

The atmosphere pulls water through plants’ systems, and “the warmer and drier the air is—which is what climate change is doing—it’s increasing the evaporative demand,” said McDowell. “The warmer the air is, the more water it can hold, so it sucks harder on those straws.”

To keep from dehydrating, plants start to close their stomata—the openings in leaves through which they take in CO2.

But as stomata close during a drought, they can’t photosynthesize as effectively, McDowell said, preventing trees from taking advantage of more CO2 in the atmosphere.
Darcy’s law shows that “shrubby, low-statured plants are most likely to survive, whereas tall, old-growth forests are particularly vulnerable to warming climate.”

Read more at Tall Trees Sucked Dry by Global Warming

Rainforests Are Left on Edge of Destruction

Clouds over tropical rainforest in Madre de Dios, Peru. (Image Credit: Oscar de Lama via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Rising temperatures will not themselves spell disaster for the world’s rainforests.  It is the droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns, which climate change is already worsening, that will settle the forests’ fate before the century ends, according to a new book.

Claude Martin, who has worked in tropical rainforest conservation since the 1970s, is author of On the Edge, commissioned by the Club of Rome, which published the seminal Limits to Growth report in 1972.  Since then, nearly 50% of the world’s forest cover has disappeared.

Martin, a former director-general of WWF International, recognises that there are many drivers of forest damage and destruction - including the pressures of the global economy for animal feed and food for humans, and the worldwide demand for biofuels.

Essential ecosystem
Acknowledging the progress made in science and conservation, he reminds his readers that the forests are not just huge repositories of biodiversity, but an essential ecosystem providing everyone on the planet with fresh water, clean air and climate regulation.

Evaluating the impact of climate change on rainforests means focusing on the length of dry seasons and water stress, rather than temperature, Martin writes.

The likeliest cause of forest collapse and severe risks of reaching a tipping point is not temperature rise, but the change from the dependable rainfall patterns of the past, and the probability of increasing droughts and forest fires.

He sees a likelihood of drought and fires increasing - not least in the Amazon - because of the way in which climate change is fueling El Niño and La Niña, the twin periodic temperature disruptions that occur every few years in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Read more at Rainforests Are Left on Edge of Destruction

Climate Change Could Melt Everest Region’s Glaciers

Mount Everest (Credit: Phobus/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The Dudh Koshi basin spans 1 million acres and includes some of world’s tallest peaks including Mount Everest.  Glaciers tumble down from the highest reaches to the valleys below, shaping the landscape and culture of the region.

But climate change has the region primed for a major meltdown.  A new study published in The Cryosphere shows that by 2100, the jagged tongues of ice that define the region could shrink by 70 percent or greater as the region warms.
For all the importance of glaciers, very little data is available on them because of the harsh conditions and challenges of collecting it.  But the Everest region is an exception thanks to its exceptional status.  Joseph Shea, a research scientist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development who led the new study, said that status made it a prime region to model the intricacies of future glacier changes.

Glaciers depend on snow and cold temperatures to maintain their balance.  In Nepal, the majority of the former arrives during the monsoon season, which accounts for 77 percent of all precipitation in the region.  Understanding how climate change will affect the monsoon is still an area of active research.  Some signs indicate total precipitation has decreased even while more of it is falling on fewer days.

Temperature is a much clearer signal, though. Shea said temperatures could warm by as much as 12°F in region by 2100.

“In this basin, it’s not that different from other places,” he said.  “It’s pretty simple physics to warm temperatures and get more ice melt.”

The rise in temperatures would raise the freezing line on the mountain, exposing more ice to melt and reducing the area where nourishing snow falls.  Estimates from the study indicate that the freezing line could lift by as much as 3,900 feet by 2100, which could expose the majority of glaciers in the region to temperatures above 32°F in warm-weather months.

Read more at Climate Change Could Melt Everest Region’s Glaciers

  Saturday, May 30

Saturday, May 30, 2015

More Flooding in Texas After Week of Storms

Motorists are stranded along I-45 in north Houston on Tuesday, May 26, after overnight storms flooded the area. (Image Credit: Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle via AP) Click to Enlarge.
Rain showers caused flooding on roads in parts of Texas early on Saturday, an official said, after severe weather killed at least 21 people earlier in the week, prompting U.S. President Obama to declare a disaster in the state.

Texas has endured record rainfall for the month of May. This week, flooding turned streets into rivers, ripped homes off their foundations, swept over thousands of vehicles and trapped people in cars and houses.

Obama signed a disaster declaration late on Friday to free up federal funds to help rebuild areas of Texas affected by the storms.  No estimate has been given for the damage in Texas.

On Saturday, there were reports of vehicles stuck in flooded streets in Rowlett, a community of nearly 60,000 residents just northeast of Dallas, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Jamie Gudmestad.

Read more at More Flooding in Texas After Week of Storms

Warmer Oceans Will Make Typhoons More Intense

Typhoon Maysak, as seen from the International Space Station on March 31, 2015. (Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.
While the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be relatively quiet, thanks to the influence of a healthy El Niño, the typhoon season in the northwest Pacific has been jam-packed so far, even for an area that normally sees the highest tropical cyclone activity and a large proportion of the strongest storms.

One of the earliest Category 5 typhoons in the record books, Super Typhoon Maysak, formed in March, and the basin has already seen its seventh named storm, the earliest in a season that mark has been reached.  And one of the strongest cyclones ever measured, Typhoon Haiyan, devastated the Philippines just two years ago.

A new study suggests that the region could see even more intense storms in a warming world, propelled by rising temperatures in the upper portion of the ocean.  The excess heat absorbed by the Pacific as greenhouse gas emissions continue will lead to a 14 percent increase in typhoon intensity in that basin by 2100, the researchers project.

“This is exciting and well-executed research which will no doubt influence future work on the relationship between tropical cyclones and climate,” Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane-climate researcher at MIT who wasn’t involved in the study, said in an email.

Read more at Warmer Oceans Will Make Typhoons More Intense

The Quest to Quench the World’s Thirst for Water

The desalination plant in Carlsbad will use the reverse osmosis process to produce fresh water. (Credit: Dima/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
As climate change makes rainfall less predictable and droughts more common, a growing number of countries are turning to desalination.  The term is used to refer to removing salt from both seawater and subterranean “brackish” water, as well as the treatment of waste water (aka sewerage) to make it drinkable.

Some environmentalists have long opposed desalination because of the energy the process demands, as well as other considerations such as the impact of sucking in large quantities of seawater from the ocean.

But technological advances in recent years have altered the equation.  The most common form of desalination is reverse osmosis; it involves forcing water through cartridges that contain thin-film composite polyamide membranes, which trap salt and other impurities but allow the fresh water through.

Randy Truby, comptroller of the International Desalination Association, says that advances in manufacturing processes have allowed 450 square feet of membrane to be crammed into each cartridge, compared with 300 square feet when they first came on the market.  But treating seawater still requires pressure of about 1,160 psi, 40 times more than car tires.  That is why treating seawater is more energy-intensive than brackish or waste water, which require less force.

The location of a seawater desalination plant also makes a difference, Truby adds:  while the salt content of water off the coast of California is about 34,000 parts per million, the figure in the Middle East is more like 40,000.

Read more at The Quest to Quench the World’s Thirst for Water

IEA Warns of Failure Toward Clean Energy Climate Goals

International Energy Agency logo (Credit: IEA) Click to Enlarge.
The International Energy Agency has warned that clean energy progress is falling short of the necessary levels to combat a global temperature increase.

In a report published Wednesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) examined progress across the development and deployment of key clean energy technologies, including hydro and ocean energy, onshore and offshore wind, solar PV and thermal electricity, geothermal, and bioenergy.

Of these technologies, only solar PV was deemed to be on track.  Onshore wind and hydropower were both deemed to needing improvement, while the remaining technologies were all classified as being “Not on track”.

For the full breakdown, see the chart at the end of this piece. 

“Renewable power generation continues to progress, but is not fully on track to meet the [2° Scenario (2DS)],” the authors of the report noted in the opening paragraph of the renewable power section.  And the next few years are expected to see continued growth, with the IEA expecting generation to grow by 45% between 2013 and 2020, reaching 7,310 TWh.  However, annual capacity additions are expected to level off after 2020, leaving the industry “increasingly at risk of falling short of the 2DS generation target of 10,225 TWh by 2025″.

The primary reasons behind this threat?  The IEA believes that “slow economic growth, policy uncertainty in OECD member countries, and persistent economic and non-economic barriers in OECD non-member economies” are the main reasons.

Specifically, the report notes that any progress seen in the clean energy sector is being overshadowed by the expansion of coal-fired power.

“Low-priced coal was the fastest-growing fossil fuel in 2013, and coal-fired generation increased in all regions,” the report’s authors write.  “Newer coal plants can perform to a relatively high standard.  But where coal-fired capacity is expanding, in emerging economies for example, less efficient, subcritical units dominate, primarily due to the absence of minimum efficiency policies.”

The full report is available to download from the IEA here (PDF)

Read more at IEA Warns of Failure Toward Clean Energy Climate Goals

Wal-Mart Makes Big Renewable Push with Utilities

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the company that coined the phrase "rollback pricing," is busy rolling back state and utility resistance to corporate purchases of renewable energy.

The Arkansas-based firm, perennially ranked atop the Fortune 500 index with stores in all 50 states, will soon break ground on its 300th solar power site, expanding its photovoltaic (PV) output to 100 megawatts across 14 states and Puerto Rico.

"What we have found over time is that once we're successful with on-site solar at one location or state, opportunities begin to open up in other states," David Ozment, Wal-Mart's senior director for energy, told participants of a webinar sponsored by the nonprofit Advanced Energy Economy Thursday.  "We literally work across the United States to try to make solar work in that particular capacity."

Increasingly, states are getting the message.

Georgia, for example, this spring became the latest state to allow independent firms to build and lease solar systems in the state, effectively dismantling Georgia's long-standing model under which regulated utilities had sole authority to generate and distribute electricity.  The Georgia solar law is primarily aimed at helping homeowners and small businesses finance rooftop PV systems, but it could also encourage larger-scale distributed generation, including corporate PPAs like the ones Wal-Mart prefers.

"When we talk about distributed generation and the role it's beginning to play in our energy world ... it's no longer really just the utility providing all of the transmission and distribution anymore," Ozment said.  "The distributed generation pony has sort of left the barn, and we're not going to put it back in."

Yet, even with the emergence of new solar markets like Georgia, renewable energy advocates say barriers still remain to open and competitive markets, with utilities and public service commissions in many states continuing to hold onto traditional models of power generation, transmission and distribution.

Read more at Wal-Mart Makes Big Renewable Push with Utilities

Oil’s Green Investors Win Trojan Horse Victories in Board Access

(Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg) Click to Enlarge.
Activist investors pushing for more say in how companies deal with climate change won their biggest prize yet when shareholders in the world’s second-largest oil producer agreed to make it easier to capture directorships.

Chevron Corp. investors voted 55 percent in favor of a non-binding resolution that would allow certain holders to nominate a candidate for the board.  The company had opposed the measure, saying the so-called “proxy access” initiative would undermine efforts to thoroughly vet prospective directors.

Investor majorities at 21 other energy companies have embraced proxy access this year. Adding Chevron to that group is an important victory for investors such as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who backed the measure as a means of infiltrating corporate boards with green activists.

“This is a sea change,” said Anne Simpson, senior portfolio manager for the California Public Employee Retirement Fund.  “This is now mainstream and there will be winds of change in the boardroom.  Companies that fail to adopt proxy access will find this proposal on the ballot again next year.”

Read more at Oil’s Green Investors Win Trojan Horse Victories in Board Access

Free of Fanfare, Maryland Adopts Fracking Moratorium

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan won't reject or approve legislation that mandates a moratorium on fracking. This means the bill, which passed both legislative houses with more than two-thirds of the vote, will automatically become law. (Credit: Maryland Governor's Office) Click to Enlarge.
Maryland's fracking moratorium survived its last possible political challenge Friday.

Gov. Larry Hogan's 30-day window to veto the bill ended Friday night.  The governor has already said he won't reject or approve the measure, which mandates a moratorium on the controversial process for oil-and-gas drilling until October 2017.  This means the bill will automatically become law later this year because it passed in both the state Assembly and Senate with more than two-thirds of the vote.

Read more at Free of Fanfare, Maryland Adopts Fracking Moratorium

Thin Coating on Condensers Could Make Power Plants More Efficient

Graphene layer one atom thick could quadruple rate of condensation heat transfer in generating plants.

An uncoated copper condenser tube (top left) is shown next to a similar tube coated with graphene (top right). When exposed to water vapor at 100 degrees Celsius, the uncoated tube produces an inefficient water film (bottom left), while the coated shows the more desirable dropwise condensation (bottom right). (Credit: Courtesy of the researchers) Click to Enlarge.
Most of the world’s electricity-producing power plants — whether powered by coal, natural gas, or nuclear fission — make electricity by generating steam that turns a turbine.  That steam then is condensed back to water, and the cycle begins again.

But the condensers that collect the steam are quite inefficient, and improving them could make a big difference in overall power plant efficiency.

Now, a team of researchers at MIT has developed a way of coating these condenser surfaces with a layer of graphene, just one atom thick, and found that this can improve the rate of heat transfer by a factor of four — and potentially even more than that, with further work.  And unlike polymer coatings, the graphene coatings have proven to be highly durable in laboratory tests.

Read more at Thin Coating on Condensers Could Make Power Plants More Efficient

  Friday, May 29

Friday, May 29, 2015

Weather Extremes Wear Climate Change's Fingerprints

In the Indian heat, a man takes an outdoor nap. (Credit: Mohamed Somji, Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Communities across the globe got a sobering snapshot this week of what the future is likely to hold more of: extreme weather getting even more extreme thanks to climate change.

Historic rainfall and flooding in Texas and Oklahoma left thousands homeless and dozens of people dead.  India is in the midst of a prolonged heat wave that has already claimed more than 1,800 lives.  Wildfires in Alberta consumed hundreds of square miles of forest while creeping closer to Canada's tar sands, shutting down production of the carbon-intense fossil fuel.

Read more at Weather Extremes Wear Climate Change's Fingerprints

Epic Rains, Disastrous Floods Plague Texas, Oklahoma - Moderate Drought Covering All of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island

Damage along River Road in Wimberley, Texas, from a devastating flash flood on Saturday night, May 23. (Photo Credit: Jerry Lara/The San Antonio Express-News, via AP) Click to Enlarge.
Water cascaded through the streets, creeks, and bayous of downtown Austin and Houston on Monday as an upper-level storm inched its way across the southern Great Plains.  Slow-moving thunderstorms dumped 6” to 8” across the western Houston metro area between 8:00 and 11:00 p.m., and heavy rains continued well past midnight across much of the south and west metro area, bringing some totals as high as 10+”.  Though the Houston flooding came well short of that in 2001’s catastrophic Tropical Storm Allison, countless roads and interstate highways were submerged, and hundreds of homes reportedly took water.  This was the latest salvo in a remarkable three-day stretch of torrential rain and destructive flooding across much of Oklahoma and Texas and parts of neighboring states.  As of Tuesday morning, the floods had taken at least 8 lives, with at least 12 people missing, and damaged or destroyed many hundreds of buildings.
Precipitation persistence: the story of 2015
One of the most intriguing questions in climate change research is whether blocking-type patterns might be fostered by rising global temperatures and the resulting effects on jet-stream behavior.  Over the last month, the same pattern favoring heavy rain across Texas and Oklahoma has kept rain away from the Northeast.  It was just three months ago that an unprecedented month-long stretch of heavy snowfall brought Boston and much of New England to its frosty knees.  A couple of individual snowstorms within that stretch were among Boston’s heaviest, but it was the relentlessness of the cold, snowy conditions that truly stood out and caused such misery.  Likewise, the unrelenting rainfall across the southern Plains this month has caused pile-on effects, as downpours flow off saturated soil and farmers struggle to get spring crops planted.  During the 30 days ending on May 25, Norman, OK, received an astounding 24.10”.  Oklahoma is now assured of its wettest month on record, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

Here are some individual locations that have already set records for their wettest May as of midnight Monday night, with nearly a week left to go in the month.  (Thanks to Nick Wiltgen at the Weather Channel for compiling these statistics.)
  • Oklahoma City, OK: 18.85” (previous May record 14.52” in 2013; previous all-time record 14.66” in June 1989)
  • Fort Smith, AR: 18.07” (previous May record 13.67” in 1943; previous all-time record 15.02” in June 1945)
  • Austin, TX (Camp Mabry): 16.72” (previous May record 14.10” in 1895; all-time record 20.78” in Sept. 1921)
  • Wichita Falls, TX: 14.15” (previous all-time record 13.22” in May 1982)
Meanwhile, back in the Northeast, the tables have turned in a way that might have seemed hard to fathom three months ago.  The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor shows moderate drought (D1) covering all of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, as well as parts of New York, Maine, and Pennsylvania.  Even the enormous snowfalls of February didn’t contain especially large amounts of moisture compared to what can fall in a midwinter New England rainstorm, and the tap hasn’t been flowing much at all lately.  In the 30 days ending on May 26, less than an inch of rain fell across most of New Jersey, southeast New York, and southern New England, with some locations getting little more than sprinkles.  Further south, only a trace has fallen this month in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Reservoirs and water tables in New England are still in relatively good shape, but streamflows are quite low.  Potential records for driest or second-driest May at locations with more than a century of data include:
  • Concord, NH: 0.07” (record low 0.50”, 2008; records begin in 1903)
  • Providence, RI: 0.51” (record low 0.57”, 1939; records begin in 1904)
  • Hartford, CT: 0.60” (record low 0.73”, 1959; records begin in 1905)
  • Boston, MA: 0.31” (record low 0.25”, 1944; runner-up 0.32”, 1903; records begin in 1872)
  • Albany, NY: 0.31” (record low 0.15”, 1903; runner-up 0.73”, 1920; records begin in 1874)
  • New York, NY (Central Park): 0.32” (record low 0.30”, 1903; runner-up 0.34”, 1887; records begin in 1871).

Read more at Epic Rains, Disastrous Floods Plague Texas, Oklahoma

Miliband Says World Refugee Crisis to Worsen with Climate Change

A historic 52 million people are fleeing conflict worldwide, a trend that will intensify over the next two decades because of climate change, International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband said on Friday.  "One of the drivers of displacement and potential conflict over the next 10 to 20 years will be climate (change) - resource scarcity," said Miliband, a former foreign minister of Great Britain. "Climate change is going to compound the cocktail that's driving war and displacement."  Miliband said there were 16 million refugees and 36 million people displaced in their own countries, typically by civil war. That is the largest number of people fleeing persecution since World War Two, he said during a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York.  "Do I think the current level is a blip or a trend?" Miliband said. "I would say it's a trend."  Climate change is closely associated with extreme weather events such as the droughts experienced from the western United States to Nigeria. It takes a toll on food production and can cause rising sea levels and storms that threaten residents of low-lying and coastal areas.
A historic 52 million people are fleeing conflict worldwide, a trend that will intensify over the next two decades because of climate change, International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband said on Friday.

"One of the drivers of displacement and potential conflict over the next 10 to 20 years will be climate (change) - resource scarcity," said Miliband, a former foreign minister of Great Britain.  "Climate change is going to compound the cocktail that's driving war and displacement."

Miliband said there were 16 million refugees and 36 million people displaced in their own countries, typically by civil war.  That is the largest number of people fleeing persecution since World War Two, he said during a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York.

"Do I think the current level is a blip or a trend?" Miliband said.  "I would say it's a trend."

Climate change is closely associated with extreme weather events such as the droughts experienced from the western United States to Nigeria.  It takes a toll on food production and can cause rising sea levels and storms that threaten residents of low-lying and coastal areas.

Read more at Miliband Says World Refugee Crisis to Worsen with Climate Change

Sea Level Is Rising Fast – and It Seems to Be Speeding Up

Satellite altimeters measure sea level by measuring the time it takes a radar pulse to make a round-trip from the satellite to the sea surface and back. (Credit: NOAA/STAR) Click to Enlarge.
Many observations have shown that sea level rose steadily over the 20th century – and at a faster rate than over the previous centuries.  It is also clear from both satellite and coastal observations that seas have risen faster over the past two decades than they did for the bulk of the 20th century.

More recently, several studies have shown that the flow of ice and water into the oceans from Greenland and West Antarctica has increased since 1993.  This raises an interesting question: has the rate of sea-level rise changed since 1993, when satellite observations began to give us a more complete picture of the global oceans?

Our new research tackles this question by comparing satellite observations of sea level with those measured at the coast by tide gauges.  We use this comparison to determine small biases in the satellite data that have changed over time.  Understanding how the land supporting the tide gauges is moving becomes an important part of these comparisons.  We found three important results.

First, the seas really have risen faster since 1993, relative to the slower rate over previous decades as evident in the tide gauge data.

Second, comparison of the coastal and satellite measurements reveal small differences in the early part of the satellite record from 1993 to 1999.  After allowing for land motion at the tide gauges, the first six years of the satellite record marginally overestimates the sea-level trend.
Third, previous estimates of the rate of rise from satellite data that didn’t incorporate the careful comparison with coastal sea-level measurements, as we have done in our recent study, showed a slower rate of rise over the past decade relative to the one before.  Our revised record is clearly different and suggests that the rate of rise has increased, consistent with other observations of the increased contributions of water and ice from Greenland and West Antarctica.
Strikingly, our estimate of the increase in the rate of rise is consistent with the projections of future sea level published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Currently, these projections forecast a rise of up to 98 cm (3.2 ft) by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to continue unabated (and even more if parts of the Antarctic ice sheet collapse).  If the world makes strong cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the rise by 2100 is projected to be significantly less, somewhere between 28 cm and 61 cm (0.9 ft and 2 ft).

Read more at Sea Level Is Rising Fast – and It Seems to Be Speeding Up

Report: U.S. Can Make Good on Climate Pledge — Barely

The U.S. will need to expand the use of renewables in order to achieve its climate goals, according to the World Resources Institute. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
When the U.S. arrives at the international climate negotiations in Paris at the end of the year, it will bring to the table its pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent under 2005 levels over the next decade.

The World Resources Institute, or WRI, a global environmental sustainability think tank, released a report Wednesday showing how the U.S. can make good on its pledge and possibly exceed it.  Doing so, however, may involve strengthening controversial emissions cuts in the works, cuts that largely are expected to be watered down and challenged in court before taking effect, possibly later this year.

To achieve its Paris emissions pledge, the Obama administration is betting that its proposed Clean Power Plan, slated to be finalized this summer, will deliver carbon dioxide emissions cuts from existing coal-fired power plants as promised.  The White House also is relying on its Climate Action Plan to cut emissions and increase efficiency in other sectors of the economy.

Those plans alone will do just enough to make good on cutting emissions 26 percent, the report says, but reaching or exceeding 28 percent will likely involve strengthening the Clean Power Plan and cutting emissions in other areas not included in the Obama administration’s plans.

The U.S. also has the ability to slash its 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by more than half over the next 25 years, but only if Congress puts a price on carbon, the report says.

“There is a limit to what can be done with federal authority combined with state action,” WRI senior fellow Karl Hausker said.  “Serious people both on the left and right know that putting a price on carbon is part of a long-term solution.  Carbon prices reduce emissions.  It’s also compatible for economic growth.”

Read more at Report: U.S. Can Make Good on Climate Pledge — Barely

Global Schemes to Price CO2 Emissions Worth Almost $50 Bln – World Bank

The words "Knock out the toxic tonnes" are seen on a giant ball during a protest by environmental activists in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Feb. 23, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir) Click to Enlarge.
The value of global schemes to put a price on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and designed to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming totalled almost $50 billion as of April 1, the World Bank said in a report on Tuesday.

The Carbon Pricing Watch report estimates emission trading schemes were worth $34 billion on April 1, up from $32 billion in 2014, while carbon taxes around the world, valued for the first time in the report, were about $14 billion.

The increase stemmed largely from the launch in January of South Korea's emissions trading scheme, which will impose caps on emissions from 525 of the country's biggest companies and become the world's second-biggest carbon market. 

The Europe Union's Emissions Trading System, which caps the emissions of more than 11,000 power plants, factories and airlines, is the world's largest carbon trading scheme and covers around 45 percent of the bloc's emissions.

The value of global trading schemes is based on the number of carbon permits issued by each scheme multiplied by the price of the permits on April 1, the World Bank said.

Some 40 nations and over 20 cities, states and regions now have a price on CO2 emissions, the report said, covering around 12 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, or the equivalent of nearly 7 billion tonnes of CO2.

The Carbon Pricing Watch report, compiled by the World Bank and climate consultancy Ecofys, is a preview of the World Bank's State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2015 report, which will be launched later this year, the World Bank said.

Read more at Global Schemes to Price CO2 Emissions Worth Almost $50 Bln – World Bank

Maersk Sets 60% Emission Intensity Reduction Target for 2020

Maersk freighter (Image Credit: Maersk Line | CC-by-SA 2.0) Click to Enlarge.
The world’s largest container ship operator, Maersk Line, has announced a target to significantly reduce emissions produced per container moved.

Maersk Line plans to cut emissions per container moved by 60% by 2020 as part of a five year plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 200 million tonnes of CO2e.  The amount of emission reduction envisaged is equivalent to emissions from all passenger cars in France, the company noted.

The shipping company has set 2007 as the baseline for calculation of emission reduction by 2020.
Over the last 3 years the company has been able to demonstrated that financial growth can be decoupled from emission growth.  While absolute GHG emissions were down by 13.5%, revenue grew by 0.9% to $27.3 billion in 2014.

Read more at Maersk Sets 60% Emission Intensity Reduction Target for 2020

  Thursday, May 28

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Exxon, Chevron Reject Shareholder Measures on Climate Change Again

At ExxonMobil's annual meeting in Dallas on May 27, Chief Executive Rex Tillerson didn't mention climate change in his prepared remarks to shareholders, a change from previous years. In response to questions on climate issues, Tillerson said "the [scientific] models simply are not that good." (Credit: William Munoz) Click to Enlarge.
Sharp differences are emerging between U.S. oil majors and their European brethren on the issue of climate change, and Wednesday's shareholder meetings at ExxonMobil and Chevron underscored the divergence as they fought all climate-related shareholder proposals and came away largely victorious.

The stiff resistance from Exxon and Chevron came in contrast to recent annual meetings at BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil, where nearly identical climate-related shareholder resolutions passed almost unanimously after the three companies opted to support the measure instead of oppose it.

In the wake of the unprecedented climate votes in Europe, some hoped to see a shift in the U.S. too.  Exxon and Chevron executives, however, showed no sign of taking a more cooperative stance with shareholder groups worried about climate change.  At this year's Exxon meeting in Dallas, Chief Executive Rex Tillerson didn't mention climate change in his prepared remarks to shareholders, a change from previous years, one shareholder noted.

"How startling that the industry has taken a split on this," said Sister Pat Daly, who was at Exxon's meeting representing the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, N.J.   "But we're not going away."  Daly’s group co-sponsored a proposal asking the oil company to set company wide goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the ninth straight year. The measure failed, drawing support from less than 10 percent of the vote.

Read more at Exxon, Chevron Reject Shareholder Measures on Climate Change Again

Across U.S., Heaviest Downpours on the Rise

Top 10 States with Biggest Increases in Heavy Downpours (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Record-breaking rain across Texas and Oklahoma this week caused widespread flooding, the likes of which the region has rarely, if ever, seen.  For seven locations there, May 2015 has seen the most rain of any month ever recorded, with five days to go and the rain still coming.  While rainfall in the region is consistent with the emerging El Niño, the unprecedented amounts suggest a possible climate change signal, where a warming atmosphere becomes more saturated with water vapor and capable of previously unimagined downpours.

Several people have been killed and hundreds have been rescued from their homes.  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already declared disaster areas in 37 counties.  These torrential downpours follow weeks of unusually rainy weather across the Southern Plains.  And they stack up to a broader trend in the region, and across the U.S., toward more heavy precipitation.

Across most of the country, the heaviest downpours are happening more frequently, delivering a deluge in place of what would have been routine heavy rain.  Climate Central’s new analysis of 65 years of rainfall records at thousands of stations nationwide found that 40 of the lower 48 states have seen an overall increase in heavy downpours since 1950.  The biggest increases are in the Northeast and Midwest, which in the past decade, have seen 31 and 16 percent more heavy downpours compared to the 1950s.

Read more at Across U.S., Heaviest Downpours on the Rise

China’s Coal Use May Have Peaked Years Ahead of Schedule

China Coal - China’s coal use (dark orange) has dropped sharply since 2013, according to analysis of government data by Greenpeace/Energydesk China.  Click to Enlarge.
China’s coal use fell by nearly 8 percent in the first four months of 2015 versus the same period in 2014, according to analysis by Greenpeace’s Energydesk team.  Given China’s aggressive commitments to slash urban air pollution levels and reverse carbon pollution trends, we may have witnessed the peak in Chinese coal consumption years ahead of schedule.  That would be another climate and clean energy game changer.

As we reported last year, the Chinese government said in November it would cap coal use by 2020.  That announcement came quickly after the breakthrough CO2 deal Chinese President Xi Jinping announced with Obama in November that “China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early.”

The italicized “language was critical and we should assume it was not issued lightly,” as Melanie Hart, director for China policy at the Center for American Progress, told me in February.  “It suggests that Chinese leaders are open to making even more ambitious climate moves if the economics allow, and this new data suggests that the economics are looking very good indeed.”
China appears to be accelerating some of its air quality and coal phase-out deadlines. Reuters recently ran a story, “Beijing promises coal-free power by 2017 to fight pollution.”

Certainly Chinese government statistics need to be viewed with caution, and, as Hart explains, “to be sure, there have been adjustments before, so we should hold off on judging whether coal has peaked until we see sustained trend.”

On the other hand, given the scrutiny China is under now, a number of analysts say it is reasonable to have higher confidence in these numbers now.  Hart notes that is particularly true of the industrial coal numbers because the Chinese “have an official plan to shut down heavy industry.”

Read more at China’s Coal Use May Have Peaked Years Ahead of Schedule

Global Climate on Verge of Multi-Decadal Change

The RAPID moorings being deployed. The strength of ocean currents has been measured by a network of sensors, called the RAPID array, which have been collecting data on the flow rate of the Atlantic meridonal overturning circulation (AMOC) for a decade. (Credit: National Oceanography Centre) Click to Enlarge.
The global climate is on the verge of broad-scale change that could last for a number of decades a new study implies.  The change to the new set of climatic conditions is associated with a cooling of the Atlantic, and is likely to bring drier summers in Britain and Ireland, accelerated sea-level rise along the northeast coast of the United States, and drought in the developing countries of the Sahel region.

Read more at Global Climate on Verge of Multi-Decadal Change

  Wednesday, May 27

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Global Finance Must Face Up to Climate Challenge

Trillions of dollars need to be redirected into building low-carbon economies to avoid serious climate change, the UN warns.

China is now investing heavily in green industries such as wind power. (Image Credit: Kaj17 via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The risks of climate change are not properly priced in financial systems, says UNEP. Market and policy failures are exacerbated by short-term thinking and misguided incentive structures, such as the enormous subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry each year.

Rising carbon emissions cause health problems and affect water supplies and food production, which in turn can cause volatility in financial markets and hit economic growth. In Kenya, says UNEP, climate change is already costing up to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Radically altering how the global financial system operates will not only help in the battle against climate change, but is also vital  to ensure sustainable development.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, says: “Integrating sustainability criteria that include environment and social factors into the rules that govern the financial system can substantially strengthen the resilience of the world’s financial system, which has been a key goal of governments and regulators since the global financial crises of 2008.

“If brought to scale, the approximately US$300 trillion global financial system could help close the widening gap in sustainable development investment.”

Stronger action is needed to drive the demand for green finance through such measures as giving more incentives to clean energy projects and implementing carbon pricing systems.
Companies and institutions in most developed countries have been slow to recognise the impact that climate change will have on their financial systems.

Climate risks

A notable exception, says UNEP, is the Bank of England, which recently announced a review exploring what risks climate change might pose to the country’s financial system.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), says the goal is clear: a peaking of global emissions over the next 10 years, followed by a deep de-carbonisation of the global economy.

“In order to achieve this, and support the aspirations for growth and poverty eradication of developing countries, the globe’s financial systems need to better price pollution and invest in real wealth,” she says. “It is happening, but nowhere near the scale required.”

Read more at Global Finance Must Face Up to Climate Challenge

If You’ve Wondered Why So Many Politicians Deny Climate Change, Science Has Your Answer

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., one of the Senate’s most high-profile deniers of climate science. (Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Click to Enlarge.
According to new research published in Nature Climate Change, there’s at least one statistically proven reason why more than 56 percent of Congressional Republicans deny climate change:  echo chambers.

The term “echo chambers” traditionally refers to situations where people surround themselves with information they want to hear, and block out the rest.  We’ve known for a while that these present themselves in climate politics; a 2014 study suggested that the reason Americans haven’t fully accepted the scientific consensus on climate change is because of echo chambers like Fox News, where conservative viewers are “exposed only to content consistent with their opinions, while shielded from dissenting views.”

The study published Monday, however, looked at how echo chambers specifically affected members of Congress and the people who influenced them during the 2010 debate over cap-and-trade.  And what it found was that the presence of echo chambers only impeded scientific debate when they appeared on the side that denied the science of human-caused climate change.  That’s because those echo chambers relied on significantly fewer pieces of peer-reviewed science to make their claims that carbon emissions were not worth limiting.

“Echo chambers themselves are not a terrible thing,” Dana Fisher, the director of the University of Maryland’s Program for Society and the Environment and co-author of the study, told ThinkProgress.  “But because of the way some echo chambers form, minority opinions can be repeated and repeated, so it amplifies their perspective.”
Ego networks coloured by degree of agreement with ‘There should be an international binding commitment on all nations to reduce GHG emissions’. (Credit: Nature Climate Change) Click to Enlarge.
To see how this looks, it’s useful to look at the data visualization in the study, which plotted the respective echo chambers of Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), and two scientists.  Both lawmakers agreed that there should be an “international binding commitment” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but Markey accepted that humans cause climate change while Inhofe — now one of the most famed climate deniers in Congress — did not.

... actual echo chambers were present in most of the prominent political actors denying climate change, and those chambers were based on far less peer-reviewed work than the chambers of their ideological opposites.

The reason this is harmful, according to the researchers, is that both ideologies’ echo chambers had a similar amount of political influence in the 2010 debate.  In other words, the echo chambers distorted the state of science by making it seem like there was equal weight to both sides.

Read more at If You’ve Wondered Why So Many Politicians Deny Climate Change, Science Has Your Answer