Monday, November 30, 2015

The Paris Climate Talks Have Begun, and Obama Has Strong Words for Fellow Leaders

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Click to Enlarge.
President Obama kicked off the Paris climate talks on Monday with a focus on future generations, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., and calling on world leaders to take strong action at the conference, which runs through December 11.

“For I believe, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late.  And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us,” Obama said.

“Let that be the common purpose here in Paris:  A world that is worthy of our children.  A world that is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; and not by human suffering, but by human progress.  A world that’s safer, and more prosperous, and more secure, and more free than the one that we inherited,” he continued.

Outlining the steps the United States has taken, Obama acknowledged that the United States is a leading emitter of greenhouse gases and pledged to lead on the issue.

“I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” he said.

The Obama administration has made addressing climate change a key part of both its domestic and foreign agenda.  While many U.S. leaders have said that action at home is meaningless without action from China and India, Obama worked to extract commitments from both those countries, as well as from Brazil, another major carbon emitter.  Figuring out how to support a transition to clean energy in heavily coal-dependent and developing nations is expected to be a major part of the Paris conference, as the world’s nations seek to address climate change without putting themselves at an economic disadvantage.

Read more at The Paris Climate Talks Have Begun, and Obama Has Strong Words for Fellow Leaders

Two-Thirds of Americans Want U.S. to Join Climate Change Pact - The New York Times

Drought has brought the water level at Lake Oroville in California close to a record low. (Credit: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times) Click to Enlarge.
A solid majority of Americans say the United States should join an international treaty to limit the impact of lobal warming, but on this and other climate-related questions, opinion divides sharply along partisan lines, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Two-thirds of Americans support the United States joining a binding international agreement to curb growth of greenhouse gas emissions, but a slim majority of Republicans remain opposed, the poll found. Sixty-three percent of Americans — including a bare majority of Republicans — said they would support domestic policy limiting carbon emissions from power plants.

Public support for international and domestic measures to address climate change may provide a lift for American negotiators attending the major United Nations climate change conference that began in Paris on Monday.  But the stark partisan divide on climate policy will still make it difficult for President Obama and his successors to put in place the energy and climate policies that will be needed to support a robust international agreement, the goal of the Paris talks.

Republicans in Congress and many Republican governors oppose Mr. Obama’s proposal to limit emissions from power plants, for example, complicating his ability to meet targets he has set to comply with United Nations climate goals.  And the Obama administration has made it clear that any agreement it would sign in Paris would not take the form of an internationally enforced treaty that would require Senate ratification.

Still, the shift in public opinion has many advocates of strong climate change measures hopeful that the Paris talks could provide a turning point.

Read more at Two-Thirds of Americans Want U.S. to Join Climate Change Pact

Countries Pledge $10 Billion for Clean Energy Fund

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande greet each other at the Paris climate negotiations Monday. (Credit: COP Paris/flickr)  Click to Enlarge.
World leaders attending the Paris climate negotiations took major steps this weekend toward speeding up the development of clean energy to reduce global reliance on fossil fuels.

Twenty countries, including the U.S. and France, have committed to double their investments in clean energy research and development to $10 billion over the next five years.  That commitment, called Mission Innovation, is being supported by the Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a global group of private investors who will help fund clean energy companies that will be formed from the research done under Mission Innovation.

Advancing wind, solar and other clean energy technologies is critical to decarbonizing global economies as world leaders seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will keep global warming to 2°C (3.6°F).

“While significant progress has been made in cost reduction and deployment of clean energy technologies, the pace of innovation and the scale of transformation is falling far short of what is required,” the White House said in a statement Sunday.  “Mission Innovation and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition constitute a powerful public-private effort to accelerate the research and development of affordable clean energy technologies and support a new generation of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.”

Speaking in Paris, Obama said that such incentives will unleash the creative power of the world’s best scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to deploy new clean energy technology and create new clean energy-related jobs globally.

“There are hundreds of billions of dollars ready to deploy to countries around the world if they get the signal that we mean business this time,” Obama said.  “Let’s send that signal.”

Read more at Countries Pledge $10 Billion for Clean Energy Fund

A Who's Who Among the COP21 Commitments

As the clock ticks down to the United Nations COP21 climate talks in Paris this December, some companies have already staked out climate goals, some are signing onto new commitments and others remain on the sidelines. (Credit: Shutterstock/GreenBiz) Click to Enlarge.
So, you support a strong global agreement at the U.N. Conference of the Parties?  You want business, NGOs, policymakers and every stakeholder you forgot to mention to unite for once and for all to save the world.  Of course you do.  Put your name in lights in the City of Lights for what some see as an ultimate peace conference.

Such multilateral, international, never-before-scale-level of U.N. events hold so much promise.  This is no Kyoto.  This time will be different.  We can only hope so.  New private-sector alliances are formed — the names, the number of names and their pledges grand enough for you to bet on a low-carbon future.

Yet just as you may need a Ph.D in the subject to understand an IPCC climate report, you need some policy (or better, PR) chops to read between the lines.  Behind the talk of "strong" and "binding" "science-based" commitments is a serious lack of teeth for business.  Nevertheless, many corporations are stepping in where nations may fail, maybe wielding the might of nations themselves.

Among hundreds of corporations backing COP21 climate actions, few are trekking to Paris, instead backing blockbuster commitments or coalitions to represent them.  Here are some of the bulkiest groups, in random order.

Breakthrough Energy Coalition and Mission Innovation
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is teaming up with more than 20 other billionaires — including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Jack Ma of Alibaba and Richard Branson of the Virgin Group — to support clean energy efforts in both industrialized and developing nations. Gates pointed out (PDF) that U.S. industries in 2010 invested .23 percent of revenue on energy, a speck against 15 percent spent on IT.

News of the alliance, to kick off today in Paris, broke over the weekend on GreenWire. The group pledged to invest "early, broadly, boldly, wisely and together" on energy generation, storage and efficiency; transportation;"industrial use" and agriculture.

Also Monday, a pack of 20 countries from Australia to the United States (and even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) vowed as Mission Innovation to "reinvigorate and accelerate" innovation, doubling their investments in clean energy R&D.
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This bunch stands out for its "all-American" icons such as Apple, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Google, Kellogg, PepsiCo, Starbucks and UPS. The list goes on, but conspicuously absent are oil and gas brands (see OGCI below for non-U.S. names in that sector).

Read more at A Who's Who Among the COP21 Commitments

How to Speak Like a Climate Negotiator


Since global climate negotiations began in the 1990s, United Nations delegates have accumulated an idiosyncratic cache of climate diplomacy gobbledygook.  Euphemisms have been adopted to mollify specific nations.  Acronyms are based on tongue-twisting verbiage from formal agreements.

Here’s Climate Central’s guide to digesting the mumbo jumbo that’s being served up ahead of a key two-week round of climate talks in Paris, beginning today.

UNFCCC COP21 = Climate Negotiations in Paris (Credit: climatecentral.org) Click to Enlarge.UNFCCC COP21
What it means:
At the end of every year, a session of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change is held, during which decisions that were mulled during lower-level meetings are negotiated and formalized into climate agreements.  These sessions are known as conferences of the parties (COPs), and the Paris meeting will be the 21st COP.


INDC - Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (Credit: climatecentral.org) Click to Enlarge.
INDC
What it means:
Unlike the Kyoto Protocol — a 1997 climate pact that sought to force specific pollution reductions on certain countries, but failed to do virtually anything to slow global warming — the hoped-for Paris agreement would see nations taking voluntary steps to stem greenhouse gas pollution.  More than 100 countries have already outlined what those steps will be.  The climate pledges made by those countries are called intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs.


Internationaly determined mitigation outcome - Pollution trading (Credit: climatecentral.org) Click to Enlarge.
Internationaly determined mitigation outcome
What it means:
Carbon cap-and-trade programs, which are popping up across the globe, limit the release of greenhouse gases and tax companies that release them. Some carbon markets already traverse national borders — the European Union trading system covers 31 countries, and California’s program is linked with Quebec’s. Many countries hope a Paris agreement will explicitly allow such international trading as a tool for reducing pollution. The codewords that negotiators have adopted for carbon trading were designed to appease anti-capitalist Latin American governments, which are wary of international markets in general.

LULUCF - Land use, land-use change and forestry (Credit: climatecentral.org) Click to Enlarge.
LULUCF
What it means:
“Land use, land-use change and forestry,” which is often abbreviated to just “land use,” is responsible for about a quarter of the climate-changing pollution that’s escaping into the atmosphere every year. It remains unclear what role LULUCF will play in a Paris agreement, but it seems certain that it will play a role of some sort.

Read more at How to Speak Like a Climate Negotiator

India Set to Unveil Global Solar Alliance of 120 Countries at Paris Climate Summit

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and French President Francois Hollande (R) shake hands during a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, April 10, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau) Click to Enlarge.
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi is poised to launch an international solar alliance of around 120 countries with the French president Françoise Hollande at the Paris climate summit on Monday.

France’s climate ambassador Laurence Tubiana said that the new group would be “a true game changer”.

While signatory nations mostly hail from the tropics, several European countries are also on board.

“It is very, very exiting to see India nailing its colours to the mast and providing leadership on this issue,” said James Watson, the director of SolarPower Europe, which represents the continent’s solar photovoltaic industry.  “It will mean more opportunities for solar across the world and that can only be positive for combating climate change.”

The Indian government is reported to be investing an initial $90m (£60bn) in setting up the alliance headquarters in India, with an eventual goal of raising $400m from membership fees, and international agencies.

Companies involved in the project include Areva, Engie, Enel, HSBC France and Tata Steel. 

India wants to use cheap solar to increase energy access, particularly in remote and rural areas.

“The idea is that larger markets and bigger volumes will lead to lower costs making it possible to spur demand,” said Ajay Mathur, India’s senior negotiator and spokesperson at the Paris summit.

“The solar alliance brings together countries that have high solar resource, which have been relatively underexploited, and represents a large market for solar technology,” he said.

In its pledge to the Paris summit, India offered to draw 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.  The country is projected to be the world’s most populous by this time, with 1.45 billion people.

Read more at India Set to Unveil Global Solar Alliance of 120 Countries at Paris Climate Summit

Planet’s Future Hangs on Paris Legacy

The place de la Republique is covered with shoes as part of symbolic rally organized by the NGO Avaaz during the forbidden COP21 demonstration on November 29, 2015 in Paris, France. The demonstration was banned after the Paris terror attacks on Friday, November 13th. Nevertheless, thousands of people gathered to protest against global warming ahead of COP21conference and an estimated 200 people were arrested after fighting with police. November 29, 2015 (Credit: Patrick Aventurier) Click to Enlarge.
The gathering of 190 nations in Paris for the UN climate change summit – widely known as COP21 – may already have averted the most catastrophic predictions of climate change, but only if those nations that have pledged to reduce carbon emissions keep their pledges.

And a new study warns that containing global warming to within a worldwide average of 2°C above the pre-industrial level is possible only if nations go beyond their promises and step up the momentum for change.

The calculations that confront the assembly of nations in Paris for the next two weeks are simple enough:  if global economies exploit fossil fuels under a “business as usual” scenario and dump ever greater quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then by 2100 global average temperatures will have risen by 4°C or more, and sea levels by a meter − with unimaginable consequences for the world’s poorest people.

Dangerously high
That already seems unlikely.  European Union research shows that the targets set so far by the 155 nations that account for 90% of greenhouse gas emissions would restrict global warming to about 3°C above the average for most of human history.

But this is still considered dangerously high.  In the last century, average global temperatures have risen, along with carbon dioxide levels, by 1°C already.  And even 2°C is not considered a “safe” limit.

Researchers from the US and Austria report in Science journal that they looked at the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) announced so far – which extend only as far as 2025 or 2030 – to see what these would achieve.

The news is encouraging:  the INDCs and any future abatement do introduce a chance of meeting the 2°C target, and greatly reduce the risk of a warming that exceeds 4°C.  But everything depends on what happens after 2030.  So the Paris meeting still has a lot to achieve.

Read more at Planet’s Future Hangs on Paris Legacy

Sunday, November 29, 2015

  Sunday, Nov 29

Toon of the Week - The Oven Is Now Preheated

The Oven Is Now Preheated to 400 Parts per Million (Credit: www.facebook.com/iheartcomsci)


The Oven Is Now Preheated to 400 Parts per Million -- Thanksgiving 2015

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #48

Quote of the Week - ““What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists”

At a joint news conference here Tuesday with President François Hollande of France, President Obama veered from his focus on the terrorist attacks in Paris to bring up the huge international gathering beginning in the French capital on Monday to hammer out a global response to climate change.

“What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children,” Mr. Obama said of the climate conference.


Obama’s Legacy at Stake in Paris Talks on Climate Accord by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Nov 28, 2015

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #48

Poster of the Week - “You cannot get through a single day without ...”


You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. (Credit: www.facebook.com/iheartcomsci)


“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.”
-- Jane Goodall

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #48

Canada’s New Leadership Reverses Course on Climate Change

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with high school students in Ottawa after an information session on climate change. (Credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
In less than a month, Canada has executed a complete about-face on global climate change.

With the defeat of the Conservatives in the October general election, out went nearly a decade of Canada making itself something of a global outcast on the issue. The record of the former prime minister, Stephen Harper, on climate change was marked by retreat, foot-dragging, and hand-wringing over the economic consequences of moving too quickly.

The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and his Liberals are now trying to make up for lost time. And along with the left-leaning New Democrats, who wrested power from the Conservatives in the oil-rich province of Alberta last spring, they have now moved climate-change policy to the top of the country’s political agenda.
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Mr. Harper skipped last year’s United Nations climate summit meeting in New York.  But Mr. Trudeau will attend this year’s meeting in Paris next week, and not only that:  He has invited his political opponents and all 10 of the country’s provincial premiers to join the delegation.  He gathered the premiers in Ottawa on Monday for a meeting largely devoted to developing a national strategy.

“We’ll demonstrate that we are serious about climate change,” Mr. Trudeau said after a four-hour dinner with the premiers.  “This means making decisions based on science; it means reducing carbon emissions, including through carbon pricing towards a climate-resilient economy.”  Several of the provincial leaders voiced similar sentiments.
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Mr. Trudeau has told the provinces they will be free to reach their emissions targets by whatever means they prefer.  That will preserve the current situation, with some provinces using carbon taxes and others a cap-and-trade system to hold emissions down.

Read more at Canada’s New Leadership Reverses Course on Climate Change

Have Questions About Next Week's Climate Talks?  Here Are 8 Answers that Might Help.

Women participate in a rally for climate change awareness in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015.000000 (Credit: mashable.com) Click to Enlarge.
What is happening in Paris next week?
Diplomats from more than 190 countries will gather on an airfield in Le Bourget, just outside the French capital, to negotiate a new international agreement on climate change through the United Nations.  About 20,000 people, including business leaders, environmental activists and journalists, have been accredited to attend the proceedings, and the talks will draw an estimated 20,000 more to Paris for a series of clean energy and other events happening on the sidelines.

President Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be among the heads of state joining French President François Hollande to kick off the opening day ceremony on Monday.  They and others are expected to call for an ambitious deal that will avoid a dangerous rise in global average temperatures.

Why is this important?
Scientists say getting a global deal now is critical to the planet.  A 2-degree-Celsius temperature difference doesn't sound like much -- hardly enough to affect whether or not you wear short sleeves.  But on a global scale, it's big.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if temperatures rise more than 2 degrees above preindustrial levels, it could lead to catastrophic and irreversible impacts.  Currently, the world is on a trajectory for a rise of nearly 5 degrees.  To put that in perspective, a 5-degree difference would be the difference in temperature between the ice age and the modern era.

Politically, Paris could be the last best chance to nail down an agreement.  Few leaders are willing to discuss the possibility of failure so close to the talks, but U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said as much last year.
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How much money are countries asking for?  And who will pay?
Developing countries say they need much more assistance than they are currently receiving.

What is Congress' role here? Can Republicans block a Paris agreement?
The consensus among lawmakers and legal experts alike is that opponents of a climate deal in Congress cannot block an agreement in Paris.  But that doesn't mean they can't make things difficult.

Will the agreement be legally binding or not?
Many small and vulnerable developing countries are pushing for a full-blown treaty, as is Europe -- at least in public.  Behind the scenes, though, many Europeans say they are confident of coming to a deal.

What's the level of optimism right now?
Pretty high.  The climate talks are coming on the heels of devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, and that seems to have strengthened the resolve of many leaders to both attend the talks and ensure they are successful.

Read more at Have Questions About Next Week's Climate Talks?  Here Are 8 Answers that Might Help.

Carbon Limits to Put $2 Trillion of Coal, Oil, Gas Projects at Risk

Unburnable Carbon (Credit: carbontracker.org) Click to Enlarge.
Up to $2 trillion in petroleum and coal projects will not be needed if the world takes action to limit warming of the planet to 2 degrees Celsius, according to a report released this week ahead of a global climate summit in Paris.

The report adds to a string of studies warning investors that measures to curb carbon emissions will hit earnings at coal, oil and gas companies as the world shifts to cleaner energy.

Europe's largest insurer, Allianz SE, this week joined a growing number of institutional investors like California's pension funds and Norway's sovereign wealth fund, to sell off coal investments.

Analyzing industry databases, environmental think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) found the three biggest losers would be Mexico's Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) [PEMX.UL], with $77 billion in unneeded projects, Royal Dutch Shell, with nearly the same, and ExxonMobil with $73 billion in potentially stranded projects.

Petroleum companies are worse off than coal companies as their projects are typically much more expensive, it said.

Shell and ExxonMobil said they could not comment on the report as they had not seen it, but both said the world will need oil and gas to help meet growing energy demand.

"All of ExxonMobil's current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments," spokesman Alan Jeffers said.

Shell, critical of previous Carbon Tracker reports, said investment is needed just to replace natural decline in existing oil and gas fields.  Pemex was not immediately available for comment.

From the point of view of cutting carbon emissions, coal producers are much more vulnerable as the carbon saved by not developing their projects is much greater, Carbon Tracker said.

However, from an investor viewpoint, oil companies faced a higher risk given the greater cost of their projects, said Mark Fulton, a former investment banker who worked with CTI on the research.

He pinpointed two "carbon basins" - oil sands in Canada and the Galilee Basin in Australia, where two Indian conglomerates are looking to dig mines - as regions whose assets will not be needed.

Read more at Carbon Limits to Put $2 Trillion of Coal, Oil, Gas Projects at Risk

A Car Dealers Won’t Sell: It’s Electric - The New York Times

A Honda salesman gave a test drive to a customer in an electric car in San Rafael, Calif. Many dealers are unenthusiastic about selling electric cars. (Credit: Jason Henry for The New York Times) Click to Enlarge.
More than seven years ago, President Obama called for one million electric cars to be on the road by this year, and the vehicles have gained a large fan club. Environmentalists promote them as a smart way to cut dangerous emissions.  Owners love their pep and the gas money they save.  Apple and Google have jumped into the race to build next-generation battery-powered cars.

So why are only about 330,000 electric vehicles on the road?  One answer lies in an unexpected and powerful camp of skeptics: car dealers.  They are showing little enthusiasm for putting consumers into electric cars.  Some buyers even tell stories of dealers talking them into gas cars and of ill-informed salespeople uncertain how far the cars can go on a charge or pushing oil changes that the cars don’t need.  And industry officials themselves acknowledge a hesitancy to sell cars that may not suit drivers’ needs.

In a speech this year, the former chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, a trade group, said that tougher fuel-economy regulations can mean pushing cars on consumers that are about as enticing as broccoli, when they really want “low-calorie doughnuts” like fuel-efficient gas cars.  The former chairman, Forrest McConnell, cited a survey finding that 14 percent of buyers cited fuel efficiency as the most important factor in buying a car.

“That was a nice way of saying 86 percent of them didn’t think so,” he said.

Others disagree that consumers think of zero emissions cars as broccoli.  “That would be interesting if it was true,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the Air Resources Board, a California agency that Gov. Jerry Brown has charged with developing policies to spur electric car sales.  Ms. Nichols said she believes that consumers want these cars and that they have been dissuaded in part by unenthusiastic dealers and “horror story” sales experiences.

California has 150,000 electric cars, but that figure needs to grow tenfold in the next decade, she said, or the state will not be able to meet its environmental goals.  Without the cars, “simply put, we can’t make it,” she added.

Read more at A Car Dealers Won’t Sell: It’s Electric

  Saturday, Nov 28

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Microsoft's Gates to Start Multi-Billion-Dollar Clean Tech Initiative

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates gestures as he meets with China's Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, November 12, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/China Daily) Click to Enlarge.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates will launch a multi-billion-dollar clean energy research and development initiative with heads of state on Monday, the opening day of the U.N. climate change summit in Paris, the French government said Friday.

Gates and a group of developing and developed countries will launch the Clean Tech Initiative, in which countries will commit to doubling their clean energy technology research and development budgets by 2020 and private investors will boost their own investments in the sector.

Access to clean energy technology will play a key role in a global agreement to combat climate change.  More than 190 countries will negotiate a new pact in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 at the 21st U.N. Conference of the Parties summit.

France, the United States, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada and Norway have said they will join, a source close to the conference presidency told Reuters.
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For India, the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter, access to clean energy technology is at the core of its national strategy to combat climate change.

India has argued that developed countries need to help poorer countries gain access to renewable energy or zero-emission technologies by helping reduce costs and removing barriers such as intellectual property rights.
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The French presidency source said India will be one of the founding beneficiaries of the new initiative.

“This is one of the main points of the negotiation:  how to improve clean technologies and give the poorest countries access to these technologies," the source said.

Read more at Microsoft's Gates to Start Multi-Billion-Dollar Clean Tech Initiative

Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of ‘Carbon Budget’

After two decades of talks that failed to slow the relentless pace of global warming, negotiators from almost 200 countries are widely expected to sign a deal in the next two weeks to take concrete steps to cut emissions.

The prospect of progress, any progress, has elicited cheers in in many quarters.  The pledges that have already been announced “represent a clear and determined down payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a statement a month ago.

Yet the negotiators gathering in Paris will not be discussing any plan that comes close to meeting their own stated goal of limiting the increase of global temperatures to a reasonably safe level.many quarters.  The pledges that have already been announced “represent a clear and determined down payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a statement a month ago.

They have pointedly declined to take up a recommendation from scientists, made several years ago, that they set a cap on total greenhouse gases as a way to achieve that goal, and then figure out how to allocate the emissions fairly.  The pledges countries are making are voluntary, and were established in most nations as a compromise between the desire to be ambitious and the perceived cost and political difficulty of emissions cutbacks.
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After years of studying the issue, the experts recommended to climate diplomats in 2013 that they consider the concept of a “carbon budget” to help frame the talks.  Yet the idea was quickly dismissed as politically impractical, and more recent pleas from countries like Bolivia to consider it have been ignored.
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The carbon budget will probably not get much attention in Paris for simple reasons.

Wrestling with a budget would, for instance, throw into stark relief the global inequities at the heart of the climate crisis.  And it would underscore just how big the problem really is, how costly the delay in tackling it has been and how inadequate the plans being discussed in Paris are for limiting the risks.

Consider, for example, that Europe, the United States and China have offered emissions-reduction pledges that are their most ambitious ever.  And yet, if their plans are carried out, a recent analysis suggests those regions will use up most of the remaining room for emissions in the atmosphere, leaving relatively little for the other five billion people on the planet or their descendants.

Read more at Idea of ‘Carbon Budget’

Transatlantic Airlines Show Big Fuel-Efficiency Gaps

A plane coming into Murcia San Javier airport in Spain. (Credit: xlibber) Click to Enlarge.
The biggest transatlantic airlines are up to 51 percent less fuel-efficient than their smaller lower-cost rivals, which offer fewer first-class seats and maintain newer fleets of aircraft, according to a new report.

A 43-page study by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, German-based Air Berlin and Ireland's national flag carrier Aer Lingus had the smallest carbon footprints among 20 transatlantic carriers in 2014.

British Airways, Scandinavian airline SAS and Deutsche Lufthansa AG had the worst CO2 performance, as measured by passenger mile per quart of fuel.

The report by ICCT, the same independent group that uncovered the Volkswagen AG diesel emissions scandal, comes two weeks before world leaders are scheduled to meet in Paris to try to nail down binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Commercial aviation each year transports more than three billion passengers and 52 million tons of freight, while generating more than $600 billion of economic activity.  But aircraft also produce about 770 million tons of CO2 annually.

The ICCT's study of nonstop transatlantic flights between Europe and North America found that the average round trip produces 1.1 ton of CO2 emissions per passenger, equal to the emissions of a Toyota Prius driven on a 22-mile commute each day for an entire work year.

Researchers were surprised by the 51 percent gap between top-rated Norwegian Air Shuttle and last-place British Airways, which is more than double that among U.S. airlines.  They said the difference meant great potential for emissions reduction as the International Civil Aviation Organization works to finalize a fuel-efficiency standard for new aircraft in 2016.

Read more at Transatlantic Airlines Show Big Fuel-Efficiency Gaps

Paris Success Could Hinge on Local Commitments

In this 2009 photo, researchers drive on the Fazenda Gramada government farm in Nova Canaa do Norte, Mato Grosso state, Brazil. Mato Grosso has made critical efforts to combat deforestation. (Credit: AP Photo/Andre Penner) Click to Enlarge.
Thousands of cities, states, regions, provinces, businesses, and non-governmental organizations have already started to move aggressively on climate change. For cities, this means setting transportation, building, and power standards that substantially lower emissions. For companies, this can mean making sustainability a core business practice all the way down the supply chain, recognizing it as a sound policy that will not only help the planet but likely also bolster profits.

“Cities, states, companies, non-governmental organizations, and individuals are all helping to gain a groundswell of support for 100 percent renewable energy for everyone,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the atmosphere/energy program at Stanford University, and the author of a study that provides a roadmap for the United States to convert to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, and another that does the same for 139 countries.

“These groups and people are definitely important for getting information out to a larger audience and convincing policy makers to move in the right direction,” Jacobson told ThinkProgress.

Current efforts already underway at the subnational level could deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions of 2.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2e) by 2020 and 5.5 Gt CO2e by 2050, according to a recently released study from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.  However, the study said that many of these activities already are included within pledges made by individual countries, estimating the overlap at 70 percent.

“This will not be enough to close the emission gap between pledges and the emission level necessary to remain on track to meet the 2 °C climate target,” the study says.  “More action will be necessary in international initiatives and from national governments.”
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Calculations thus far suggest that voluntary commitments from nations going into the Paris summit would keep the warming increase to 3.5°C by the end of the century — still too high to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate — and reduce carbon-equivalent emissions by about 6 gtCO2e by 2030, about one-third the amount needed to get to the 2°C limit.

Nigel Topping, the chief executive officer of We Mean Business, a coalition works with private companies to reduce their carbon footprint, estimates the combination of current country pledges and subnational efforts could help stop warming at 2.7°C.  In addition, the national pledges can help foster “concrete policies, which will then spur a low-carbon transition across both the private and public sector,” he told ThinkProgress.  “That’s where the work of non-state actors and the importance of the Paris agreement gets into the picture.”

While it still is difficult to assess the overall impact of subnational efforts on climate goals, many activities suggest they have made a positive start.

Cities, for example, release about 70 percent of the world’s total energy carbon emissions, and 90 percent of cities are located on or near the coast, making them especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  So it is not surprising that world cities have begun to unite against climate change.

Read more at Paris Success Could Hinge on Local Commitments

Carbon Prices - Work in Progress, Not Panacea, for Rich and Poor

Steam rises at sunset from the cooling towers of the Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power station at Nogent-Sur-Seine, France, November 13, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau)  Click to Enlarge.
It was supposed to be the way the market would cut greenhouse gases by itself:  governments selling companies permits-to-pollute, which they could trade among themselves.  Over time, the number of permits would be reduced, and the cost to companies of failing to cut emissions would rise.

Yet, 10 years after the EU launched the world's biggest carbon trading scheme, the effectiveness of the concept is in question and climate activists are disenchanted or hostile.

While there is still support for national or regional markets, not least in China, which plans to launch the world's biggest scheme in 2017, any hopes of creating a global carbon market at next week's U.N. climate conference in Paris look wildly optimistic.

Major corporations, in particular, back the concept because its costs are more predictable than those of prospective future regulations.
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The best test case, for now, is the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme, which raised 8.9 billion euros ($9.4 billion) in the three years to June 2015, according to European Commission figures.

Jos Delbeke, director general of the Commission's climate action department and one of the chief architects of the ETS, says it has shown, crucially, that reducing carbon emissions is compatible with economic growth.

He says the EU's gross domestic product has risen 46 percent since 1990, while greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 23 percent, and that the ETS is still central to EU efforts to tackle climate change.
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But critics say it is unclear how much of this was a direct result of the ETS, as opposed to Europe's economic slowdown.

They also say the revenues generated have merely boosted general government coffers rather than being spent on the environment, let alone on the poorer countries that pollute least but are set to suffer most from climate change.
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At the same time, in the absence of a global carbon pricing system, industry continues to complain that the cost of permits is driving it to leave Europe for cheaper regulatory environments.

Read more at Carbon Prices - Work in Progress, Not Panacea, for Rich and Poor

  Friday, Nov 27

Friday, November 27, 2015

Global Investments in Climate Change on the Rise

Workers walk among newly installed solar panels at a solar power plant in the Zhouquan township of Tongxiang, Zhejiang province. (Credit: Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
Global investment in activities to reduce planet-warming emissions and vulnerability to climate change grew 18 percent to $391 billion in 2014, as private backing for renewable energy technologies surged, researchers said.

More money than ever before was channeled into action to curb climate change and its impacts, after funding leveled off in 2012 and declined in 2013, according to an annual report from the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), an advisory group.

"Two weeks out from the international climate negotiations in Paris, our analysis demonstrates that countries around the world are investing to drive their own economic growth and development," Barbara Buchner, senior director of the CPI and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Around three quarters of total investment and over 90 percent of private finance was raised and spent in the same country, the report noted.

Worldwide, private investors poured $243 billion into renewable energy last year, up 26 percent from 2013, leading to record installation of solar photovoltaics and onshore wind power, with especially strong growth in China, the report said.

Some renewable energy technologies are edging closer to becoming fully cost-competitive with fossil fuels, it added.

Government investment, meanwhile, reached at least $148 billion in 2014, continuing its steady rise over the past three years.

Yet, despite the 2014 increase in funding for cleaner, more resilient economies, the CPI said even greater effort and a wider geographic spread for investment are needed to keep global warming to an internationally agreed target of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

The report noted that around $16.5 trillion is required between 2015 and 2030 to shift the global energy system in line with the 2 degree goal.

More will be needed to curb emissions from deforestation and help societies and economies adapt to more extreme weather and rising seas, it added.

Read more at Global Investments in Climate Change on the Rise

Extreme Heatwaves May Hit Europe in the Short Term

Severe heatwaves in the past have caused crop failures and thousands of deaths. (Credit: © Maksim Pasko, Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
Regional climate projections for the two coming decades (2021-2040) suggest enhanced probability of heatwaves anywhere in Europe, which would be comparable or greater than the Russian heatwave in 2010 -- the worst since 1950 -- according to a JRC-led article published today in Environmental Research Letters.  Using an improved heatwave index, the article also ranks the 10 record-breaking heatwaves that have struck the continent in the last 65 years.

The findings are based on the use of the Heat Wave Magnitude Index daily (HWMId) which allows comparison of events over space and time.  The authors estimate the magnitude and probability of occurrence of extreme heatwaves in the near-term.

The analysis shows that all previous records were broken in 2010 in Russia as the heatwave exceeded night and day records in the extent of territory covered, average peak and duration. In particular, the spatial extent and the spatial HWMId maximum were about twice as high as those of the heatwave in central Europe in 2003 and in Finland in 1972.

Nearly all the models showed that a heatwave like the one in central Europe in 2003 occurs at least once in 30 years under two of the four climate scenarios adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) for its fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in 2014.  These two scenarios are known as RCP4.5 and RCP8.5.

Read more at Extreme Heatwaves May Hit Europe in the Short Term

Clean Energy Could Fuel Most Countries by 2050, Study Shows

Workers walk among newly installed solar panels at a solar power plant in the Zhouquan township of Tongxiang, Zhejiang province. (Credit: Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
A new study claims to leave little room for doubt that the world can run 100 percent on renewable energy, and it even maps how individual countries should best make this transition—by mid-century.

The main barriers to overhauling the global energy system "are social and political," said Mark Z. Jacobson, lead study author.  "They aren't technical or economic," added Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

Jacobson and his Stanford colleagues published the analysis in a draft paper online to coincide with the start of global climate talks in Paris on Nov. 30.  In those vastly complicated negotiations, most of the world's nations have agreed on at least one thing: keeping the earth's warming to within 2-degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels—a target that scientists agree is relatively safe for the planet––will require a wholesale transformation of the world's energy economy.

The paper, which will likely be submitted to scientific journals for publication next year, offers detailed roadmaps showing how most countries can make the switch to run entirely on clean energy across all sectors, from electricity to transportation to agriculture, as early as 2050.

Focusing on the 139 countries with available 2015 energy data, researchers first used computer models to calculate how each nation's energy demand and mix would change by 2050.  This so-called "business-as-usual" scenario was based on the assumption that the countries would continue to rely on conventional fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.

Next, the researchers determined how each country could meet its future energy demands using only renewable sources.  Under this "wind, water and solar" scenario, every country's ideal renewable energy mix was calculated based on its existing energy infrastructure and available clean energy resources, such as sunlight and wind.  The researchers concluded that making this switch would lower a country's total energy demands because clean energy sources are more efficient than fossil fuels.  They also concluded the transition would curb global warming, create jobs, and reduce air pollution, which, in turn, would boost public health.

Take the United States, for example.  By pursuing business as usual, the U.S. would require a total power load of 2,310 gigawatts by 2050.  Under a clean energy scenario, however, the country would need only 1,296 gigawatts of power, the study said.  Most of the energy would come from onshore and offshore wind (48 percent), utility-scale and rooftop solar (40 percent), and a mix of other sources, including hydropower, geothermal and wave energy.  The estimated total electricity, health and climate cost savings of this transition would amount to about $8,000 per American per year (in 2013 dollars).

Read more at Clean Energy Could Fuel Most Countries by 2050, Study Shows

Paris Talks Could Improve Climate Pledges

Wind energy produces nearly no greenhouse gas pollution. (Credit: NREL) Click to Enlarge.
The way that countries will move together to act on climate in the coming years may start to become clear during the next two weeks in Paris, which is hosting what could be the most important round of United Nations climate negotiations in history.

Following years of failed efforts to force specific climate pollution reductions on developed countries, most nations completed unprecedented climate assignments this year, which they submitted to the U.N.  They drafted climate pledges, which are known as intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs.  These INDCs describe high-level, but mostly underwhelming, targets for reducing or easing the amount of climate pollution that's being released.

“The INDCs have lots of flaws right now,” said David Victor, a University of California at San Diego international relations professor who researches climate diplomacy.  “They are a start.”

Next, governments aim to work together to build their climate pledges into a fragmented but cohesive global plan for slowing global warming and, to a lesser extent, for adapting to it.

That work begins Sunday with the start of this year’s major session of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.  One of the key issues to be decided is how and when the INDCs will be reviewed.  Some are proposing reviews of INDCs every three to five years, making the pledges relatively dynamic, helping them keep pace with energy industry advances.  Others favor a more measured approach — perhaps with once-in-a-decade reviews for some or all pledges.
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While the pledges and approaches differ substantially, a collective examination of them makes it clear they won’t be enough to avoid dangerous levels of warming.
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“If the current targets are locked in through 2030, then we have a major problem,” said Jake Schmidt, who monitors climate negotiations for the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council.

Countries were “conservative” in setting their targets, Schmidt said.  “Technology development, implementation ability, and political will etc., will make it easier for them to do more before 2030 than they could envision at this moment.”

Read more at Paris Talks Could Improve Climate Pledges