Thursday, March 31, 2016

United States, China to Sign Paris Climate Accord on April 22

Residential buildings are seen in smog during a polluted day in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, March 19, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Stringer) Click to Enlarge.
The United States and China confirmed Thursday that they will sign the Paris climate change agreement in New York on April 22, a move that officials hope will help the accord enter into force this year.

The world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters issued a joint presidential statement in which they called on other countries to sign the accord next month "with a view to bringing the Paris Agreement into force as early as possible."

Leaders from nearly 200 countries forged the landmark agreement to transform the world's fossil fuel-driven economy on Dec. 12 after four years of fraught negotiations.

But the Paris climate agreement needs at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions to formally accede to it before it can enter into force.

Todd Stern, the U.S. climate envoy who helped broker the deal in Paris, said hitting that threshold as soon as possible will benefit countries that are vulnerable to climate change.

"The best thing that can happen for them is to get this agreement going and get it into force," he said.

Stern has stepped down from his role as the chief U.S. climate negotiator. He will be replaced by his former deputy, Jonathan Pershing, on April 1.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month that he expects 120 or more countries will sign the accord at the April 22 ceremony at its New York headquarters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to sign on behalf of the United States.

India's Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar will also attend the signing of the agreement at the United Nations headquarters, the Times of India reported last week.

The U.S.-China statement also confirms that the countries will continue to cooperate on efforts to combat climate change.

Read more at United States, China to Sign Paris Climate Accord on April 22

Trump, Cruz Vow to Undo Obama Environmental Work

Trump, Cruz (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are pledging to undo several Obama administration climate efforts and block future work on global warming if elected this fall. 

In responding to a survey from the American Energy Alliance, both candidates said they would undo major Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency rules on clean water and power plant carbon emissions, with Trump saying, “under my administration, all EPA rules will be reviewed.”

Both candidates said they oppose a carbon tax, a policy Obama has praised but not pushed while president. 

“The observed temperature evidence does not support the claims that carbon dioxide is dangerous,” Cruz wrote in his questionnaire. 

The two said they would also reassess the Obama administration’s finding that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are harmful to the public. That decision is the basis for EPA rule-making on greenhouse gas emissions. 

“More recent scientific developments indicate that a review of the endangerment finding is needed,” Cruz wrote. 

Read more at Trump, Cruz Vow to Undo Obama Environmental Work

Asian Countries Could Experience Widespread Water Shortages by 2050

Asia drought (Credit: Jong-Won Heo—Getty Images/Moment RF) Click to Enlarge.
The combined effects of climate change, population growth and changing socio-economic conditions could drive widespread water shortages across Asia by 2050 and threaten the water supplies of more than 1 billion people, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that more than 1 billion people additional people across the continent will have trouble accessing a steady water supply by mid-century.

“It’s not just a climate change issue,” said study author Adam Schlosser, a research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a press release.  “We simply cannot ignore that economic and population growth in society can have a very strong influence on our demand for resources and how we manage them.”

The factors driving water insecurity vary by location.  Industrial growth due to rapid growth has the most effect in China while India is more vulnerable to population growth, according to the study. Climate change could have serious effects on water security throughout the continent.

Read more at Asian Countries Could Experience Widespread Water Shortages by 2050

Science Grapples with Climate Conundrums

This Is a Picture of Polluted Sky in Madrid (SPAIN) (Image Credit: Sergio Cambelo) Click to Enlarge.
The evidence of a series of new studies shows that climate change is keeping the gurus guessing.

Even when the grasslands become hotter and drier, the grass may still be green.  And when summer temperatures rise and yields fall, it isn’t just because heat takes a toll of the crops, it is also because the farmers have decided to plant less, and plant less often.

As economies slump, demand drops and oil prices plummet, then carbon dioxide emissions, paradoxically, start to soar again.

And, against all intuition, you shouldn’t recharge an electric car at night when prices are low, because that could increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Each study is a reminder that climate change is not a simple matter of atmospheric physics.  The wild card, every time, is how people, plants and animals react to change.

Climate simulations
Koen Hufkens, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, and colleagues decided to take a look at how the North American grasslands – the high plains, the prairies, the open range – would respond to climate change.

The predictions have been consistent: such places that are already dry will, on the whole, get drier.

But a report in Nature Climate Change by the Harvard team says that their climate simulations of locations from Canada to New Mexico, from California to Illinois, tell another story.

Warming may not mean overall lower productivity.  In a warming world, winters will be milder and the growing season will begin earlier.  So, overall, the grass stays green.

“You have an earlier spring flush of vegetation, followed by a summer depression where the vegetation withers, and then, at the end of the season, you see the vegetation rebound again,” Dr Hufkens says.

Read more at Science Grapples with Climate Conundrums

New Study Confirms Fracking Contamination that the EPA Walked Back on in 2011

Contaminated water (Credit: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File) Click to Enlarge.
A new study out of Stanford University offers residents of Pavillion, Wyoming a little more clarity on an issue that has been plaguing them for nearly a decade:  is hydraulic fracturing to blame for years of contamination in their drinking water?

The town initially made headlines in 2008, when residents began complaining of strange odors and tastes in their drinking water.  In 2011 the EPA got involved, first issuing a draft report that connected fracking to the contamination.  The agency later walked back on the report, however, and refused to issue a finalized version and instead handing the matter over to state officials.  Years later, the state has yet to move forward with the report.

So researchers at Stanford decided to take measures into their own hands, looking at publicly available records and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to see if they could pinpoint the source of Pavillion’s water contamination.  Their conclusion, which was published earlier this week in Environmental Science and Technology, was that fracking operations near Pavillion have had a clear influence on the quality of groundwater.

Read more at New Study Confirms Fracking Contamination that the EPA Walked Back on in 2011

New Coal Plants Rise in 2015 Despite Falling Consumption

Gigawatts of new coal capacity coming online, compared to gigawatts of retired coal. (Source Credit: CoalSwarm. Chart by Carbon Brief)  Click to Enlarge.
Old coal plants are increasingly lying dormant, yet new ones keep getting built, according to a new report.

The analysis by CoalSwarm, which includes researchers from Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, looks at the state of global coal over the last year.

Their findings highlight a disconnect between the recent reductions in demand for coal, and the hundreds of gigawatts of new capacity that developers want to build in the future.
The fact that coal consumption has now declined for two consecutive years is a major factor in allowing carbon emissions to stall and perhaps fall in 2014 and 2015.  An increasing number of plants are being retired, while many intended projects are failing to go beyond the planning stage.

But the news that the construction of new coal capacity accelerated in 2015 is equally significant.

“The danger of continued expansion remains very real,” warns the report.  For example, it points out that construction in China continued to increase by as much a 55% year-on-year in 2015, despite a slowdown in total power use.

The emissions associated with planned coal plants would push global temperature rise well above the 2C limit.  If all the coal plants in the pipeline were to be built, then by 2030 emissions would be five times higher than the level associated with a 2C pathway, according to research by Climate Action Tracker.

Read more at New Coal Plants Rise in 2015 Despite Falling Consumption

Climate Forecasts Underestimate Sea-Rise Impact of Antarctic Thaw:  Study

An Adelie penguin stands atop a block of melting ice near the French station at Dumont díUrville in East Antarctica in this January 23, 2010 file photo. (Credit: Reuters/Pauline Askin/Files) Click to Enlarge.
Sea levels could rise 50 cm (20 inches) more this century than had been expected, according to a report published on Wednesday which found that Antarctic ice will melt faster than previously thought.

Climate scientists at two U.S. universities said the most recent U.N. report on the effects of global warming had underestimated the rate at which the ice covering the continent would melt.

That report, issued in 2013, said the worst case of man-made climate change would mean a sea-level rise of between 52 and 98 cm by 2100.  The new study suggests the real rise could be 1.5 meters (5 ft), posing an even greater threat to cities from New York to Shanghai.

"This could spell disaster for many low-lying cities," lead author Robert DeConto at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said in a statement of the findings published in the journal Nature.

"For example, Boston could see more than 1.5 meters of sea-level rise in the next 100 years."

The study, partly based on sea level evidence in a natural warm period 125,000 years ago, said ice from Antarctica alone could cause between 64 cm and 114 cm of sea level rise by 2100 under the worst U.N. scenario for greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the factors that has was underestimated in the U.N. reports, which envisage most Antarctic ice remaining frozen, is a process known as "hydro fracturing" whereby pools of meltwater on ice shelves seep deep into the ice, refreeze and force vast chunks of ice to crack off. That could make ice on land in Antarctica slide faster into the sea.

Read more at Climate Forecasts Underestimate Sea-Rise Impact of Antarctic Thaw:  Study

  Wednesday, March 30

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

State AGs Vow to Tackle Climate Change and Fossil Fuel Industry Fraud

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in New York. (Credit: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Click to Enlarge.
A group of state attorneys general just declared war on big polluters.

The group, representing 17 states, said it will pursue climate change litigation.  Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands officially joined an ongoing investigation into potential fraud by ExxonMobil, and all the states committed to working together as “creatively, collaboratively, and aggressively” as possible to combat climate change.

“We have heard the scientists; we know what is being done to the planet,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at a press conference Tuesday in Manhattan.  The group also came together to defend the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, formally filing its petition in support of the rule Tuesday in the D.C. District Court of Appeals.

“There is no dispute, but there is confusion,” Schneiderman said.  The confusion has been pushed by fossil fuel companies and their interests that use money and power to sway Congress and the American public, he said.  Groups with ties to fossil fuel companies have run ad campaigns and spent millions fighting renewable energy development.

ExxonMobil, specifically, is under investigation for knowingly misleading the public and investors on the dangers of climate change, which it allegedly knew about as far back as the 1970s.  New York and California had previously announced investigations.

Schneiderman is joined in the coalition by attorneys general from from California, Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepson pointed out that one of the big reasons the United States has not seen more movement on climate change has been misinformation.

Read more at State AGs Vow to Tackle Climate Change and Fossil Fuel Industry Fraud

Survey Gives Clearer View of Risky Leaks from Gas Mains

Analyses across metropolitan Boston show need for better detection of natural gas emissions

A close up image of the information on methane escape in Boston. (Photo Credit: Sayaka Yamaki) Click to Enlarge.
Precise measurements of leaks from natural gas pipelines across metropolitan Boston have demonstrated that almost a sixth of the leaks qualified as potentially explosive, and that a handful of leaks emitted half of the total gas lost.

The findings by Boston University researchers differ significantly from results gathered by gas companies and other monitoring groups, and highlight the risks that these "fugitive" gas emissions pose both for safety and the environment, says Margaret Hendrick, a PhD candidate in BU's Earth & Environment department.

Hendrick is lead author on a paper published in Environmental Pollution, which emphasizes the need to develop standardized ways to detect leaks and prioritize their repair.

Natural gas is considered a relatively clean fossil fuel, but a substantial amount of the gas is lost in production and distribution.  In addition to the safety risks, methane (the main component of natural gas) is a major contributor to atmospheric warming.

Gas pipelines may date back as early as the mid-nineteenth century in east coast cities such as Boston.  About a third of the installed pipelines use leak-prone materials such as cast iron, wrought iron or unprotected steel.  There are thousands of gas leaks in these cities, but how the sizes of these leaks vary in an urban area "was a big black box until this project," Hendrick says.

She and her colleagues looked at emissions from cast iron pipelines at 100 sites in greater Boston where leaks had been detected in the air along roadways.  The researchers painstakingly analyzed the release of methane inside custom-built chambers created with plastic buckets and the lids from child sandboxes.  "To fully ascertain the safety hazards of leaks really does require us to get out on the ground with instrumentation," Hendrick explains.

This was the first survey that performed detailed measurements of loss from pipelines on this urban scale, says Professor of Earth and Environment Nathan Phillips, Hendrick's advisor and senior author on the paper.

Risk of explosion doesn't necessarily correlate with the amount of methane leaking, because the local environment around the leak also plays a part.  "Even a very small leak can be a great safety concern," says Hendrick, who notes that a 2014 gas explosion in Dorchester injured 12 people. There were 113 gas distribution pipeline incidents, with 18 fatalities, in the United States that year.

The seven "super-emitter" leaks that released half the methane in the study also raise warning signs for climate change.  Methane accounts for about one tenth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  On average over a 20-year period, a methane molecule released into the atmosphere traps about 86 times as much heat as does a carbon dioxide molecule, Phillips points out.

Read more at Survey Gives Clearer View of Risky Leaks from Gas Mains

  Tuesday, March 29

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low Peak, Again

This NASA Blue Marble image shows Arctic sea ice extent on March 24, 2016. (Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA Earth Observatory)  Click to Enlarge.
It’s been a winter for the books in the Arctic.  Capping off a season of sustained, mind-boggling warm weather and stunted sea ice growth, the annual Arctic sea ice maximum hit its lowest level ever recorded.  That marks the second straight year that the winter maximum ice extent set a record low.

“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said in a statement.  “The heat was relentless.”

Along with other indicators like global average temperature and sea level rise, the record-setting sea ice cover is a key example of how much climate change is affecting the planet.  Diminished sea ice can impact the ability of Arctic species like polar bears and walruses to find food, and could impact the weather across North America, Europe and Asia, though that connection is still contentious.

“The Arctic is in crisis.  Year by year, it’s slipping into a new state, and it’s hard to see how that won’t have an effect on weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere,” Ted Scambos, an NSIDC lead scientist, said in a statement.

The NSIDC announced on Monday that Arctic sea ice hit its maximum extent for the winter on March 24, when it averaged 5.607 million square miles.  That beat last year’s record low of 5.612 million square miles, set on Feb. 25, 2015, by 5,000 square miles or just a bit smaller than the area of Connecticut.

Read more at Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low Peak, Again

Is Climate Change Putting World's Microbiomes at Risk?

Researchers are only beginning to understand the complexities of the microbes in the earth’s soil and the role they play in fostering healthy ecosystems. Now, climate change is threatening to disrupt these microbes and the key functions they provide.

A magnified view of a microbe on Arabidopsis plant roots provides a “window” into the rhizosphere, or root zone. The photo was taken as part of a study by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to examine carbon presence and distribution within the root zone and the impacts on microbial communities' diversity and functions. (Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) Click to Enlarge.In 1994, scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory moved soil from moist, high-altitude sites to warmer and drier places lower in altitude, and vice versa. In 2011 they returned to the sites and looked again at the soil microbes and found that they had done little to adapt functionally to their new home.  That's a bad sign, experts say, for a world convulsed by a changing climate. 

"These microbes have somehow lost the capacity to adapt to the new conditions," said Vanessa Bailey, one of the authors of the study, published this month in PLOS One. That not what scientists anticipated, and it "calls into question the resilience of the overall environment to climate change," she said.  "Soil is the major buffer for environmental changes, and the microbial community is the basis for that resilience." 

As snow and ice melt, it's fairly straightforward to grasp what climate change means for the future of, say, polar bears in the Arctic or penguins in Antarctica. But it's far more difficult to understand what is happening to the planetary microbiome in the earth's crust and water, a quadrillion quadrillion microorganisms, according to Scientific American. Yet it is far more important, for microbes run the world. They are key players that perpetuate life on the planet, provide numerous ecosystem services, and serve as a major bulwark against environmental changes. Researchers say that as the planet warms, essential diversity and function in the microbial world could be lost. But they can also cause serious problems — as the world's permafrost melts, microbes are turning once-frozen vegetation into greenhouse gases at a clip that is alarming scientists. 

As vital as they are, we are only beginning to understand microbes and the role they play in the world's ecosystems. The problem is that these fungi, archaea, and bacteria are so small that in a gram of soil (about a teaspoon), there are a billion or so, with many thousands of species. Perhaps 10 percent of the species are known. The Lilliputian communities that these microorganisms create are enormously complex, and their functions difficult to tease out. But in the last decade, new tools have been developed that have begun to change the research game. 
There is a Manhattan Project-like urgency to sussing out these secrets. A paper in the journal Science last year called for a Unified Microbiome Initiative, and experts have held a series of meetings about it at the White House. The Earth Microbiome Project is a massive global effort to collect samples of microbial communities from thousands of ecosystems around the world. Meanwhile, the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative got underway in 2011 — one-third of the world's biodiversity lives beneath our feet — and it’s focused on preserving the services that healthy soil ecosystems provide, such as a place for plants to grow, the breakdown of waste, and the natural filtration of water. The TerraGenome Project is sequencing the metagenome of soil microbes. 
Interest in microbiomes in the natural world is also exploding because many researchers realize that as the planet warms, essential diversity and function in the microbial world could be lost. Some areas may not be able to grow the same crops they are growing now — in the United States, for instance, no corn in Iowa or wheat in Kansas, because the microbes that currently fix nitrogen for the plants’ roots in the soil will no longer be able to do so. And, as we learn more about how microbes function, there may be ways to put them to work in the service of adaptation — enhancing plant growth, for example, in a warming climate. 

Most urgent, though, is the fact that the earth has locked up a great deal of carbon and should it come unlocked as C02 it could dramatically speed up climate change. "The big question is whether soil will be a sink or source of greenhouse gases in the future," said Jansson. 

Read more at Is Climate Change Putting World's Microbiomes at Risk?

After the Tesla Model 3 Launches This Week, the World Will Know If Elon Musk Called the Electric-Car Future Correctly

It's time.	(Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip) Click to Enlarge.
It is Elon Musk’s moment of truth.

Over the last dozen years, the serial entrepreneur and inventor has built a buzzing fervor from Wall Street to Silicon Valley by accomplishing the improbable—erecting a globe-spanning automobile company from scratch.  His Tesla Motors is the only such success in at least a half-century.  In that time, scores of auto making ventures with global ambition have brightly launched, only to stall, fail, and, in the best cases, get picked over at pennies on the dollar.  Tesla is still going, though, stylishly and single-handedly validating the commerciality of electric cars along the way.

Only, this achievement isn’t what drove Musk into autos.  Back in 2004, when he became Tesla’s primary investor and chairman, his objective wasn’t to build cool cars, or even cool electric cars.  It was to trigger the birth of a new, mainstream industry—to bring electric cars to the masses.  Musk saw and continues to see electrics as a crucial part of a solution to climate change.

Despite being chronically late to deliver his cars, Musk has attracted a fanatical base of owners: mainly rich, green-minded clients who wish to make a statement, whether politically, aesthetically, or both.  It’s a decidedly limited group.  Last year, Tesla sold about 51,000 cars.  Musk hopes to deliver another 93,000 vehicles this year, which, while an impressive jump, isn’t quite there if you’re thinking like a big car maker:  It would equal a mere 4% of the approximately 1.9 million cars sold in 2015 by both BMW and Mercedes, elegant brands that Musk regards as his true competition.  It is not an industry, and Musk knows it.

On March 31, Musk will finally unveil the car that he has always promised—the mass-market vehicle meant to be the big-bang for electrics.  It’s the Model 3, a $35,000 sedan that will go at least 200 miles on a single charge.  The positioning is deliberate—at half the base price of his two luxury models, it’s around the average cost for new cars in the US; and the distance is thought sufficient to alleviate most cases of so-called range anxiety, the fear of becoming stranded with a dead battery.

Although Tesla has maintained tight secrecy around the car, predictions call for the Model 3 to be crammed with technology including autonomous functionality, and to feature Musk’s usual exquisite styling.  Mind you, this week’s debut is only a showing of the car—he is promising to actually deliver it late next year.  If past is teacher, the first batch of Model 3 cars aren’t likely to reach our roads until 2019.  But he will be accepting reservations for them right away.

The stakes are the highest ever for Musk.  If motorists buy the Model 3 in the hundreds of thousands, he will have delivered on his vow to make an electric for the general public.  The consequences of all this turning out well could be considerable profit for Musk and his investors, not to mention a new upheaval in geopolitics.  If electrics become the norm for autos, then the future appetite for oil will be far less than forecast—and a softer bout of climate change perhaps is in the offing.

Read more at After the Tesla Model 3 Launches This Week, the World Will Know If Elon Musk Called the Electric-Car Future Correctly

  Monday, March 28

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Top Scientists Find It Hard to Make Public See Risks

U.S. Global Change Research Program - Click to Enlarge.
Officials and scientists who write and review the nation's chief climate analysis say they are struggling to get across the risks of climate change to policymakers and the public.

Finding ways to portray risks in time scales and language that people understand remains a challenge, they said last week at a two-day meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

And it's as difficult to explain risks on a localized level as it is to show, without facing accusations of fearmongering, that climate change is an existential threat to the human race, they added.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program, a 13-agency effort, is responsible for assembling the national climate assessment.  The report is meant to be a comprehensive look at climate change impacts on the United States.
The authors of the report agreed that they also struggle with portraying risks where the science isn't certain yet.

"There are a number of extreme events where the science isn't quite there yet, but communicating risk could be very important," Thomas Karl, chairman of the Subcommittee on Global Change Research, which is the steering group for the 13-agency program, said.

One such area:  How will the electrical distribution system be affected by more frequent ice storms and lightning?

"It's not like we're totally ignorant" of those effects, Karl said.  "How we don't just push that aside" by saying the science is still uncertain is a struggle that the authors of the report face.

Timelines and solutions
At last week's National Academies meeting, White House science and technology adviser John Holdren said that one of the areas that's also been difficult to convey is the time frame of risks and potential solutions.

"There are all these different time scales in the climate problem," he said.  "Folks on the whole just don't get that."

He noted that studies have begun to show risks on longer time scales, including recent research that has shown sea-level-rise risks associated with human activity and climate change will last over the next 10,000 years.
At the same time, the time scales for solutions are also still not clearly understood, Holdren said.

"The time scale that I think is probably most important and the least understood by most members of the public and most policymakers is exactly how long the energy system takes to be transformed," he said.

According to Holdren, the total investment in the world's energy system is about $25 trillion.  Of that investment, about 80 percent is still fossil fuel infrastructure.

"Which means if you want the energy system in 2050 to look very different than it looks today," he said, "you better be changing it rapidly now because no matter how badly you want it, you can't transform a $25 trillion infrastructure that is now 80 percent fossil fuel very quickly."

Read more at Top Scientists Find It Hard to Make Public See Risks

NGOs Pushing for Enforceable Global Aviation Deal

An airplane flies underneath the jet stream of another aircraft above the Italian city of Padova September 18, 2013. (Credit: Reuters/David Gray) Click to Enlarge.
Aviation was excluded from the landmark climate accord in Paris in December.  But carbon emissions from the sector could triple by 2050 if left unchecked, the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, which represents a half dozen non-profit groups, warned in a statement. 

In Paris, countries agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to "well below" 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels.

"Now, countries need to fulfill their Paris promises by ensuring that the aviation industry does its fair share," Brad Schallert, a senior program officer at the World Wildlife Fund, said in the statement.

While other transportation modes, such as the maritime industry, are also discussing ways to limit emissions, the world's attention is centered on aviation - a sector that would be the world’s seventh-largest carbon emitter if it were a country.

The International Civil Aviation Organization has until October to finalize a deal that would cap and cut the carbon pollution of all international flights.  The market-based plan must win the support of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s 190 member countries at its Montreal assembly, or risk the EU breaking off talks and imposing its own emissions trading plan on international airlines. 

Read more at NGOs Pushing for Enforceable Global Aviation Deal

EPA Report: Diesel Engine Grant Program Has Delivered Major Air, Public Health Benefits

Diesel powered truck (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
Clean diesel grants aimed at cleaning up old diesel engines have greatly improved public health by cutting harmful pollution that causes premature deaths, asthma attacks, and missed school and workdays, according to a new report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Since its start in 2008, the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) program has significantly improved air quality for communities across the country by retrofitting and replacing older diesel engines.  From 2009 to 2013, EPA awarded $520 million to retrofit or replace 58,800 engines in vehicles, vessels, locomotives or other pieces of equipment.

EPA estimates that these projects will reduce emissions by 312,500 tons of NOx and 12,000 tons of PM2.5 over the lifetime of the affected engines.  As a result of these pollution reductions, EPA estimates a total present value of up to $11 billion in monetized health benefits over the lifetime of the affected engines, which include up to 1,700 fewer premature deaths associated with the emission reductions achieved over this same period.  These clean diesel projects also are estimated to reduce 18,900 tons of hydrocarbon (HC) and 58,700 tons of carbon monoxide (CO) over the lifetime of the affected engines.

The program has also saved 450 million gallons of fuel and prevented 4.8 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions—equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from more than 900,000 cars.  EPA estimates that clean diesel funding generates up to $13 of public health benefit for every $1 spent on diesel projects.

Operating throughout our transportation infrastructure today, 10.3 million older diesel engines—the nation’s “legacy fleet,” built before 2008—need to be replaced or repowered to reduce air pollutants.  While some of these will be retired over time, many will remain in use, polluting America’s air for the next 20 years.  DERA grants and rebates are gradually replacing legacy engines with cleaner diesel engines.  Priority is given to fleets in regions with disproportionate amounts of diesel pollution, such as those near ports and rail yards.

Read more at EPA Report: Diesel Engine Grant Program Has Delivered Major Air, Public Health Benefits

Toon of the Week - Good Evening.  Our Top Story Tonight: Climate Change.

Toon of the Week - Good Evening. Our Top Story Tonight: Climate Change. / Bwa Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Just Kidding. / Our Top Story, as It Is Every Night, Is Whatever Donald Trump Wants to Say.

Toon of the Week - Good Evening. Our Top Story Tonight: Climate Change. / Bwa Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Just Kidding. / Our Top Story, as It Is Every Night, Is Whatever Donald Trump Wants to Say...

Read original article at 2016 SkS Weekly Digest #13

Quote of the Week - Global investment in coal and gas-fired power generation plants fell to less than half that in renewable energy generation last year

New trend toward renewables and away from the dirtiest fossil fuels is ‘extremely significant’, say energy experts. (Photograph Credit: Alamy) Click to Enlarge.
Global investment in coal and gas-fired power generation plants fell to less than half that in renewable energy generation last year, in a record year for clean energy.

It was the first time that renewable energy made up a majority of all the new electricity generation capacity under construction around the world, and the first year in which the financial investment by developing countries in renewables outstripped that of the developed world.

Catherine Mitchell, professor of energy policy at the University of Exeter, said the developments were “extremely significant” and showed a new trend.  She said: “We are looking at serious sums of money being invested in clean energy, with the dirtiest forms of fossil fuels the losers.  This is the direction of travel that we need to see to have a chance of escaping the worst impacts of climate change.”

Global coal and gas investment falls to less than half that in clean energy by Fiona Harvey, Guardian, Mar 24, 2016

Read original article at 2016 SkS Weekly Digest #13

Poster of the Week - Scotland Just Closed Its Last Coal-Fired Power Plant.

Poster of the Week - Scotland Just Closed Its Last Coal-Fired Power Plant. (Credit:

Poster of the Week - Scotland Just Closed Its Last Coal-Fired Power Plant.

Read original article at 2016 SkS Weekly Digest #13

  Sunday, March 27

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Wind Power Transmission Project in Plains Earns U.S. Approval

Proposed Transmission Lines for Renewable Energy: Several companies are hoping to build high-voltage transmission lines to transport renewable energy from wind farms and hydroelectric plants to more populous regions of the country. One such company, Clean Line Energy Partners, has been denied permission by the Missouri Public Service Commission to run its Grain Belt Express transmission line across that state. (Credit: The New York Times, Source: American Wind Energy Association; the companies) Click to Enlarge.
A major transmission project aimed at bringing wind energy out of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle cleared a significant hurdle on Friday as the Energy Department announced it would allow the project to go forward.

The development, led by Clean Line Energy Partners, had been delayed because of resistance from state lawmakers, but the federal decision is a green light for the project.

The decision also signals that the Obama administration remains committed to encouraging the spread of renewable energy, seen as a major component of reaching national goals on stemming climate change.

Multiple companies are hoping to build high-voltage transmission lines to transport renewable energy produced by wind farms and hydroelectric plants to more populous regions of the country.

“Moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is in high demand is essential for building the grid of the future,” Ernest Moniz, the energy secretary, said in a statement.  “Building modern transmission that delivers renewable energy to more homes and businesses will create jobs, cut carbon emissions and enhance the reliability of our grid.”
Energy officials have been urging significant extensions and upgrades to the nation’s transmission system for years but there has been little new construction since the 1980s.  And although the push to enhance the grid has gained urgency as renewables have spread, thousands of miles of long-haul lines have not yet gained approval.

Allowing the project, called Plains and Eastern, to go ahead could encourage the spread of low-carbon electricity and increase system reliability at a reasonable cost to consumers, the department said.

Read more at Wind Power Transmission Project in Plains Earns U.S. Approval

The Netherlands’ New Dietary Guidelines Take Meat Off the Menu

Vegetables (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
The Dutch government has a new message for its residents: when it comes to meat, less is more.

This week, the Netherlands Nutrition Centre — a government-funded program that creates dietary guidelines — issued a recommendation that people eat no more than two servings of meat per week.  According to National Geographic, it’s the first time that the Nutrition Centre has placed a hard limit on the amount of meat a person should consume.
Both the Netherlands and the U.K. are years behind Sweden, however, in including sustainability concerns in their dietary guidelines.  In 2009, Sweden became the first country to recommend that residents take environmental concerns into account when making food choices.

Earlier this year, the United States briefly considered including sustainability in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services’ updated dietary guidelines.  During the early stages of creating the updated guidelines, the the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — a group of scientists responsible for coming up with recommendations for the guidelines — suggested that sustainability might be an important addition.

"A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet,” the advisory committee wrote in its report.  “Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the above dietary patterns.”

The suggestion was met with both cries of support from environmentalists and fierce backlash from the meat industry, with nearly 29,000 comments submitted during the public comment period. According to an analysis of the comments conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity, the comments showed "overwhelming support" for including sustainability.

But when the guidelines were finally released in October of last year, sustainability did not make the cut.  Environmental and food sustainability experts were quick to point a finger at the political power of the food lobby, which they argue had an outsized influence on the crafting of the guidelines.

"The way that this has played out shows that there are clear politics behind it," Ricardo Salvador, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food and Environment Program, told ThinkProgress in October.  “Everybody who has been following this process and knows who’s speaking with whom knows food industry executives have been in the office and pressuring the secretary on this issue."

Still, both environmental groups and the scientific community seem to be ramping up the pressure on meat-heavy diets.  In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at Oxford University found that the world could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent, and save 5.1 million lives annually, if meat consumption globally were reduced by half by the end of the century.

Read more at The Netherlands’ New Dietary Guidelines Take Meat Off the Menu

Why this New Solar Market Could Be Set to Explode

In this Wednesday, May 13, 2015 photo, some of the more than 37,000 solar panels gather sunlight at the Space Coast Next Generation Solar Center, in Merritt Island, Fla. (Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux) Click to Enlarge.
Right now, there’s an odd thing about solar in the United States (and elsewhere). It’s either really big — at the scale of massive solar farms with the capacity to generate tens or hundreds of millions of watts of electricity — or pretty small: on your rooftop, with maybe as little as 5 kilowatts, or thousand watts, of capacity.

Solar has been growing extremely fast in these existing markets.  But more and more, analysts say, there’s a middle-range market whose large potential is just becoming clear.  It’s bigger than individual rooftop installations but smaller than vast solar farms.  And it’s for a much broader and diverse range of people than fairly wealthy, suburban homeowners.

It’s called community or “shared” solar, meaning that multiple people get electricity from a mid-sized solar array on the top of, say, a condo building, or in a lot centered in a community, or perhaps an array or resource designated by their power company.  This means people living in more densely populated cities, who may not own the roofs over their heads or who may not have the best credit, could also participate in the solar wave — without having to purchase or finance panels themselves.

As of 2015, only a tiny sliver of all solar capacity in the United States fit into this category.  But according to a new report from the energy think tank the Rocky Mountain Institute, the potential for community solar to expand is vast.  The group said that as much as 30 gigawatts (or billion watts) of solar capacity, at the extreme upper end, could be added in this space by the year 2020, which would more than double all currently installed solar capacity in the United States.

Granted, that also requires a redefinition of what community solar is — the group calls it “community-scale” solar to denote mid-sized arrays, whether owned by a group of individuals or by a power company.

By this definition, “community-scale solar reaches millions of U.S. customers that so far rooftop solar has not or cannot,” notes the report.  It found that almost half of all U.S. homes and businesses cannot have solar even if residents want it “because they rent their home, live in dwellings such as a multi-unit apartment building or high-rise condo, or have a roof unsuitable for solar.”

Hence the size of this market:  The Rocky Mountain Institute says it is larger than prior estimates for three main reasons.  One, solar tax credits have again been extended; second, the price of the technology keeps falling; and third, the institute defines the market more broadly, to include offerings by different types of power companies, including rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities.

“Community-scale solar is at a sweet spot between utility-scale and behind-the-meter solar,” says the document.  “It is neither too big nor too small; it is just the right size to capture community and distributed energy benefits on the one hand and utility-scale solar’s economies of scale on the other.”

Another report on the subject, released by the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions, details why it is likely going to be good business for more utility companies of all types — ranging from large, investor owned utilities to rural electric cooperatives — to offer more shared solar programs to customers.  Like the Rocky Mountain Institute, then, Deloitte is focused in particular on the kind of community or at least community-scale solar that would be offered by power companies, rather than set up by a group of individuals (like, say, a condo building).

Read more at Why this New Solar Market Could Be Set to Explode

Wind and Solar Are Growing at a Stunning Pace (Just Not Enough to Stop Climate Change)

Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016 (Credit: Click to visit.
There's good news and sour news on climate change in this hefty new report on renewable energy from the UN and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

First, the celebratory stuff.  Renewable energy — mainly solar and wind, with a tiny bit of geothermal and biomass tossed in — is growing at a record pace.  Last year, the world's nations plunked down $286 billion on renewable energy, twice what they spent on coal and gas.  For the first time ever, renewables made up fully half of all new electric capacity installed worldwide, with 118 gigawatts coming online.  Next time someone says renewables are a niche market, toss them this PDF.

All in all, renewable energy (excluding large hydropower dams) provided 10.3 percent of the world's electricity in 2015, up from 9.1 percent the year before:

If you include large hydropower, renewables made up roughly 22 percent of the world's electricity in 2015.  If you add in nuclear, another key carbon-free source, that goes up to around 33 percent. (The catch is that large hydro and nukes aren't growing as quickly.)

So now comes the sour "yes, but..."  This breakneck growth in clean energy isn't nearly fast enough to drive the sort of sharp CO2 reductions needed to address climate change.  Not yet.

For one, the world continues to build lots of carbon-belching coal and gas plants.  The fact that wind and solar remain pricey and don't run 24/7 means there's still ample demand for fossil-fuel generation.  The report estimates that countries added 43 gigawatts worth of coal capacity last year, on net, and 40 gigawatts worth of natural gas capacity.  (Countries also added 15 gigawatts of new nuclear, as well as 22 gigawatts worth of large hydropower dams.)

As long as fossil fuel capacity keeps expanding rather than shrinking, it will be tough to push down global CO2 emissions.  And this dynamic isn't set to change anytime soon:  the report notes that few forecasters think global power-sector emissions will peak before 2026.  (A separate new report from McKinsey & Company, meanwhile, predicts that coal and natural gas will still provide half the world's electricity in 2040.)

And keep in mind that this report mainly focuses on the electricity sector, which only accounts for 40 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions.  If you really want to whip global warming, you'd also need to clean up the transportation sector, too.  Plus figure out what to do about cement, steel, and other industries.  There are a few encouraging signs along those lines — the report notes that battery prices keep plunging and electric vehicle sales are expanding — but it's early days yet.

Read more at Wind and Solar Are Growing at a Stunning Pace (Just Not Enough to Stop Climate Change)