Wednesday, September 30, 2015

  Wednesday, Sep 30

Bank of England Head Warns Insurers, Investors, Markets of Mounting Climate Risks

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)  Click to Enlarge.
For several years, with an eye to future damage, the Bank of England's governor, Mark Carney, has spoken of how climate change and government action in response to accumulating greenhouse gases could punish investors, flummox the energy sector, distort financial markets and crimp the global economy.

Last night in London, through a wide-ranging speech at Lloyd's of London, the specialty insurance company, Carney suggested that U.K. insurers keep an eye on long-term climate hazards, too.

"The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance with what might come," Carney told the audience, according to a copy of his remarks.

"The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity," Carney added.  "The right information allows skeptics and evangelists alike to back their convictions with their capital."

A market failure to adequately price the economic costs of Earth-warming gases may come with a large bill -- a fire sale of assets connected with and exposed to climate change effects, he said.

The volume of weather-related losses has more than tripled since the 1980s, from an average of $10 billion then to about $50 billion annually in the past decade, the central banker said. Citing work by Lloyd's analysts, Carney said the roughly 20 centimeters of water-level rise around Manhattan that has occurred since the 1950s increased insured losses due to Superstorm Sandy in New York alone by 30 percent.  And some residents in the Caribbean have recently been unable to get insurance on their houses because of menacing storm patterns, effectively blocking off mortgage lending, collapsing housing markets and prices, and creating abandoned neighborhoods, Carney said.

"I have found that insurers are amongst the most determined advocates for tackling [climate change] sooner rather than later," said Carney, alluding to rising payout costs.  "And little wonder. While others have been debating the theory, you have been dealing with the reality."

Compounding a rise in direct costs from storms like Sandy in 2012, losses are increasing due to indirect expenses, too, he said.

"There is an upward trend in losses that arise indirectly through second-order events like the disruption of global supply chains," Carney told the audience at Lloyd's, which pioneered catastrophe coverage after an earthquake shook San Francisco in 1906.  "Your motives are sharpened by commercial concern as capitalists and by moral considerations as global citizens."

Physical, liability and transition risks
The head of the Bank of England, the modern blueprint of central banking, described three types of climate change hazards that can affect financial stability:  physical, liability and transition risks.  The bank published a report assessing climate impacts on the U.K. insurance sector yesterday.

Physical risks include insurance liabilities and the falling value of assets after storm, wildfire or flood damage.  Liability risks are the legal exposures through which those whose lives have been harmed by emissions could sue "those they hold responsible," Carney said, and transition risks relate to the shift to a world increasingly powered with renewables.

"Changes in policy, technology and physical risks could prompt a reassessment of the value of a large range of assets as costs and opportunities become apparent," he said.

Most other central banks, at least the most influential, appear not to have studied the economic concerns of climate change as actively as the Bank of England.

Through the "intensification of droughts," a greater number of "severe storms" and "longer and stronger heat waves," the level of financial exposure to insurers, and general providers in particular, will almost certainly climb, said Carney, likely the most outspoken central banker regarding the topic of climate change and economic stability.

U.K. insurance companies oversee approximately $2.9 trillion in assets.  The global economy, under current conditions, will lose $4.2 trillion in assets -- about the value of the entire Japanese economy -- without a significant shift in energy use, the Bank of England's report forecasts.

Read more at Bank of England Head Warns Insurers, Investors, Markets of Mounting Climate Risks

Can the U.S. Jump-Start Offshore Wind Power?

Offshore wind farm (Credit: © Click to Enlarge.
The Department of Energy has awarded around a half-million dollars to New York, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts state organizations to cooperate on scaling up the offshore wind industry in the region.

Under the leadership of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the group will lay out a collaborative road map by the end of the year on how to build up the new industry.  The project largely aims to reduce the cost of offshore wind projects, which has been a barrier to development, and establish a regional supply chain.

Industry and state representatives learned about the federal grant at the first-ever offshore wind summit hosted by the White House Monday.

Offshore wind has struggled to take off in the United States.  Europe, meanwhile, has more than 80 offshore wind farms with more than 10,000 megawatts of capacity.  The White House summit marks a renewed effort to get the industry going in the United States, said various attendees.

Read more at Can the U.S. Jump-Start Offshore Wind Power?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

  Tuesday, Sep 29

Many Conservative Republicans Believe Climate Change Is a Real Threat

A Republican supporter wore a tie decorated with elephant mascots at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in 2012. (Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg, via Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
A majority of Republicans — including 54 percent of self-described conservative Republicans — believe the world’s climate is changing and that mankind plays some role in the change, according to a new survey conducted by three prominent Republican pollsters.

The results echo a number of other recent surveys concluding that despite the talk of many of the party’s candidates, a significant number of Republicans and independent voters are inclined to support candidates who would back some form of climate action.  It may also point to a problem facing Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination:  the activists who crowd town hall meetings and Republican presidential caucuses and primaries might not reflect the broader attitude of even the Republican electorate.

The survey was commissioned by Jay Faison, a North Carolina businessman who calls himself a conservative Republican and has announced that he intends to spend $10 million on efforts to lobby Republicans to embrace the issue of climate change.  He has spent $165 million to start a nonprofit foundation, ClearPath, aimed at promoting climate change and clean energy policies that could appeal to conservatives.

In an interview Monday, Mr. Faison said he has recently spoken by phone to “most” of the Republican candidates, as they have sought his financial contributions to their campaigns.

“There’s a shortlist of guys who can give at that level, and I’m on it,” he said.

Mr. Faison hired three prominent Republican pollsters to conduct the survey:  Whit Ayres, who works for the presidential campaign of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida; Glen Bolger, a three-time winner of the American Association of Political Consultants’ “Republican Pollster of the Year;” and Kristen Soltis Anderson, author of “The Selfie Vote:  Where Millennials are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up).”

“At the moment some of the louder voices in the party are dominating this debate,” said Ms. Anderson in an interview.  “But as we move out of the entertainment phase of the campaign and look at more of the policy platforms, there’s a way for Republicans to talk about this that depoliticizes climate.”

On the campaign trail, the leading Republican presidential contenders question or deny human-caused climate change.  In an interview on CNN last week, Donald J. Trump said, “I don’t believe in climate change.”  In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle this month, Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who, along with Mr. Trump, is at the top of many recent polls said, “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused.”

While such statements sit well with many conservative activists, the new survey found that 73 percent of all voters and 56 percent of Republicans do believe the climate is changing.  Fewer than a third of Republicans think the climate is changing because of purely natural cycles, and only 9 percent think the climate is not changing at all, the survey found.  It also found that 72 percent of Republicans support accelerating the development of renewable energy sources.

Read more at Many Conservative Republicans Believe Climate Change Is a Real Threat

Study:  New York City at Higher Risk for Coastal Floods

The FDR Drive flooded after Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012. (Credit: David Shankbone/flickr)  Click to Enlarge.
A combination of climate-driven sea level rise and stronger tropical cyclones is putting New York City at risk for more and higher floods like those seen during Hurricane Sandy, a group of researchers has found.

In a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers compared sea level and storm surge heights from 850 to 1800, before significant human influences on the climate, to the period from 1970 to 2005.

The average flood height increased by about 4 feet in New York between the two time periods and with continued warming, larger and more extreme storms along with even higher sea level is likely to cause more frequent and intense flooding.

“The study is the preamble for what we have to be concerned about,” said Klaus Jacob, special research scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who was not involved in the research.  “Areas like the Rockaways, Staten Island, are just not sustainable. They cannot exist in 100 or 150 years as they exist now.”

Global sea level has already risen about a foot since 1900, and is projected to rise as much as 39 inches by the end of the century.  Hurricanes are also expected to be stronger and more frequent.  For New York, this could mean more damage from Sandy-like storms.

“Sea level rise in increasing flood heights, and there’s the added fact that characteristics of tropical cyclones are being impacted by climate change,” said Andra Reed, lead author of the study.  "Those things combined are not good."

The chance of another storm like Sandy, with a 9-foot storm surge, is now about once every 130 years, compared to once every 3,000 years in the pre-anthropogenic era, Reed said.

“We found that the biggest tropical cyclones tend to be larger, with a larger radius and maximum winds of these storms in the later anthropogenic time period,” Reed said.  “We also found that the most intense storms are even more intense in the later time period."

Read more at Study:  New York City at Higher Risk for Coastal Floods

Goods Manufactured in China Not Good for the Environment, Study Finds

A coal-fired power station in rural Zhejiang Province, China. [Credit: Steven J. Davis (2015)] Click to Enlarge.
In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists from three universities show that products made in China are associated with significantly higher carbon dioxide emissions than the same products made elsewhere.

"The amazing increase in Chinese manufacturing over the past 15 years has driven the world economy to new heights and supplied consumers in developed countries with tremendous quantities of lower-cost goods," said co-author Steven J. Davis, an assistant professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine.  "But all of this has come at substantial cost to the environment."

The researchers, also from Harvard University and the University of Maryland, attribute China's high emissions intensity -- the quantity of CO2 emitted per dollar of goods produced -- to the nation's antiquated manufacturing processes and reliance on coal.

Read more at Goods Manufactured in China Not Good for the Environment, Study Finds

France to Raise Contribution to Climate Change Finance to 5 Bln Euros

French President Francois Hollande waits to address attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 28, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri) Click to Enlarge.
France will increase its contribution to helping developing countries tackle climate change from 3 billion euros to five billion euros, President Francois Hollande said on Monday.

"I announce that France's annual financing for climate which is today 3 billion euros will be five billion euros from 2020," Hollande told delegates at the U.N. General Assembly.

France, which is hosting climate change talks at the end of this year in Paris, has said that a comprehensive deal cannot be reached if developed countries do not provide a $100 billion a year from 2020 for smaller states tackling climate change.

Read original article at France to Raise Contribution to Climate Change Finance to 5 Bln Euros

Monday, September 28, 2015

  Monday, Sep 28

We May Have Just Bought Ourselves an Extra Decade to Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change - by Joe Romm

The world appears to have bought itself a little time in the fight to avoid climate catastrophe, according to a new analysis.

Virtually every major country has made pledges to limit or reduce carbon pollution in advance of the Paris climate talks this December.  These pledges generally end in 2025 or 2030, and so they only matter if the world keeps ratcheting down its greenhouse gas emissions in future agreements until we get near zero by century’s end.  Otherwise we will blow past the 2°C line of defense against very dangerous-to-catastrophic global warming, and hit 3.6°C warming by 2100.

That’s the key finding of a new analysis from Climate Interactive and the MIT Sloan School of Business, tallying up the global pledges to limit carbon pollution leading up to the big Paris climate talks later this year.

Those pledges, called intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), include the European Union cutting total emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, the U.S. cutting net greenhouse gas emissions emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 (including land use change and forestry), and China’s peaking in CO2 by 2030.

Impact of national climate pledges (aka INDCs) on world’s greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalents (CO2e). (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The good news, as you can see, is that the INDCs have bought us another five to 10 years of staying close to the 2°C path.  I asked Andrew Jones, one of the systems-thinking savants behind Climate Interactive, if that was correct and he said, “Yep, about seven years.”  By “staying close” I mean staying close enough to the 2°C path that it remains plausibly achievable — though (obviously) politically still very, very challenging.

Of course, like all emissions models, the Climate Interactive model makes assumptions about what is a plausibly achievable 2°C path given how long we have delayed acting.  And that involves deciding how fast the world could plausibly cut its greenhouse gas emissions each year — sustained for many decades.  They use 3.5 to 4 percent a year.  That is mostly a political-economic judgment, since there is no real way of knowing how fast humanity could act once we become truly desperate to avoid multiple simultaneous catastrophes that are irreversible on a timescale of many centuries.

The point is that a successful outcome of Paris will not “solve the climate problem” and indeed won’t give us a 2°C world, as anyone who is paying attention understands.  (Sadly, a lot of folks in the media aren’t paying attention.)
Still, this would be an important accomplishment — and one that mirrors the incremental approach the world took to save the ozone layer.  As NASA’s Gavin Schmidt told the New York Times, “By the time people get 10, 15 years of actually trying to do something, that’s going to lead to greater expertise, better technology, more experience.”  Schmidt, who heads the same climate team James Hansen once did, added, “People will then say, ‘Oh, you know what?  We can commit to do more.’”

Read more at We May Have Just Bought Ourselves an Extra Decade to Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change

Major U.S. Banks Call for Leadership in Addressing Climate Change

United Nations (Credit: Dominick Reuter/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Six major U.S. banks – Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo – have issued a joint statement calling for cooperation among governments in reaching a global climate agreement.  The statement, published today by the sustainability advocacy nonprofit Ceres, voiced support for policy frameworks that “will provide greater market certainty, accelerate investment, drive innovation in low carbon energy, and create jobs.”

The banks said that their institutions are collectively “committing significant resources toward financing climate solutions” and added that “clear, stable and long-term policy frameworks are needed to accelerate and further scale investments.”

“Financial institutions have a critical role to play in financing the transition to a low-carbon future,” said Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres and director of its $13 trillion Investor Network on Climate Risk.  “As U.S. negotiators enter climate talks in Paris, they can say with confidence that the business and financial community in this country is ready for government leadership to address climate change.”

In today’s statement, the banks said they are “aligned on the importance of policies to address the climate challenge.”  They also expressed ambition to continue investing directly in climate change mitigation efforts to make cities and communities more resilient.

Read more at Major U.S. Banks Call for Leadership in Addressing Climate Change

No More Arctic Drilling Attempts for Shell

Shell has announced it will discontinue oil exploration in the Arctic Sea, for now. (Credit: AP Photo/Jim Paulin) Click to Enlarge.
The Arctic drilling season has come to an end, and with it, Shell’s hopes of striking oil in the Chukchi Sea.  Royal Dutch Shell announced Monday it would stop oil exploration in the environmentally sensitive region, 140 miles off Alaska, for the “foreseeable future.”

The company received permits from the Obama Administration this year to conduct exploratory drilling, despite massive protests from environmentalists.  The exploration has been unsuccessful, the company said.

“Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the US,” Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said in a statement.  “However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

Disappointing, and expensive.  Shell has invested $3 billion in development of the basin, with another $1.1 billion of “future contractual commitments,” the company said.

Environmental groups cheered Monday’s announcement.

“This is a victory for everyone who has stood up for the Arctic.  Whether they took to kayaks or canoes, rappelled from bridges, or spread the news in their own communities, millions of people around the world have taken action against Arctic drilling,” Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said in a statement.

There are a number of concerns that go along with oil development in the Arctic, a region already considered “ground zero” for climate change.  Pollution from boat traffic in the ecologically sensitive region can create a feedback loop of melting, and then more melting.  In addition, the harsh environment makes it very difficult to respond to oil spills.  In 2012, Shell lost control of an oil rig during a storm.  The equipment, along with 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid, ended up washed up on an island.

Leonard took the opportunity to call on President Obama to prohibit any future drilling in the area.

“Today, President Obama can also make history by cancelling any future drilling and declaring the U.S. Arctic Ocean off limits to oil companies.  There is no better time to keep fossil fuels like Arctic oil in the ground, bringing us one step closer to an energy revolution and sustainable future,” she said.

Read more at No More Arctic Drilling Attempts for Shell

Forest Loss and Land Degradation Fuel Climate Crisis

UN studies show that the combined effects of degraded farmland and the felling and burning of trees are costing the planet trillions of dollars in ecosystem losses.

Agriculture and land use changes, such as in Indonesia, represent the second largest source of GHG emissions. (Image Credit: GIZ) Click to Enlarge.
The planet’s forests have dwindled by 3% − equivalent almost to the land area of South Africa − in the last 25 years, according to a new assessment by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

While the planet continues to lose its forests – albeit at a slower rate – through felling, burning or being turned into farmland, another UN study predicts that the economic cost of degraded agricultural land in the form of lost ecosystem services now amounts to up to US$10 trillion a year.

Within 10 years, 50 million people could have been forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods to become migrants.  If all those people were assembled in one place, they would constitute the planet’s 28th biggest nation in terms of population.

Increasing levels
Forest loss and farmland degradation are both part of climate change accountancy.  The rise in greenhouse gases is in part linked to the loss of forest cover to soak up the carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels.

But increasing levels of heat and drought are likely to accompany climate change, increasing the area of desert or land too arid to support life and industry.

So in losing forest, and in watching farmland become saline because of over-irrigation, or exhausted by intensive cultivation or overgrazing, or simply increasingly too arid to support vegetation, humans are witnessing the loss of all sorts of valuable services not normally recorded by accountants.

Ideas such as “natural capital” and ecosystem services are attempts to place a practical value on things that nature normally delivers for free.

That is because living things – plants and soil fauna in particular – provide food, fibers, medicines and building materials, as well as helping to provide clean water, regulate disease, and recycle nutrients.

The United Nations University report believes that the loss of these services could now be between $6.3 trillion and $10.6 trillion a year in value.  This is between 10% and 17% of global gross domestic product.

Read more at Forest Loss and Land Degradation Fuel Climate Crisis

All Nations Must Share Blame or Lose Climate Battle

Brazilian expert says developing countries must also play their part in cutting emissions if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.

Brazil has hampered production of ethanol from sugar cane by pegging its price to petrol. (Image Credit: Jonathan Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
The developing world’s most polluting nations must abandon the decades-old rhetoric that blames rich countries for climate change and share responsibility for reducing emissions to avoid dangerous overheating, according to Brazil’s best-known scientist.

José Goldemberg, who took office as president of the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) this month, named Brazil, India and Indonesia − which account for 14% of global emissions − as the three key developing countries that need to abandon an outdated vision of development and use more energy-efficient technologies.

“Without these countries – which were exempt from reducing their emissions by the Kyoto Protocol – making significant efforts, it will be impossible to avoid a global warming of 2°C by 2100, a value that scientists consider as the maximum tolerable to prevent more dramatic climate change than those already taking place,” he said.

Goldemberg, a nuclear physicist and alternative energy expert, said on taking office that it was time for Brazilian scientists to play a leadership role in society and shake off the “ivory tower” approach that prevents academics engaging with the outside world.

Danger threshold
In an open letter to delegates attending the Paris negotiations in December, which are aimed at reaching a global agreement to keep temperatures below the 2°C danger threshold, he called for a new approach from the developing world.

“The United States, China and the European Union, whose emissions account for about 45% of the [world] total have announced ambitious and quantifiable goals.

“Russia and Japan contribute to 7%.  The remaining 48% of emissions originate from more than 150 other countries whose individual contributions are less than 1%, with the exception of India, Brazil and Indonesia, who represent 14%.

“Several developing countries have argued that reducing carbon emissions will seriously affect their development, and that the continued use of fossil fuels at low prices is still the best option available to them.

“This is an outdated vision of development.  It was valid during the 19th and 20th centuries, when countries industrialized, but it was precisely the indiscriminate use of fossil fuels that has led to the serious pollution problems we are facing today.”

He held up China as a country that has embraced more energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy sources as a new avenue for sustainable development.  It had enabled China to announce that, from 2030, it will reduce its coal consumption – and, consequently, greenhouse gas emissions.

Goldemberg then launched into an attack on his own country’s failure to capitalize on its own success in producing ethanol from sugar cane − “an excellent substitute for gasoline”.

He said: “Ethanol is non-polluting, unlike gasoline, and is renewable because cane is a crop that grows every year.  It’s like solar energy transformed into a liquid.”

Read more at All Nations Must Share Blame or Lose Climate Battle

Why Some Scientists Are Worried About a Surprisingly Cold ‘Blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean

January–August 2015 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Percentiles. (Credit: NOAA)  Click to Enlarge.
In March several top climate scientists, including Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Michael Mann of Penn State, published a paper in Nature Climate Change suggesting that the gigantic ocean current known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is weakening.  It’s sometimes confused with the “Gulf Stream,” but, in fact, that’s just a southern branch of it.

The current is driven by differences in the temperature and salinity of ocean water (for a more thorough explanation, see here).  In essence, cold salty water in the North Atlantic sinks because it is more dense, and warmer water from farther south moves northward to take its place, carrying tremendous heat energy along the way.  But a large injection of cold, fresh water can, theoretically, mess it all up — preventing the sinking that would otherwise occur and, thus, weakening the circulation.

In the Nature Climate Change paper, the researchers suggested that this source of freshwater is the melting of Greenland, which is now losing more than a hundred billion tons of ice each year.

I asked Mann and Rahmstorf to comment on the blue spot on the map above by e-mail. Here’s what Mann had to say:
I was formerly somewhat skeptical about the notion that the ocean “conveyor belt” circulation pattern could weaken abruptly in response to global warming. Yet this now appears to be underway, as we showed in a recent article, and as we now appear to be witnessing before our very eyes in the form of an anomalous blob of cold water in the sup-polar North Atlantic.
Rahmstorf also commented as follows:
The fact that a record-hot planet Earth coincides with a record-cold northern Atlantic is quite stunning.  There is strong evidence — not just from our study — that this is a consequence of the long-term decline of the Gulf Stream System, i.e. the Atlantic ocean’s overturning circulation AMOC, in response to global warming.
So in sum, if Mann and Rahmstorf are right, a slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation could be beginning, and even leaving a temperature signature for all to see.

This won’t lead to anything remotely like The Day After Tomorrow (which was indeed based — quite loosely — on precisely this climate scenario).  But if the trend continues, there could be many consequences, including rising seas for the U.S. East Coast and, possibly, a difference in temperature overall in the North Atlantic and Europe.

Read more at Why Some Scientists Are Worried About a Surprisingly Cold ‘Blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean

  Sunday, Sep 27

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Obama Says Paris Climate Talks Bound to ‘Fall Short’

In an interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama said, "I'm less concerned about the precise number, because let's stipulate right now, whatever various country targets are, it's still going to fall short of what the science requires." (Credit: Reuters)  Click to Enlarge.
President Barack Obama said he hopes major countries agree to "aggressive enough targets" to cut carbon emissions at climate talks in Paris later this year, but he said any deal will fall short of what is needed to slow global warming.

"I'm less concerned about the precise number, because let's stipulate right now, whatever various country targets are, it's still going to fall short of what the science requires," Obama said in an interview published in Rolling Stone magazine.

Scientists say global warming needs to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid devastating droughts and rising sea levels.

Countries are submitting pledges to cut emissions ahead of the U.N. summit.  So far, those pledges are estimated to limit warming to 3 degrees Celsius.

Obama said "a percent here or a percent there" in pledged cuts "is not going to be a deal breaker," but said it was critical to set up a system to require countries to review their pledges every five years and continue to make cuts after the Paris talks conclude.

"The key for Paris is just to make sure that everybody is locked in, saying, 'We're going to do this,'" Obama said in the interview, which was conducted on Sept. 1 in Kotzebue, Alaska, a small town north of the Arctic circle.

The article was released on Wednesday, coinciding with a visit to the White House by Pope Francis, who has urged the world to address climate change.

Read more at Obama Says Paris Climate Talks Bound to ‘Fall Short’

The Root of Pope Francis's Appeal Among Secular Sustainability Seekers - by Andrew C.  Revkin

Pope Francis in Popemobile (Credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times) Click to Enlarge.
I've been musing on why Pope Francis has attracted so many secular scientists and others trying to chart a low-impact path for humanity in a crowding, turbulent, fast-forward century?

I count myself among these ranks, and that was one reason I spent four days at the Vatican in May, 2014, lured by the title of a meeting organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences:  Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, Our Responsibility.

Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly on Friday.  It was only the fifth time that a pope had addressed the United Nations.

I think I found the answer on Monday, while running a panel on climate and civilization at the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit.

Heriberto Cabezas, a senior adviser to the Environmental Protection Agency on sustainable technology, had talked at length about a remarkable model of human and earth systems projecting possible outcomes 100 and 200 years in the future.

He saw promising prospects for a smooth path to 2300, but with this caveat:  "The coordinated manipulation of at least six variables is necessary to maintain stability for 200 years or so."

I asked him how he thought that might be remotely possible, given evidence that we're not good at top-down policies on a planetary scale.  Here's his answer:
Why isn’t this happening?  We lack a cultural narrative that says sustainability is really important.  We have a cultural narrative that says murder is wrong.  We don’t have a cultural narrative that says managing our planet in a way that allows us to live on it as long as we can is probably the most important thing.
The first image that popped into my mind was that of Pope Francis, the ultimate top-down leader of a hierarchical organization -- the Roman Catholic Church -- who has spent the past year speaking about diversity, inclusion, "integral ecology" and "integral human development."

He is sketching a cultural narrative.

Read more at The Root of Pope Francis's Appeal Among Secular Sustainability Seekers

Pop-up Wetlands Will Help Millions of Migrating Birds This Fall

Semipalmated plover in Alaska (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Birds migrating south from the Arctic this fall will have access to 7,000 new acres of temporary wetland habitat for their California stopovers, according to researchers with NASA, The Nature Conservancy, and other academic and conservation organizations.  The BirdReturns program creates “pop-up habitats” — temporarily flooded rice fields — for some of the millions of sandpipers, plovers, and other shorebirds that migrate each year from their summer Arctic breeding grounds to winter homes in California, Mexico, and Central and South America.

More than 90 percent of the natural wetlands in the Central Valley of California have been lost to development, agriculture, and the state's severe drought, researchers say.  By combining on-the-ground observations and NASA satellite data, researchers can identify areas where birds flocked during previous migrations.  Matching the location and timing of the pop-up wetland habitats with the route and timing of migrating shorebirds is critical, researchers say, and the BirdReturns program identifies those key sites.  Rice farmers can submit bids based on how much it would cost them to temporarily flood their fields.  The Nature Conservancy then pays farmers in key migration areas to flood their fields for specific two-week periods, creating the pop-up habitats for migrating birds.

Read original article at Pop-up Wetlands Will Help Millions of Migrating Birds This Fall 

  Saturday, Sep 26

Saturday, September 26, 2015

China Climate Announcements Turn Tables on Congress Foes

China's President Xi Jinping (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands at the end of a joint news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington September 25, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron) Click to Enlarge.
“The irony is rich:  emissions trading is an American idea; now it's become an American export,” said David Sandalow,  a fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and former under secretary of energy for policy and international affairs.

Other parts of the Chinese package reveal a similar change  - in tone, at least.

China's financial pledge is a “watershed moment” for climate diplomacy, environmental groups say, because it shows a willingness to share the billions of dollars believed required to help poor countries shift to low-carbon economies and deal with the effects of a hotter planet. China has long seen itself as a developing nation that is expected to be on the receiving end of any international largess.

Jake Schmidt, international policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said this change in attitude removes a common complaint about China from Congressional opponents.

“China is not going to be the recipient of U.S. climate financing, which is how some of our friends on the Hill are painting it,” said Schmidt.  “This is a better narrative.”

In fact, Obama is the more likely leader who will be forced to show up in Paris without money. The first $500 million of the president's $3 billion pledge is held up in thorny budget negotiations on Capitol Hill, where some Republican lawmakers have vowed to block any international climate funding.

Read more at China Climate Announcements Turn Tables on Congress Foes

Pope Francis to UN:  Climate Key to Sustainable Development

An infographic explains how the Global Goals, which Pope Francis endorsed in his speech at the United Nations on Friday, aim to tackle global warming.

Pope Francis told world leaders on Friday that in order to address poverty, hunger, war and inequality, they must first tackle climate change.

"A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged," Pope Francis told the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations in a speech on Friday.

The Pope said there exists a fundamental right of the environment. "Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity," he said.

The speech came at the start of the Sustainable Development Summit, a three-day meeting of the UN's 193 member states to adopt a new set of development goals. The initiative aims broadly to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and—for the first time—fight and prepare for climate change.

There are 17 goals for the next 15 years, addressing issues such as hunger, health, education, gender equality, and sanitation. One of the goals specifically calls on nations to "take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts." But nearly all of the other 16 goals touch on global warming in some way, from expanding renewable energy to building sustainable cities to stopping deforestation.
The speech came at the start of the Sustainable Development Summit, a three-day meeting of the UN's 193 member states to adopt a new set of development goals. The initiative aims broadly to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and—for the first time—fight and prepare for climate change.

There are 17 goals for the next 15 years, addressing issues such as hunger, health, education, gender equality, and sanitation. One of the goals specifically calls on nations to "take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts." But nearly all of the other 16 goals touch on global warming in some way, from expanding renewable energy to building sustainable cities to stopping deforestation.

"Today’s world presents us with many false rights and—at the same time—broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded," Pope Francis said.

How the UN Goals Will Address Climate Change (Credit: Click to Enlarge.The goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals, or the Global Goals, are "an important sign of hope," he said.

InsideClimate News combed through the 17 goals, and their 150-plus mini targets, to provide a broad overview of the ways UN member states have pledged to address climate change.

Pope Francis to UN:  Climate Key to Sustainable Development

Volvo/KPMG Analysis Finds Cities Could Save Millions with Electric Buses Instead of Diesel

Beijing's electric bus fleet in service during the 2008 Olympics. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
A city with half a million inhabitants would save about SEK 100 million (US$12 million) per year if the city’s buses ran on electricity instead of diesel, according to an analysis conducted in collaboration between the Volvo Group and the audit and advisory firm KPMG. The analysis has taken into consideration such factors as noise, travel time, emissions, energy use, taxes and the use of natural resources.

Standard investment appraisals do not take into account all of the costs that impact society and the environment. Therefore, to quantify all of the aspects, we have now calculated the monetary value of an electric bus line The results show that irrespective of the number of parameters taken into consideration, electric buses comprise the leading public transport solution.

—Niklas Gustafsson, Head of Sustainability at the Volvo Group

Volvo/KPMG Analysis Finds Cities Could Save Millions with Electric Buses Instead of Diesel

How Corporations Buy Their Way to Green

The renewable energy certificate system has gotten more transparent, but improvements are still needed.

Equinix will offset the power for all of its California operations, including this Silicon Valley data center, with renewable energy fed into the San Diego grid. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
This week nine large corporations including Starbucks, Walmart, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson said they have joined the RE100, a registry of companies that have pledged to obtain 100 percent of the energy they consume from renewable sources.  That brings to 36 the number of large companies that have joined the program, including the first Indian company, IT provider Infosys, and the first Chinese one, Elion Resources Group.

There are multiple definitions of “100 percent renewables,” however, and so far none of them involve a company actually getting all of its power from wind, solar, geothermal, or biofuels plants.  And in many cases the companies that have publicly pledged to go fully renewable have not assigned a specific deadline.  Falling prices for renewable energy, along with tightening government policies, public and shareholder pressure, and a growing body of evidence that opting for renewables over fossil fuels provides bottom-line benefits are driving this trend.  But getting there still involves a complicated set of decisions, compromises, tough conversations with utilities, and financial maneuvering.

Last year the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund published the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, a sort of shoppers’ guide that helps companies devise strategies to go 100 percent clean.  One avenue is to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs), or credits, that enable companies to claim 100 percent renewable sources without getting their power directly from solar panels or wind turbines.  Such certificates are provided by a number of different companies; the Department of Energy online guide to the certificate systems lists 17 providers in the U.S. Each credit represents one megawatt-hour of renewable energy produced by a plant operator who offers the certificate on the open market via one of the brokers mentioned above.

Read more at How Corporations Buy Their Way to Green

Scotland and Ireland Consider a Linked Renewable Energy Future

Coastal wind farm (Photo Credit: iStockphoto) Click to Enlarge.
The governments of Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland plan to coordinate the development of offshore renewable energy projects in their shared ocean water.  The goal is to build an interconnected network of offshore wind, tidal, and wave generation and transmission in the Irish Sea, the straits of Moyle, and the western coast of Scotland.

The countries launched a feasibility study five years ago. It culminated last week in a series of reports including:  a business plan; recommendations for how to implement projects; three proposed projects to serve as initial proof of concepts; and a spatial plan that provides guidance to potential developers regarding the best places to install offshore wind, tidal, and wave energy projects.

The area between Ireland and Scotland has the potential to generate around 16.1 gigawatts of renewable energy, including 12.1 GW from offshore wind and 4.0 GW from wave and tidal energy.  The ISLES project's initial goal is to connect 6.2 GW of that potential generation by 2020.

The benefits of coordinating the development of offshore projects include “lower costs of harnessing the sizeable renewable energy potential of the ISLES zone, increased capacity for cross-border trade in electricity, improved resilience of onshore and offshore electricity networks, and a range of other benefits for energy consumers and industry,” the authors concluded.

The ISLES project will also play a supporting role in Europe's Energy 2020 Strategy, whose aim is to shift the continent’s energy mix so that it obtains 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.  That goal will be part of a long-term plan to decarbonize energy and develop trans-European energy networks.

Read more at Scotland and Ireland Consider a Linked Renewable Energy Future

Extreme Pacific Sea Level Events to Double in Future

Many tropical Pacific island nations are struggling to adapt to gradual sea level rise stemming from warming oceans and melting ice caps.  Now they may also see much more frequent extreme sea level swings.  The culprit is a projected behavioral change of the El Niño phenomenon and its characteristic Pacific wind response, according to recent computer modeling experiments and tide-gauge analysis.

Extreme low sea levels occurred during August in parts of the western Pacific associated with the ongoing strong El Niño. Data from AVISO satellite measurements. [Credit: Widlansky, et al. (2015)] Click to Enlarge.
During El Niño, warm water and high sea levels shift eastward, leaving in their wake low sea levels in the western Pacific.  Scientists have already shown that this east-west seesaw is often followed six months to a year later by a similar north-south sea level seesaw with water levels dropping by up to one foot (30 cm) in the Southern Hemisphere.  Such sea level drops expose shallow marine ecosystems in South Pacific Islands, causing massive coral die-offs with a foul smelling tide called taimasa (pronounced [kai' ma'sa]) by Samoans.

The team of scientists recently asked, how will future greenhouse warming affect the El Niño sea level seesaws?  The scientist used state-of-the-art climate models, which accounted for increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, together with simulations of the observed climate and tide-gauge records to verify the model results.  They determined that projected climate change will enhance El Niño-related sea level extremes.  By the end of this century the experiments show that the intensified wind impacts of strong El Niño and La Niña events are likely to double the frequency of extreme sea level occurrences, especially in the tropical southwestern Pacific.

Read more at Extreme Pacific Sea Level Events to Double in Future

Rising Emissions Threaten Goal of Poverty-Free World

A child sits amongst the remains of a house destroyed by Typhoon Rammasun in a coastal village of sea gypsies, also known as Badjaos, in Batangas city, south of Manila, July 17, 2014.  (Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro) Click to Enlarge.
If the world is to end extreme poverty and stop it returning, climate-changing emissions must peak by 2030 and fall to near zero by 2100, researchers said.

A new global action plan to eradicate poverty over the next 15 years, known as the Sustainable Development Goals, was adopted at the United Nations on Friday.

But the impacts of global warming - such as worse floods and droughts - could draw as many as 720 million people back into extreme poverty between 2030 and 2050, a report from the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) warned.

"Poverty eradication cannot be maintained without deep cuts from the big GHG (greenhouse gas) emitters," said Ilmi Granoff, one of the report's authors and an expert in green growth.

The study noted that nearly all scenarios outlined by a U.N. climate science panel indicate the global economy must reach zero net emissions before the end of the century to keep average temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The costs of adapting to more extreme weather and rising seas "simply become implausible" beyond that temperature limit, the report warned.

The policies of major-emitting countries - especially industrialized nations - would be incoherent if they supported poverty eradication while failing to shift their own economies towards zero net emissions, it said.

Zero net emissions means not pumping out more carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases into the atmosphere than can be absorbed or offset by reductions elsewhere.
The researchers said their estimates of how many people climate change could pull back into poverty considered only the most measurable impacts if emissions trends continue toward a temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Those included food prices, child malnutrition and increased droughts.

Bringing in other projected effects of global warming, such as sea-level rise, urban vulnerability to disasters and an increase in airborne diseases, would likely push the number of people set to fall back into poverty much higher than 720 million, they said.

Read more at Rising Emissions Threaten Goal of Poverty-Free World

  Friday, Sep 25

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Pope Wants Climate to Be a Human Rights Issue

Pope Francis addressing the U.N. General Assembly. (Credit: Rick Bajornas/U.N.)  Click to Enlarge.
Pope Francis made history on Friday by being the first Pope to open the United Nations General Assembly. Climate and the environment were key parts of a wide-ranging speech that laid out the Pope’s vision for the future of the planet.

The Pope pulled no punches in framing the gravity of climate change and environmental degradation to humanity.  “Ecological destruction could place the human species in danger of extinction,” he said.

But rather than getting bogged down in technological fixes or percentages of greenhouse gas reductions and carbon credits, the Pope spoke of the climate as a fundamental moral and human rights issue.

“In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good,” Pope Francis said.  “Any harm done to the environment is a harm to humanity.”

Speaking of people who suffer from lack of rights, including environmental ones, the Pope said, “government leaders must do everything possible to ensure all have the minimal spiritual and material means to live in dignity and to create and support a family.”

That frame has been central to the Pope’s climate message beginning with his encyclical in June and continuing through his speeches at the White House and Congress earlier this week and to the United Nations.  In many ways, it cuts through the sometimes stymying language used to talk about climate change.

“Understanding that climate change is going to fundamentally interfere with individuals’ and communities’ ability to access water, enjoy food security, to have a life, to have a nation, that makes it a lot more direct and immediate with people,” Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said.

The timing of the Pope’s speech fit well with his message.  On Friday, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, a series of 17 goals that address poverty, education and more.  Climate is one of the goals (No. 13 to be exact), but it also informs a number of the others.

The General Assembly marks the last major U.N. gathering until the climate conference in Paris in December.  There, world leaders will be tasked with coming up with a plan to address greenhouse gas emissions.

“I'm confident the Paris conference on climatic change will secure fundamental and effective agreements,” the Pope said.  “Solemn commitments are not enough, though they are a necessary step toward solutions.”

The run up to Paris has been a climate action yo-yo with some encouraging signs of progress, but other signs that any deal will not be as strong as expected.  Outstanding issues like loss and damage, a financing mechanism for rich countries to help pay for climate- and weather-related damage in poor countries, have been chief among the bugaboos that have dogged negotiators.

But Burger said there are signs of a potential breakthrough, not because the Pope is calling for a human rights approach (though he might have an indirect impact), but because negotiators are seeing the light for themselves.

Read more at The Pope Wants Climate to Be a Human Rights Issue

China to Launch a Nationwide Cap-and-Trade System and to Work with the U.S. on Forging a Paris Deal

President Xi Jinping (Credit: © Click to Enlarge.
China will put in place a nationwide carbon emissions trading program in 2017 and agree to stringent transparency rules in a new global climate change accord as part of a sweeping announcement President Obama and President Xi Jinping will make today, White House officials said.

The joint call to action on global warming will be the second time in less than a year that Obama and Xi have stood side by side to pledge joint cooperation between the world's two largest economies and emitters of greenhouse gas pollution.

Leaders said they hope the announcement, which also includes a Chinese pledge of money for poor countries that one official described as "commensurate" with a U.S. promise to deliver $3 billion in climate aid over four years, will shift the international negotiations into high gear before landmark talks in Paris in December.

"President Obama and President Xi have put a high priority on addressing climate change, and also on the role that our two nations can play in addressing this pressing issue," a senior Obama administration official said in a call with reporters.

"Last year's joint announcement was about setting targets.  This year is about showing the world our countries' conviction ... to lead the world toward a durable global climate agreement," he said.  In November, the United States vowed to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 while China pledged to peak its emissions rise by 2030.

Details of the deal are expected to be announced this afternoon.  But officials said the highlights include a pledge from China that it will launch a nationwide emissions trading scheme in 2017 covering specific sectors, including power generation, iron and steel, chemicals, and building materials like cement.

Other elements of the announcement, according to the White House and ClimateWire sources, include:
  • A "very substantial" Chinese pledge of climate finance to help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change.  The money (a dollar figure was not unveiled) will not go through the United Nations' Green Climate Fund but will be "reinforcing" it, according to the White House.
  • New joint U.S. and Chinese targets for heavy-duty vehicles, building efficiency and appliance standards.
  • A commitment from China to "strictly control public investment flowing into projects of high pollution and high carbon emissions, both domestically and internationally."
  • Agreements or "landing zones" on eight wedge issues in the Paris deal, including commitments by both countries to see carbon cuts build in ambition over time.  China and the United States will also agree to reporting and review of both mitigation efforts and financial commitments.
  • The deal also includes what another administration official described as "new progress" in breaking down a 20-year-old climate change architecture that divided the world into rich countries that take obligatory action and poor countries that cut carbon voluntarily.  Countries should act "in light of different national circumstances," on everything from mitigation to finance, the United States and China have agreed.

Read more at China to Launch a Nationwide Cap-and-Trade System and to Work with the U.S. on Forging a Paris Deal

Curbing Short-Lived Pollutants:  a Win-Win for Climate and Air Quality

Los Reales landfill in Tucson, Arizona collects and pipes methane to Tucson Electric Power, where it is used to generate electricity.  (Photo Credit: Alana Levine) Click to Enlarge.
Ozone, methane and aerosols (tiny pollutant particles) remain in the atmosphere for a shorter time than CO2, but can affect both the climate and air quality.  Yet environmental policies tend to separate the two issues, with measures that fight air pollution not always bringing climate benefits and vice-versa.  A new study looking into short-lived pollutants reveals measures governments could implement to substantially improve air quality as well as fight climate change.  The results, by a team of scientists from around Europe and China, are published today (24 September) in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

In the EU, the reduction in life expectancy due to air pollution was 7.5 months in 2010, and legislation already in place to improve air quality aims to reduce this loss to 5.2 months by 2030.  The team says the new measures targeting short-lived pollutants could boost air quality and reduce loss of life expectancy even further:  by a month in Europe, about two months in China and one year in India.

The new mitigation measures would also bring climate benefits, reducing global temperatures by about 0.22°C by 2050, relative to a scenario without these measures.  The reduced warming in the Arctic would be even larger, close to half a degree, while in Southern Europe the measures would not only reduce temperatures but also increase rainfall by about 15 mm/year, or about 4% of the total precipitation.  "This could help to alleviate expected future drought and water shortages in the Mediterranean region," says lead-author Andreas Stohl from the Norwegian Institute of Air Research.

Read more at Curbing Short-Lived Pollutants:  a Win-Win for Climate and Air Quality