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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
April 7, 2014


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GOP Budget Proposal Cuts Funding for Climate Initiatives

On April 1 Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, unveiled his 2015 fiscal budget proposal, which slashed much of the programmatic spending for President Obama’s climate agenda. Implementing the Ryan budget would result in the general reduction of approximately $5.1 trillion from estimated spending over the next 10 years. Ryan targets federal agencies that oversee climate change initiatives, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers carbon emissions reductions rules, and the Clean Technology Strategic Climate Funds, established in 2010 to provide assistance for climate mitigation projects abroad. While climate and clean energy programs are slashed in the budget, Ryan encourages the expansion of oil and gas exploration across the United States, including approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

For additional information see: The Hill

EPA Sends Draft Rules for Existing Power Plants to White House

On March 31, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered its draft rule to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). EPA is developing the regulations using its authority under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, spurred by a presidential memorandum from June 2013. OMB will now review the draft rule before it is released publicly. No timeline for this is certain, but President Obama previously set a June 1, 2014 deadline. A public comment period will follow, with enactment of the final rule planned for the summer of 2015. The proposed rule for existing power plants is coming on the heels of EPA’s proposed rule for carbon emissions from new power power plants (See January 13, 2014 edition of CCN).

For additional information see: The National Journal, The Hill, OMB Rule Page

US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rose 2.3 Percent in 2013

On March 27, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its Monthly Energy Review, with preliminary statistics for total domestic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which reveal a 2.32 percent increase in US carbon emissions during 2013, over 2012 levels. With the exception of 2012, 2013 levels were still the lowest levels of domestic carbon emissions since 1995. In every category that EIA examined, 2013 CO2 levels rose relative to 2012; residential emissions rose 4.86 percent; commercial emissions rose 2.89 percent; industrial emissions rose 2.25 percent; electricity emissions rose 0.88 percent; and transportation emissions rose 0.60 percent.

For additional information see: EIA

Legal Challenges to Climate Laws in California Have Not Slowed Their Implementation

On March 26, attorneys involved in lawsuits challenging California’s climate policies stated that the allegations have yet to delay the implementation of these policies. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has been attacked on its greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program (A.B. 32), as well as the state’s low-carbon fuel standard. According to Tom McHenry of the Climate Action Reserve, which is aiding in litigation for the state, “The California Air Resources Board is batting about 1,000.” The plaintiffs challenging the fuel standard are arguing that it violates the constitution by discriminating against out-of-state fuel providers, although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has already reversed district court decisions that attempted to argue that the low-carbon fuel standard was unconstitutional. While the low-carbon fuel standard has been the target of attacks of late, McHenry believes that future challenges lie ahead for the cap-and-trade rule, depending on if the state’s use of auction proceeds aligns with A.B. 32 requirements.

For additional information see: Bloomberg News

Environmental Groups and the State of Wyoming File Suit Against EPA Pollution Haze Rules

On March 31, Earthjustice filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, the Sierra Club, and the National Parks Association, arguing that EPA’s regional haze plan in Wyoming does not sufficiently cut emissions from coal-fired power plants. “When coal is burning at Wyoming power plants, nearby states get electricity and we get the pollution,” commented Shannon Anderson of the Powder River Basin Resource Council. On January 30, the EPA published notice in the Federal Register that it was rejecting part of Wyoming’s plan to regulate emissions to reduce regional haze over national parks and wilderness areas, saying the state regulations of nitrogen oxides were not stringent enough. Nitrogen oxides are potent greenhouse gases (GHG), warming the atmosphere 265 times as much as carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. The environmental groups’ suit comes the week after the state of Wyoming filed suit against the EPA on March 29, arguing the agency’s plan would cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the states’ proprietary plan to cut pollution, while not noticeably improving air quality. Both suits were filed in the 10th District Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

For additional information see: Wyoming Public Media, Star Tribune, Star Tribune

IPCC Working Group II Report Released, Saying Climate Change Will Be Overwhelming and Ubiquitous

On March 31, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that widespread climate change impacts have already begun and are expected to get worse, according to updated data in the Fifth Assessment Report released this week. The impacts include heat waves, droughts, floods and wildfires, which will affect impoverished peoples and nations disproportionately. The report notes that no one will be unaffected by future climate change, which is expected to threaten economic growth and global security. Some impacts, such as the release of the powerful climate pollutant methane from the melting permafrost, have the potential to trigger accelerating feedback loops that will push temperatures even higher. The authors say climate change could also indirectly increase the incident of under-nutrition, water-borne diseases, violent conflicts and human displacement. A temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius is expected to cause 0.2 to 2 percent of global income to be lost. The WGII Summary for Policymakers is the work of 309 climate scientists and almost 2,000 experts world wide, backed up by 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers. WGII co-chair Chris Field, a professor at Stanford University, commented, “The climate changes that have already occurred have been widespread and have really had consequences. It is not the case that climate change is a thing of the future.”

Soon after the report was released, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement addressing the need for climate action, saying “read this report and you can’t deny the reality: unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy.” This report warned that climate impacts are happening now and future risks are more immediate than once believed, including in the areas of food and water availability, natural disasters, global temperature, human health, national security, and global income. Secretary Kerry reiterated that, “the United States is meeting this challenge [of climate change] through President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and we’re committed to reaching an ambitious agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions with other countries in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”   

For additional information see: New York Times, BBC, IPCC, The Hill, Statement, EESI, IGSD

European Parliament Decides Not to Levy Airplane Carbon Tax Outside EU Territory

On April 3, the European Parliament passed legislation clarifying the European Union's (EU) tax on aviation carbon emissions, granting flights outside EU airspace an exemption from the emissions tax up until the start of 2017. The legislation includes a transparency measure requiring EU states to report where they are spending emissions tax revenue, to ensure the money funds climate change mitigation. The new rule is a response to protests by the United States, China and India against the original emissions tax, which would have applied to flights originating in those countries. EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard commented, "The Commission would of course have preferred and fought for a higher level of ambition . . . it would've been better for Europe's self-respect and reputation and even more important, the climate." The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) may have a global agreement regulating aviation emissions in place by 2017 when the emissions tax exemption stops, although its current commitment is to adopt a market-based measure on emissions in 2016, to take effect by 2020. The emissions tax is a component of the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS), under which flights within the EU are still taxed. The European Parliament approved the legislation 458 to 120, with 24 abstentions; it now must be approved by the Council of Ministers.

For additional information see: BBC, European Parliament News

ExxonMobil Says Climate Policies Will Not Jeopardize the Value of its Fossil Fuel Reserves

ExxonMobil released a report on March 31 announcing that the company had no reason to believe that its current business model of selling fossil fuels will be adversely affected by global or national climate policies. The report, the first of its kind from a major oil company, was issued in response to shareholder concerns that the company’s vast fossil fuels reserves will devalue if nations impose heavy fees on carbon emissions and place greater emphasis on renewable energy. “All of ExxonMobil’s current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments, to address global energy needs,” said William Colton, ExxonMobil’s VP of corporate strategic planning.  The report was issued in response to a shareholder resolution from Arjuna Capital, a sustainable wealth management group, and As You Sow, a nonprofit that promotes environmental corporate responsibility. Natasha Lamb, director of equity research at Arunja Capital, called the report “a huge step in the right direction” but criticized the report’s failure to explain how Exxon would respond to global low-carbon emissions standards, if enacted. She added, "But at least now investors know that Exxon is not addressing the low carbon scenario and (is) placing investor capital at risk."

For additional information see: ABC News, News Release

Oxfam Report Says World is “Woefully Unprepared” For Food Scarcity from Climate Change

On March 24, Oxfam America released a briefing report, Hot and Hungry: How to stop climate change from derailing the fight against hunger, indicating that global food supply is "woefully unprepared" for the challenges climate change will present. The report examined 10 main policy gaps between current government actions and what is needed, including: humanitarian aid, agricultural investment, food stocks, fighting gender discrimination, weather forecasting, social protection/safety nets, agricultural research and development, crop irrigation, crop insurance, and international adaptation finance. The report says, "There could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of 5 in 2050, compared with a world without climate change - that's the equivalent of all the children under 5 in the US and Canada combined." Countries where high levels of food insecurity already exist generally also face the greatest threats from climate change impacts - although the report states that countries such as Ghana, Vietnam and Malawi, which are taking action on some of the indicated 10 policy gaps, will enjoy higher levels of food security than countries with comparable risk. The report concludes, "The climate change impacts which are already locked in do not make hunger inevitable if the right action is taken."

For additional information see: The Hill, UPI, Press Release

Study Finds Climate Change the Key Cause of Australia’s Record Heat

The Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science’s (CoECSS) Annual Climate Report 2013, released March 24, concluded that the reason 2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record was very likely a direct result of man-made climate change. To determine whether extreme summer temperatures were due to human causes, the researchers compared nine climate models of summer temperatures with human factors and without them, and said the results “[show] that the record hot Australian summer of 2012/13 was about five times as likely as a result of human-induced influence on climate, and that the record hot calendar year of 2013 would have been virtually impossible without human contributions of heat-trapping gases.” The authors warn the models predict extreme heat during Australian summers will become more frequent. The study was highlighted as part of the World Meteorological Organization's Annual Statement on the Status of the Climate.

For additional information see: Climate News Network, The Telegraph, WMO Press Release, Study

Study Finds Up to a Third of the Earth Could Dry Up from Rising Temperatures

On March 31, a study on changing precipitation patterns and evaporation rates was published in Climate Dynamics. The study found that changes in rainfall patterns alone could subject 12 percent of land globally to drought by 2100, but when higher evaporation rates are considered, the drying is predicted to spread to 30 percent of land. The study utilized rainfall and evaporative demand projections from the climate model simulations developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2013 climate report to predict that increased evaporative drying will tip marginally wet regions at mid-latitudes – like the US Great Plains and the fertile lands of southeastern China – into aridity. "For agriculture, the moisture balance in the soil is what really matters," said study coauthor Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "If rain increases slightly but temperatures also increase, drought is a potential consequence." University of New South Wales researcher Steven Sherwood, who was not associated with the study, stated, "Many regions will get more rain, but it appears that few will get enough to keep pace with the growing evaporative demand.”

For additional information see: Science Daily, Climate Central, Study

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