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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 17, 2014


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Senators Stay Up All Night to Bring Attention to Climate Change

On Monday night, March 10, the recently formed Senate Climate Action Task Force put on its first event, an all-night talkathon to “wake up Congress” to the need to address the severe impacts of climate change. During the night, 31 Senators (28 Democrats, 2 Independents and 1 Republican) spoke for more than 14 hours, discussing science, policy, impacts and solutions to climate change. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) likened climate change to steroid use in baseball. Comparing graphs of home run averages to average global temperature, he said there is an “obvious correlation” between temperature increases and humans “injecting pollutants” into the atmosphere. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), labeled the talkathon a “partisan exercise,” and said she had not been invited to participate. Collins introduced a bill to reduce carbon pollution from cookstoves on the same day(see below CCN). The event was not a filibuster, since it pertained to no specific legislation. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) commented that “we’ve got a little more work to do to open up some political space” before the Senate could attempt to pass a bill on climate change.

For additional information see: Washington Post, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Congressional Record

Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Regulate Carbon Emissions from Cookstoves

On March 10, Senator Collins (R-ME) introduced S. 2100, the “Clean Cookstoves and Fuels Support Act,” which aims to support the global market for clean, efficient cookstoves, as well as reduce carbon pollution. The bill, co-sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), would require the Secretary of State to advance the goals of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an organization founded in 2010 by the United Nations Foundation and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which aims to place clean stoves in 100 million homes by 2020. The bill also authorizes existing funding commitments from federal agencies and departments to support the Alliance, a total of $125 million in support over the Alliance’s first five years. Cookstoves release about 25 percent of global black carbon emissions, and a single traditional cookstove can use up to two tons of fuel, causing the degradation of nearby land as cookstove operators collect fuel. “Nearly half the world’s population cooks over open fires or with inefficient, polluting, and unsafe cookstoves using wood, agricultural waste, dung, coal, or other solid fuels,” Sen. Collins commented. “Recent studies show that the emissions of black carbon, or common soot, from biomass cookstoves significantly contribute to regional air pollution and climate change. . . this bill aims to directly benefit some of the world’s poorest people and reduce the harmful pollution that affects us all.”

For additional information see: International Business Times, Press Release, Bill

House Science Committee Examines EPA Carbon Regulations

On March 12, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing, “Science of Capture and Storage: Understanding EPA’s Carbon Rules,” which examined the science used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create carbon dioxide performance standards for new power plants. The EPA’s proposal would essentially require the use of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology at future coal-fired power plants. At the hearing, Robert Hilton, vice-president of Power Technologies for Government Affairs at Alstom Power Inc., said in his testimony the performance standards are “ahead of the [CCS] technology,” which he asserted is not yet ready. Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office on Air and Radiation (OAR), and also a witness at the hearing, commented, “There is adequate and robust data showing that the various components that we based that standard on are in use and will be ready.” McCabe added that the Clean Air Act has shown technology will advance when regulations require it. Last week the House voted 229 to 183 to pass H.R. 3826, a bill which would prevent the EPA from implementing the new standards (see Climate Change News March 10). The White House has issued a veto threat against H.R. 3826, and it is unlikely the Senate will consider it.

For additional information see: Reuters, IndyStar, Hearing

Kerry Makes Addressing Climate Change a Top Priority for U.S. Diplomats

On March 7th, Secretary of State John Kerry released his first policy guidance, Elevating Climate Change Across All Our Platforms, which made climate change a top priority for all U.S. diplomats. In the guide, Kerry instructed all ambassadors and State Department employees – 70,000 in total – around the world to provide “active leadership” to combat climate change both domestically and internationally. Kerry said, “The global climate challenge is about opportunity, security, even our very survival in the long term.” He called climate change the greatest challenge of our generation, adding that it “demands elevated urgency and attention from all of us.” Kerry explained that in practice his Policy Guidance on climate means leading by example through strong action at home and abroad; concluding a new international climate change agreement applicable to all countries by 2015 to take effect in 2020; enhancing multilateral engagement, including the Major Economies Forum, Clean Energy Ministerial, Montreal Protocol, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants; expanding bilateral engagement on clean energy; mobilizing financial resources to transform energy economies and promote sustainable land use, as well as limiting public incentives for fossil fuels; and integrating climate change with other priorities, including women’s empowerment, urbanization, and conflict and national security.

For additional information see: State Department, State Department climate change fact sheet, New York Times, UN Climate Action Programme

Price of Carbon Permits Reaches New High in RGGI Markets

On March 5, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) sold 23.4 million carbon allowances at a record high price, $4 each, during its first auction under new rules which came into effect this year after a February 2013 update. The updated rules reduced the supply of carbon permits 45 percent, in order to raise prices. The carbon allowance price is up by a third from the last auction in December, which cleared the allowances for $3 apiece, and is the highest price since the first auction in September 2008. Collin O’Mara, vice chairman of RGGI and secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said, “Our first auction under the new cap demonstrates how market-based programs cost-effectively reduce carbon pollution, while driving investments in a clean-energy economy.” The December auction raised $115 million and sold 63 percent more allowances than this latest auction, which raised about $94 million.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Utility Drive

EU Parliament Approves Fast Phasedown of HFCs

On March 12, the European Parliament overwhelming approved a regulation to phase down the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in new air-conditioning and refrigeration to 79 percent below average 2009/2012 levels by 2030. The vote was 644 in favor, 19 opposed, with 16 abstentions. The final approval by the Council of Ministers is scheduled for April 14th. If approved, the regulation would come into effect in 2015 throughout the 28 EU nations. “Europe’s strong HFC phasedown adds tremendous momentum to the global phasedown of HFCs through the Montreal Protocol,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. “The Montreal Protocol HFC phasedown will be the biggest, fastest climate mitigation available to the world in the near term, avoiding the equivalent of 100 billion tons of CO2 by 2050 and up to a half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century. Success under the Montreal Protocol will in turn provide critical momentum for the UN climate negotiations, which are aiming for a new climate treaty next year, to take effect in 2020.” The E.U. legislation primarily targets HFCs, which are used as cooling agents and have a global warming potential up to 23,000 times more than CO2.

For additional information see: IGSD press release, Reuters, European Parliament press release, European Parliament adopted text

Global Intersessional Climate Talks Begin in Bonn

On March 10, the latest United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session, called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), met to develop and agree on a global climate change deal by 2015, to come into effect by 2020. The meeting was held at the German Parliament's headquarters in Bonn, Germany. During the conference, the delegation from Nepal and the delegation from Bolivia spoke together on behalf of the Least-Developed Countries group to request an earlier deadline for proposed greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, to be moved from early 2015 to December 31st or earlier. A UNFCCC legal expert said the early 2015 deadline was the official decision of last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP), and could not be changed, although countries could voluntarily submit GHG reduction targets earlier. Philippines Ambassador Yeb Sano said action is needed urgently, as "developing countries are suffering massively from adverse effects of climate change." The talks are an important step on the way to the COP-21 in Paris in 2015, when negotiators hope to reach a global agreement on climate change.

For additional information see: Business Green, RTCC, UNFCCC

Two Government Reports Detail Infrastructure Risks from Climate Change

On March 7, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a report, Climate Change and Infrastructure, Urban Systems, and Vulnerabilities, which describes the threat climate change poses to America’s aging infrastructure, including power grid, water, communications and transportation systems. The report also examines the potential economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change-induced interruptions to these systems. The report said infrastructure damages are heightened in urban areas, as specific groups including children, the elderly, and low income communities are “vulnerable because of limited coping capacities.” Report authors add that these risks can be “substantially reduced” by climate preparedness efforts, including better building codes and green infrastructure. The report is part of a series of technical additions to the US government’s National Climate Assessment (NCA), and is the first NCA examination of infrastructure. The NCA is required under the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which stipulates that a report must be produced every four years. The full NCA report is due to be released April 2014.

In related news on the same day, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, Energy Infrastructure Risks and Adaptation Efforts, which found that U.S. energy infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to climate change impacts, especially in areas which often experience severe weather and water shortages. Consequences may include more frequent power outages and fuel shortages. GAO says areas of vulnerability include resource extraction infrastructure, often located near the coast, which is vulnerable to sea level rise; power plants, which may experience interruptions in operations due to severe weather and water shortage; and electricity transmission infrastructure, which is vulnerable to severe weather and stress from rising electricity demand as temperatures increase. The report recommends hardening (improving durability and stability) and resiliency (improving recovery after damaging events) measures to strengthen energy infrastructure. This GAO report was produced upon request.

For additional information see: GAO Report, DOE, NRDC

Climate Change Will Make Summers Warmer and Waves Smaller in Australia, Studies Find

On March 10, the Climate Council released “Angry Summer,” a report which found that during the 90 days of the 2012/2013 summer, over 156 records for heat, drought, bushfires and dry conditions were broken across Australia. During the summer, Sydney experienced its driest conditions in 27 years, Canberra was over 35 degrees Celsius for more than 20 days, and Melbourne broke its record for hottest 24-hour period by averaging 35.5 degrees Celsius (95.9 degrees F). The Climate Council, a community-funded organization created to replace the dismantled Australian Climate Commission (see September 30, 2013 Climate Change News), connected these extreme weather conditions to climate change, and recommended urgent and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, saying this is “the critical decade” for climate action.

In related news the same day, scientists at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology published findings in Nature Climate Change that global warming will reduce big waves off Australia’s east coast 25 to 40 percent by 2100, depending on moderate or high emissions scenarios. The scientists said the effects were seen on waves 4 meters or larger, with “little or no changes” in smaller waves. Head researcher Dr. Andrew Dowdy of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research explained that greenhouse gas emissions directly raise global temperatures, which drive wind and atmospheric circulation, which in turn generate big waves. Researchers used deep-ocean buoys to collect data from 1992 to 2010, and discovered a strong relationship between big waves and storm conditions five kilometers over the ocean surface. Researchers then used 18 global climate models to examine future storms matching those parameters, and found a high degree of consistency indicating the big waves will be greatly reduced.

For additional information see: ABC, New Scientist, Sydney Morning Herald, Climate Council Report, Bureau of Meteorology Study

Report Finds White House Social Cost of Carbon to Be a Low Estimate

On March 13, the Cost of Carbon Project released a new report, “Omitted Damages,” which said the 2013 Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon’s (IWG) estimate of the social cost of carbon (SCC) of $37 should be considered a low number. The Cost of Carbon Project says the scientific studies the IWG estimate is based upon leave out many climate impacts which have additional economic consequences, including various health impacts, food price spikes, the impacts of ocean acidification on marine fisheries, wildfire-associated property losses, inter- and intra-regional violence and conflict from forced migrations, and the impacts of lost biodiversity and species extinction. The IWG was formed in 2010 with participation from 12 federal agencies to develop the SCC, which estimates the cost to future generations of units of carbon pollution emitted over a specified time period. The report, supported by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law, and the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), does not suggest an alternate figure for the SCC, but instead points out sectors where new scientific and economic research would help future SCC estimates be more comprehensive. Gernot Wagner, a senior economist at EDF, commented, “What we are doing with this report is pointing the light, guiding scientists toward the kinds of missing damages that ought to be included in the next iteration.”

For additional information see: Huffington Post, Climate Central, Report

Report Says Allowing Crude Oil Exports Would Greatly Increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On March 3, Oil Change International published a new report, Lifting the Ban, Cooking the Climate, which found that removing the current prohibition on the export of crude oil would cause the release of additional greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 42 new coal-fired power plants. Current domestic prices for oil are $13.50 a barrel less than international oil prices, but the report says lifting the ban would raise US prices by about $10 a barrel, putting American oil prices much closer to international levels. The increased price would incentivize the additional production of 9.9 billion barrels of oil between 2015 and 2050, which would emit an extra 4.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
“Removing the crude export ban would be a disaster for the climate,” executive director of Oil Change International Stephen Kretzmann said. “President Obama and the US Congress need to stand up to Big Oil and defend the current regulations if he is actually serious about address our climate crisis.” Exxon Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute have both called for the lift of the ban on crude oil exports, which has stood since the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

In related news on the same day, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) issued a report recommending the use of executive power to lift the ban on crude oil exports. Sen. Murkowski stated that during their presidencies, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton all permitted the export of some domestic crude oil, showing that the President has the power to authorize exports under certain circumstances. Sen. Murkowski’s report says the record production of unconventional fossil fuels is going to outpace the US refining system, and therefore exports should be allowed in order to maintain high production levels.

For additional information see: National Journal, Huffington Post, Eco Watch, Oil Change International Study, Sen. Murkowski Report

Carbon Tracker Project Report Says Keystone XL Will Release Significant Emissions

On March 13, Carbon Tracker released a study on Keystone XL pipeline which said cumulative greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributable to Keystone XL would range from 4.9 to 5.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050, equal to the annual GHG emissions of 1 billion passenger vehicles or 1,400 coal-fired power plants. The report states that Keystone XL would make the oil more than $8 cheaper a barrel, compared to other shipping options such as rail. Study author Mark Fulton commented, “We found there is a significant amount of production that could be enabled by the pipeline with a production cost of $48 to $60 [per barrel of oil].”

In related news on the same day, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing examining whether approving Keystone XL is in the national interest of the United States. Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, testified, “Energy vulnerability equals geopolitical vulnerability. [Will the US get oil from Canada] or places far away that don’t share our democratic values and principles?” James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, also testified at the hearing, saying, “We’re screwing our children, grandchildren, all future generations if we think we can use these unconventional fossil fuels.” Secretary of State Kerry testified at a different hearing for the Senate Appropriations Committee on the morning of March 13, and stated that “I am not at liberty to go into my thinking [on Keystone XL] at this point – it is just not appropriate, except to say I am approaching this tabula rasa.”

For additional information see: Huffington Post, EcoWatch, Report

Other Headlines

Writers: Emily Jackson, Claire Phillips and Laura Small

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