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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
February 17, 2014

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President Obama Announces Proposal for “Climate Resilience Fund”

On February 14 during a speech in Fresno, California, President Barack Obama announced his intention to request $1 billion in his 2015 budget proposal for a "Climate Resilience Fund." The fund would conduct research on projected climate change impacts, assist communities in climate change preparations, and fund the development of innovative technologies and resilient infrastructure. The measures are intended to help Americans prepare for the expected negative effects of global climate change, such as increased incidence of extreme weather, droughts, wildfires, and sea level rise. The new fund is a separate effort from the President's Climate Action Plan, announced in June 2013. During the speech, President Obama also revealed a $1.2 billion aid package to assist communities, farmers and ranchers in the Great Plains, Midwest and Southwest regions who are in trouble after a series of prolonged droughts and snowstorms in the past year. The White House will send its full fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget proposal to Congress in early March.

For additional information see: The Hill, Circle of Blue




EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Says Greenhouse Gas Rules Will Offer States Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Flexibility

On February 7, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, while speaking at a conference organized by the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), announced that the new greenhouse gas rule for existing power plants will include incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy. This information will be useful to states as they create their State Implementation Plans (SIPs), as required under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, to be submitted to the EPA in June 2016. Many state officials have asked the EPA to give credit for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs already operating within their state, as well as guidance on the types of programs the agency will accept in these areas. McCarthy noted that, “we [the EPA] have not just listened but we have absorbed the lessons that you have been trying to teach us, that we will be able to use this to incent additional energy efficiency, to incent renewables, to incent all of the work that you have been doing for so long.” The new rule on source performance standards is set to be released by June 1, for finalization one year later. McCarthy also touched on the EPA’s initiatives to cut greenhouse gases to combat climate change in other areas, such as the tailpipe rule for light-duty cars and trucks and a new initiative to cut emissions of methane from natural gas drilling.

For additional information see: Governors Wind Energy Coalition News




United States and France Urge Global Agreement to Reduce Climate Pollutants

On February 10, U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande published a co-written editorial in Le Monde and the Washington Post, detailing their renewed alliance. The two Presidents said they intended to combat climate change by taking concrete actions to reduce their nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as assist developing nations to reduce their emissions. They stated their support for an ambitious global agreement that includes major economies and significant emitters. They said there is need for multilateral cooperation, and they asked other nations to join them in pursuing a unified agreement on climate in 2015 in Paris.

In related news, on February 11 the White House released a Fact Sheet detailing the commitment between France and the United States to address climate change, build a clean energy economy, and protect the environment. The release notes the partnership between the United States and France in many different fora, such as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and the Major Economies Forum, to reduce climate pollutants. The fact sheet also describes the two countries’ work in the global effort to reduce the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by using the institutions and expertise of the Montreal Protocol.

For additional information see: Washington Post, White House Fact Sheet




DOE Official Says Carbon Capture Will Significantly Raise Cost of Coal Generated Electricity

On February 11, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on “clean coal,” which focused on the current deployment status of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at coal-fired power plants. During the hearing, Department of Energy (DOE) witnesses shared documents stating current CCS technologies would increase the cost of building and firing coal-fired plants by up to 80 percent. Half of these costs can be recouped by selling the carbon dioxide (CO2). Witness Julio Friedmann, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal of the DOE, emphasized the importance of continued federal support of energy technology research, commenting that 75 percent of all coal-fired power plants depend on technology developed at DOE, and as the technology advances, the cost of CCS could be halved within the next decade. He also recognized that “challenges remain to promote currently available technologies and develop more economic and broadly available technologies for deployment of CCS.” Under the EPA’s proposed New Source Performance Standards, coal plants will have to install CCS in order to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour. Critics of CCS say the technology is not viable yet and could add burdensome costs to the building and firing of coal-power plants. According to Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), “it has not yet been demonstrated that CCS systems will work reliably at full-scale coal power plants.”

For additional information see: House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Bloomberg




California to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80 Percent Below 1990 Levels

On February 10, California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) released an update of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. California is currently on track to meet its 2020 emissions goals, but after the 2020 goals are met reductions will be much more difficult due to large emissions from agriculture and waste management. According to the ARB, “emissions from 2020 to 2050 will have to decline at more than twice the rate of that which is needed to reach the 2020 statewide emissions limit.” California’s most notable policies to combat climate change, the cap-and-trade program and low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS), have both been unsuccessfully challenged in the courts. While these policies are some of the most progressive in the nation for combating climate change, more aggressive policies and technological innovations will be required to meet California’s 2050 goals.

For additional information see: LA Times, Reuters




San Francisco Releases Climate Action Strategy

On February 11, the San Francisco Department of the Environment released the San Francisco Climate Action Strategy, a report which outlines approaches for the city's government, businesses and residents to reduce carbon emissions. The report, an update to San Francisco's 2004 Climate Action Plan, also demonstrates the city's success so far in deploying strategies to reduce carbon emissions, as well as promoting green jobs in the local area. The Climate Action Strategy recommends reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2017, and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2025. To achieve those benchmarks, San Francisco needs to meet its zero waste goal, ensure that 50 percent of trips happen outside of personal vehicles, implement energy efficiency improvements, and source 80 percent of commercial and 100 percent of residential electricity from renewable energy sources. "Climate change affects the entire world, and the time for action is now and must be local," said Edwin Lee, Mayor of San Francisco. "This updated Climate Action Strategy charts the way forward, and shows that we can both reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs." 

For additional information see: ClickGreen.org




Maori Tribes Threaten to Sue New Zealand Government to Raise Value of Carbon Permits

On February 6, Reuters reported that a New Zealand tribal group threatened to sue the government for $600 million NZ ($493 million), the value they have lost due to falling prices within the country’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), if the government does not implement a floor price for the permits. The approximately 60 Maori tribes who are affected hold close to 30 percent of the market permits in the ETS, all in their forests. Over the last three years, the prices in the ETS have dropped by 80 percent as the market opened up to cheap carbon credits from overseas, including China and Russia. According to the Maori group’s spokesperson Chris Karamea Insley, “around $600 million NZ has been wiped away . . . when we signed the (ETS) treaty we assumed the value of the permits would hold,” but the value has dropped from $20 NZ in 2011 to $3.25 NZ now. The tribal group proposed a floor price of $15 NZ in November 2013, which they believe would restore the forest value, create jobs, and aid the economy. The government dismissed the proposal back in November, and the tribal groups are awaiting a government response from their most recent action.

For additional information see: Reuters




Church of England Focuses on Climate Change

On February 12, during a General Synod meeting, the Church of England voted to approve the formation of a group to monitor the church’s action on climate change and environmental issues. The meeting included a conversation about the church’s moral imperative to continue engaging with industry on climate change, especially the possibility of fossil fuel divestment. To date, the church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) has not divested from fossil fuels, maintaining that engagement on climate change is the best way forward. EIAG’s decision has been widely criticized, including from within the church, with Canon Giles Goddard of Southwark diocese commenting that they should “align the mission of the church with its investment arm and with the life of the parishes.” Reverend Canon Professor Richard Burridge, Deputy Chair of the EIAG, said the problem requires a more sophisticated solution than divestment, adding, “pointing the finger at the extractive industries gets us off the hook and avoids the fundamental problem which is our selfishness and way of life . . . fuelled by plentiful, cheap energy.” The Church has worked with several large UK companies to significantly reduce their emissions. At the meeting, the church also renewed its commitment to help bring about an ambitious 80 percent reduction in UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Dr. Alison Doig, Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Change Advisor, remarked, “climate change is increasingly becoming one of the moral issues of our time and the church has a powerful voice with which to speak.”

For additional information see: The Guardian, Responding to Climate Change




Electric Utility Con Edison to Conduct Economic Analysis on Benefits of Climate Change Resiliency

On February 10, electric utility Con Edison announced plans to conduct an economic analysis of climate change impacts on infrastructure, particularly the potential benefits to the transportation and financial sector of infrastructure planning for climate change risks. The study will expand on Con Edison’s $1 billion post-Sandy plan to upgrade and strengthen electric and gas infrastructure against extreme weather and its effects. While the costs of extreme weather are frequently cited, with estimated costs to the economy ranging from $27 billion to $52 billion from weather events in 2012, the benefits of costly improvements are still largely unknown. According to Stuart Nachmais, Vice President of Energy Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Con Edison, quantifying the benefits of resiliency is difficult, commenting, “there’s all these other sectors where everything’s interrelated, so how do we take account of the benefit in those other sectors of what we’re doing?”

For additional information see: Bloomberg




105 Olympians Call for Action on Climate

On February 10, Andrew Newell, US Ski Team member and 2014 Olympian, along with 105 Olympians and the non-profit organization, Protect Our Winters (POW), released a statement asking world leaders to act on climate change. The letter asks leaders to commit to a global agreement on climate change before the United Nations climate change conference meets in Paris at the end of 2015. Snow conditions have been steadily worsening over the years due to erratic and inconsistent weather patterns; several ski events leading up to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi needed to use artificial snow. These impacts are larger than the Olympic Games. According to Chris Steinkamp, executive director of POW, “as snowpack declines, the sobering economic impacts start to impact communities everywhere.”

For additional information see: The Ski Channel, News International, The Ecologist, Protect Our Winters Press Release




Interagency Special Report on Climate Change Impacts on Human Health in the United States

On February 7, the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and the Interagency Crosscutting Group on Climate Change and Human Health (INCA) announced the beginning of work on a special report detailing the impacts of climate change on human health. The report will outline risks to human health in eight areas, including heat waves, air quality, disease vectors, food and water borne diseases, extreme weather, and mental health.  New analyses may be conducted for the report within the areas of heat mortality, ozone and fine particulate (PM 2.5) health effects, and lyme disease. The report will focus particularly on those who belong to vulnerable groups, with the goal of assisting public health officials and resource managers in planning for the effects of climate change. According to the EPA, while “it is often difficult to attribute the exact impact of climate on many health indicators . . . such indicators will be instrumental . . . in identifying areas where public heath intervention is most needed.” The report will build on the findings of the 2008 INCA report entitled Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health, Welfare and Human Systems, as well as the forthcoming National Climate Assessment (NCA). The agencies coordinating the report on human health are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agencies will accept public input on the report planning up through the end of March.

For additional information see: The Sunlight Foundation, Courthouse News, Globalchange.gov




Researchers Model Global Species Migration from Climate Change

On February 9, Nature published findings showing expected global species migrations on land and in the ocean under two projected greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, revealing the complexity of future climate-induced plant and animal migration. The study generated maps which the authors hope will enable conservationists to target their work to strategically manage biodiversity. "One of the greatest challenges these days is how to help species survive in the face of climate change," commented study co-author Ben Halpern, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The study shows future climate "sink" areas, where migrational movement will likely halt due to barriers such as coastlines or mountain ranges; "corridors," which will enable plants and animals to move from one area to another; and "source" locations, where local climate will change enough to precipitate the migration of life. "We can either sit back and watch as species get squeezed out of existence and food webs reshuffle, or we can try to be proactive in designing conservation strategies," added Halpern.

For additional information see: TG Daily, The Guardian, Study




Pacific Winds Slowing Global Warming Temperature Increases

On February 9, a joint Australian and U.S. study published in Nature Climate Change found that the decreased rate of warming of the Earth’s global surface temperature observed since 2001 is due to an anomalous increase in the strength of Pacific trade winds. The authors found the winds have contributed a 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.2-0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) decrease to global surface air temperatures, which accounts for the slowing of global temperature increases since 2001. The study notes that despite increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, the Earth’s average surface temperature has remained essentially the same since 2001. Scientists have stated that the decrease in the rate of global warming is due to cool Pacific sea surface temperatures; these new findings further support this statement, by explaining the ocean has remained cool due to an increase in Pacific wind speed. According to Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales and leader of the study, the researchers “found that the wind acceleration has been strong enough in the past 20 years to pump a lot of the heat into the ocean. Winds accelerated in this period more than at any time in the past century; it really is unprecedented and the models haven't captured it all." The study suggests a continuation in this warming hiatus for the remainder of the decade. Dr. Rintoul, research team leader at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, added, “Natural variations of the climate system also mean that climate trends estimated over a short period are unlikely to reflect long-term changes. A decade or two of slower or faster warming does not tell us anything about long-term climate change."

For additional information see: Bloomberg, NBC News, Financial Express, The Guardian, Study




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Writers: Jenifer Collins, Emily Jackson, Jessie Stolark and Laura Small


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