Climate change

Science and sustainability goals: what researchers want businesses to know

Read the full story in The Guardian.

If companies are to help reach key climate targets and keep the world a viable place to do business, executives need to take a broader view – and pay attention to the latest science.

Obama has a plan for getting around Senate opposition to a climate treaty

Read the full post at Grist.

The elephant in the room every time Americans talk about international climate agreements is that, unlike in parliamentary democracies, our opposition party gets a veto over treaties. Due to the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate for ratification of international treaties, Senate Republicans can, and will, reject any binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions (joined by some fossil fuel–state Democrats).

In theory, this means that 34 senators, representing as little as 7.5 percent of the American public if they come from the least populous states, can block any global action on climate change. The U.S. is the world’s biggest economy, and many other big nations won’t join an agreement if we won’t.

But Obama, as demonstrated by his power plant regulations, is determined to do what he can with the power he has. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration is planning to go to the big climate talks in Paris next December asking for the strongest possible accord short of a treaty. “President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a ‘politically binding’ deal that would ‘name and shame’ countries into cutting their emissions,” writes the Times’ Coral Davenport. “Negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.”

Regulatory Impact Analysis: Development of Social Cost of Carbon Estimates

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What GAO Found

To develop the 2010 and 2013 social cost of carbon estimates, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Council of Economic Advisers convened and led an informal interagency working group in which four other offices from the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and six federal agencies participated. Participating agencies were the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Transportation (DOT), and the Treasury. According to several working group participants, the working group included relevant subject-matter experts and the agencies likely to use the estimates in future rulemakings. According to OMB staff, there is no single approach for convening informal interagency working groups and no requirement that this type of working group should document its activities or proceedings. However, OMB and EPA participants stated that the working group documented all major issues discussed in the Technical Support Document, which is consistent with federal standards for internal control. According to the Technical Support Document and participants GAO interviewed, the working group’s processes and methods reflected the following three principles:

Used consensus-based decision making. The working group used a consensus-based approach for making key decisions in developing the 2010 and 2013 estimates. Participants generally stated that they were satisfied that the Technical Support Document addressed individual comments on draft versions and reflected the overall consensus of the working group.

Relied on existing academic literature and models. The working group relied largely on existing academic literature and models to develop its estimates. Specifically, the working group used three prevalent academic models that integrate climate and economic data to estimate future economic effects from climate change. The group agreed on three modeling inputs reflecting the wide uncertainty in the academic literature, including discount rates. Once the group reached agreement, EPA officials—sometimes with the assistance of the model developers—calculated the estimates. All other model assumptions and features were unchanged by the working group, which weighted each model equally to calculate estimates. After the academic models were updated to reflect new scientific information, such as in sea level rise and associated damages, the working group used the updated models to revise its estimates in 2013, resulting in higher estimates.

Took steps to disclose limitations and incorporate new information. The Technical Support Document discloses several limitations of the estimates and areas that the working group identified as being in need of additional research. It also sets a goal of revisiting the estimates when substantially updated models become available. Since 2008, agencies have published dozens of regulatory actions for public comment that use various social cost of carbon estimates in regulatory analyses and, according to working group participants, agencies received many comments on the estimates throughout this process. Several participants told GAO that the working group decided to revise the estimates in 2013 after a number of public comments encouraged revisions because the models used to develop the 2010 estimates had been updated and used in peer-reviewed academic literature.

Why GAO Did This Study

Executive Order 12866 directs federal agencies to assess the economic effects of their proposed significant regulatory actions, including a determination that a regulation’s benefits justify the costs. In 2008, a federal appeals court directed DOT to update a regulatory impact analysis with an estimate of the social cost of carbon—the dollar value of the net effects (damages and benefits) of an increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

In 2009, the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon was convened to develop estimates for use governmentwide, and it issued final estimates in its 2010 Technical Support Document. In 2013, the group issued revised estimates that were about 50 percent higher than the 2010 estimates, which raised public interest.

GAO was asked to review the working group’s development of social cost of carbon estimates. This report describes the participating entities and processes and methods they used to develop the 2010 and 2013 estimates. GAO reviewed executive orders, OMB guidance, the Technical Support Document, its 2013 update, and other key documents. GAO interviewed officials who participated in the working group on behalf of the EOP offices and agencies involved. GAO did not evaluate the quality of the working group’s approach.

GAO is making no recommendations in this report. Of seven agencies, OMB and Treasury provided written or oral comments and generally agreed with the findings in this report. Other agencies provided technical comments only or had no comments.

For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

State Implementation of CO2 Rules: Institutional and Practical Issues with State and Multi-State Implementation and Enforcement

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EPA’s proposed rule to regulate carbon dioxide emissions (“Section 111(d)” or the “CO2 Emission Guidelines”) from electric generating units (EGUs), issued June 2, 2014, has triggered immediate analysis and commentary about the prudence and legality of EPA’s approach under the Clean Air Act. This White Paper approaches the proposed rule from the perspective of states and focuses in particular on the institutional and practical challenges that states face in implementing the proposed rule.

The Quest to Scan Millions of Weather Records

Read the full story at CityLab.

Deep in the dusty catalogs of weather stations and meteorological offices all over the world are hidden treasures. They’re easy to miss if you’re not looking for them, often taking the form of piles of moldy papers. But on those pieces of paper are hundreds of years of weather records—data that could make climate science far more accurate.

The International Environmental Data Rescue Organization (IEDRO) estimates that there are 100 million paper-strip charts—records that list weather conditions—sitting in meteorological storage facilities throughout the world. That’s about 200 million observations unused by scientists, data that could greatly improve their models. Now, a few small groups of scientists are trying digitize these records, but they’re facing all kinds of obstacles.

Climate scientists often bemoan the lack of historic records. There are the famous data sets: the Vostok ice core drilled in the 1970s that looks back about 400,000 years, the Keeling curve started in 1958, data from satellites that watch sea ice retreat starting around 1979. But these are spot points in specific places that only span a short amount of time. To truly understand climate, researchers need a global records that reaches back hundreds of years.

Study: Cutting emissions pays for itself

Read the full story from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.