Climate change

Five Questions for Jeffrey Sachs On Decarbonizing the Economy

Read the full story at Yale Environment360.

Thirty scientific institutions from 15 countries last week released a report for the United Nations outlining how the world’s major carbon dioxide-emitting nations can slash those emissions by mid-century. Called the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, the initiative aims to provide government leaders with a plan of action in advance of a UN climate summit in September and climate negotiations in Paris in late 2015. Yale Environment 360 asked Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a key player in the decarbonization project, five questions about the initiative and the prospects for global action on the climate front.

How Your Cereal Causes Climate Change

Read the full story in National Journal.

One of the world’s largest food companies says it’s about to take a big bite out of global warming.

General Mills, maker of Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Wheaties, said Monday that it will set a target to limit air pollution throughout its entire supply chain next summer.

This marks the first time the food giant has pledged to measurably rein in greenhouse-gas emissions from its agricultural suppliers of ingredients like soy and sugarcane.

States Against E.P.A. Rule on Carbon Pollution Would Gain, Study Finds

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma are among the most vocal Republican skeptics of the science that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, but a new study to be released Thursday found that their states would be among the biggest economic winners under a regulation proposed by President Obama to fight climate change.

The study, conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Rhodium Group, both research organizations, concluded that the regulation would cut demand for electricity from coal — the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution — but create robust new demand for natural gas, which has just half the carbon footprint of coal. It found that the demand for natural gas would, in turn, drive job creation, corporate revenue and government royalties in states that produce it, which, in addition to Oklahoma and Texas, include Arkansas and Louisiana.

Earth Observation Satellites Are Helping Scientists Better Understand Global Change

View the photo gallery at Yale Environment360.

Global warming is affecting more than just atmospheric temperatures — it is also changing water cycles, soil conditions, and animal migrations. Earth observation satellites aid scientists in measuring and monitoring these changes so societies can better adapt. Here is a gallery of satellite projects that scientists are using to better understand how the planet is changing.

Carbon Storage in U.S. Eastern Ecosystems Helps Counter Greenhouse Gas Emissions Contributing to Climate Change

On the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today released a new report showing that forests, wetlands and farms in the eastern United States naturally store 300 million tons of carbon a year (1,100 million tons of CO2), which is nearly 15 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions EPA estimates the country emits each year or an amount that exceeds and offsets yearly U.S. car emissions.

In conjunction with the national assessment, today USGS also released a new web tool, which allows users to see the land and water carbon storage and change in their ecosystems between 2005 and 2050 in the lower 48 states.  This tool was called for in the President’s Climate Action Plan.

“Today we are taking another step forward in our ongoing effort to bring sound science to bear as we seek to tackle a central challenge of the 21st century – a changing climate,” said Secretary Jewell.  “This landmark study by the U.S. Geological Survey provides yet another reason for being good stewards of our natural landscapes, as ecosystems play a critical role in removing harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that contributes to climate change.”

With today’s report on the eastern United States, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has completed the national biological carbon assessment for ecosystems in the lower 48 states – a national inventory of the capacity of land-based and aquatic ecosystems to naturally store, or sequester, carbon, which was called for by Congress in 2007.

Together, the ecosystems across the lower 48 states sequester about 474 million tons of carbon a year (1,738 million tons of CO2), comparable to counter-balancing nearly two years of U.S. car emissions, or more than 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions EPA estimates the country emits each year.

The assessment shows that the East stores more carbon than all of the rest of the lower 48 states combined even though it has fewer than 40 percent of the land base.  Under some scenarios, USGS scientists found that the rate of sequestration for the lower 48 states is projected to decline by more than 25 percent by 2050, due to disturbances such as wildfires, urban development and increased demand for timber products.

“What this means for the future is that ecosystems could store less carbon each year,” said USGS Acting Director Suzette Kimball. “Biological sequestration may not be able to offset greenhouse gas emissions nearly as effectively when these ecosystems are impaired.”

Forests accounted for more than 80 percent of the estimated carbon sequestered in the East annually, confirming the critical role of forests highlighted in the Administration’s climate action initiative.

USGS scientists have been building the national assessment since a 2007 congressional mandate in the Energy Independence and Security Act.  The first report, on the Great Plains, was released in 2011, the second report, on the Western United States, was released in 2012.  Reports on Alaska and Hawaii are expected to be completed in 2015.

Biological carbon storage – also known as carbon sequestration – is the process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere and stored as carbon in vegetation, soils and sediment.  The USGS inventory estimates the ability of different ecosystems to store carbon now and in the future, providing vital information for land-use and land-management decisions.  Management of carbon stored in our ecosystems and agricultural areas is relevant both for mitigation of climate change and for adaptation to such changes.

The area studied for the eastern U.S. carbon assessment was defined by similarities in ecology and land cover. The study area extends eastward from the western edge of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi floodplains, across the Appalachian Mountains, to the coastal plains of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The major ecosystems USGS researchers evaluated were terrestrial (forests, wetlands, agricultural lands, shrublands and grasslands), and aquatic (rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters).

  • Find more information on the assessment here.
  • Visit the web tool here.
  • FAQs and a PowerPoint on the Eastern Carbon Report

Judge Endorses Use of the Social Cost of Carbon in NEPA Analysis

Read the full story in the Climate Law Blog.

In 2010, the U.S. government formed an interagency working group of scientific and economic experts to develop an estimate of the social cost of carbon (SCC). The SCC puts a dollar figure on the damages done or damages avoided for possible scenarios resulting in discrete amounts of carbon dioxide emission. Designed for use in federal rulemakings, the SCC aims to provide a consistent and defensible quantification of the economic impacts of climate change. For example, it is used to assess the climate impact of regulations such as fuel economy standards for cars or appliance efficiency standards. Although the SCC is intended to be comprehensive, some critics have argued that the 2015 estimate of $37 per metric ton of CO2 underestimates the damages by failing to consider all relevant and material data.

In the midst of the controversy surrounding the SCC’s accuracy, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado recently endorsed the use of the SCC in environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In High Country Conservation Advocates v. United States Forest Service, a group of non-profit environmental organizations sued several federal agencies that together issued a permit for on-the-ground coal exploration activities in the pristine Sunset Roadless Area in Colorado’s North Fork Valley. The permit allowed two coal companies to build six miles of roads and to clear vegetation for several drill pads. As required by NEPA, the agencies evaluated the environmental impact of the proposed activity by preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS). In a draft EIS, the agencies had used the SCC protocol to evaluate the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts from the mining but decided to abandon it in the final EIS after an agency economist called the SCC “controversial.” The final EIS stated that an SCC analysis was impossible and only used the quantification of the benefits associated with the project while completely excluding the GHG-related costs. Plaintiffs challenged the agencies’ issuance of the permit, claiming that the agencies should have retained the SCC in the final EIS.

More Evidence There Is No ‘Pause’ in Global Warming

Read the full story in The Atlantic.

With researchers these days ignoring climate change because there is no scientific consensus on it, it would seem this logic is impossible to refute. Ha, just kidding: In fact, a peer-reviewed study last week in Geophysical Research Letters throws horse manure over it (a copy is available here). Shaun Lovejoy is a physics professor at Montreal’s McGill University who ran a statistical analysis of global temperatures from 1998 to 2013. He believes that what skeptics deride as a “pause” in warming was caused by natural temperature fluctuations, and that these fluctuations helped muddle the ongoing and very real progression of climate change.

Geography Plays a Role in Whether People Believe in Climate Change

Read the full story in The Atlantic.

Who believes in climate change? We know liberals mostly do, and that women are more likely to than men. Now, a New Zealand-based study adds another demographic to the planet-sympathizing mix: people who live near the coast.

And that’s not just because lefties prefer beachfront property. The researchers polled several thousand randomly selected New Zealanders across the country. While political orientation and gender were the strongest predictors of climate-change belief, proximity to the ocean also had a significant, isolatable effect.

Poll: 60% back carbon tax if used for renewables

Read the full story in USA Today.

Most Americans oppose a carbon tax, considered by many economists a cost-effective way to fight climate change, but they are willing to support it if the money is returned to them or used to fund renewable energy, a poll Monday finds.

Only a third, or 34%, say they support taxing fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas that emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide when burned, according to researchers at the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy and Muhlenberg College’s Institute of Public Opinion. This general lack of support, which is lowest among Republicans, is consistent with the authors’ prior polling.

Yet a different picture emerges when survey participants are asked about three possible uses of the tax revenue. If used to fund programs for renewable power like solar and wind, 60% back the tax overall, including 51% of Republicans, 54% of Independents and 70% of Democrats.

EPA Proposes Updates to Reduce Methane, Other Harmful Pollution from New Landfills

As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan – Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing updates to its air standards for new municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. These updates would require certain landfills to capture additional landfill gas, which would reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and help further reduce pollution that harms public health. The agency also is seeking broad public feedback on how and whether to update guidelines for existing landfills.

Non-hazardous waste from homes, business and institutions ends up in municipal solid waste landfills, where it decomposes and breaks down to form landfill gas, which includes carbon dioxide, a number of air toxics and methane. Methane has a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

“Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change,” said Administrator Gina McCarthy. “This latest step from the President’s methane strategy builds on our progress to date and takes steps to cut emissions from landfills through common-sense standards.”

Today’s proposal would require new MSW landfills subject to the rule to begin controlling landfill gas at a lower emissions threshold than currently required. Under the proposal, landfills would capture two-thirds of their methane and air toxics emissions by 2023 – 13 percent more than required under current rules. EPA estimates the net nationwide annual costs of complying with the additional requirements in the proposed rule would be $471,000 in 2023.

Today, methane accounts for nearly 9 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane in the country, accounting for 18 percent of methane emissions in 2012. Regulatory and voluntary programs, including the agency’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program, have helped reduce emissions from landfills by 30 percent from 1990 to 2012. However, without additional actions, methane emissions are projected to increase through 2030.

Also today, EPA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) seeking broad public input on whether and how to update current emissions guidelines for existing landfills to further reduce their emissions, including methane. The agency is considering updating those guidelines based on a several factors, including significant changes that have occurred in the landfill industry since the original guidelines were issued in 1996. Nearly 1,000 MSW landfills in the U.S. currently are subject to either the 1996 emission guidelines for existing landfills or the 1996 NSPS for new landfills.

EPA will take public comment on the proposed performance standards updates and the ANPR for 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register. If a hearing is requested, it will be held on August 12, 2014 in Washington, D.C.