Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/1/2016

Climate

A new meta-analysis of the national pledges made in Paris last December at the Climate Conference reaffirms the earlier conclusion that those pledges are insufficient to limit warming to 2 C, much less 1.5 C, which was an aspirational goal.  Even more disturbing, the current pledges are likely to leave temperatures at 2.6 to 3.1 C warmer than pre-industrial levels by the year 2100.  Malte Meinshausen, one of the authors of the study, discusses its implications at The Conversation, while Joeri Rogelj, the lead author, presents his views in a guest post at Carbon Brief.  All three of the linked-to articles are worth reading to provide a deeper understanding of the challenges we face.

The drought in the southwestern U.S. continues, in spite of the precipitation in some areas over the winter.  As a result, wildfire season has already started, with fires in both California and Arizona.  Meanwhile, in the Sierra Nevada region of California, insect infestations in combination with the drought have killed an estimated 66 million trees, greatly adding to the available fuel if a fire does start.  The Guardian examines changes in the fire season in California while Bob Berwyn of Inside Climate News summarizes recent forest loses around the world and examines their implications.

In what has been called a once in 1000 year event, massive flash flooding hit southern West Virginia, killing over 20 people, destroying 1500 homes, and causing massive property damage.

Dana Nuccitelli examines the parallel between the Brexit vote and climate change as far as the impact on young people is concerned.  While Great Britain’s vote to leave the EU has caused a great deal of turmoil in the world economy, it has also raised a great deal of uncertainty with regards to its and the EU’s commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement.  Nevertheless, The Guardian reported that UK Ministers were expected to approve the fifth UK carbon budget before the end of the month and it was expected to commit the UK to a 57% reduction in carbon emissions (compared to 1990 levels) by 2032.

Recently, the Sahel of Africa has seen a recovery from the severe drought that it had experienced in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Now a new study published in Nature Climate Change has attributed that recovery in part to increased atmospheric moisture over the Mediterranean resulting from increased temperatures, i.e., global warming.  That is not to say that global warming will be good for the Sahel overall, because of increased evapotranspiration, higher heat index, and more intense rainstorms.  This illustrates, once again, that the climate is complicated.

Another example of the complexity of climate change comes from a study reported in Nature Climate Change.  This one deals with greening of the North American Arctic, which is evident from satellite images collected over almost 30 years.  The cause was attributed to rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.  Meanwhile, a new study of the ocean region south of Greenland that contains the “cold blob” concluded that the blob was due to exceptionally deep ocean mixing in the region driven by local weather and winds, rather than by meltwater from Greenland.  Other scientists disagree.

The rate of increase in global average temperature slowed somewhat during the first part of this century.  Now a new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that the slowdown was associated with the large emissions of sulfur dioxide from China’s coal-fired power plants, which lacked pollution control devices.

Diet, and specifically consumption of ruminants (beef, lamb, and goats), is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.  Consequently, some are now advocating for a meat tax as a way of impacting consumer choices.  To help people make informed choices the World Resources Institute has published a chart that shows greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein for a variety of protein sources.

Energy

Ben Rosen of the Christian Science Monitor looked at why Exxon Mobil is now lobbying for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  It would be a big help if governments would phase out the subsidies they give to the fossil fuel industry.  The U.S., for example, provides some $20 billion annually.  Unfortunately, the G-20 nations have failed to reach an agreement on a deadline for phasing out such subsidies.

Later this summer, BARC Electric Cooperative in southwestern Virginia will flip the switch on the state’s first community solar project.  Southeast Energy News interviewed BARC CEO Mark Keyser about the system and how it came about.  On Thursday Dominion Virginia Power won regulatory approval from the State Corporation Commission for three new solar farms at sites in Louisa, Powhatan and Isle of Wight counties.  The US solar industry expects to install 14.5 gigawatts of solar power in 2016, a 94% increase over the record 7.5 gigawatts last year, according to a new market report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and Enrique Peña Nieto committed their countries to a new regional clean power goal at a summit in Ottawa, pledging to produce 50% of their power from hydropower, wind, solar, nuclear plants, and carbon capture and storage by 2025.

The Oakland, California, City Council voted unanimously Monday to block the handling and storage of coal in the city, effectively halting a developer’s controversial plan to ship coal from the port.  As might be expected, the decision is highly controversial, and thus can’t yet be considered a done-deal.  The Utah counties from which the coal would come have stated that they are determined to find a port from which to export their coal.

On Tuesday Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an Executive Order directing Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward to convene a working group and recommend concrete steps to reduce carbon pollution from the state’s power plants. The group will evaluate options under Virginia’s existing authority to address carbon pollution.  Nevertheless, some environmental groups were critical of the governor’s record on climate change.

In the first two months of 2016, greenhouse gases from transportation topped those from the power sector for the first time, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  In spite of more stringent fuel economy standards, Americans are choosing larger vehicles, which get lower gas mileage, and driving more, both of which are causing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation to continue growing.  Perhaps increased adoption of electric vehicle mandates by states will help address the problem.

The World Bank has agreed to lend India $1 billion for its huge solar energy program.  India’s goal is to increase its solar capacity 30 fold by 2020.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

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