Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/3/2017

Policy and Politics

The 600-plus-page Climate Science Special Report, which is Volume 1 of the fourth National Climate Assessment, has been released by the White House.  It concludes that it is “extremely likely” that human activities are the “dominant cause” of global warming.  President Donald Trump’s pick to lead NASA, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), was slammed by Senate Democrats on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation during his nomination hearing Wednesday, while he waffled on the scientific consensus about climate change.  Also on Wednesday, President Trump’s nominee to be the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, Sam Clovis, withdrew his name from consideration.  He previously had admitted in a letter to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, that he has no academic credentials in science or agriculture.  On Thursday, the Senate confirmed the appointments of Republican Kevin McIntyre and Democrat Richard Glick to FERC, giving the commission a full panel for the first time in two years.  Rep. Lamar Smith (R, TX), climate change denier and Chair of the House Science Committee, has announced that he will not seek reelection in 2018.

The four commissioners of the U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday voiced their support for tariffs and other import restrictions to protect domestic solar companies from an influx of cheap solar panels being produced overseas, but South Korea’s trade ministry said it may consider filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization if tariffs are imposed.  According to a new report entitled “Creating Markets for Climate Business”, released by the International Finance Corporation, a subsidiary of the World Bank, at least one trillion dollars are being invested globally in ways to reduce the threat of climate change.  On the other hand, a report, co-authored by Corporate Accountability, asserts that global negotiations seeking to implement the Paris Climate Agreement have been captured by corporate interests and are being undermined by powerful forces that benefit from exacerbating climate change.

A new report published by World Resources Institute suggests that 49 countries have already seen their greenhouse gas emissions peak, representing around 36% of current global emissions.  Another 8 countries representing another 23% of emissions have commitments to peak in the next decade or so.  In addition, according to the latest Low Carbon Economy Index from PwC, the carbon intensity of the world’s economy fell 2.6% in 2016, although that falls well short of the 6.3% rate needed to keep temperature increases under 2°C.  Meanwhile, the Trump administration will promote coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change during a presentation at the UN’s COP23 climate talks Nov. 6-17 in Bonn, Germany.  Entitled “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation,” it will have speakers from Peabody Energy, a coal company; NuScale Power, a nuclear engineering firm; and Tellurian, a liquefied natural gas exporter.

Climate

Tens of millions of people will be forced from their homes by climate change in the next decade, creating the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen, according to a new report from the Environmental Justice Foundation.  Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office has projected that by 2075 10 million Americans, most in coastal areas, will be impacted by climate change, causing government spending on disaster relief to increase.  Even more dire warnings have come from the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), which released its annual emissions gap report this week.  The report warned that current pledges to cut emissions are only sufficient to hold warming to 3°C.  With that much warming, hundreds of millions of urban dwellers around the world face their cities being inundated by rising seawaters.  Writing at Carbon Brief, Zeke Hausfather summarized the UNEP report and discussed the six actions recommended to close the emissions gap.

This year Sri Lanka has faced what U.N. officials describe as the worst drought in 40 years.  With harvests expected to fall by as much as 50% and rice facing the worst harvest in a decade, the drought has accelerated migration from the countryside to the major cities.

A new study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, found that as the winds around Antarctica intensify with rising global temperatures, they will enable warmer water from the depths to reach the base of the Totten Glacier’s floating ice shelf, accelerating its flow to the ocean.

The British medical journal Lancet has released a new meta-analysis that examines data from many studies to assess the impacts of climate change on health.  However, the analysis has been criticized because of its methodologies.

In a long piece in bioGraphic, Hannah Hoag writes “Years of sampling have shown that the Arctic Ocean is losing its distinctly Arctic traits and becoming increasingly more like the Atlantic. Its sea ice is melting, its water warming. In response, animals from warmer climes are encroaching, leading to a reorganization of its biodiversity.”  She then continues to describe research activities seeking to understand the changes occurring.

Driven by a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather phenomenon, concentrations of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization said on Monday.  The 2016 increase was 50% higher than the average of the past 10 years.  On a related note, the length of the U.S. winter is shortening, with the first frost of the year arriving more than one month later than it did 100 years ago, according to more than a century of measurements from weather stations nationwide.

Energy

Wind Europe, which promotes wind power in Europe, said in a press release that European wind energy set a new record on October 28, producing over 24% of the EU’s electricity demand.

In 2015, Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor, and colleagues, published a widely-cited paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) asserting that the U.S.’s electrical needs could be met fully by solar, wind, and hydroelectric power by 2050-2055.  This year, Christopher Clack, previously with NOAA and the University of Colorado, Boulder, but now with Vibrant Clean Energy, and coauthors, published a critique in the same journal of the Jacobson et al. paper, challenging its conclusions, followed by a rebuttal by Jacobson et al. and a reply by Clack et al. to the rebuttal.  Now in an unusual move, Jacobson has filed a $10 million law suit against Clack and the NAS.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a unanimous opinion that the Energy Department fulfilled its legal obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws when approving liquefied natural gas export terminals in Maryland, Louisiana and Texas.

The federal tax credit for electric vehicles will be eliminated under the tax reform plan introduced by Republicans in Congress.  Even if it survives, Tesla and Chevy Bolt buyers will soon face the limits built in to the current credit.

Using the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus as a test case, New York will be experimenting with a new micro-grid pricing system for renewable electricity.  The system has been designed to encourage the campus to sell electricity from its onsite solar panels, batteries or other generators to doctors’ offices and businesses in the vicinity.  And on the subject of renewable energy, according to financial adviser Lazard Ltd., it is starting to become cheaper to build and operate solar and wind farms than to continue to operate aging coal-fired and nuclear power plants in parts of the U.S.

Argentina plans to start building two new nuclear reactors in 2018, a 720 MW reactor to be built by a Canadian company and the Argentinian state nuclear company, and a 1,150MW reactor to be built by the China National Nuclear Corp.

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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