Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/16/2018

Policy and Politics

Under a new policy, the EU will refuse to sign trade deals with countries that do not ratify the Paris Climate Agreement and take steps to combat global warming.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Wednesday that energy taxes in major advanced economies are not doing enough to reduce energy use, improve energy efficiency, and drive a shift towards low-carbon sources.  In addition, the world’s biggest banks are failing to take climate change seriously in their business plans, according to research published Thursday by Boston Common Asset Management.  Business lobbies in Europe and the U.S. are pushing for a distinct, direct and formalized “business channel” into UN climate negotiations.  The nation’s intelligence agencies are warning, in the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, of global instability if climate change continues unabated, according to a report submitted for a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

After the Paris Climate Agreement adopted 1.5°C as an aspirational goal for the maximum amount of global warming, the IPCC was charged with preparing a report on the feasibility of achieving that goal.  Now the draft report by the IPCC has been leaked and it says that the world has only 12 to 16 years’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions left, from the start of 2016, if it wants a better-than-even chance of meeting the goal.  However, since it would be impossible to curb emissions that fast without damaging the global economy, the report notes that it’s virtually unavoidable that the planet will “overshoot” 1.5°C.  Megan Darby has summarized 11 takeaways from the draft report at Climate Home.  Writing in The New York Times Magazine, Michelle Nijhuis presented an interesting profile of the Valve Turners, the five activists who took civil disobedience in the climate change battle to a new level by shutting down several oil pipelines.  As one said, “I’m not courageous or brave.  I’m just more afraid of climate change than I am of prison.”

The budget bill passed last week by Congress contains an extension and expansion of the tax credit for the capture and storage of CO2 underground.  Even though a president’s budget is just a blueprint that is often ignored by Congress, there are some items in President Trump’s proposed budget that could have important negative impacts on the U.S. capacity to understand, prepare for, and respond to climate change.  Furthermore, the proposed budget for DOE would give a big boost to nuclear energy at the expense of renewables and weatherization.  Meanwhile, on Thursday a federal judge in San Francisco ordered DOE to end a one-year delay on rules developed by the Obama administration to combat climate change by tightening energy-efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, building heaters, and other appliances.


The relationship between climate change and conflict is a topic that is being hotly debated.  A new paper in Nature Climate Change reports on a meta study that reviewed the literature on the subject.  Unfortunately, it appears to have inflamed the debate more than clarified it.  Writing at The Atlantic, Robinson Meyers looks at both sides of the argument.

A ship has made a winter crossing of the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time.  This was possible because climate change has caused the region’s ice sheets to melt and thin.  A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that Arctic ringed seals must be protected under the Endangered Species Act because of their reliance on the disappearing sea ice.  Melting land-based ice in Greenland and Antarctica is a major contributor to sea level rise.  A new analysis of sea level data from satellites, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has revealed that the rate of sea level rise is accelerating.  According to a paper published in the journal Plos One, a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing is threatening the krill population in Antarctic waters, with a potentially disastrous impact on whales, penguins, and seals.  Yale Climate Connections presented descriptions of 13 books dealing with either the Arctic or the Antarctic.

Over the past year several papers have explored the need for negative emissions of CO2 to meet desired limitations on global warming.  One technique that has been proposed is “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage,” or BECCS.  It can have many impacts on a region, so a team of scientists has begun a study of the Upper Missouri River Basin to learn exactly what those impacts will be.  A paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances stated that even with countries meeting their pledges to the Paris Climate Agreement, we’re likely to see “substantial and widespread increases in the probability of historically unprecedented extreme events.”  Furthermore, the effects of this extreme weather will be seen “across human and natural systems, including both wealthy and poor communities.”

A new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters helps explain why the Southeastern U.S. has been cooling in winter and spring even though CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have been increasing.  As you might expect, given weather reports in the past few years, it all has to do with the location of the jet stream.  Another example of regional weather changes is the Midwest, which has experienced cooler temperatures and more rainfall in summer than expected from climate models.  Now, a team of scientists at MIT has shown that this is due to the heavy agriculture in the region, which pumps more moisture into the atmosphere than would otherwise be there.

A new paper in the journal Global Change Biology reported that the arrival date of migrating bats at their summer home in Texas is around two weeks earlier than it was in 1992.

Most of the papers about the effects of climate change on corals have dealt with warm-water corals.  However, cold-water corals are also impacted by CO2 emissions, but in a different way.  Cold-water corals are found in deep, dark parts of the world’s oceans where they can thrive at depths of up to 2 km and water temperatures as low as 4°C.  The main threat to them is from ocean acidification caused by dissolution of CO2 from the atmosphere.  A paper in Nature reported that as the oceans acidify, more cold-water corals are being exposed to acidified waters, which can cause their hard outer layers to dissolve.


For the fourth time since 2002, the Edison Electric Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council have issued a joint statement at a meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.  The statement supports an accelerating clean energy transition that is defined by energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, and empowering states and customers.  Thus it is not surprising that the latest edition of Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Sustainable Energy in America Factbook stated that electricity generation from renewables reached its highest level ever in 2017, at 18% of the overall energy mix.

Four east coast states are pursuing off-shore wind farm projects.  Such wind farms use larger turbines than are used on land, but the U.S. does not yet have facilities for manufacturing large turbines.  Each of the various states would like to become the hub for large turbine manufacturing, but their competition could drive up manufacturing costs, putting the economics of the projects in jeopardy.  The world’s first floating wind farm was installed off the coast of Scotland last year.  Now Statoil, one of the project’s developers, has reported that not only has the farm survived winter storms, it has produced more electricity than expected.

Methane leaks from oil and gas sites in Pennsylvania could be five times greater than industry has reported to state regulators, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund.  On the subject of methane leaks, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is seeking to wipe out the requirements that oil and gas well operators on BLM land monitor and detect leaks of methane, and capture and sell it instead of flaring it off or venting it to the atmosphere.

FERC voted unanimously on Thursday to remove barriers for batteries and other energy storage systems on the grid.  The new rule, first proposed in November of 2016, will require most grid operators to come up with a plan to amend their rules to fully integrate energy storage and allow it to compete.  Meanwhile, many consumers and businesses in areas that frequently experience severe weather are considering solar plus storage for the resiliency it provides.  Out in the desert southwest, Arizona Public Service was looking for a way to deliver power during peak evening hours in the summer.  First Solar’s bid with solar plus storage beat out conventional renewables, standalone batteries, and natural-gas peaking plants.

A new study in Nature Communications looked at the climate impact of a shift from truck-based to drone-based package delivery. It found that while small drones carrying packages weighing less than 1.1 lb would reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel or electric trucks anywhere in the U.S., the same is not true for larger drones carrying heavier packages.

The debate over the Renewable Fuel Standard has heated up again.  Oil interests have claimed that ethanol mandates hurt profitability and have caused a major refinery to declare bankruptcy.  The ethanol industry has said that the program is working as intended.  In addition, the NHTSA is looking at a range of options to lower future fuel economy standards, including one that would permit an average fleetwide standard of 35.7 mpg by 2026, down from the 46.6 mpg under rules put in place by the Obama administration.

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.