Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/21/2018

Policy and Politics

The UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland ended on Saturday after an all-night session.  The major accomplishment was the adoption of rules to implement the three-year-old Paris Climate Agreement.  Carbon Brief summarized the key outcomes from the meeting.  The weakness of the accomplishments in Poland caused Larry Elliott, the economics editor at The Guardian to write in an opinion piece “Katowice was the real Munich and the feeble UN accord the equivalent of the piece of paper Chamberlain brought back home with him from his meeting with Hitler.  Appeasement doesn’t work and merely delays necessary policy action.  That was true in the late 30s and it is true again today.”  In addition, Jonathan Watts, global environment editor at The Guardian wrote: “… [T]he next two years will be among the most fraught and crucial in the history of humanity.  Investment decisions on power stations and infrastructure taken during this period will determine whether carbon emissions can be cut by the 45% needed by 2030 to give the 1.5°C target a chance.”  Many NGOs said national leaders at the summit had failed to address the urgency of climate change and have pledged growing international protests to drive more rapid action on global warming.

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted his resignation to the White House on Saturday.  Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil, gas and water industries that rely on Interior’s decisions, is poised to become acting secretary.  Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced a carbon pricing bill Wednesday that aims to help cut climate change-causing emissions.  The bill is a companion to legislation introduced in the House in November.  Dino Grandoni explained the “Green New Deal” in his “Energy 202” column at The Washington Post.  A recent poll suggests bipartisan support, but you’ll have to read about the poll here because the findings are too nuanced to be summarized.  Democratic leaders on Thursday tapped Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) to head a revived U.S. House panel on climate change, ending a monthlong effort to establish a select committee on the Green New Deal.  Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia have banded together to develop the Transportation and Climate Initiative, similar to RGGI, to cap transportation emissions and invest proceeds from the program into cleaner infrastructure that could help incentivize the adoption of electric vehicles.  New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced Monday that the state will rejoin RGGI and a petition filed last month in Pennsylvania could give that state an opening to join.  Elizabeth McGowen interviewed Lee Francis, deputy director of The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, about the potential benefits of Virginia joining RGGI.  In direct contradiction to the recent National Climate Assessment, the Congressional Budget Office last week said that climate change poses little economic risk to the U.S.

The Trump administration rolled out a proposal Thursday that could open up oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as early as next summer.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has quietly folded its Climate and Health Program into a branch that studies asthma and expunged the word climate from the name of the newly consolidated office.  City lawmakers in the District of Columbia voted unanimously Tuesday to pass the Clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Act of 2018, which mandates 100% renewable electricity in the capital by 2032.

The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board decided on Wednesday to open up another public comment period on a proposed permit to build a natural gas compressor station in a historic African-American community in Buckingham County.  The vote was 3-1.

Megan Mayhew Bergman is a writer who grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, but now lives in Vermont.  She is a columnist at The Guardian and has started a column in which she will report on her travels throughout the South to speak candidly with people about how their lives are being transformed by climate change.  I found her first two columns to be quite interesting: First and Second.  David Wallace-Wells reflected on what the future may hold for his daughter at the Intelligencer.  Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson considered the future and said that to thrive in the climate change era we need to rethink the rules and assumptions of corporate capitalism.  Amazon has a new cli-fi collection of novellas called Warmer.  Amy Brady interviewed Edan Lepucki, best-selling author of one of the stories, at Yale Climate ConnectionsYale Climate Connections also had an interesting article entitled “How to sort out good-faith questions about climate change.”  You may remember that 10 years ago this week a 27-year old University of Utah student named Tim DeChristopher disrupted a BLM auction of oil and gas leases near Arches National Park in Utah.  He ultimately spent two years in prison for his action.  Brian Maffly interviewed him for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Climate

The Galápagos Islands sit at the intersection of three ocean currents, putting them in the cross hairs of one of the world’s most destructive weather patterns, El Niño, which causes rapid, extreme ocean heating across the Eastern Pacific tropics.  This makes the Galápagos Islands one of the places most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  Once the final official global annual surface temperature is published, 2018 will be the hottest La Niña year on record, by a wide margin.  UK Met Office scientists have predicted that the average global temperature next year will be around 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, bringing it close to the record-breaking heat seen in 2016 when temperatures peaked at 1.15°C above those levels.  As part of its Weather 2050 project, Vox examined how average winter low temperatures are projected to shift in the 1,000 largest U.S. cities by 2050 if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  They found that in 67 cities, the average winter low temperature could increase to more than 32°F, the freezing point of water.

A paper in the journal Botany reported that 55 varieties of potato plants grown at high temperatures grew larger, but tuber production fell by an average of 93%.

Last Thursday at the AGU meeting, a team of climate scientists argued that the American West may currently be experiencing its first mega-drought in more than 500 years.  A record-breaking period of aridity set in around the year 2000 and continues to this day, they said.  Climate change seems to be driving a good portion of the problem.  On the other hand, the continental U.S. as a whole is on pace to have the fifth wettest year on record and eight states are on track to have their wettest year on record.

Two new research papers in the journal Environmental Research Letters have concluded that there is “no statistical evidence” for the much-discussed slowdown in global average surface temperature rise in the early 21st century – often called the “hiatus”.  In other words, it didn’t happen.  Writing at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dana Nuccitelli debunked the popular climate change denier meme that Earth is entering a Little Ice Age.

A new paper in the journal Science warns that Policymakers have severely underestimated the risks of ecological tipping points.  According to the study, 45% of all potential environmental collapses are interrelated and could amplify one another.  With respect to climate- and weather-related disasters, Rob Moore, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council said “The federal government isn’t going to be able to put out the kind of resources it did in 2017 every single year or even every other year.  At some point we have to start thinking seriously about a new paradigm, about how we prepare for the impacts of climate change, cope with what the future has in store, as well as recover from these disasters as they occur.”

Energy

Dominion Energy, has partnered with Orsted, a Danish company that purchased Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind in October, to build two test turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.  Orsted recently selected Siemens Gamesa to supply the turbine blades.  The project is scheduled to be operating by December 2020 on 2,135 marine acres leased by Virginia.

The International Energy Agency’s Coal 2018 report found that global coal demand grew by 1% in 2017 after two years of decline. The rise was chiefly driven by global economic growth.  Despite recent growth, demand is still below “peak” levels seen in 2014 and is expected to hold steady until 2023.  In 2018, renewable energy in Germany probably matched or beat coal power generation for the first time, aided by favorable weather that boosted wind and solar capacity.  Israel said on Monday it would stop the use of coal by 2030.  According to new research, published in the journal International Labour Review, accelerating the transition to clean energy could add 24 million jobs globally by 2030.

Ministers from EU countries agreed on Thursday to reduce CO2 emissions from trucks and buses by 30% by 2030, with the potential to review this in 2022.  Unlike other countries, such as the U.S., China, Japan, and Canada, the EU currently has no limits on emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.  The California Air Resources Board voted to require that all new buses be carbon-free by 2029.  Environmental advocates project that the last greenhouse-gas-emitting buses will phase out by 2040.  Negotiators from the European Parliament and the Council agreed on Monday to a 15% reduction in CO2 emissions from cars and vans by 2025 and a 37.5% cut for cars by 2030.  The 2030 target for vans is 31%.

Exxon Mobil Corp sent a letter to the EPA in support of methane gas emission rules put in place under the Obama administration.

Work is underway on an energy storage project in South Australia that will use biogas to generate power to be stored in modules of molten silicon, from startup 1414 Degrees.

A consortium in Oslo, Norway, made up of architects, engineers, environmentalists, and designers is creating energy-positive buildings in a country with some of the coldest and darkest winters on Earth.

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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