Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/6/2019

Politics and Policy

The 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change began meeting in Madrid this week.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Alice Bell of the climate change charity, Possible, gave a brief preview of the COP meetings.  A delegation from the U.S. Congress said the U.S. will take action on greenhouse gases and engage with other countries on the climate emergency despite President Trump’s rejection of international cooperation.  A main issue to be resolved at COP25 is how the carbon markets in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement will be handled, since they are highly controversial.  The World Meteorological Organization released its annual state of the global climate report at COP25.  Henry Fountain used that occasion to summarize the impacts of Earth’s warming.  University of Oxford public policy professor Thomas Hale wrote about the tendency for climate politics to become increasingly existential as both climate change and decarbonization advance over the next decades.

Given the predictions of sea level rise this century, one problem coastal governments will face is deciding which properties they can afford to defend and which they can’t.  Facing that dilemma is coming sooner than expected for officials of Monroe County, in the Florida Keys.  Unfortunately, their job is made more difficult by the tendency of people living in flood-prone areas to underestimate the danger they face.  All of this is intertwined with the struggles of the insurance industry to adjust to the increased risk they face and the response of regulators to that adjustment.

A new report published by Greenpeace International said that restoring oceans’ ecosystems would boost their capacity to absorb heat and store carbon, helping to mitigate the impacts of increased atmospheric CO2 levels.  Compliance with new regulations associated with fighting climate change will cost companies worldwide nearly $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years, according to an estimate by German insurer Allianz SE.

On Monday the Senate confirmed Dan Brouillette to lead the Department of Energy.  On Sunday, former Secretary of State John Kerry announced the formation of a new bipartisan climate alliance, called “World War Zero.”  Made up of world leaders, military brass, and Hollywood celebrities, the goal of the group is to push for public action to combat climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

Several sources reported on a study published in Geophysical Research Letters.  It examined how accurately computer models published between 1970 and 2007 projected Earth’s temperature as CO2 and other greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere.  As the authors stated in their “Plain Language Summary”, “We find that climate models published over the past five decades were generally quite accurate in predicting global warming in the years after publication…”  I’ve provided a link to an article by David Roberts at Vox because the first part gives a good synopsis of the study, while the latter part provides a deeper dive for those who are interested.  A new generation of computer models is now being used in studies for the next IPCC report.  For those who are interested in the modeling efforts, Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief has prepared an explainer.

An analysis of 70,716 bird specimens from 52 North American species collected over 40 years shows birds are shrinking as the world warms, according to a paper published in the journal Ecology Letters.  According to the World Meteorological Organization, the average temperatures for the five-year (2015-2019) and 10-year (2010-2019) periods ending this year are almost certain to be the highest on record.  New research, published Wednesday in Science Advances, showed that just ten atmospheric river events caused nearly half the flood damage in the western U.S. over the past forty years, adding up to billions of dollars of damage. 

A new study, also published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, reported that the Arctic has warmed by 0.75°C (1.35°F) in the last decade alone while Earth as a whole has warmed by nearly the same amount, 0.8°C, over the past 137 years.  In addition, another study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that scientists are underestimating the number of melt ponds on the surface of Greenland that partially, and rapidly, drain into the ice sheet each year, thereby lubricating it and causing its more rapid movement toward the sea while the meltwater is flowing under it.  As a consequence, current models likely underestimate future sea level rise.  Another new study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that thinning in the ring of floating ice around Antarctica is driving the loss of ice from the interior of the continent.

The issue of climate tipping points was back in the news, with a new paper in Nature warning that the risks are now much more likely and much more imminent than they had been thought to be eleven years ago when the same group of researchers evaluated them.  Graham Readfearn wrote about the Nature article in his column in The Guardian.  One possible tipping point involves the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, or AMOC, which helps regulate temperatures and weather around the world.  Its flow has dropped 15% over the past decade.

At COP25 in Madrid, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that whereas around 10 million people a year are displaced by river flooding today, the number could surge to as many as 50 million a year by the end of the century if governments do not step up action to tackle climate change.  Climate-fueled disasters such as wildfires, cyclones, and floods were the main reason that people were forced to flee their homes in the last decade, according to a new report from Oxfam.  Overall, these events have displaced more than 20 million people around the globe.  Such events are affecting our mental health, even if we aren’t directly impacted by them.  Since the federal government isn’t acting to reduce the causes of climate change, it’s a good thing it is funding programs to teach resiliency.


According to an estimate from the Global Carbon Project (GCP), total CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry will likely total 36.8 billion tons in 2019, 0.6% higher than in 2018, setting a new record.  Climate Brief provided a detailed analysis of the GCP report.  Umair Irfan of Vox republished a fascinating animation from an earlier Climate Brief post that illustrates how the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from various countries have varied over time from the 19th century until now.  The China paradox: it burns about half the coal used globally each year, yet it’s also the leading market for solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles.  According to a new report, the number of insurers unwilling to ensure coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time U.S. companies have taken action, leaving Lloyd’s of London and Asian insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuel projects.

A paper published Tuesday in Environmental Research Letters reported that natural gas use is growing so fast, its CO2 emissions over the past six years were greater than the decline in emissions from the falling use of coal.  In a “Perspective” piece in The New England Journal of Medicine, three physicians wrote: “…we consider expansion of the natural-gas infrastructure to be a grave hazard to human health.”  Grist and bioGraphic teamed up to produce an extensive article about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, featuring the people and places that will be impacted.  The illustrations in the two sources are slightly different.

Federal nuclear regulators granted controversial 20-year license extensions to two aging reactors at Florida’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant, which means they could operate for a total of 80 years.  Washington State Ferries, which runs the second-largest ferry system in the world, is switching from diesel to batteries, a move that will eliminate current annual consumption of almost 20 million gallons of diesel fuel.  If you like futuristic ideas you might be interested in this article from Wired about the increasingly feasible idea of beaming concentrated solar energy from space to Earth.

General Motors and South Korea’s LG Chem said on Thursday they will invest $2.3 billion to build an electric vehicle battery plant near Lordstown, Ohio, creating one of the world’s largest battery facilities.  Electric vehicle start-up Lucid Motors is beginning construction of its production factory in Casa Grande, Arizona.  Hyundai Motor announced that it plans to invest about $17 billion between 2020 and 2025 on electric and autonomous vehicles.

Yale Climate Connections published an overview of energy storage techniques.  On Monday, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2030, offsetting the schools’ greenhouse gas emissions with more renewable energy and other steps.


Climate strikers took to the streets of Washington, DC on Friday, targeting the headquarters of the World Bank.  Giving Tuesday occurred this week, so Sigal Samuel of Vox prepared “a list of six of the most high-impact, cost-effective, and evidence-based organizations [you might consider donating to].  (I’m not including bigger-name groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund or the Sierra Club, because most big organizations are already relatively well-funded.)”  Peter Sinclair has a new “This Is Not Cool” video, this one about wind energy replacing coal as baseload power.  In the “Climate Fwd: newsletter” from the New York Times, Kyla Mandel provided helpful information about how to decrease the carbon footprint of your Christmas lights.  The Editorial Board of The Washington Post published a sobering editorial about humanity’s “bleak” future unless we act more quickly on climate change.

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.