To back up a bit, earlier this year, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) released a report highlighting several record-breaking statistics for the 2015 wildfire season, including:
Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and California all experienced some of their worst wildfires on record in 2015. Florida also saw an above normal wildfire season (see map).
There were a number of reasons it was an especially bad year, including the strong El Niño and the extended drought and low snowpack in parts of the Western US.
One significant risk factor: Climate change is contributing to hotter, drier conditions in the Western US, setting the stage for longer, more severe wildfire seasons.
Our past efforts to limit wildfire have also led to a dangerous build-up of flammable fuelwood in forests, which contributes to larger fires when they do break out. And growing development in the wildland-urban interface is putting more people and property in harm’s way.
2016 is already off to a devastating start with the fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The wildfire has displaced 90,000 people and burned at least 2,400 structures, covering nearly 900 square miles according to the latest estimates. Environment Canada has warned that smoke from the fire is causing poor air quality and poses health risks in many parts of Alberta. Essential services like power, water, and gas have been severely affected. It will be weeks before people can begin to return and much longer for the city to recover.
Research from Bank of Montreal Capital Markets puts the estimated cost of the wildfire to insurers at $2 billion to $3.6 billion USD (or $2.6 to 4.7 billion Canadian dollars), which would make it the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. (They also estimated that it could even reach as high as $7 billion USD or $9 billion Canadian dollars.)
For North America as a whole, the season has started early, with wildfires in many places including Canada, Kansas, Arizona, Alaska, and high risk in southern Mexico and the Yucatán peninsula.
Wildfires have already burned nearly 1.5 million acres across the U.S., nearly five times the amount that had burned at this time last year. Looking ahead, 2016 is projected to be a less severe wildfire season overall because the El Niño risk has diminished, but some parts of the country are still projected to have a bad season.
The latest wildfire outlook maps from the NIFC show above-normal fire risks in May for Alaska, Hawaii, and the Southwest; and in June for parts of California and the Southwest, Hawaii, and increasing risk in Florida. July and August show above normal risk in a significant area of California, Nevada, and Idaho as well as continued risk in Florida (see maps). Not surprisingly, many of the areas with high wildfire risk overlap with areas currently in drought.
In what has become a depressing yearly trend, we are also seeing the costs of fighting wildfires continue to rise every year. Last August the Forest Service released a report that tallied the steeply rising costs of fighting fires.
According to the report: Firefighting costs now consumes over 50 percent of the US Forest Service annual budget, and could get up to two-thirds of their budget by 2025, up from 16 percent a decade ago. Added to this are the significant costs to people who lose property and livelihoods, damage to ecosystems including watersheds, and the public health costs of wildfires.
Scientists and forest experts know that climate change is already contributing to growing wildfires risks and that these risks will increase as temperatures rise. The growing dangers mean that we have to change how we prepare for and fight fires.
The 2016 wildfire season is just getting underway and, sadly, we are already seeing a repeat of many of the tragedies of other recent fires seasons. Unfortunately, our past emissions pretty much guarantee that temperatures will rise and wildfire risks will grow over the next few decades. We simply have to change how we respond to these threats to better protect people and our forests–business as usual will not do.]]>
Over a year ago, in the lead up to Paris, the US announced its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), with an economy-wide goal of reducing its global warming emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
Delivering on this commitment requires the implementation of a number of policies, including the Clean Power Plan, vehicle efficiency standards, energy efficiency standards, methane standards, limits on HFCs, and efforts to safeguard the land sink, as outlined in the 2016 Biennial Report of the U.S. to the UNFCCC (see Fig 6 on p. 39).
The new UCS analysis, Accelerating Toward a Clean Energy Economy, shows that the power sector can contribute about a third of the 2025 economy-wide emission reductions, through the combined effect of the Clean Power Plan, the recent extensions of the federal tax credits for wind and solar energy, and other existing state and federal policies.
These insights are broadly consistent with the conclusions of recent analyses by the Rhodium Group, NREL and C2ES.
In many ways, clean energy progress is already underway in the power sector. For example, just yesterday EIA released data showing that US energy-related CO2 emissions declined in 2015. This is in large part due to changes in the power sector including a continued shift away from coal to cheaper, lower carbon resources such as natural gas, wind, and solar energy, as well as greater energy efficiency. EIA data also shows that wind capacity additions ranked first in 2015, followed by natural gas and solar, and in 2016 solar additions are projected to be #1 followed by natural gas and wind.
However, we have to take steps to make deeper cuts in our emissions, including:
We need even stronger policies to meet the Paris goal of long term decarbonization, which would essentially require developed countries like the US to reach net zero emissions by mid-century (with all countries reaching that goal in the latter half of the century). Studies show that for the energy sector that means a continued, rapid shift to renewable and zero-carbon energy and greater energy efficiency, alongside greater electrification of transportation, heating/cooling, and other residential and industrial uses of energy.
All these goals will require much greater ambition from future administrations and Congress as they build on the legacy of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan.
There is no single silver bullet solution but a meaningful price on carbon would be a very good start.]]>
This is in large part due to a huge increase in renewable energy deployment, led by China and the United States. Coming off the Paris Agreement, these trends are cause for hope that we are making progress toward addressing climate change. Now we need to bend that emissions curve sharply downward!
Earlier this year, data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance showed that clean energy investments reached nearly $330 billion in 2015. With 64 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 57 GW of solar PV installed in 2015, global renewable energy capacity additions were at an all-time high last year and grew 30 percent over 2014 levels. China and the United States led the pack, as has become the norm, with $110.5 billion and $56 billion in clean energy investments respectively.
Today’s news comes in the context of other hopeful developments in two major emitting countries, China and the U.S.
According to data from the EIA, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell 2.4 percent in 2015. This is due to a combination of factors, including increased energy efficiency, and a shift away from coal to cleaner generation sources like natural gas and renewable energy.
Wind energy was the #1 source for new electric capacity in 2015, with 8,600 megawatts (MW) installed. Solar PV grew by 16 percent in 2015 to reach 7.3 GW, the largest annual total ever. In total, renewables provided more than 70 percent of new electric capacity in 2015.
Wind and solar capacity additions together outpaced every other source (including natural gas) in 2015, and are projected to do the same in 2016.
The recent extension of the production tax credit for wind and the investment tax credit for solar energy will provide a welcome boost to the deployment of these resources and additional CO2 reductions.
Meanwhile, China’s emissions declined by 1.5 percent in 2015. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that China’s coal consumption fell 3.7 percent in 2015, building on a drop of 2.9 percent in 2014. Installed grid-connected wind power capacity additions grew by 34 percent and solar by 74 percent.
The data also show that the hopeful emissions trend in 2015 comes alongside a period of global economic growth, unlike previous times when emissions have flattened as a result of global economic downturns. (An earlier study released at the end of last year, before the final data were in, had projected a potential small—less than 1 percent—dip in CO2 emissions for 2015 and attributed that mainly to a drop in China’s emissions.)
Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that China’s economy is slowing down and that has likely played a role in its emissions drop. Also, the shift away from coal has led to recent announcements of massive worker layoffs. More will need to be done in China, the United States, and globally to help ensure a just transition to a clean energy economy, with assistance for displaced workers and communities that are affected.
There are big economic opportunities ahead for countries that assertively embrace the clean energy future. Initiatives like Mission Innovation and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition are just a few ways in which countries and businesses are stepping up to the plate. And the shift away from coal will pay massive dividends in reducing pollution that causes a heavy public health burden.
A note of caution that today’s data from the IEA only pertain to CO2 emissions and do not cover other global warming emissions. For example, methane emissions are on the rise globally, with the U.S. likely playing a large part in that. U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently said in a recent blog post: The new data show that methane emissions are substantially higher than we previously understood. Changes in the global land and ocean carbon sinks also affect the magnitude of climate change, and are not covered by the IEA data.
This matters even more because the U.S. power sector is undergoing a major shift away from coal toward natural gas. In 2015, the share of coal and natural gas in electricity generation was approximately a third each, and natural gas is likely to slightly edge out coal in 2016. This over-reliance on natural gas comes with climate risks, since it is still a fossil fuel and also has associated methane emissions (which are clearly being underestimated currently).
We’ll need to implement a robust set of policies to cut global warming emissions dramatically in line with what the science shows is necessary. Here in the U.S. that includes progress on implementing the Clean Power Plan and state policies to advance renewable energy, increasing fuel efficiency standards, increasing energy efficiency across the board, cutting methane emissions, policies to safeguard our land-based carbon sinks, putting a price on carbon, and, frankly, greatly ratcheting up ambition on all fronts.
The Paris Agreement sets a necessarily high bar for global climate action. Countries agreed to a goal of: “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.”
And to meet this goal they would:
“…aim to reach global peaking of global warming emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.”
The good news is that the 2015 data show that it’s possible to get on this ambitious pathway. But we’ll need to do a lot more to deliver on the promise of Paris, and the U.S. and China have a special leadership role in that endeavor. Ultimately, this is about limiting the magnitude of climate impacts and taking advantage of the huge economic opportunities of a clean energy economy.
For us in the U.S., this is why we need the next U.S. president to take on climate action as a major priority.]]>
In its 11th edition, the report is based on the annual Global Risks Perception Survey. The survey of about 750 experts assessed the likelihood and impact of several global risks and found that “failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation” ranked highest in terms of potential impact on a list of 29 major risks, including weapons of mass destruction (ranked 2nd), water crises (3rd), large-scale involuntary migration (4th), and severe energy price shock (5th). Survey respondents included members of the business community, academics, and representatives from civil society and the public sector.
In terms of likelihood, large-scale involuntary migration ranked first, followed (in order) by extreme weather events, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, interstate conflict with regional consequences, and major natural catastrophes.
The report defines global risk as “An uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, can cause significant negative impact for several countries or industries over the next ten years.”
As the report points out, the reality is that many major global risks are interconnected in their causes and consequences. This means that we have to find effective ways to confront them together, and ensure that the solutions that we implement work to manage risks across the board. We can’t and shouldn’t tackle these risks individually or trade them off against one another.
As an example, climate change is contributing to the growing risks of droughts and water crises, including in the American West, the Horn of Africa, and in other parts of the world. The experts surveyed for the WEO report identified the potential for these types of water crises to trigger food security concerns, migration and conflict especially in developing countries. Our efforts to address growing water stress must go hand-in-hand with efforts to solve geopolitical crises, deliver humanitarian aid, and reduce the carbon emissions (primarily from our energy and land use choices) that cause climate change.
While this is an evolving area of research, a recent study also indicates that climate change may have contributed to drought in Syria, which in turn could have created conditions that increased the risks of conflict.
Similarly, we cannot blindly follow an all-of-the-above energy strategy while fueling a continued dependence on fossil fuels that contributes to climate change and air pollution and leaves consumers vulnerable to price spikes. Our energy policy needs to integrate climate, public health, and development goals, i.e. the imperative to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy with clean energy access for all.
Here in the U.S. 2015 brought 10 weather and climate disaster events topping $1 billion in losses apiece, including drought, floods, wildfires, and storms. 2015 was also the second hottest year on record for the contiguous U.S. Survey respondents in North America ranked extreme weather events as the second most likely type of risk for the region (see figure 3 on page 5 of The Global Risks Report).
2015 was the hottest year on record globally, and coincided with a record El Niño pattern. The year brought many devastating events, including Cyclone Pam (a category 5 storm that hit Pacific islands); Hurricane Patricia (a monster storm that formed in the Pacific Ocean and hit Mexico); deadly heat waves that killed thousands of people in India and Pakistan; large wildfires in Indonesia; and record flooding in Scotland. Quite simply, it was a year of global climate chaos.
The report also points out the opportunities for the business community and the public sector to act together to manage risks and limit their impact, especially in light of the momentum created by the Paris Agreement. In a press release accompanying the report, Erwann Michel-Kerjan, executive director of the Wharton Risk Management Center and member of the advisory board of the World Economic Forum Global Risks Initiative noted:
“We are getting better at anticipating future shocks. Our next task is to quickly build much more effective resilience capability. I believe that if designed and executed well, restructuring some of the $300 trillion global financial assets towards this new resilience investment agenda can be a game changer. Let’s join forces to do that.”
The positive news is that climate and clean energy solutions can bring multi-faceted benefits. Cutting emissions and diversifying our energy mix by lowering our dependence on fossil fuels and switching to renewable energy is good for the climate AND can help limit other risks like energy price shocks, water crises, and the public health burden of air pollution.
Where trade-offs exist (and they do in some cases), they must be clearly evaluated to limit unintended consequences and maladaptive policies, and make intentional choices.
The magnitude of climate impacts, and our ability to limit them, also has profound implications for our ability to address poverty and deliver on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
While this post focuses on a subset of the major risks, global leaders need to do much more to limit other major risks identified in the report, including stepping up their efforts to address the plight of refugees around the world, tackle food shortages, and limit conflict. In a world of plenty, it is a moral outrage that so many are dying for lack of food, shelter, medical attention, and safe living conditions.
Back home, recent headlines have been dominated by the status of the U.S. presidential race. Now, more than ever, we need serious presidential candidates to declare their commitment to confront climate change and propose meaningful solutions to address what is arguably the biggest threat to the global economy and our well-being over the long term.
Featured image: Brisbane/Shutterstock]]>
Last Saturday evening, as we saw the gavel come down on the adoption of the Paris Agreement, I found myself moved to tears. Tears of joy, relief, exhaustion… coupled with a huge smile. Later, there was lots of hugging and happy high-fives.
This is what hope looks like at a time when we have waited too long, when climate impacts are already unfolding in scary ways, when the world seems so politically fractured—and yet, almost by some kind of miracle, finally, we have a global agreement that promises to get us all moving in the same direction.
It’s not perfect. But we have a solid foundation to build on. Businesses and investors know that we are now oriented toward a low-carbon economy, and that we will come back again and again to this international forum to make sure countries are doing all they can to get us on that path. Meanwhile, the great news is that the costs of wind and solar energy are falling dramatically, so countries will be able to commit to going further quicker every time they reconvene.
We’ll have to make sure that climate justice is integral to progress on climate change. Wealthier countries will need to marshal money and resources to help developing countries get on a low carbon pathway and cope with serious climate impacts.
But finally we have exorcised the ghosts of Copenhagen. We have shown that 195 countries can come together and put aside their narrow interests in service of the global good.
And we made this happen! “We”—a very diverse coalition of environmental, business, faith, scientific, justice, labor, political (and many many more) groups around the world—did it. Our political leaders committed in Paris because they know they are ultimately answerable to us and our undeniable demand for climate action.
There is lots of work ahead to make this agreement real, to actually bring all that clean energy on line, to help eradicate poverty and close the energy gap, to help the most vulnerable people cope with climate impacts.
But to everyone who helped make the Paris Agreement happen, I want to say: let’s take moment to savor this victory. It’s going to be a long fight to get everything we need and want. We need to bask a bit in the emotional lift of moments like this to build back stronger, to keep our heads clear, to set our sights far.
There were lots of lofty words and inspirational speeches made in Paris. Here are two pieces that have stayed with me.
The words of eighteen year-old Selina Leem, from the island of Majuro in the Marshall Islands, so powerfully delivered in a steady voice at the final plenary:
“This agreement is for those of us whose identity, whose culture, whose ancestors, whose whole being, is bound to their lands.
I have only spoken about myself and my islands but the same story will play out everywhere in the world. If this is a story about our islands, it is a story for the whole world.
Sometimes when you want to make a change, then it is necessary to turn the world upside down. Because it is not for the better, but it is simply for the best.
This Agreement should be the turning point in our story; a turning point for all of us.”
And a quote from Nelson Mandela, delivered as part of the remarks of the Environment Minister from South Africa at the closing plenary:
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
We have many more hills to climb in our quest for climate action and climate justice. But let’s take a moment to rest first, to rest with a feeling of hope.]]>
Many of us arrived in Paris buoyed by the significant progress that had been made ahead of the COP, especially because of the advance announcements of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by over 180 countries representing some 95 percent of global emissions. The groundwork had been laid through a series on informal ministerial consultations as well as the formal negotiating sessions, and there was a clear sense of what remained to be done.
The COP started with strong statements from world leaders about the urgency of greater action, both to limit emissions and to help vulnerable countries cope with mounting climate impacts. In some areas, negotiators built on that sense of momentum later in the week; but in other areas –especially the charged issue of climate finance—there was very little movement.
Indications of positive momentum in the first week include the fact that the U.S. has shown openness to reaching compromises on the issue of Loss and Damage, which is a major issue of concern for developing countries that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. Many developing countries have stepped up with significant plans for climate action. This type of constructive engagement is key to maintaining the political space needed for reaching a strong global agreement.
We do have the Draft Paris Outcome, which was delivered on time Saturday to the COP presidency. At 48 pages, the text is relatively streamlined, although it still contains many unresolved areas, with multiple options, which remain as so-called “bracketed text.” In the days ahead, ministers and negotiators will need to narrow these options and reach high-ambition, compromise solutions with clear, concise wording.
Major sticking points continue to be a lack of clear commitments by developed countries to ramp up climate finance to help developing countries deploy clean technologies and address climate change impacts, as well as continued disagreements about how the Framework Convention’s principle of common but differentiated responsibilities as the basis for climate action from developed and developing countries, will be applied to the various issues being negotiated.
Also, recognizing that the collective level of ambition of the current INDCs fall well short of what is needed, the agreement needs to contain specific provisions that will encourage countries to review and revise their commitments at least every five years, starting no later than the end of this decade. This review cycle to must raise ambition, and should apply to both commitments to cut emissions and the provision of climate finance.
High-level ministers are arriving in Paris to take charge of this second week of negotiations; they must operate with a spirit of trust and respect, and demonstrate an openness to engage in dialogue on critical and difficult subjects. This is no small thing when one considers how complex the issues are and how fraught some previous negotiations have been (including walk-outs from some country groups).
A lot of credit for creating an open and constructive environment for this ministerial engagement goes to the French COP presidency, which has handled these delicate negotiations with great skill and care. (This is unlike Copenhagen, where a lack of transparency and sharp divisions within the Danish COP presidency led to a minimalist agreement cobbled together at the very last minute, rather than the fair, ambitious, and binding agreement that was hoped for.)
The next days will likely bring rising tension and some frustration as the final deadline for the Paris Agreement approaches. There are many risks that remain and problem areas to be navigated. But with skillful diplomacy and a clear-headed sense of what is at stake, COP21 could end with a solid agreement.
COP21 President Laurent Fabius captured the feelings of many when he ended his introductory remarks on Saturday saying that,
“This is something special, very special. We simply cannot postpone action… What we are discussing is not only about the environment and climate, it is about life itself.”
Here’s to our hopes becoming reality, and an ambitious, fair Paris agreement being reached by the end of this week.
Globally, renewable energy resources (hydro and non-hydro) now account for approximately 23 percent of global electricity generation, and for the first time in 2014 carbon emissions remained stable while the global economy grew because of the uptake of renewables and energy efficiency. Renewable energy resources accounted for nearly 60 percent of all new power generation capacity in 2014 (with non-hydro renewables accounting for 48 percent of that), and have continued to outpace deployment of nuclear and fossil fuel resources since 2011.
The costs of solar PV modules dropped 80 percent between 2009 and 2014, while wind turbine prices declined by almost a third over the same period, according to IRENA. Global investment in non-hydro renewable energy reached over $270 billion in 2014, almost 17 percent higher than the year before.
These developments are exemplified in major economies, such as the U.S., China, Germany, and India. And many large companies have also made commitments to rely on renewable energy and drive down emissions.
Several recent studies have shown that there are still pathways to keep the global average temperature increase below 2°C by making deep cuts in our emissions, but it requires robust action from nations. While these studies differ in some of their assumptions about technologies and their modeled results of the mid-century energy mix, the overall message is clear: It is technically and economically feasible to make deep cuts in carbon emissions, provided we put a strong policy framework in place.
While there are differing views on the relative contributions of different types of low-carbon technologies, it’s clear that renewable energy and energy efficiency must play a major role in the global clean energy transition. It’s important that we don’t let differing views on technologies stymie progress toward a common goal that we all share: cutting carbon emissions.
We know that the current commitments from countries (INDCs) are not enough to limit the global average temperature increase to 2°C. All the recent studies, and real-world experience to date, show that we need a strong policy framework to accelerate low-carbon energy deployment and ramp up energy efficiency. This includes targets and incentives for renewables and energy efficiency, scaling up public and private sector investments in these resources, investing in R&D, and cutting fossil fuel subsidies to level the playing field for clean energy.
A price on carbon is also critical to sending a market signal to drive low carbon technology deployment, foster innovation, and orient long-term business decisions toward a low-carbon pathway. There are significant synergies with low-carbon energy and public health and sustainable development goals, which should be factored into technology choices.
It’s also critical to recognize that the global clean energy transition must be coupled with providing universal energy access, which is still a major hurdle in developing countries where 1.2 billion people do not currently have access to electricity. Decentralized generation resources provide an exciting opportunity to help close the energy access gap in places where grid-connected electricity costs may remain insurmountably high. They are also very attractive is developed country settings, like in the United States, where rooftop solar is taking off in a big way.
Developing countries will need scaled-up finance to make this low-carbon energy transition a reality, and developed countries must step up to that challenge. Public-private initiatives, such as the recently announced Breakthrough Energy Coalition, can also play an important role.
We know we can make significant cuts in carbon emissions while maintaining economic prosperity. There is overwhelming public support for the urgent need for climate action. Business leaders want to play a role in creating a low carbon economy. Many cities and states are doing their part. Now we need national political leaders to deliver a strong agreement in Paris and build on that momentum in the years ahead.]]>
Many coastal communities already face tidal flooding and damage from storm surges, and these impacts are projected to worsen with rising seas. However, people in some communities experience a disproportionate burden of these impacts. For example, communities with high numbers of elderly, very young, or low-income residents, or residents with ill health, may have fewer resources to prepare for disasters or a limited ability to relocate to safety.
The UCS report describes an approach that can help identify communities that face conditions that heighten their vulnerability to harm. This research was informed by discussions at a climate equity convening, hosted by the NAACP and UCS a year ago. The Climate Equity Tool we have developed uses a combination of climate and socioeconomic risk indicators. We tested the tool using data from 35 counties in nine states along the East and Gulf Coasts and created a climate risk indicator using sea level rise and tidal flooding projections for 2045 for each county.
The socioeconomic risk indicator is constructed from four underlying variables at the county-level: poverty, per capita income, educational attainment, and share of minority population. In each case the indicator for a county is constructed relative to the rest of the counties in our sample.
Finally we show the joint risks, across climate and socioeconomic dimensions, faced by a county.
Our report also features case studies from Dorchester, Maryland; Charleston, SC; Hialeah and Opa-locka, FL; Gulfport, MS; and Plaquemines Parish, LA. The stories of people who live in these places highlight the striking challenges they face, and the ways in which they are trying to respond.
Christine Miller Hesed, at the University of Maryland Department of Anthropology, has focused her research on African American communities on the eastern shore of Maryland, who are particularly at risk from flooding. She explains:
“The vulnerability of African American communities on the Eastern Shore is exacerbated by their longtime social and political isolation. In the past these communities have been largely self-sufficient in responding to periodic flooding; however, the increased frequency and magnitude of flooding events along with the outmigration and aging within these communities means that they must now look for assistance from the techno-bureaucratic world of policymaking and regulation with which they have little experience in navigating.”
Derrick Evans, from the Turkey Creek community in Gulfport, MS says,
“Gulfport is a giant textbook of incompatible land use.” But, he says, “The Turkey Creek watershed is very important. . . . [We need to] get the wetlands off the development table.”
And in Plaquemines Parish, LA Reverend Tyrone Edwards, pastor of the Phoenix Zion Travelers Baptist Church, speaks to opportunities to do better:
“We found out that disasters and coastal restoration are big money. It’s more about giving contracts to some people than protecting [Louisianans/people in Plaquemines Parish]. Oftentimes, the work is overpriced [and too much spent on overhead and subcontracts]. If more of the money were used correctly, we could have more projects done. .. . It is key that local people are employed in the coastal restoration projects. That’s one way to work towards making communities whole.”
Each case study in the report also includes a map showing the location’s present-day exposure to storm surge inundation from different categories of hurricanes, based on NOAA’s SLOSH model.
The reality is that today we have no real national policy on climate resilience, although the Obama administration is working to make this a multi-agency priority. For the most part current efforts are proceeding through a patchwork of existing federal and state policies that touch on various issues related to the effects of sea level rise. Here’s how we can do better:
The decades ahead will be increasingly defined by climate change, and our response to it.
As a nation, we have to ensure that fairness and equity are an integral part of our climate solutions.
You can also read a blog post in Spanish from Ramón Bueno, a co-author on the UCS report (which is also available in Spanish). Stay tuned for further installments in a blog series, Communities on the Front Lines of Climate Change, featuring posts from people who live, work, or do research in places affected by sea level rise.
Of course, the immediate safety and security of people everywhere is a primary concern, and is a major subject of international dialogue and cooperation right now. Along with steps that nations are taking to address that priority, there is also a clear recognition of a different kind of threat that is unfolding and will have profound effects on people everywhere: climate change and its worsening impacts.
I can’t say it better than others who have already weighed in on why COP21 must proceed:
Here is François Hollande, President of the French Republic:
“We must continue – continue working, going out, living our lives, influencing the world: this is why the international climate conference will not only go ahead, but will bring hope and solidarity.”
And Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of France, in response to a question about whether COP21 might be canceled:
“Non, non, non, non, non, la COP21 doit se tenir. Elle se tiendra avec des mesures de sécurité renforcées mais c’est une action absolument indispensable contre le dérèglement climatique et bien évidement elle se tiendra.”
(Rough translation: No, no , no, no , no, the COP21 [is] to be held. It will be held with enhanced security measures but it is absolutely essential action against climate change and of course it will be held.)
And Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (via Twitter):
Of course #COP21 proceeds as planned. Even more so now. #COP21 = respecting our differences & same time acting together collaboratively.
At the G20 Summit, just concluded in Turkey, which has also suffered recent bombings, leaders issued a statement saying:
“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We recognize that 2015 is a critical year that requires effective, strong and collective action on climate change and its effects. We reaffirm the below 2°C goal.” And “We underscore our commitment to reaching an ambitious agreement in Paris…”
As with any international negotiation involving 195 countries and nearly two thousand observer groups, the issues are complicated and can get contentious but they all boil down to this: What kind of future climate will we leave to the children of this world?
The U.S. can make a big contribution to success in Paris and here’s why:
The U.S. has worked to lay advance groundwork on global climate and clean energy cooperation.
A successful outcome at Paris depends on the careful groundwork that has already been laid by many countries, including Peru (last year’s COP host) and France. A critically important aspect has been advance commitments from countries through their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), laying out the steps they will take to address climate change. Already the vast majority of countries, including the U.S., have registered their INDCs with the UNFCCC.
The U.S has announced an intention to reduce its global warming emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The U.S. has also played a very positive role in bilateral dialogues, including making important joint announcements on climate and clean energy with China, India, and Mexico earlier this year.
The U.S. has followed through with domestic actions to back up its international commitments.
Equally important, the U.S. is sending a clear signal that it will follow through on its international commitments by finalizing and implementing important domestic regulations such as the Clean Power Plan and vehicle efficiency standards. These actions are demonstrating that it is technically and economically feasible to ramp up clean energy and make large cuts in our carbon emissions while benefiting people.
The U.S. has also pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries increase clean energy deployment and build resilience to climate impacts, and the president’s FY16 budget request includes $500 million for this purpose. Other countries are also committing to this type of follow-through: China has announced plans for a national cap-and-trade program and $3.14 billion for the China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund to support climate action in other developing countries, and India has committed to an ambitious renewable energy goal.
The Obama administration, U.S. companies, state leaders, religious groups, and the American public support action on climate.
Taking strong action on climate change will require commitment from all levels of government, the private sector, and all of us ordinary citizens. It’s incredibly heartening to see the wide cross-section of Americans and people worldwide who are coming forth to demonstrate their support for climate and clean energy action. With our combined efforts, our shared vision of a thriving clean energy economy can become a reality.
The U.S. is a key player in the global climate negotiations and the world will be looking to us for leadership. While the administration is limited in what it can do unilaterally without Congressional approval, it can certainly set a tone of ambition and trust, coupled with moral courage. Here’s what’s needed:
Of course, all countries including the U.S. will need to do more to truly address the challenge of climate change beyond the Paris talks. The current INDCs fall short of the goal of limiting global temperature increase to below 2°C and we have technologies and policies to get us on that path.
Last week reminded us yet again that our world is inextricably linked and that we all have to work together for a better future for our children, a safer, fairer, more peaceful world. Limiting the pace and magnitude of climate change is critical to those efforts. Let’s demand that our political leaders rise to the occasion and deliver a strong climate agreement in Paris this December.]]>
The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is a strong, flexible framework to help reduce power plant carbon emissions, which are the largest source of U.S. global warming emissions. It will cut those emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The plan provides a number of cost-effective compliance options for states, including using renewable energy and natural gas to replace coal-fired power, increasing energy efficiency, and bringing online nuclear plants currently under construction. It also allows states to take advantage of multi-state carbon trading systems to cut emissions, if they so choose.
Analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that many states are already taking clean energy actions that will put them well on the path to meeting their CPP goals. Using the CPP’s rate-based targets:
The final CPP expands on the role of renewable energy in cutting emissions. It also takes a number of steps to limit the rush to natural gas and ensure reliable electricity.
The benefits of the CPP far outweigh its costs. The EPA’s analysis shows that the Clean Power Plan’s public health and climate benefits are worth an estimated $26 billion to $45 billion per year in 2030, far more than the estimated costs of $5.1 to 8.4 billion per year in 2030. The public health benefits alone, from cutting co-pollutants such as SO2 and NOX, amount to an estimated $12 billion to $34 billion in 2030. (All figures in 2011 dollars.)
What’s more, electricity consumers stand to benefit as well. The EPA projects that Americans will save about $7 per month and more than $80 per year on their electricity bill by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan. Modest electricity bill increases of 2.4 to 2.7 percent in 2020 are quickly followed by larger decreases in 2025 and beyond as energy efficiency investments pay off.
Despite these facts, starting tomorrow, there will be a slew of court cases filed to slow down clean energy progress and delay action on climate change. The American Legislative Exchange Council even has the audacity to propose that we, as taxpayers, help to fund these misguided attacks. Most legal experts agree that ultimately these lawsuits, funded in part by fossil-fuel interests, will be thrown out. But meanwhile they are a serious drag on public resources and do a real disservice to the “can-do” spirit that our country cherishes.
Misleading reports funded by the fossil fuel and utility industries continue to distort the facts and artificially inflate the costs of the CPP. As my colleague Aaron Huertas points out, journalists and policymakers should view fossil industry claims with a healthy dose of skepticism.
UCS analysis shows that many of the states that are planning to sue the EPA are actually already making commitments that would put them on the path to compliance. Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina are expected to sue the EPA over the Clean Power Plan despite being on track to exceed their 2022 benchmarks. In fact, South Carolina is even on track to exceed its 2030 target. Likewise, Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, and Wisconsin are also expected to sue even though they are on track to achieve more than half of their 2022 benchmarks through committed actions.
Furthermore, state clean energy actions provide big benefits to their residents. Retiring aging, polluting coal-fired power plants, for example, would be a huge boon to public health. Many states would stand to benefit if they ramped up their investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which can save consumers money on their electricity bills, drive local economic benefits, and help diversify the state electricity mix.
States are now empowered to make their own choices about how to cut emissions, and will have up to three years to file their compliance plans. Many states, including Virginia and Minnesota, have already begun planning and stakeholder processes to develop their compliance strategies. Renewable energy and energy efficiency should play a significant role in state compliance plans, given the myriad health and economic benefits of these cost-effective options.
Please ask your Governor to make your state a clean energy leader, and to file a compliance plan in a timely way.
With yesterday’s announcement from NOAA that 2015 is on track to be the hottest year on record by a wide margin, there is clearly no room for delay in cutting our heat-trapping emissions. Those who stand in the way of climate action will need to think about how they will answer their children and grandchildren who will bear the brunt of climate impacts.]]>