Graphs: U.S. and China Climate Commitments Leave No Room For World

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 13 Nov 2014 17:23:00 GMT

The climate commitments announced by Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in China are momentous given the political status quo, but they still leave human civilization on a catastrophic trajectory, a Hill Heat analysis shows.

The non-binding targets agreed to in Beijing — that China would peak in emissions by 2030 and the U.S. would accelerate emissions cuts to reach 80 percent of current pollution levels (74 percent of 2005 levels) by 2025 — are a positive step forward. Without such targets catastrophic warming is guaranteed.

President Obama reaffirmed that limiting global warming to less than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels is his goal, claiming the announced targets “means the United States is doing its part to contain warming to 2 degrees Celsius.”

What do the announcements actually mean in the context of what is needed?

Below, we explore the targets in the context of a “Russian roulette” 2C pathway, with pollution levels that scientists estimate lead to a one-in-five chance of exceeding 2C. (Ed.: Russian roulette odds are actually a bit better.)

US-China Climate Commitments

By 2030, US and China alone will have emitted about 80% of the carbon budget, leaving the other 75% of the global population with little to spare. By 2050, US and China will have emitted about 160% of the carbon budget, making the “Russian roulette” scenario impossible. To be clear, even 2C warming is highly risky, to say the least (Hansen et al, 2013).

US-China Climate Commitments Far Exceed Budget

Graphing cumulative emissions, the U.S.-China trajectory becomes more readliy apparent, as the combined carbon footprint continues to grow rapidly through 2050. The carbon budget is used up by the two nations’ pollution alone by 2035.

The Trillionth Tonne Problem

How did we get to this point? About 420 gigatons of carbon were burned (1540 GtCO2) from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to 2014, one quarter of which came from the United States, one eighth from China. Most of China’s carbon pollution has been emitted in the past 15 years. The 2015-2050 budget for an 80% chance of staying below 2C warming is only 105 GtC (390 GtCO2) more. Right now, human civilization is emitting about 10 GtC (39 GtCO2) a year—which means that even if global emissions growth slows, the carbon budget will be exceeded within about ten years.

This conundrum has been referred to as the “trillionth tonne” problem, which (somewhat confusingly) has been formulated in two different ways. One is that the 2000-2050 budget for a 75% chance of staying below 2C warming was estimated in Meinshausen et al. 2009 at 272 GtC, which equals 1000 GtCO2—that is, one trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide. (Ed.: The use of the British spelling “tonne” is a useful indicator of the 1000-kilogran metric “tonnes” used in the U.K., as opposed to the 2000-pound short tons used in the U.S., which are a bit smaller. Each metric ton of carbon is the equivalent of 3.67 metric tons of carbon dioxide due to the added oxygen atoms.)

Alternatively, the all-time budget (starting with the Industrial Revolution and going forward to 2500) for 2C being the mostly likely warming scenario, with a 95% interval of 1.3-3.9C warming, was estimated in Allen et al. 2009 at 1000 GtC — or one trillion metric tons of carbon. With about 560 GtC burned 1751-2014, that leaves 440 GtC for the rest of time for humanity to burn for less than even odds of staying below 2C.

These competing formulations of the “trillionth tonne” problem were co-published in the April 30th 2009 issue of Nature.

Both mechanisms of analysis — which are confirmed, updated, and bolstered in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (Working Group 1 Chapter 12) — are based on the warming impact of all climate pollution, which is predominated by carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and deforestation, but also includes methane, aerosols, nitrous oxides, and exotic super-greenhouse gases. Aerosols, which reduce warming by blocking out the sun, are on the decrease, while non-CO2 greenhouse gases are increasing. The calculations in this post are based on the assumption that the CO2 emissions calculated by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center can be used in lieu of the total CO2-equivalent emissions. That assumption is increasingly untenable, especially as nations switch from coal to natural gas, which increases methane emissions. Thus, the scenarios presented here-in should be considered optimistic.

The construction of any new fossil-fuel infrastructure, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, is simply incompatible with a pathway toward climate safety. This fact is implicitly acknowledged in the climate-impact analysis of the tar-sands project, which uses a high-emissions energy scenario as its baseline.

In summary: anyone who believes “we have a moral obligation to fight climate change,” to use President Obama’s words, should be working to phase out all of our existing fossil-fuel infrastructure over the coming ten years, with the goal of a carbon-negative global economy.

Even if the rest of the world follows the US and China lead with commitments to stop emissions growth by 2030, there will be a high risk of catastrophic global warming. Assuming the US and China meet their targets and the rest of the world follows suit, humanity will burn through the Russian-roulette chance at staying below 2C warming before 2025.

US-China Climate Commitments Leave No Room For World

For small-island nations, coral reefs, global forests, Arctic ice, permafrost, and global ice sheets — and quite possibly the rest of human civilization — to have a long-term chance of survival, limiting warming to 1.5C looks to be needed. (This would require a rapid transition to a fossil-free economy with massive reforestation to reduce existing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million or lower, the inspiration for the name of the climate organization 350.org.)

A higher tolerance for catastrophic warming — by raising the risk of 2C warming from 20 percent to 50 percent — gives the world a more leeway for pollution, but not enough to make the announced US-China targets “safe”. The global budget for a 50-50 chance of 2C warming will be exhausted before 2040.

US-China Climate Commitments Leave No Room For World

The insufficiency of these newly announced targets — and the howls of outrage heard from the Republican Party in the United States — reflect the dangerous power the global fossil-fuel industry has over our future, at a time when our species’ collective power should be directed at building a fossil-free civilization.

U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 12 Nov 2014 05:13:00 GMT

Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping concluded a U.S.-China trade summit with the announcement of new climate targets for the two nations. Obama set a U.S. target of a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels. The China commitment is for CO2 emissions to peak by 2030, with a non-fossil-fuel share (renewable and nuclear) of energy production of 20 percent by 2030.

The “fact sheet” released by the White House reads:

U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation

President Obama Announces Ambitious 2025 Target to Cut U.S. Climate Pollution by 26-28 Percent from 2005 Levels

Building on strong progress during the first six years of the Administration, today President Obama announced a new target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. At the same time, President Xi Jinping of China announced targets to peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030.

Together, the U.S. and China account for over one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Today’s joint announcement, the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue, highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change. The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time. These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.

The new U.S. goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025. This ambitious target is grounded in intensive analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law and will keep the United States on the right trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide reductions on the order of 80 percent by 2050.

The Administration’s steady efforts to reduce emissions will deliver ever-larger carbon pollution reductions, public health improvements and consumer savings over time and provide a firm foundation to meet the new U.S. target.

The United States will submit its 2025 target to the Framework Convention on Climate Change as an “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” no later than the first quarter of 2015.

The joint announcement marks the first time China has agreed to peak its CO2 emissions. The United States expects that China will succeed in peaking its emissions before 2030 based on its broad economic reform program, plans to address air pollution, and implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution.

China’s target to expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030 is notable. It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.
Building on Progress

In 2009, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were projected to continue increasing indefinitely, but President Obama set an ambitious goal to cut emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020. Throughout the first term, the Administration took strong actions to cut carbon pollution, including investing more than $80 billion in clean energy technologies under the recovery program, establishing historic fuel economy standards, doubling solar and wind electricity, and implementing ambitious energy efficiency measures.

Early in his second term, President Obama launched an ambitious Climate Action Plan focused on cutting carbon pollution, preparing the nation for climate impacts, and leading internationally. In addition to bolstering first-term efforts to ramp up renewable energy and efficiency, the Plan is cutting carbon pollution through new measures, including:

  • Clean Power Plan: EPA proposed guidelines for existing power plants in June 2014 that would reduce power sector emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 while delivering $55-93 billion in net benefits from improved public health and reduced carbon pollution.
  • Standards for Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles: In February 2014, President Obama directed EPA and the Department of Transportation to issue the next phase of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by March 2016. These will build on the first-ever standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (model years 2014 through 2018), proposed and finalized by this Administration.
  • Energy Efficiency Standards: The Department of Energy set a goal of reducing carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 through energy conservation standards issued during this Administration. These measures will also cut consumers’ annual electricity bills by billions of dollars.
  • Economy-wide Measures to reduce other Greenhouse Gases: The Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies are taking actions to cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, agriculture, and oil and gas systems through cost-effective voluntary actions and common-sense standards. At the same time, the State Department is working to slash global emissions of potent industrial greenhouse gases called HFCs through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol; the Environmental Protection Agency is cutting domestic HFC emissions through its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program; and, the private sector has stepped up with commitments to cut global HFC emissions equivalent to 700 million metric tons through 2025.

Expanding U.S. and China Climate & Clean Energy Cooperation

To further support the achievement of the ambitious climate goals announced today, the United States and China have pledged to strengthen cooperation on climate and clean energy. The two countries are expanding their ongoing and robust program of cooperation through policy dialogue and technical work on clean energy and low greenhouse gas emissions technologies.

The United States and China agreed to:

  • Expand Joint Clean Energy Research and Development: A renewed and expanded commitment to the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC). This will include:
    • Extending the CERC mandate for an additional five years from 2016-2020;
    • Renewing funding for the three existing tracks: building efficiency, clean vehicles, and advanced coal technologies with carbon capture, use and sequestration (CCUS); and
    • Launching a new track on the interaction of energy and water (the energy/water ‘nexus’).
  • Advance Major Carbon Capture, Use and Storage Demonstrations: Expanding our work under the Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) and under the CERC, and partnering with the private sector, the United States and China will undertake a major carbon capture and storage project in China that supports a long term, detailed assessment of full-scale sequestration in a suitable, secure underground geologic reservoir. The United States and China will make equal funding commitments to the project and will seek additional funding commitments from other countries and the private sector. In addition, both sides will work to manage climate change by demonstrating a new frontier for CO2 use through a carbon capture, use, and sequestration (CCUS) project that will capture and store CO2 while producing fresh water, thus demonstrating power generation as a net producer of water instead of a water consumer. This CCUS project with Enhanced Water Recovery will eventually inject about 1 million tons of CO2 and create approximately 1.4 million cubic meters of freshwater per year.
  • Enhance Cooperation on Hydroflurocarbons (HFCs): Building on the historic Sunnylands agreement between President Xi and President Obama regarding HFCs, the United States and China will enhance bilateral cooperation to begin phasing down the use of high global warming potential HFCs, including through technical cooperation on domestic measures to promote HFC alternatives and to transition government procurement toward climate-friendly refrigerants.
  • Launch a Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Initiative: Urbanization is a major trend in the 21st century, and cities worldwide account for a significant percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In response, the United States and China are establishing a new initiative on Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities under the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group. Under the initiative, the two countries will share city-level experiences with planning, policies, and use of technologies for sustainable, resilient, low-carbon growth. This initiative will eventually include demonstrations of new technologies for smart infrastructure for urbanization. As a first step, the United States and China will convene a Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities “Summit” where leading cities from both countries will share best practices, set new goals, and celebrate city-level leadership.
  • Promote Trade in Green Goods: The United States announced that Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will lead a Smart Cities/Smart Growth Business Development Mission to China April 12-17, 2015, focused on green infrastructure, energy efficiency and environmental trade sectors. The mission will highlight the benefits of sustainable urbanization, technologies to support China’s air pollution and climate goals, and green buildings opportunities. In addition, USTDA will conduct three reverse trade missions to bring Chinese delegations to see environmental, smart grid, and CCUS technologies in the United States over the next year.
  • Demonstrate Clean Energy on the Ground: U.S. DOE, State, and USTDA will undertake a number of additional pilot programs, feasibility studies, and other collaborative efforts to promote China’s energy efficiency and renewable energy goals. These will include expansion of our cooperation on “smart grids” that enable efficient and cost-effective integration of renewable energy technology, as well as the implementation through a U.S. and Chinese private sector commercial agreement of a first-of-its-kind 380 MW concentrating solar plant in China.

Kochs Respond: President Obama's 'Radical International Energy Agenda' Is 'Harmful,' 'Destructive', 'Needless'

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 23 Sep 2014 20:20:00 GMT

Koch at the Met
David Koch at the Met’s Koch Plaza
The political arm of the Koch brothers’ petrochemical empire excoriated President Barack Obama’s address at the UN climate summit today, challenging the science of climate change and the economics of climate policy as “radical,” “ideological,” “destructive,” and “needless.” David Koch, one of the two brothers who run Koch Industries, is the richest man in New York City, with his home and offices a few blocks from the United Nations headquarters.

In an email to supporters, Tim Phillips, the president of the Koch political advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity, decried the president’s “radical international energy agenda for “what used to be called global warming, then climate change, then extreme weather, and now finally climate disruption.” (The idea that the left changes the name of global warming as a propagandistic fiction is a conservative meme.) Phillips then blamed the Republican filibuster of climate legislation on Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):
The worst part is, President Obama knows that his energy agenda is harmful and will not help our country get back on the path to prosperity. In fact the President’s proposal is so unpopular and destructive, even Harry Reid’s Senate wouldn’t dream of passing it, which is why he has bypassed Congress and taken his short-sighted, destructive energy policies to an international body.

In an accompanying video entitled “Obama’s UN Speech Promises to Kill Jobs and Raise Energy Prices,” Phillips rejects the science of man-made climate change, and falsely claims that reductions in carbon pollution would be economically harmful and environmentally meaningless.

“If all the numbers, facts, and figures that the left claims are true, their own numbers say this will make really no difference in saving the planet. We think they’re wrong on the merits, but even if you accept their numbers, this will be nothing but a lose-lose situation for the American public.”

The email links to a letter campaign in opposition to “the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations calling for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030,” calling on U.S. Senators to “stop the EPA from forcing more burdensome regulations on our families.”

Text of supporter email:

Subject: Our response to Pres. Obama:
From: Tim Phillips

The President really wants you to believe that his environmental agenda will help the country’s, and the world’s, most vulnerable. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Today President Obama delivered a speech at the United Nations in New York City to promote his ideologically-driven, destructive energy agenda to combat what used to be called global warming, then climate change, then extreme weather, and now finally climate disruption. The President insists that an international climate agreement is in the best interests of the American people. He claims that the United States must act on climate change now to protect future generations and the future of our country from changes in the weather.

What President Obama DIDN’T you (sic) during his speech is the truth about his radical international energy agenda—that it will severely damage the US economy, and that America’s poorest and most vulnerable will end up paying the price. More needless regulations on the energy industry mean costlier electric bills and a higher overall cost of living for everyone.

If President Obama is truly committed to helping those in need, he should seriously rethink his energy agenda. Affordable energy is essential to human well-being and prosperity not just in the United States, but around the world. But if President Obama has his way, the cost of electricity will only continue to rise.

With every policy decision, it becomes more and more clear that President Obama is only concerned with his own legacy—not about the quality of life of the American people and future generations.

The worst part is, President Obama knows that his energy agenda is harmful and will not help our country get back on the path to prosperity. In fact the President’s proposal is so unpopular and destructive, even Harry Reid’s Senate wouldn’t dream of passing it, which is why he has bypassed Congress and taken his short-sighted, destructive energy policies to an international body.

Text of suggested email to senators:
Subject: Please oppose the EPA’s new proposed regulations

Dear Senator,

I urge you to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations calling for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

If these regulations pass, hardworking Americans and their families will end up paying the price. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that the proposed regulations will increase electricity costs by $289 billion and lower families’ disposable incomes by $586 billion through 2030, based its assumptions on a similar proposal by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Household budgets are already stretched thin – now is not the time to raise energy bills on American energy consumers.

A new report from the US Chamber of Commerce found that the proposed regulations will cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs, based on its assumptions on a similar proposal by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report found that carbon regulations will lower US gross domestic product by $1 billion and lead to a loss of 224,000 US jobs on average every year through 2030.

Please stand with American taxpayers and stop the EPA from forcing more burdensome regulations on our families. Thank you.

President Barack Obama's Remarks at the UN Climate Summit: 'Our Citizens Keep Marching'

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 23 Sep 2014 19:27:00 GMT

President ObamaAddressing the United Nations climate summit in New York City, President Barack Obama called climate change a ‘global threat’ that has ‘moved firmly into the present.’ Hobbled by a deadlocked Congress, the president offered no new major policy initiatives.

“Our citizens keep marching,” Obama said in reference to Sunday’s historic People’s Climate March. “We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.”

He also commented on the rise of extreme weather disasters around the globe, including flooding in Miami, drought and floods in the heartland, the West’s year-long wildfire season, and the catastrophic damage of Superstorm Sandy. “No nation is immune,” he said, recognizing that “some nations already live with far worse.”

Obama did not directly mention fossil fuel production or his “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy, unlike recent speeches on climate change to domestic audiences, in which he has celebrated the rise in domestic production of oil and natural gas. In fact, the speech did not include the words “coal,” “oil,” “fossil fuels,” or “natural gas.”

Hobbled by a legislative branch stymied by Republican opposition to climate action or international climate funding, Obama made no new grand pledges on behalf of the United States, instead highlighting the coming EPA regulation of carbon pollution from power plants, voluntary actions by corporate America, and a reduction in HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

“I believe, in the words of Dr. King, that there is such a thing as being too late,” Obama said near the end of his speech. As the United States is not currently leading the way in rapidly decarbonizing the global economy, that statement may serve to summarize his presidential legacy.

Watch:

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow leaders: For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week — terrorism, instability, inequality, disease — there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.

Five years have passed since many of us met in Copenhagen. And since then, our understanding of climate change has advanced — both in the deepening science that says this once-distant threat has moved “firmly into the present,” and into the sting of more frequent extreme weather events that show us exactly what these changes may mean for future generations.

No nation is immune. In America, the past decade has been our hottest on record. Along our eastern coast, the city of Miami now floods at high tide. In our west, wildfire season now stretches most of the year. In our heartland, farms have been parched by the worst drought in generations, and drenched by the wettest spring in our history. A hurricane left parts of this great city dark and underwater. And some nations already live with far worse. Worldwide, this summer was the hottest ever recorded — with global carbon emissions still on the rise.

So the climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call. We know what we have to do to avoid irreparable harm. We have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change. We have to adapt to the impacts that, unfortunately, we can no longer avoid. And we have to work together as a global community to tackle this global threat before it is too late.

We cannot condemn our children, and their children, to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair. Not when we have the means — the technological innovation and the scientific imagination — to begin the work of repairing it right now.

As one of America’s governors has said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” So today, I’m here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that we have begun to do something about it.

The United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy, and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions. We now harness three times as much electricity from the wind and 10 times as much from the sun as we did when I came into office. Within a decade, our cars will go twice as far on a gallon of gas, and already, every major automaker offers electric vehicles. We’ve made unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in our homes and our buildings and our appliances, all of which will save consumers billions of dollars. And we are committed to helping communities build climate-resilient infrastructure.

So, all told, these advances have helped create jobs, grow our economy, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades — proving that there does not have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth.

Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to do more. Last year, I issued America’s first Climate Action Plan to double down on our efforts. Under that plan, my administration is working with states and utilities to set first-ever standards to cut the amount of carbon pollution our power plants can dump into the air. And when completed, this will mark the single most important and significant step the United States has ever taken to reduce our carbon emissions.

Last week alone, we announced an array of new actions in renewable energy and energy efficiency that will save consumers more than $10 billion on their energy bills and cut carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons through 2030. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 60 million cars off the road for one year.

I also convened a group of private sector leaders who’ve agreed to do their part to slash consumption of dangerous greenhouse gases known as HFCs — slash them 80 percent by 2050.

And already, more than 100 nations have agreed to launch talks to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol — the same agreement the world used successfully to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.

This is something that President Xi of China and I have worked on together. Just a few minutes ago, I met with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, and reiterated my belief that as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead. That’s what big nations have to do.

And today, I call on all countries to join us — not next year, or the year after, but right now, because no nation can meet this global threat alone. The United States has also engaged more allies and partners to cut carbon pollution and prepare for the impacts we cannot avoid. All told, American climate assistance now reaches more than 120 nations around the world. We’re helping more nations skip past the dirty phase of development, using current technologies, not duplicating the same mistakes and environmental degradation that took place previously.

We’re partnering with African entrepreneurs to launch clean energy projects. We’re helping farmers practice climate-smart agriculture and plant more durable crops. We’re building international coalitions to drive action, from reducing methane emissions from pipelines to launching a free trade agreement for environmental goods. And we have been working shoulder-to-shoulder with many of you to make the Green Climate Fund a reality.

But let me be honest. None of this is without controversy. In each of our countries, there are interests that will be resistant to action. And in each country, there is a suspicion that if we act and other countries don’t that we will be at an economic disadvantage. But we have to lead. That is what the United Nations and this General Assembly is about.

Now, the truth is, is that no matter what we do, some populations will still be at risk. The nations that contribute the least to climate change often stand to lose the most. And that’s why, since I took office, the United States has expanded our direct adaptation assistance eightfold, and we’re going to do more.

Today, I’m directing our federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into our international development programs and investments. And I’m announcing a new effort to deploy the unique scientific and technological capabilities of the United States, from climate data to early-warning systems. So this effort includes a new partnership that will draw on the resources and expertise of our leading private sector companies and philanthropies to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters, and better plan for long-term threats like steadily rising seas.

Yes, this is hard. But there should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate. We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it. We will do our part, and we will help developing nations do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation — developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.

The emerging economies that have experienced some of the most dynamic growth in recent years have also emitted rising levels of carbon pollution. It is those emerging economies that are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in the years to come. So nobody can stand on the sidelines on this issues. We have to set aside the old divides. We have to raise our collective ambition, each of us doing what we can to confront this global challenge.

This time, we need an agreement that reflects economic realities in the next decade and beyond. It must be ambitious — because that’s what the scale of this challenge demands. It must be inclusive — because every country must play its part. And, yes, it must be flexible — because different nations have different circumstances.

Five years ago, I pledged America would reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. America will meet that target. And by early next year, we will put forward our next emission target, reflecting our confidence in the ability of our technological entrepreneurs and scientific innovators to lead the way.

So today, I call on all major economies to do the same. For I believe, in the words of Dr. King, that there is such a thing as being too late. And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate while we still can.

This challenge demands our ambition. Our children deserve such ambition. And if we act now, if we can look beyond the swarm of current events and some of the economic challenges and political challenges involved, if we place the air that our children will breathe and the food that they will eat and the hopes and dreams of all posterity above our own short-term interests, we may not be too late for them.

While you and I may not live to see all the fruits of our labor, we can act to see that the century ahead is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; not by human suffering, but by human progress; and that the world we leave to our children, and our children’s children, will be cleaner and healthier, and more prosperous and secure.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

New York Times Joins the Bumbling Keystone XL Cops

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 25 Apr 2014 13:21:00 GMT

Coral Davenport
Coral Davenport
In a New York Times Earth Day story, the usually excellent Coral Davenport grossly misrepresents the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline’s true impact on global warming, and questions the wisdom of pipeline opponents like the activists now encamped on the National Mall.

The pipeline is intended to ship upwards of 830,000 barrels of tar-sands crude a day for a 40-year lifespan. The pipeline will add 120-200 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent to the atmosphere annually, with a lifetime footprint of 6 to 8 billion tons CO2e. That’s as much greenhouse pollution as 40 to 50 average U.S. coal-fired power plants. Furthermore the Keystone XL pipeline is recognized by the tar-sands industry as a key spigot for the future development of the Alberta tar sands, which would emit 840 billion tons CO2e if fully exploited.

Interviewing Washington insiders who have offered various forms of support for the Keystone XL project, Davenport claims instead that “Keystone’s political symbolism vastly outweighs its policy substance.” To support the claim, Davenport then erroneously underestimates the global warming footprint of the pipeline by a factor of ten. Davenport’s crucial error is to contrast the actual carbon footprint of existing fossil-fuel projects — such as US electric power plants (2.8 billion tons) and tailpipe emissions (1.9 billion) — to the impact of the pipeline’s oil being dirtier than traditional petroleum, without explaining that she was switching measurements:
Consider the numbers: In 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive international data is available, the global economy emitted 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon [dioxide] pollution. The United States was responsible for 5.5 billion tons of that (coming in second to China, which emitted 8.7 billion tons). Within the United States, electric power plants produced 2.8 billion tons of those greenhouse gases, while vehicle tailpipe emissions from burning gasoline produced 1.9 billion tons.

By comparison, the oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 18.7 million metric tons of carbon [dioxide] to the atmosphere annually, the E.P.A. estimated.

[There are two side errors in the passage: Davenport uses “tons of carbon” where she means “tons of carbon dioxide equivalent”. One ton of carbon is the equivalent of 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide. All of her numbers refer to tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent. Secondly, the estimate was not made by the E.P.A. but by a State Department contractor hired by TransCanada; the E.P.A. cited that analysis but did not make the calculations.]

What the oil-industry contractor for the State Department actually calculated is that the oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 147-168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually, 1.3 to 27.4 million of which (central estimate 18.7 million from the draft assessment) are because tar-sands crude is dirtier than other petroleum sources. Those 18.7 million tons are the “incremental” or “additional” footprint of the pipeline, not the full 160 million-ton footprint.

Based on this order-of-magnitude measurement-switching error, Davenport incorrectly concludes that “the carbon emissions produced by oil that would be moved in the Keystone pipeline would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.”

In fact, the carbon dioxide emissions produced by oil that would be moved in this single pipeline would amount to 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and half a percent of the global carbon footprint. Only thirty-two countries have larger annual footprints than this single tar-sands project.

Climate scientist John Abraham made this point in The Guardian last week. “People who think Keystone is a minor issue don’t understand science and they sure don’t understand economics,” he wrote.

Jason Bordoff
Jason Bordoff
How on earth could Davenport and the pipeline supporters she cites — Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations, Kevin Book of the fossil-industry consultancy ClearView Energy Partners, former Obama White House climate advisor Jason Bordoff of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, Adele Morris of the Brookings Institution, and fossil-industry lobbyist David Goldwyn (a former advisor for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and also a Brookings fellow) — make this basic and outsized mistake?

Putting aside any possible political and economic motivations to support the intentions of the global petroleum industry, the intellectual failure rests on an obvious error made subtle through convolution.

Whether one is looking at actual or incremental footprints of carbon-infrastructure projects, the results should be equivalent from a policy standpoint, although the numbers would be different. Why, then, does the incremental analysis used by the EPA and the State Department’s oil-industry contractors appear to give the absurd result that the Keystone XL impact is “infinitesimal”?

The methodology of incremental footprint analysis assumes a baseline of future projected carbon pollution, and then looks whether a given project would increase or decrease the baseline. The validity of incremental-footprint analysis thus depends on the baseline.

In line with scientific warnings, President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department have committed to limiting global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the International Energy Agency’s 2°C scenario, global oil consumption would fall by 50 percent from current levels by 2050, within the intended operating lifetime of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Keystone XL final environmental impact statement instead assumes that global oil demand will increase over that time period. The baseline used is the Energy Information Administration’s 2013 Annual Energy Outlook, which projects that global oil consumption will increase by 30 to 40 percent by 2040. In that scenario, the world would be on a pathway for rapid and catastrophic global warming of 4 to 6°C (or greater) by 2100.

No matter the analysis, the Keystone XL pipeline is incompatible with climate security. The global-warming impact of constructing Keystone XL is only “infinitesimal” if you assume catastrophic global warming is inevitable and that the signed climate pledges of the United States government are worthless.

Perhaps Ms. Davenport should ask Levi, Book, Bordoff, Morris, and Goldwyn if that is their assumption.

Update May 2: The Times has posted a correction:

Correction: May 2, 2014

An article and an accompanying chart on April 22 comparing the projected Keystone XL pipeline with other sources of carbon emissions referred imprecisely to projected emissions from tar-sands oil moving through the pipeline. Producing and burning that oil would emit 18.7 million more metric tons annually than would conventional oil, or far less than 1 percent of United States emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The tar-sands oil would not emit 18.7 million tons total, but about 150 million tons, or less than 3 percent of United States emissions.

The correction itself is in error; the estimate of 18.7 million metric tons is not from the E.P.A., but is from the draft assessment prepared by TransCanada contractor Environmental Resources Management for the State Department.

Data-Driven Efforts To Boost Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 19 Mar 2014 21:00:00 GMT

On Wednesday, March 19, the White House, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will host an event highlighting the Administration’s commitment to empower America’s communities with the information they need to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The event will include new announcements from Federal agencies, businesses, researchers, academia, and others to deploy data-driven technologies and leverage freely available open government data to build products and services that strengthen our Nation’s ability to prepare for the effects of climate change today and in the future.

The Obama Administration recognizes that even as we act to curb the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, we must also improve our ability to prepare for climate impacts that are already occurring across the country. The insights gathered from scientific data are essential to help communities and businesses better understand and manage the risks associated with climate change. The cutting-edge technologies built by American innovators and businesses must be harnessed in order to unleash the insights of science in ways that directly benefit communities on the front lines of climate change.

Over the past few years, the Obama Administration has launched a series of Open Data Initiatives, which have released troves of valuable data that were previously hard to access in areas such as energy, health, education, public safety, and global development. These data are being used by innovators, businesses, researchers, and the public to create new services and applications that benefit Americans.

  • John Podesta, Counselor to the President
  • Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Mike Boots, Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
  • Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
  • Dr. Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist
  • Jack Dangermond, CEO of Esri
  • Rebecca Moore, Founder of Google Earth Engine
  • Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President & Special Envoy for Climate Change
  • Joel Dunn, Executive Director, Chesapeake Conservancy
  • Denice Ross, Director of Enterprise Information, City of New Orleans
  • Stephen Harper, Global Director, Environment and Energy Policy, Intel Corporation

The event will also feature remarks, presentations, and demonstrations of data-driven tools by private-sector technology companies, communities, scientists, and other climate experts.

MEDIA REGISTRATION: This event is OPEN PRESS. Media wishing to cover this event must RSVP. Press holding White House hard passes must send their name, media outlet, phone, and email, to media_affairs@who.eop.gov, by Wednesday, March 19, at 12:00PM ET, with the subject line “CLIMATE.” Press not holding White House hard passes must include their full legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, gender, country of citizenship, and current city and state of residence. All press will enter the White House at the Northwest Gate.

White House Issues Veto Threat Against House Bill to Kill Power-Plant Carbon Rules

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 05 Mar 2014 21:32:00 GMT

The White House has issued a veto threat against legislation from the Republican-led House of Representatives that would nullify proposed carbon pollution standards for future power plants. The Electricity Security and Affordability Act (H.R. 3826), introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), is up for consideration on the House floor this week.

“H.R. 3826 would nullify proposed carbon pollution standards for future power plants, and arbitrarily restrict the available technologies that could be considered for any new standards,” argued the White House statement. “Finally, the bill could delay indefinitely reductions in carbon pollution from existing power plants by prohibiting forthcoming rules from taking effect until Congress passes legislation setting the effective date of the rules.”

The bill has 94 co-sponsors, including seven Democrats (John Barrow, William Enyart, Jim Matheson, Collin Peterson, Nick Rahall, Terri Sewell, and Mike McIntyre).

Full text of statement:

March 4, 2014 (House Rules)

STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H.R. 3826 – Electricity Security and Affordability Act
(Rep. Whitfield, R-Kentucky, and 94 cosponsors)

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3826, which would undermine the public health protections of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and stop U.S. progress in cutting dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. In 2009, EPA determined that Greenhouse Gas (GHG) pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting climate changes that are already having a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic GHG emissions. While the United States limits emissions of arsenic, mercury, and lead pollution from power plants, there are no national limits on power plant carbon pollution. As part of his Climate Action Plan, the President directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work with States, utilities, and other stakeholders to develop standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants. H.R. 3826 would block those important efforts, threatening the health and safety of Americans.

H.R. 3826 would nullify proposed carbon pollution standards for future power plants, and arbitrarily restrict the available technologies that could be considered for any new standards. This requirement would stifle progress in reducing carbon pollution by discouraging the adoption of currently available and effective technology, and would limit further development of cutting-edge clean energy technologies. Finally, the bill could delay indefinitely reductions in carbon pollution from existing power plants by prohibiting forthcoming rules from taking effect until Congress passes legislation setting the effective date of the rules. This would undermine regulatory certainty and prevent timely action on standards for the power sector — the largest source of carbon pollution in the country.

Since it was enacted in 1970, and amended in 1977 and 1990, each time with strong bipartisan support, the CAA has improved the Nation’s air quality and protected public health. Over that same period of time, the economy has grown over 200 percent while emissions of key pollutants have decreased by more than 70 percent. Forty years of clean air regulation has shown that a strong economy and strong environmental and public health protection go hand-in-hand.

The Administration stands ready to work with Congress to enact comprehensive legislation to achieve meaningful reductions in carbon pollution. However, the President has made it clear that if Congress fails to act to protect future generations from the threat of climate change, his Administration will.

Because H.R. 3826 threatens the health and economic welfare of future generations by blocking important standards to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector, if the President is presented with H.R. 3826, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

Hundreds of Youth Activists Arrested at White House for Keystone XL Protest

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 03 Mar 2014 00:37:00 GMT

Arrests at White House398 youth activists were arrested Sunday in front of the White House, after staging a “die-in” protest against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The protesters marched from the Georgetown University site of President Barack Obama’s 2013 climate speech to the street in front of Secretary of State John Kerry’s house before arriving at the White House. Kerry is slated to make a decision on on whether the pipeline — which will unlock access to Canadian tar sands and have a carbon footprint equivalent to fifty new coal-fired power plants — is in the national interest. President Obama is responsible for the final determination.

“We are trying to escalate as much as we can,” Michael Greenberg, a Columbia University sophomore who helped organize Sunday’s protest, told the National Journal’s Ben Geman. “We are not playing softball with the president any more.”

“Young people are tired of watching a president who ran on the promise of ‘ending the tyranny of oil’ keep caving to the fossil fuel industry,” wrote Jamie Henn, Communications Director for 350 Action, at MSNBC.com

There is a Flickr set of XLDissent photographs, and Annie-Rose Strasser at Climate Progress has compiled photos from Twitter of the march and protest.

“An entire movement has thrown itself into in this Keystone fight, from local frontline groups to big national green organizations,” said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. “But this weekend shows the power and bravery of some of the most crucial elements: young people, and activists who understand the centrality of environmental justice.”

Commentary: Obama Does Not Believe Global Warming a Civil-War or World-War-II Scale Crisis

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 21 Jan 2014 05:34:00 GMT

Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama evidently does not believe that fossil-fueled global warming is a nation-threatening crisis, despite repeated scientific warnings that a full-scale mobilization must be enacted now to avert global catastrophe. At the top of his list for accomplishments before the end of his term, instead of a redirection of the national and global economy towards rapid decarbonization, is the goal of beginning “the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class.”

In response to The New Yorker’s David Remnick’s question of “what he felt he must get done before leaving office,” Obama said:
I think we are fortunate at the moment that we do not face a crisis of the scale and scope that Lincoln or F.D.R. faced.

Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were president at the start of the Civil War and World War II, respectively.

Obama’s presidency has been marked by a backing away from a sense of urgency about the climate crisis. “Obviously there’s great urgency in dealing with a threat to the entire planet,” Obama said as a candidate in 2007. In an October 2007 speech, he called global warming “the planet’s greatest threat,” “the issue that will determine the very future of life on this Earth,” “a fact that threatens our very existence,” and “the most urgent challenge of this era.”

“Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now,” he said. He pledged “to phase out a carbon-based economy that’s causing our changing climate.” “As President, I will lead this commitment,” he promised.

Six and half years later, global carbon pollution has continued to rise rapidly, fueled in no small part by Obama’s “all of the above” support for increased oil drilling, fracking, and coal mining.

After years of near-to-total silence on the ravages of a polluted climate to the nation, Obama started his second term with a new promise for action.

“As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act,” he said in June 2013.

It looks he doesn’t actually feel the urgency of his own words.

Podesta Rebukes Environmentalists For Criticizing Obama's "All of the Above" Support For Fossil-Fuel Extraction

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 17 Jan 2014 20:10:00 GMT

Obama’s new top climate adviser rebuked environmental leaders who challenged the president to dump his “all of the above” energy strategy as incompatible with needed climate action. In a letter obtained by the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, John Podesta questioned why the climate advocates criticized the president for his support of increased fossil-fuel extraction.

Making reference to Obama’s “bold Climate Action Plan” announced in June 2013, Podesta cited “significant decreases in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions” despite “opposition to key components of the plan” from Republicans in the House and Senate. Podesta noted that the plan “commits to additional steps to cut the emissions of carbon pollution, prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to combat global climate change,” claiming that the “breadth of the plan makes it impossible to detail those steps in this letter.”

Podesta’s only reference to President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy of increased fossil-fuel extraction came in his criticism of the environmentalists:

Given this context, I was surprised that you chose to send your January 16 letter to President Obama. The President has been leading the transition,[sic] to low-carbon energy sources, and understands the need to consider a balanced approach to all forms of energy development, including oil and gas production.

Podesta did not reply to the environmentalists’ mention of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline, which he has previously criticized. Upon taking the White House job, Podesta said he would not weigh in on the decision of whether the construction of the pipeline would be in the national interest, a determination to be made by the State Department and President Obama.

Under Podesta’s direction, the Center for American Progress offered divergent views on Obama’s “all of the above” policy:
  • Center for American Progress Director of Climate Strategy Daniel Weiss testified in 2012 and in 2013 in support of Obama’s “all of the above” strategy.
  • Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Joseph Romm, editor of Climate Progress, bluntly said in 2012 that the “all-of-the-above energy strategy” is what defines Obama’s “failed presidency.” He later excoriated Obama’s “big wet kiss to oil and gas.”

The text of the letter, typos included, is below:

THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON

January 17, 2014

TO:

Wm. Robert Irvin, American Rivers, President and CEO
Robert Wendelgass, Clean Water Action, President
Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife, President and CEO
Trip Van Noppen, Earthjustice, President
Maura Cowley, Energy Action Coalition, Executive Director
Margie Alt, Environment America, Executive Director
Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund, President
Eric Pica, Friends of the Earth, President
Gene Karpinski, League of Conservation Voters, President
David Yarnold, National Audubon Society, President and CEO
Larry J. Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation, President & CEO
John Echohawk, Native American Rights Fund, Executive Director
Frances Beinecke, Natural Resources Defense Council, President
Andrew Sharpless, Oceana, Chief Executive Officer
Catherine Thomasson, MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Executive Director
John Seager, Population Connection, President
Michael Brune, Sierra Club, Executive Director
Sandy Newman, Voices for Progress, President

I am writing in response to your January 16 letter to President Obama regarding climate change. President Obama understands that climate change poses a significant threat to our environment, to public health and to our economy. He believes it is imperative that we act to address these threats, and that doing so provides an opportunity for the United States to lead in the development and deployment of clean energy technologies needed to reduce emissions. For these reasons, the President has taken steps to address the climate change challenge throughout the last five years, including a issuing a bold Climate Action Plan in June of 2013.

The Climate Action Plan builds on major progress during the President’s first term, including: historic fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for light-duty vehicles that will cut 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution, cut oil consumption by 12 billion barrels of oil, and save consumer $1.7 trillion over the lifetime of the program; energy efficiency standards for appliances that will cut pollution and save consumers and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades; historic support for renewable energy that has helped to drive down technology costs and more than doubled generation of electricity from wind and solar. These steps by the Obama Administration have contributed to significant decreases in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; 2012 emissions of carbon dioxide were at their lowest level the lowest [sic] in nearly twenty years.

The Climate Action Plan outlined by President Obama in a historic speech at Georgetown in June of 2013 builds on these measures, and commits to additional steps to cut the emissions of carbon pollution, prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to combat global climate change. The breadth of the plan makes it impossible to detail those steps in this letter, but key commitments to continue to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions include establishing the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants, a multi-sector strategy to reduce methane emissions, action to limit the use of HFCs and promote the use of more climate-friendly alternatives, additional DOE energy efficiency standards, and additional fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy duty vehicles.

We have made significant progress in implementing the plan in the last seven months, and I attach for your review a recent report that details this work. However, significant work lies ahead in meeting the commitments outlined in the Climate Action Plan. In addition, opposition to key components of the plan remains. Last week, the White House had to fight off anti-environmental Appropriations riders, including ones that would have prevented the EPA from implementing regulations to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, and would have prevented the Administration from moving forward with Tier 3 vehicle and fuel standards. On the day your letter arrived, the Senate Minority Leader filed a Congressional Review Act resolution to overturn rules to regulate CO2 emissions from new power plants.

Given this context, I was surprised that you chose to send your January 16 letter to President Obama. The President has been leading the transition,[sic] to low-carbon energy sources, and understands the need to consider a balanced approach to all forms of energy development, including oil and gas production.

With respect to meeting the threats posed by a rapidly changing climate, implementation of the Climate Action Plan must and will remain the focus of our efforts. In the meantime, we will continue to welcome your advice, based on your very long experience on how to convince the American public of the need and opportunity to transform dirty energy systems to ones that are cleaner and more efficient.

Sincerely,

John D. Podesta

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