Policy & Politics
21 Sep 2016:
Paris Climate Agreement Moves
One Step Closer to Entering Into Force
Thirty-one countries officially joined the Paris climate accords this week at United Nations’ meetings in New York City.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The announcements bring the total number of countries joining the Paris Agreement to 60, representing 48 percent of global emissions. Once nations that generate 55 percent of global emissions officially join, the agreement will enter into force within 30 days. The new countries include
Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide; Argentina; Mexico; and the United Arab Emirates. China and the United States officially joined the agreement earlier this month. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon predicted the agreement, created in December last year, would enter into force by the end of this year. “What once seemed impossible now seems inevitable,” Ban said
20 Sep 2016:
China Leads in Wind Installation,
But Continues to Prioritize Coal in the Grid
China built two wind turbines every hour in 2015, double that of the U.S., according to the International Energy Agency
. The country is installing enough wind to meet all of its new energy demand, more than 30,000 megawatts last year. Despite this promising development, however, the IEA told BBC News
that China is giving coal-fired power plants priority access to the grid over wind, hampering the country’s pledge to get an increasing share of its electricity from renewable energy sources. “The rather rosy statement on wind energy hides the issue that 2015 and the first half of 2016 also saw record new installations of coal,” an IEA spokesman said. “China has now a clear over-supply. In the province of Gansu, 39% of wind energy had to be curtailed (turned off).”
15 Sep 2016:
Obama Announces First
Marine Protected Area off U.S. East Coast
President Obama is creating a 4,913-square-mile marine monument off the New England coast, adding to a long list of marine protected areas established in recent years by the Obama and Bush administrations. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, contains massive undersea canyons and towering seamounts and is the first fully protected federal marine reserve off the eastern seaboard. The area is home to deep-sea corals, sharks, deep-diving marine mammals, whales, and sea turtles, and is a rich fishing ground. The fishing industry objected to the creation of the marine monument, arguing that existing fisheries management laws were sufficient to protect the area. Under the new designation, commercial fishing will be phased out over seven years. Obama has also recently created massive marine reserves off Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast, and today a quarter of U.S. waters are under strong federal protection.
Clinton vs. Trump: A Sharp Divide
Over Energy and the Environment
Environmental and energy issues have received relatively little attention from the two major-party candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. But when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have spoken out on these issues, the differences — like just about everything else about this campaign — have been stark. In a chart, Yale Environment 360
compares what Clinton and Trump have said on topics ranging from climate change to coal. See the graphic.
Thousands of Homes Keep Flooding,
Yet They Keep Being Rebuilt Again
More than 2,100 properties across the U.S. enrolled in the National Flood Insurance Program have flooded and been rebuilt more than 10 times since 1978, according to a
new analysis of insurance data by the Natural Resources Defense Council
Flooding in Denham Springs, Louisiana.
(NRDC). One home in Batchelor, Louisiana has flooded 40 times over the past four decades, receiving $428,379 in insurance payments. More than 30,000 properties in the program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have flooded multiple times over the years. Those homes, known as “severe repetitive loss properties,” make up just 0.6 percent of federal flood insurance policies. But they account for 10.6 percent of the program’s claims — totaling $5.5 billion in payments.
08 Aug 2016:
Ending U.S. Oil Subsidies
Would Have Minimal Impact, Study Says
Eliminating the U.S. government’s $4 billion in annual petroleum industry subsidies would have only a minor impact on American oil and natural gas production and consumption, but would strengthen the country’s influence in pushing for global action to slow climate change, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations.
said that ending the three major federal petroleum subsidies would cut domestic production by 5 percent by 2030, which would increase international oil processing by just one percent. U.S. natural gas prices could go up by as much as 10 percent, and natural gas consumption and production would likely fall about 4 percent, the study found. Petroleum industry subsidies are a political flashpoint, with many Democrats arguing for their elimination and Republicans saying they are vital to U.S. energy security. But the study’s author concluded that “U.S. energy security would neither increase nor decrease substantially” if the subsidies are ended.
05 Aug 2016:
Melting Ice Sheet Could Expose
Abandoned U.S. Arctic Military Base
The rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet could unearth a secret, Cold War-era military base as early as next century, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. Camp Century was built in 1959 to
Entrance to Camp Century.
explore whether the U.S. could covertly deploy ballistic missiles from within the ice sheet, a mission known as Project Iceworm
. By 1967, the military had abandoned the base with little clean up, expecting it would be naturally entombed as snow and ice continued to accumulate on the Greenland ice cap. But warming global temperatures mean that ice loss in this frigid area of northwestern Greenland could exceed gains from new snowfall within 75 years, the study found. The hidden base could be exposed just a few decades later, along with all of the “physical, chemical, biological, and radiological wastes abandoned at the site,” the authors wrote.
04 Aug 2016:
UNESCO Moves To Expand
World Heritage Sites Into the Deep Ocean
UNESCO has launched a campaign
to include deep-sea ecosystems in its list of World Heritage Sites. Previously, only sites within national jurisdiction,
A Dumbo octopus in the deep sea.
either on land or close to shore, could be given heritage status and UNESCO protection. But ecosystems within the open ocean, which covers more than half the planet, deserve similar classification, UNESCO says. In a new report, World Heritage in the High Seas: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
, the organization presents five biodiversity hotspots—many of which are at risk from climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and deep-sea mining—worthy of recognition: the Costa Rica Thermal Dome; the White Shark Café, a shark gathering point in the Pacific Ocean; the Sargasso Sea; the Lost City Hydrothermal Field, with its 200-foot carbonate towers, in the Atlantic Ocean; and the Atlantis Bank, a sunken fossil island, in the Indian Ocean.
26 Jul 2016:
New Zealand to Eradicate
All Rats, Stoats, and Possums by 2050
New Zealand is launching a $28 million initiative
to eliminate all rats, stoats, and possums from the country by 2050.
A black rat.
The invasive predators — which hitchhiked or were purposely brought to the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries — cost New Zealand’s economy an estimated $13.3 billion a year
by destroying habitat, spreading disease, and killing vulnerable, native species. Invasive predators kill around 25 million native New Zealand birds every year, such as the kiwi and the kakapo, a flightless parrot with a population of just 126 in 2014, according to National Geographic
. The initiative aims to remove rats, possums, and stoats — a member of the weasel family — from 2.5 million acres of land by 2025, and then eradicate the remaining populations using traps or poisoned bait by 2050. If total extermination isn’t possible, the organizers hope the three species can at least be eliminated on the country’s offshore island nature reserves.
11 Jul 2016:
Tax Credits Double Projections
Of Solar Growth in One U.S. Market
A new market report
estimates that U.S. rooftop solar in the Mid-Atlantic region will likely increase exponentially over the next five years thanks to extended federal tax credits. The Business Energy Investment Tax Credit
that Congress unexpectedly renewed last December gives homeowners and developers 30 percent back on solar panel installations and other renewable energy investments through 2019. The program could help solar installation growth in the Mid-Atlantic reach over 9,000 megawatts by 2021, doubling previous projections, according to the report, which was conducted by market research firm CreditSights. Such a jump would alleviate the need for U.S. power companies to subsidize electric needs with nuclear, natural gas, or coal during peak energy consumption periods. “If rooftop solar grows more than 30 percent, there’s no reason we couldn’t see electricity demand growth go negative in the coming years,” Greg Jones, a New York-based analyst with CreditSights, told Bloomberg News
29 Jun 2016:
U.S. Solar Energy Market
Experiencing an Unprecedented Boom
Thanks to a renewal of federal tax credits and a continuing steep drop in the price of photovoltaic panels, U.S. solar energy production is surging to record highs.
New market reports show that the U.S. solar industry is expected to install 14.5 gigawatts of solar power in 2016, nearly double the record 7.5 gigawatts installed last year. (Less than 1 gigawatt of solar power was installed in 2010.) Revenues from solar installations increased 21 percent from 2014 to 2015, surpassing $22 billion. In terms of megawatts of electricity produced, new solar installations are expected in 2016 to surpass all other new sources, including natural gas-fired power plants. The extension of a 30-percent federal tax credit and a sharp drop in prices — the wholesale price of solar panels has fallen from $4 per watt in 2008 to $0.65 per watt today — are contributing to the boom. U.S.-based Solar World is building a giant solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York that is expected to employ 3,500 people.
28 Jun 2016:
U.S., Canada, and Mexico to
Set 50 Percent Renewable Power Goal by 2025
The United States, Canada, and Mexico will pledge on Wednesday to generate 50 percent of their electricity
from non-fossil fuel sources by 2025, according to U.S. officials. The three nations are expected to set the ambitious goal at a North American Leaders Summit in Ottawa. The commitment includes not just renewable sources of power such as energy and wind, but also hydropower, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants, and gains in energy efficiency. Under that definition, the three nations now produce 37 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Canada is leading the way in non-fossil fuel power generation, with 59 percent of its electricity coming from hydropower and 16 percent from nuclear plants. Continent-wide cooperation on clean energy issues has improved since the election last year of Justin Trudeau as Canada’s Prime Minister.
24 Jun 2016:
Cities on Six Continents
Join Forces to Combat Climate Change
Mayors from more than 7,100 cities on six continents announced this week
that they are creating a new alliance to fight climate change at the local level.
New York City
The new group — a merger of the European Union-based Covenant of Mayors and the United Nations-backed Compact of Mayors — represents a combined 600 million people in 119 countries. The initiative aims to set city-based CO2 emissions cuts, build sustainable communities, and foster the sharing of resiliency policies and technologies. “Cities are key to solving the climate change challenge,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote in The Guardian
. “They account for most of the world’s carbon emissions, and mayors often have control over the largest sources. Cities can also act quickly to confront climate change, without the political and bureaucratic hurdles that often hold back national governments.”
Unable to Endure Rising Seas,
Alaskan Villages Stuck in Limbo
A number of Alaska Native villages have been impacted so severely by sea-level rise and other climate-induced threats, they have decided to relocate.
But there is no U.S. agency designated to help pay for and implement an entire community’s move. Robin Bronen, a senior scientist with The Institute of Arctic Biology
at the University of Alaska, says that’s a huge problem. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she explains that because there is no government process to facilitate such relocations, none of these villages have been able to move, despite their resolve to do so. And in a bureaucratic Catch-22, these communities no longer receive the infrastructure repair funds they were once entitled to. Pointing to future sea level rise along U.S. coasts, Bronen says that “if we don't figure out how to create this relocation institutional framework, we're talking about humanitarian crises for millions of people living in the United States.”
Read the interview.
03 Jun 2016:
Increasing Hurricane Damage
Could Strain U.S. Emergency Relief Budget
As hurricane season in the U.S. officially got underway this week, federal financial experts warned that damage from tropical storms will “increase significantly in the coming decades” due to human-driven climate change, and that such a trend could threaten the national emergency relief budget.
New Jersey National Guard
“Over time, the costs associated with hurricane damage will increase more rapidly than the economy will grow,” the report from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office states
. Right now, damage from hurricanes amounts to 0.16 percent of the U.S. GDP, or about $28 billion. As sea levels rise, intense storms become more frequent, and coastal development continues, the report estimates this share could reach .25 percent ($45 billion in today’s economy) by 2075. The federal agency suggested that one way to cut costs is “a coordinated effort to significantly reduce global emissions.”
02 Jun 2016:
U.S. Officials Issue a
Sweeping Ban On Elephant Ivory Trade
The Obama administration finalized a rule this week banning the sale of nearly all elephant ivory
within the United States.
The exceptions to the new rule include professionally appraised antiques at least a century old and items with fewer than 200 grams (7 ounces) of ivory. The rule does not apply to ivory from other species, such as walrus, whale, and mammoth, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement. The new regulation is part of a recent global push to halt the trade of elephant ivory from Africa. Kenya burned 105 tons of confiscated ivory in April
to raise awareness of the country’s growing poaching problem, and the country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, will seek a total ban on elephant products during an international wildlife trade meeting this fall.
23 May 2016:
World Could Warm 8 Degrees
Celsius If All Fossil Fuel Reserves Burned
As nations meet in Bonn, Germany this week to hash out how to achieve the 2-degree Celsius goal they set in Paris, new research is providing policymakers a glimpse of what would happen if the world does nothing to curb climate change.
What if nations chose instead to burn through all of their remaining fossil fuel reserves, equal to 5 trillion tons of CO2 emissions? According to the new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the world would warm an average 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees F), or up to 17 degrees Celsius (30 degrees F) in the Arctic. The research was conducted by a team of climate scientists at the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who wanted to understand the worst-case scenario. “Such climate changes, if realized, would have extremely profound impacts on ecosystems, human health, agriculture, economies, and other sectors,” the researchers write.
20 May 2016:
Obama Looking for Kids
As Science Advisors to the White House
White House advisors tend to be experts with decades of experience in specific fields, from foreign policy to education to energy.
Chuck Kennedy/White House
But President Barack Obama announced this week
he’s looking for a much younger batch of consultants to advise the White House on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The Kid Science Advisors outreach program will ask children which issues are most important to them and how to better engage students studying science to help guide White House policy and priorities. "The real reason we do this, as I’ve said before, is to teach our young people that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl or the NCAA tournament that deserves a celebration,” Obama said Thursday
. “We want those who have invented the products and lifesaving medicines and are engineering our future to be celebrated as well."
12 May 2016:
Despite Push for Renewables,
Fossil Fuels Likely to Dominate in 2040
World leaders pledged last year in Paris to cut CO2 emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Despite these promises, U.S. analysts said Wednesday
that fossil fuels
— including coal — will still likely be the world’s primary source of energy in 2040. The findings are part of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual World Energy Outlook report. Electricity from wind, solar, and hydropower will grow 2.9 percent annually, the report concluded, and by 2040, renewables, coal, and natural gas will each generate one-third of the world’s electricity. But diesel and gasoline will still power the majority of vehicles, with electric cars making up only 1 percent of the market, the report said. The report also found that carbon emissions from energy consumption in the developing world could grow 51 percent from 2012 to 2040
as countries like India and China modernize their economies, particularly by using coal.
04 May 2016:
Extreme Heat Could Make Parts of
Middle East Uninhabitable by Mid-Century
Climate change could make parts of the Middle East and North Africa uninhabitable by mid-century, driving average daytime summer temperatures as high as 114 degrees F, according to new research
published in the journal Climatic Change
(For comparison, that is equal to the average maximum temperature in California’s Death Valley.) Heat waves in the region will occur 10 times more often and last longer, the study found. The number of extremely hot days per year could jump from 16 today, to 80 in 2050, to 118 in 2100, possibly leading to mass emigration from the region, said
Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and lead author of the new study. “In future, the climate in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy," Lelieveld said.
20 Apr 2016:
Entries Invited for Third
Annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest
The third annual Yale Environment 360
Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the year's best environmental videos. Submissions must focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and be a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, and two runners-up will each receive $500. The winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360
editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker
writer and e360
contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. Deadline for entries is June 10, 2016. Read More.
For James Hansen, the Science
Demands Activism on Climate
Climate scientist James Hansen has been a prominent figure in the global climate conversation for more than 40 years. His 1988 congressional testimony on climate change helped introduce the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions to the American public,
and he has led study after study examining how our world will change as a result of global warming. Eight years ago, Hansen made the rare decision to begin engaging in climate activism—a move that has earned him both praise and criticism from the media and scientific community. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
last week, Hansen opened up about his unconventional career path and what he believes the world could look like a century from now. “I don't think that I have been alarmist — maybe alarming, but I don't think I'm an alarmist,” he said. “We have a society in which most people have become unable to understand or appreciate science, and partly that's a communication problem, which we need to try to alleviate.”
Read the interview.
06 Apr 2016:
Half of World Heritage Sites Are
Threatened By Industrial Development
Since 1972, the United Nations has worked to protect 229 locations in 96 countries known for their “exceptional natural beauty” and “cultural significance.” These spots, known as World Heritage Sites,
The Great Barrier Reef
range from Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, China’s panda sanctuaries, and the Grand Canyon in the United States. A new survey by the World Wildlife Fund, however, has found half of these sites are under threat
from oil and gas development, mining, illegal logging, overfishing, or other industrial activities. Eleven million people live in or near these sites, the report says, and depend on them for their housing, food, water, jobs, or ecosystem services like flood protection and CO2 sequestration. “We are not going to develop a just and prosperous future, nor defeat poverty and improve health, in a weakened or destroyed natural environment,” the authors wrote.
28 Mar 2016:
Majority of Meteorologists Now
Agree Climate Change is Happening, Manmade
Meteorologists have long lagged behind scientists and even the general public in acceptance of modern anthropogenic climate change.
Doppler radar image of Hurricane Alex in 2004.
Four years ago, only 19 percent of TV weather forecasters said they believed human actions were the primary driver of global warming. Today, however, 67 percent of TV and non-TV meteorologists agree that climate change is manmade, according to a new survey by George Mason University
. An additional 14 percent said human activity and natural factors are equally responsible. Overall, 96 percent said climate change is happening, no matter the reason. The shift comes after a string of shattered monthly temperature records and wild weather, and growing international attention to the issue following the UN Paris climate conference in December. Ed Maibach, lead author of the survey and director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication, said the upswing didn't surprise him
. “That is how science works. As the scientific evidence becomes more irrefutable, which is the case with harmful, human-caused climate change, more scientists of all types will become convinced,” he said.
17 Mar 2016:
The World’s Economy Grew,
But Greenhouse Gas Emissions Didn't
Despite a 3.1 percent growth in global GDP in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions remained flat for the second year in a row, according to the International Energy Agency.
A man installs new solar panels in Oregon.
The decoupling of emissions from economic growth is “welcome news,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in the press statement. “Coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris, this is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change.” The world’s nations released 32.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases last year, equal to—or perhaps even a slight downtick from—2014, the agency said. The stabilization is likely due to the booming renewable energy industry and global cutbacks on the use of coal, particularly in the U.S. and China, the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide. Chinese emissions, for example, declined 1.5 percent last year.
Interview: How to Talk About
Young Conservatives for Energy Reform
Clean Energy With Conservatives
promotes a green energy agenda for Republicans. But the phrase “climate change” isn’t one you’ll find on the organization’s website.
Angel Garcia, the group’s national outreach coordinator, admits that pushing renewables in conservative circles is an uphill battle. “We have an ideology that seems like it’s ‘Drill, baby drill,’ with nothing else. So we have to fight against stereotypes that if you’re for clean energy, then you are not really a Republican.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Garcia says the Republican Party has a vested interest in embracing clean energy since the issue resonates with young conservatives. “As demographics shift, this is becoming a more important issue. So it’s better to get in front of the issue now and embrace it.”
Read the interview.
14 Mar 2016:
Sea Level Rise Could Put
13.1 Million Americans At Risk of Flooding
Climate change and sea level rise could put 13.1 million Americans at risk of flooding by 2100, according to a new study
in the journal Nature Climate Change
Flooding in Davie, Florida
Nearly half of the at-risk population resides in Florida, and 70 percent in the southeastern United States. Unlike previous assessments that looked only at sea level rise, the study examines both climate and population projections for all 319 coastal U.S. counties over the next century. Three feet of sea level rise puts 4.2 million Americans at risk. Six feet—the high end of estimates by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—puts 13.1 million at risk. “The impact projections are up to three times larger than current estimates, which significantly underestimate the effect of sea level rise in the United States,” said
Mathew Hauer, lead author of the study and a demographer at the University of Georgia.
10 Mar 2016:
China Aims to Pass Soil Pollution
Law, Addressing Widespread Contamination
China is aiming to pass its first soil pollution law next year to address what Chinese officials are calling a “serious” problem of widespread contamination of the nation’s agricultural land.
Li Feng/Yale E360
Wastewater from a chemical plant in China.
The pollution is the result of three decades of rapid economic and industrial development that left landscapes ridden with toxins and heavy metals
, contaminated staple crops like rice, and jeopardized public health. “Looking at the results of soil pollution surveys from relevant departments of the State Council … it's not easy to be optimistic. Some areas are seriously polluted," Yuan Si, deputy head of parliament's Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee, told
reporters. The soil pollution law has gone through 10 drafts already and will likely be put on the legislative agenda for 2017, Yuan said.
In Flint Crisis, A New Model
For Environmental Journalism
Last summer, investigative journalist Curt Guyette found himself knocking on doors of families in Flint, Michigan, carrying not only a pen and notebook, but water-testing kits. Residents had realized there was something wrong with their drinking water but Michigan officials insisted it was safe.
Guyette, the first investigative reporter in the nation hired by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter, broke the story on possible widespread lead contamination in July. He then helped organize door-to-door testing for lead and filed Freedom of Information Act requests in search of the truth. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Guyette explains how he chased the story, his unique position as a Ford Foundation-funded journalist employed by ACLU Michigan, and whether this approach to journalism could be a model for rescuing in-depth, local reporting on complex environmental and public health issues.
Read the interview.
09 Mar 2016:
U.S., Canada to Announce Series
Of New Climate and Environment Initiatives
President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to announce a series of environment and climate initiatives during Trudeau’s first visit to the White House later this week.
The measures include a 45-percent cut in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and a partnership to protect the rapidly melting Arctic from climate change. Trudeau’s focus on global warming since winning office four months ago marks a significant shift in Canada’s environmental policy. Its previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, cut funding for climate research
and backtracked on international climate pledges. “The commitment of both leaders to addressing this global challenge is clear,” Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, said
. “I suspect under their leadership, North America will make significant progress this year and next.”