Policy & Politics
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.”
03 Mar 2016:
Oregon To Eliminate Coal
From Its State Energy Mix by 2030
Oregon has become the first U.S. state to eliminate the use of coal by legislative action. Lawmakers at the statehouse
Oregon's only remaining coal plant, in Boardman
voted Wednesday to eliminate coal from the state’s energy supply by 2030, and to provide half of all customers’ power with renewable sources by 2040. The legislation was hammered out between the state’s two largest utilities and environmental groups. Clean energy groups praised the legislation as one of the strongest pieces of pro-climate legislation in the U.S. in years. “In terms of the coal phase-out, this really is precedent setting,” said Jeff Deyette
, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. There is only one coal plant currency operating in Oregon, and it is the state's largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Rethinking Urban Landscapes To Adapt to Rising Sea Levels
Sea levels are rising faster than they have in at least 28 centuries, according to recent research, and by 2100, they are expected to rise by one to four feet — possibly even higher.
Landscape architect Kristina Hill argues that cities throughout the world need to start planning now for impacts that will happen 50 or 100 years in the future. “It takes decades for us to get our act together and build things,” says Hill, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “Future generations won’t have the luxury of decades.” Hill advocates blending natural ecosystems and human-made infrastructure to help cities adjust to rising tides. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she talks about her vision for modifying coastal communities, the limits to adaptation, and the promise of “cyborg landscapes.”
Read the interview.
22 Feb 2016:
Reaching Emission Targets Could
Save 295,000 U.S. Lives by 2030, Study Says
The greenhouse emission cuts that America agreed to at the Paris climate conference may come with a significant public health benefit —the prevention of 295,000 premature deaths— according to a Duke University study
. At the December summit, 196 nations, including the U.S., agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to achieve that goal, the U.S. will need to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030, which would lead to a significant reduction in deadly air pollution, according to the study. “People should realize that emissions are having a big impact already… more than 100,000 deaths a year,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke and lead author of the study
. “Air pollution is a very big health challenge, it’s having a major public health impact in the U.S.” According to the World Health Organization
, about seven million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution.
10 Feb 2016:
Supreme Court Suspends
Obama's Coal Plant Emissions Cuts
The U.S. Supreme Court voted Tuesday to put on hold new federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from coal-fired
A coal-fired power plant
power plants, until a legal challenge by more than two dozen states and interest groups is complete. It is the first time the Supreme Court has granted a request to halt a regulation before its review by a federal appeals court. The 5-4 vote along ideological lines is a blow to the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, its strategy to combat climate change. Those challenging the regulations claim the new rules, which are to be enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, would have a devastating economic impact. The White House says it expects the regulations to survive legal challenges. The plan, designed to lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is the main tool for the U.S. to meet CO2 reduction targets pledged at the December climate talks in Paris.
03 Feb 2016:
China’s Wind Power Sector
Experienced Rapid Growth in 2015
China installed nearly half of all new global wind power generation
last year and added as much new wind energy capacity in one year as the total capacity of the leading U.S. wind-producing states — Texas, Iowa, and California. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that China installed nearly 29 gigawatts of new wind-power capacity last year, surpassing the previous record of 21 gigawatts in 2014. China’s new wind energy capacity dwarfed the next-largest market, the United States, which added 8.6 gigawatts in 2015. Analysts said China’s wind sector grew rapidly because of declining manufacturing and installation costs, generous government feed-in tariffs, improving transmission capacity, and the government’s campaign to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Five Questions for Robert Bullard
On the Flint Water Crisis and Justice
In Flint, Michigan, a city of 100,000 whose population is 56 percent African American, a state cost-cutting measure to begin drawing drinking water supplies from
Texas Southern University
Robert D. Bullard
the Flint River has led to a public health crisis. The corrosive waters of the river have leached lead out of Flint’s aging water pipes, causing thousands of children to ingest dangerously high levels of lead — a problem that was ignored for months. Yale Environment 360
asked Robert D. Bullard — dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the man widely considered the first to fully articulate the concept of environmental justice — five questions about how the situation in Flint reflects on environmental inequality in the United States. Read more.
27 Jan 2016:
Rush to Electric Vehicles
Is Worsening Air Pollution in China
The push by the Chinese government and the country’s automakers to expand production of electric vehicles is actually worsening air pollution
and carbon emissions because most of China’s electricity is still produced by coal-fired power plants, new studies show. Thanks to government incentives, production of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is expected to grow six-fold to two million cars and trucks by 2020. But studies by researchers at Tsinghua University show that electric vehicles charged in China with coal-fired power produce two to five times as many particulates and other pollutants as gasoline cars. The Tsinghua studies call into question the government policy of promoting deployment of electric vehicles while the vast majority of the country’s electricity still comes from coal. “International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said one analyst. “Clean up the power plants.”
Interview: Finding a New Politics
For Our New Environmental Era
In an age defined by humankind’s unprecedented influence on the environment, how do do we begin to
reverse our increasingly disruptive impacts on the planet’s fundamental natural systems? Author Jedediah Purdy maintains that the times require a new politics to address the urgent global issues now confronting the planet, a vision he lays out in his new book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene
. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Purdy concedes that it’s difficult to discern the specifics of the “democratic Anthropocene” he’s calling for, but it has fundamental underpinnings: being less beholden to Big Money, attaching a moral value on climates and landscapes, and placing more emphasis on our responsibility to future generations. “We only have one way of collectively pivoting the direction in which we're taking that world, and that is political.”
Read the interview.
23 Dec 2015:
Congressional Tax Credits
Expected to Further Boost U.S. Renewables
The renewable energy sector in the United States is finishing 2015 on a high note as Congress has voted to approve significant extensions for tax credits
for renewable energy, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has reported a surge in wind power installations.
Ending uncertainty about the fate of tax credits for the wind and solar industries, Congress has voted to extend investment tax credits for solar power and production tax credits for wind energy through 2022 and 2020, respectively. Renewable energy companies and analysts praised the extensions, saying that, coupled with rapidly falling prices for wind and solar energy technologies, the tax credits virtually guarantee a boom in the production of renewables in the U.S. Earlier this week, the AWEA said U.S. wind energy production has reached a milestone, with 50,000 turbines providing a generating capacity of 70 gigawatts — enough to power 19 million homes.
16 Dec 2015:
Five Questions for Bill McKibben
On the Paris Climate Agreement
Activist Bill McKibben was a visible presence during the climate conference in Paris, urging for strong action. Yale Environment 360
caught up with McKibben, the founder of 350.org
, after an agreement was reached and asked him five question about Paris and the road beyond. While the Paris accord “didn’t save the planet,” McKibben says, “it may have saved the chance to save it – that is, it didn’t foreclose the possibility. Actually getting anywhere will now require massive organizing to hold leaders to their promises.”
15 Dec 2015:
China Anti-Pollution Efforts
Lead to Steep Drop in Sulfur Dioxide Levels
Emissions of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas that threatens human health and causes acid rain, have dropped sharply in the last decade
China's sulfur pollution has decreased in recent years.
in China, thanks to aggressive air pollution control initiatives by the Chinese government. As these NASA images show, levels of sulfur dioxide in China fell significantly from 2005 to 2014, while emissions of the gas increased in India during the same period. From 2012 to 2014, Chinese SO2 emissions fell especially sharply, by 50 percent. The steady drop in emissions of the noxious gas, released during the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, can be attributed to pollution control measures enacted before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the widespread installation of flue gas desulfurication devices on power plants, the switch to coal with a lower sulfur content, and the closing of coal-fired power plants in favor of less-polluting energy sources such as natural gas, wind, and solar power. India’s sulfur dioxide emissions have risen because of the rapid expansion of coal-fired power plants.
10 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: An Unexpected Move
Toward Global Target of 1.5 Degrees
It is the big surprise of the Paris talks: the growing acceptance of a call from small nations most vulnerable to climate change
for the conference to declare warming should be halted at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even a few months ago, this seemed unimaginable. Two degrees was the only target on the table. But here it has gained momentum with more than 100 nations, including the U.S. and the EU, agreeing it should be in the final agreement. With more than a day of talks remaining, inclusion is far from a done deal. But it has strong support. A 1.5-degree target “looks much more scientifically justifiable,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Institute.
08 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: Amid Optimism, Key
Issues Remain on Negotiating Table
The centerpieces of a potential climate deal in Paris are the 180 national emissions pledges for the period up to 2030, which
Delegates draft text for the proposed agreement.
were submitted ahead of the conference. What is at issue now are the rules for their implementation, including funding of pledges from poor nations, and whether a procedure can be agreed for upgrading them later to give the world a chance of meeting its two-degree Celsius temperature-rise target. To do all that in the final few days of the conference, negotiators are considering a 48-page draft text that contains numerous brackets, which denote alternative options and text yet to be agreed on. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected the final deal to include a review of emissions targets every five years to determine how they are playing out and to allow for increasingly ambitious goals that could secure the two-degree target.
07 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — How ‘Landscape
Carbon’ Can Be Part of a Solution on Climate
A group led by the World Resources Institute has unveiled plans in Paris for a grand restoration of Africa's landscapes that includes
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister
replanting forests and reviving soils. The group, which includes the World Bank and the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development are seeking $2 billion a year to restore 100 million hectares of Africa by 2030 — an area three times the size of Germany. The plans were announced to some 3,000 delegates attending a Global Landscapes Forum in Paris on Sunday. "We need landscape restoration for development and for climate," said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister. Some African countries said they are already at work. Ethiopian ministers told the forum they had restored a million hectares of farm soils in the drought-hit Tigray region and elsewhere in the past 20 years, through terracing, irrigation and other activities.
03 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — Regular Reviews
Of Carbon Emission Cuts Likely to Be Adopted
An important point of contention at the Paris climate talks — whether to regularly review nations’ pledges on emissions cuts, in
U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres
the hopes of stimulating further reductions — may be close to being resolved. U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres says there is a growing consensus that emissions-reduction pledges should be reviewed every five years
, a stance supported by the U.S., China, and the European Union. Other nations, such as India, have been reluctant to commit to such reviews. Figueres, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and other top officials at the Paris talks are urging delegates to begin resolving issues
such as emissions-pledge reviews, as the 50-page draft climate treaty
now contains four to five alternative versions of disputed points. Fabius has given negotiators until Thursday night to deliver a streamlined draft and has set a deadline of noon Saturday to come up with a close-to-final draft.
03 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: Is India the Main
Stumbling Block at Climate Talks?
By some measures India has offered a lot to the Paris neogitations. Its pledge on future emissions includes perhaps the
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
most ambitious renewable energy program in the world, with 175 gigawatts of green power, including 100 megawatts of solar panels, by 2022. But many nonetheless see India as the biggest single threat to curbing CO2 emissions in the next few decades. The problem is coal. The speed of India's current industrialization is so fast that, even with a huge surge in solar energy, it still plans the world's fastest rate of construction of coal-fired power stations. India's continued reliance on coal will increase its CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2030. And that addiction to coal is making enemies among countries that India would normally count as its friends – poor nations most at risk from climate change.