Policy & Politics
25 Nov 2013:
Despite Discord, Climate Talks
in Warsaw End With Last-Minute Deals
After more than 36 hours of continuous negotiations, delegates at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw agreed to two last-minute deals that kept alive hopes for staving off climate change. At talks that ended Saturday, delegates agreed to a proposed system for pledging cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. They also gave support to a new treaty mechanism for tackling the human cost of the effects of global warming, including floods, rising seas, and stronger storms, The New York Times reports
. Parties also agreed that countries will have until early 2015 to lay out their plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Those plans are to be published in advance of a major U.N. climate meeting in Paris, set for late 2015, at which international leaders hope to reach an agreement to curb global emissions starting in 2020. Discord and acrimony characterized the talks, during which a vocal negotiating bloc emerged among developing countries, including India, China, and Saudi Arabia. This bloc forced the watering down of key aspects of the deal, according to the Guardian
22 Nov 2013:
Majority of Americans
Uninformed About Fracking, Survey Finds
Most Americans are uninformed and lack opinions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used to extract oil and gas from rock formations, a new survey says
. Fifty-eight percent of people surveyed specifically reported that they knew nothing at all about fracking, and the same percentage said they didn't know whether they supported fracking or opposed it. Seven percent said they were aware of some of the process's environmental impacts, and 3 percent said they knew of positive economic and energy supply impacts of fracking. Of those who held an opinion on it, 20 percent were opposed to fracking and 22 percent supported it. "Broadly speaking, our results paint a picture of an American populace that is largely unaware and undecided about this issue," the study says. The study
— conducted by researchers at Oregon State, George Mason, and Yale universities — was recently published in the journal Energy Policy
21 Nov 2013:
U.K. Government Pledges
To Stop Backing Foreign Coal Power Plants
The United Kingdom has joined the U.S. in pledging
to stop using government funds to finance coal-fired power plants in other countries. "The two governments are going to work together to secure the support of other countries ... and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies," Britain's energy secretary told journalists gathered in Warsaw at the U.N. climate talks. The U.S. made the same pledge last month in an attempt to slow CO2 emissions from the world's coal-fired power plants. The International Energy Agency reports that coal accounted for 44 percent of global carbon emissions in 2011, and the fossil fuel remains the world's largest source of electricity and heat. While many diplomats applaud the U.K.'s move, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and environmental groups are pushing for even stronger action, including more spending on renewable energy. "The rapid development of low-carbon infrastructure needs large injections of public capital," Ki-moon said.
Interview: How Big Agriculture
Has Thwarted Factory Farm Reforms
In 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a landmark report
that condemned the way the U.S. raised its cattle, pigs, and
chickens and made a sweeping series of recommendations on how to reduce the severe environmental and public health problems created by the current system. Last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future released a study
analyzing the fate of these reforms and reached a stark conclusion: The power of the industrial agriculture lobby had blunted nearly all attempts at change. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Robert Martin, co-author of the Johns Hopkins report, discusses what went wrong and how reforms can proceed. One hopeful sign, says Martin, is "there are more and more people who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it’s produced."Read the interview.
18 Nov 2013:
U.N. Climate Chief Says
Many Coal Reserves Must Be Left in Ground
United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres said that coal power can be part of the solution to curbing global warming, but it would require shuttering older coal power plants, advancing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, and resolving to leave much of the planet's existing coal reserves in the ground. Her remarks, given at the International Coal and Climate Summit in Warsaw, are drawing criticism from environmentalists who oppose continued reliance on coal power. John Gummer, the chair of the U.K.'s climate advisers and former U.K. environment minister, told the Guardian
that "calling coal a clean solution is like characterizing sex trafficking as marriage guidance." Figueres said that coal power holds promise as a means of helping poorer countries develop their economies and reduce poverty, but said that the industry "must change." Figueres joins the growing list
of climate leaders who say that more than half of remaining fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground
in order to avoid massive carbon emissions that could destabilize the climate.
14 Nov 2013:
U.S. Crushes Six Tons
Of Illegally Trafficked Elephant Ivory
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(FWS) destroyed six tons of elephant ivory
today that field agents seized over the past 25 years. The U.S. Ivory Crush event, which took place in Denver, Colorado, marked the first time
the FWS has destroyed large quantities of ivory. The move was an attempt to send a clear message that the U.S. will not tolerate illegal ivory trafficking and the toll it's taking on elephant populations in Africa and Asia, the FWS said. Seized ivory is usually kept as evidence for prosecuting traffickers, then later used for education and training, but the FWS had accumulated far more ivory than it needs. The ivory that was crushed included full tusks, carved tusks, jewelry, carvings, and other objects, and came from at least 2,000 poached elephants, the FWS estimates.
12 Nov 2013:
China's Renewable Power
Sector Set to Outpace Rest of World by 2035
China is on track to generate more electricity from renewable energy by 2035 than the U.S., the European Union, and Japan combined, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a new report
. In its World Energy Outlook report, the IEA also said that by 2035 renewable energy sources — wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass — will make up more than 30 percent of the world's electricity supply, surpassing natural gas and rivaling coal as the leading energy source. Wind and solar photovoltaic power will see especially large gains, helping renewable energy account for nearly half the increase in global power generation over the next two decades, the IEA said. Carbon emissions related to energy generation will likely rise by 20 percent over that time, the report said, but policies and initiatives in the U.S., China, Europe, and Japan may help limit those emissions. "The right combination of policies and technologies is proving that the links between economic growth, energy demand and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions can be weakened," the IEA said.
11 Nov 2013:
Ozone Treaty From 1987
Has Also Slowed Global Warming
The 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), has also slowed global warming since the mid-1990s, a new analysis has found
. The ban has lowered global temperatures by about 0.2 degrees F since it was enacted, scientists report in the journal Nature Geoscience
. Researchers say that's a significant decline considering the planet has warmed by an average of 1.6 degrees F since 1900. CFCs, a class of refrigerants banned because of their ozone-depleting qualities, are also powerful greenhouse gases, with warming potentials many thousands of times higher than CO2. A widely used replacement for CFCs — hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — are less powerful greenhouse gases, but negotiations are underway to amend the Montreal Protocol to apply to HFCs as well. The study's lead author, Francisco Estrada of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Climate Central that by "pure luck" the Montreal Protocol has effectively slowed global warming, even more so than the Kyoto Protocol, which was was directly aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
05 Nov 2013:
Beijing To Limit New Cars
By 40 Percent in Anti-Pollution Drive
In an effort to reduce severe air pollution in the Chinese capital, Beijing will limit by 40 percent the number of new cars sold annually for the next four years, cutting license plate allocations from 240,000 to 150,000 each
Chang'an avenue in Beijing
year. The cap, which should also help ease the capital's worsening traffic congestion, means Beijing will license only 600,000 new cars between 2014 and 2017 — fewer than in 2010 alone, Reuters reports
. By 2017, 40 percent of those licenses, which drivers vie for in auctions and lotteries, will be reserved for hybrid and electric cars. New car sales in China are currently capped in four cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Guiyang — and the government plans to limit sales in eight additional cities, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said.
04 Nov 2013:
Treaties May Not Be The
Key to Global Sustainable Development
Sweeping international treaties are no longer the key for charting the planet’s path to sustainable development, according to international leaders gathered at the “Rio+20 to 2015” conference last week. Instead, they said, partnerships among governments, businesses, and NGOs hold the most promise for measurable progress on sustainability issues, including climate change. "There’s been an enormous focus on treaties," Hans Hoogeveen, director general of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, told the conference at Yale University. "Lawyers and diplomats think they can rule the world, govern the world, from New York, Nairobi, or Rome. I think we have to learn that this not reality anymore." The United Nations convened a summit in Rio in 2012 to secure sustainability commitments from private businesses, societal groups, and leaders at all levels of government. Last week’s conference sought to develop recommendations for producing timely, measurable results from those commitments before international talks planned for Paris in 2015.Read more
01 Nov 2013:
Obama to Sign Order
Calling For Adaptation to Climate Change
President Obama was expected to sign an executive order on Friday
directing federal agencies to make it easier for states and communities to adapt to the rising seas, more intense storms, and droughts that are expected to increase as the planet warms this century. A key aspect of the order aims to ensure that states and local communities take into account likely climate conditions in the future when they spend federal money on projects like roads, bridges, and flood control structures. Critics say that such planning has often been lacking
as the northeastern U.S. rebuilds from Hurricane Sandy. Obama’s executive order also will set up a task force of state and local leaders to advise the federal government on how best to enable local communities to plan for storms, droughts, and disasters as temperatures increase. “All of that is going to be shaped by the awareness of climate change and the things that can be done to make those investments produce a much more resilient society,” said John P. Holdren, the president’s science adviser.
29 Oct 2013:
Three Western U.S. States And
British Columbia Sign Climate Agreement
The governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, together with the premier of British Columbia, have signed a pact to coordinate efforts to combat global warming. With a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion and a population of 53 million people, the three states and the Canadian province represent the world's fifth largest economy. The leaders agreed to a dozen actions aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, including streamlining permits for renewable energy projects, improving the electric power grid, supporting more research on ocean acidification, and expanding government purchases of electric vehicles, the San Jose Mercury News reports
. Environmentalists have praised the agreement, but, as Jeremy Carl, an energy policy fellow at Stanford University, noted, "The devil will be in the details, whether they do anything substantive or whether it turns out to be a time-wasting exercise."
25 Oct 2013:
Major Pension Funds Question
Long-Term Outlook for Fossil Fuel Profits
Leaders from some of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and the world are concerned about the future profitability of fossil fuel companies, and they have asked those companies to report on their plans for managing a long-term shift
toward renewable energy. Managers of 70 major pension funds, which together control about $3 trillion in investments, asked 45 of the world's largest coal, oil, gas, and electric power companies to complete the profitability studies by spring. The pension funds are concerned that, because large investments in fossil fuel exploration take decades to recoup, future legislation could limit production or regulate expensive pollution controls that will significantly cut profitability. "The scientific trajectory that we're on is clearly in conflict" with the business strategy of the companies
, Jack Ehnes, the head of the California's State Teachers' Retirement System, told the AP. "We've been pleasantly surprised by the seriousness" of some of the fossil fuel companies, who are "not just blowing us off," a spokesman for the coalition that is coordinating the efforts told the AP.
16 Oct 2013:
Climate-Driven Disasters To Keep
Impoverished Populations Poor, Study Says
Extreme weather events driven by climate change will exacerbate poverty in regions where people are already among the world's poorest, according to a study
by the U.K.'s Overseas Development Institute. Where disasters
Floods in Mozambique
such as drought are common, those events are the leading cause of poverty, the authors say, rather than poor health or societal factors. Across the globe, up to 325 million people will be living in countries that face natural hazard risks by 2030, the report says; in sub-Saharan Africa alone, 118 million people in poverty will face extreme events. To brace against the effects of disasters
, aid money should be spent on reducing those risks, rather than only on humanitarian relief after an extreme event, the authors argue. Currently, money tends to flow to a region after a disaster instead of before, when it could be used for prevention. "If the international community are serious about ending extreme poverty, they need to get serious about reducing disaster risk for the poorest people," the institute's Tom Mitchell told the BBC.
09 Oct 2013:
Antarctic Research Operations
To Be Halted Amid U.S. Government Shutdown
The National Science Foundation (NSF) says it is curtailing the 2013-2014 Antarctic research season because the U.S. government shutdown has delayed funding for operations there. The U.S. Antarctic
Program, which is managed by the NSF, announced yesterday
that the three U.S. research stations, ships, and other facilities there will switch to "caretaker status" when funds are exhausted around October 14. All research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended, according to the statement. Because of the remote location and long lead time necessary for planning and travel, the NSF has already started the process of shuttering research facilities. Once funding is restored, some research operations could be restored, the U.S. Antarctic Program said. Around 700 scientists typically travel to the continent between October and February each year, according to Nature
Forum: Climate Scientists Assess
The Latest Report from U.N. Panel
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issued a report containing the latest data and
scientific assessments of the physical science of climate change. It is one of three so-called “working group” reports that will be released in advance of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, due out in September 2014. In a Yale e360
forum, seven climate scientists discuss what they consider to be the most noteworthy or surprising findings in the recent report. Read more.
27 Sep 2013:
IPCC Scientists Warn
Of Upper Limit on CO2 Emissions
Saying it is 95 percent certain that humans have caused most of the global warming of the last half-century, scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned today that the world can afford to burn about 1 trillion tons of carbon
before facing extreme climate change. The IPCC’s working group on the physical sciences for the first time set an upper limit on CO2 emissions, contending that humanity can combust only one-third of the 3 trillion tons of fossil fuels that still remain in the ground. If carbon emissions continue at their current pace, IPCC scientists forecast that the trillionth ton of carbon will be released around 2040, and beyond that the world will face potentially destabilizing temperature increases exceeding 2 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F. The physical sciences report,
compiled by hundreds of scientists and released in Stockholm, marked the first time that the IPCC had forecast that sea levels could rise by as much as three feet this century. The physical sciences report is the first of several to be released in the next year in advance of the 2014 publication of the IPCC’s fifth report on global climate change.
26 Sep 2013:
Major Initiative Announced
To Help Curb Elephant Poaching in Africa
The Clinton Global Initiative and 16 conservation organizations have announced that they are investing $80 million
over three years to stem the epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, which has surged recently due to increasing demand for ivory in Asia. The Partnership to Save Africa's Elephants, which includes the governments of seven African nations, will fund programs that scale up anti-poaching enforcement, combat trafficking at ports and markets with more enforcement and harsher penalties, and curb the demand for illegal ivory with ad campaigns aimed at consumers in China, Vietnam, and other nations. "We cannot hope to reverse the dramatic decline in elephant populations without addressing all three parts of the problem," said Patrick Bergin, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation.
20 Sep 2013:
U.S. Places CO2 Limits
On New Coal-Fired Power Plants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will for the first time begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from new coal- and natural gas-fired power plants
under the Clean Air Act, EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy announced. Speaking in Washington, McCarthy said, “Climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change,
and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences.” The EPA regulations, which the coal industry vows to challenge in court, will require new coal plants to emit fewer than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, considerably lower than the average 1,800 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour currently produced by coal-fired power plants. Such limits would require the new plants to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which has not been used on a wide scale. The difficulty of using CCS technology will be at the heart of lawsuits challenging the EPA move, industry officials say.
18 Sep 2013:
Climate Change Reporting
Focuses on Disasters and Uncertainty
Nearly 80 percent of news articles about climate change either warn of current or future disaster scenarios related to global warming, or contain discussions about the uncertainty of climate science, an Oxford study of 350 news articles
from 2007 to 2012 has found. Fewer than two percent of the articles from the media in six countries discussed opportunities to be gained from switching to a lower-carbon economy. Journalists were attracted to "gloom and doom" stories about climate-related disasters, the team wrote, which is in line with findings from previous studies. Uncertainty was discussed in nearly 80 percent of the articles, which the researchers say poses a problem for dealing with climate change
because it keeps debate focused on what's considered conclusive proof of global warming
, rather than directing discussion toward the comparative costs and risks of different policy options.
16 Sep 2013:
Canadian Scientists Fight Back
Against Government Censorship Rules
Recent rules silencing government researchers in Canada have sparked protests in 16 major cities, the Guardian reports
. The Harper administration over the past few years has ordered scientists at Canada's National Research Council, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other government research agencies not to discuss work on a number of climate- and environment-related issues with journalists, the public, or even fellow researchers. Scientists have been asked not to comment on topics ranging from snowflakes to salmon, even after results have been published in major scientific journals. Critics charge that the Harper administration has a track record of muzzling environmental research
. Earlier this month the administration was accused of stalling a major report on greenhouse emissions — widely expected to document significant rises in carbon pollution — because the study could deal a blow to Harper's efforts to secure U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Guardian reports.
Interview: Finding a Better Message
About the Risks of Climate Change
It’s a common refrain: If people only knew more about the science, there wouldn’t be so much polarization on the issue of climate change. But Dan M. Kahan’s
groundbreaking work has gone a long way to prove that idea wrong. In fact, he’s found, it’s not the lack of scientific understanding that has led to conflict over climate change, but rather the need to adhere to the philosophy and values of one’s “cultural” group. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School, maintains that in order to break down the polarization, the issue needs to be reframed in a way that minimizes the likelihood that positions on climate change will be identified with a particular group. “Are there ways to combine the science with meanings that would be affirming rather than threatening to people?” he says. “I think if somebody believes that there just aren’t any, I think that person just doesn’t have much imagination.”
Read the interview.
05 Sep 2013:
Swapping Corn for Rice Benefits
China's Miyun Reservoir, Study Shows
After years of contamination and decreasing output, China's Miyun Reservoir is rebounding
, say researchers from China and the U.S. Rice farming had contaminated and tapped the reservoir, which lies 100 miles north of Beijing and is the main water source for the city's 20 million inhabitants. But four years ago, the Chinese government began paying farmers to grow corn instead, which requires less water and leads to less fertilizer and sediment runoff than rice farming
. Now, water quality tests show that fertilizer runoff declined sharply, the researchers found, and the amount of reservoir water available to Beijing and surrounding areas has increased. Farmers also made more money growing corn instead of rice and were able to spend less time tending their crops, the study concluded
04 Sep 2013:
Scientists, Governments Question
'Blockbuster' Climate Change Reports
Scientists and government officials are questioning the way the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, widely considered the definitive authority on global climate risk, handles its major reports. The panel typically issues "blockbuster" reports every five to seven years; the next is set to be released this month in Stockholm. But The Guardian reports
that international climate scientists, many of whom have been involved in drafting those major reports, are now suggesting future assessments should be more targeted in scope and released more frequently. Scientists and government officials say that narrower reports, such as studies focused on specific regions or phenomena, would be more useful to policymakers. The panel's governing body will meet in October to discuss its future.
27 Aug 2013:
Mexican Gray Wolves
Granted Increased Protection in the U.S.
The U.S. government has agreed to expand the territory
where a small population of Mexican gray wolves in the southwestern U.S. can be protected and reintroduced.
Mexican gray wolf
Under a pair of agreements with the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service also has consented to a plan under which Mexican gray wolves that cross the U.S.-Mexico border and establish territories in Arizona and New Mexico will no longer be captured by U.S. authorities. The agency will also start releasing captive Mexican gray wolves into Gila National Forest and allow them to establish territories throughout much of New Mexico and Arizona. That rule, set to be finalized by January 2015, significantly expands the habitat for a beleaguered population of about 75 Mexican gray wolves
in those states. Wildlife ecologists have been advocating for such measures, saying increased protections and expanded territories are essential to the recovery of the Mexican wolf population, but states in the region have strongly opposed such an expansion.
19 Aug 2013:
Future Flood Losses
Could Increase Ten Times by 2050
The rapid growth of the world’s coastal cities, coupled with sea level rise and land subsidence, could mean that flood losses in major metropolitan areas could rise from
$6 billion in 2005 to more than $60 billion in 2050
, according to a new study. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change
, researchers said sea level increases of 8 to 16 inches by 2050 could cause $60 billion to $63 billion in damages in 136 of the world’s coastal cities.
That figure assumes the cities will undertake some flood control measures. Cities whose infrastructure and buildings are now most at risk — including New York; New Orleans; Miami; Guangzhou, China; and Osaka, Japan — will be joined in four decades by other rapidly growing cities,
such as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
16 Aug 2013:
Ecuador Abandons Moratorium
On Oil Drilling in Biodiverse Yasuni Park
The Ecuadorian government has abandoned its moratorium on oil drilling in Yasuni National Park
as a proposal to protect the park with the help of international donations fell apart. In a nationally televised speech, President Rafael Correa blamed the failure of the ambitious conservation plan on a lack of funds, saying that a UN-administered trust fund had raised only $13 million of the $3.6 billion target. Located in eastern Ecuador, where the Amazon basin ascends into the Andes, Yasuni is home to an unprecedented number of animal and plant species
. According to a 2010 study
, one section of the park held at least 200 species of mammals, 247 amphibian and reptile species, and 550 species of birds. But Yasuni also sits atop an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil. Correa had said Ecuador would forego oil income and protect the park if foreign donors would contribute billions of dollars to compensate for the loss of oil revenue.
Interview: Scientists, Aid Experts
Prepare for a Warmer Future
Harvard University recently sponsored a conference that brought together two groups — climate scientists and humanitarian relief workers — that will undoubtedly be collaborating more closely in the future
as natural disasters intensify in a warming world. The woman who was instrumental in opening a dialogue between these two factions was Jennifer Leaning
, the director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights
at the Harvard School of Public Health. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Leaning says the meeting underscored the huge challenges the aid community will face in a world of more extreme weather and rising seas. But at this point, she says, climate science cannot offer the specific predictions about timing or locations of climate upheaval that the aid community is seeking. “The humanitarians found that the questions they were asking were not the ones that the climate scientists were prepared to answer,” says Leaning. Read the interview
13 Aug 2013:
Too Many Urban Beehives
May Do More Harm Than Good, Experts Say
A surge in urban beekeeping may be doing more harm than good to honeybee populations
, according to UK scientists. As the number of rooftop hives increases in cities worldwide
— including London, where there are
A Berlin beekeeper
now 10 hives per square kilometer — two researchers from the University of Sussex warn that too many hives can be detrimental. Writing in The Biologist
, the magazine of the Society of Biology, they suggest that inexperienced beekeepers can create conditions in which there isn’t enough food for their insects. “If there are too many colonies in an area, then the food supply will be insufficient,” Francis Ratnieks, a professor at the university’s Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, told the BBC. “This will mean that colonies do not thrive, and may also affect other species that also visit flowers.”
06 Aug 2013:
Timelapse Map Illustrates
Steep Growth of U.S. Wind Energy
The U.S. installed more than 13 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2012, nearly doubling the amount of wind power installations added in 2011 and pushing the
total capacity connected to the grid nationally to 60 gigawatts, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy
(DOE). That capacity represents enough electricity to power 15 million homes annually, officials say, adding that for the first time wind energy has become the top source of new electricity generation in the U.S. To coincide with the report, the DOE published an interactive map
illustrating the steep growth in wind projects nationwide, particularly in the last decade. The map shows that until the mid-1990s, only a few dozen wind projects existed, all in California. But by 2000, projects started appearing in states nationwide, particularly in Texas and Iowa. In the past two decades the number of wind energy projects has increased from 49 to 815, the DOE said.