US-China Sign Major Climate Pact, then John Kerry Slams Deniers

by Guest Contributor Sophie Vorrath.

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

As Australia’s political leaders shift firmly into reverse on climate change, China and the US have jointly reaffirmed their commitment to contribute significantly to global efforts to meet the climate challenge.

“In light of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and its worsening impacts, and the related issue of air pollution from burning fossil fuels, the United States and China recognise the urgent need for action to meet these twin challenges,” the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters said in a joint statement.

The statement, issued by US Secretary of State John Kerry at the end of his Beijing visit on Saturday, committed the two countries to “collaborate through enhanced policy dialogue, including the sharing of information regarding their respective post-2020 plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions,” and to “devote significant effort and resources to secure concrete results,” by the Sixth US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue later this year.

The two sides have also reached agreement on the implementation plans for the five initiatives launched under the CCWG, including vehicle emission reductions, smart grids, carbon capture and storage, emissions data collection, and energy efficiency.

It’s a far cry from the political mood in Australia, where the climate focus is on scrapping the carbon price, winding back renewable energy targets, and on coal, coal and more coal.

On the bright side, it is perhaps thanks to countries like ours that Kerry – who announced earlier this month he was serving his last term in US politics – has embarked on a climate mission, or “climate blitz” as it has been dubbed, which he kicked off in Jakarta on Sunday with the first speech in a series that will urge the international community and world leaders to fall in line on climate.

And what a speech it was, describing climate change as one of the top global security threats, and pillorying those who deny the science behind it:

When I think about the array of global climate – of global threats – think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.

“…The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. And let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the science is absolutely certain.

“We need to move on this, and we need to move together now. …We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact. Nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits.  …We certainly should not allow more time to be wasted by those who want to sit around debating whose responsibility it is to deal with this threat, while we come closer and closer to the point of no return.”

According to reports, Kerry chose Indonesia to start the blitz because the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is particularly at risk from rising sea levels.

“Because of climate change, it’s no secret that today Indonesia is… one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth,” Kerry told the audience a high-tech US-funded cultural centre at a Jakarta mall.

“If we truly want to prevent the worst consequences of climate change from happening, we do not have time to have a debate about whose responsibility this is,” he said.

“The answer is pretty simple: It’s everyone’s responsibility. Now certainly some countries – and I will say this very clearly, some countries, including the United States, contribute more to the problem and therefore we have an obligation to contribute more to the solution. I agree with that. But, ultimately, every nation on Earth has a responsibility to do its part if we have any hope of leaving our future generations the safe and healthy planet that they deserve.”

The US-China climate pact, and Kerry’s strongly worded Indonesia speech, follow a joint US-France statement on climate action, in the form of an op-ed co-authored by Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Hollande.

Published last week in the Washington Post, the piece talked of expanding the two countries’ clean energy partnership, moving toward low-carbon growth, and doing more to help developing countries shift to low-carbon energy.

“As we work toward next year’s climate conference in Paris, we continue to urge all nations to join us in pursuit of an ambitious and inclusive global agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions through concrete actions,” the article said.

“The climate summit organised by the UN secretary general this September will give us the opportunity to reaffirm our ambitions for the climate conference in Paris.”

Paris will host the 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21) in December 2015, which will provide the architecture for post-2020 emission cuts. It is expected to yield decisive results.

Amid all this joint reaffirming of climate ambition, the silence from down under is deafening. As can be seen in the charts below, Australia currently exists in a league of its own, leading the backwards-looking climate laggards among the developed nations.

As HSBC climate analyst Zoe Knight notes, “chart 1 shows that for some countries, emissions are still on the rise and that the rate of carbon intensity improvement is declining. While table 1 shows that the reality is not aligned with countries’ reduction pledges.”

Meanwhile, in Canberra…

This article, Kerry Slams Global Warming Deniers After US–China Pact, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

HSBC Knocks Europeans for ‘Low Ambition’ on Climate Change

by Guest Contributor Sophie Vorrath.

Renewable Energy needed here!
HSBC’s report says European efforts to lower emissions are insufficient to speed along renewable energy adoption and thereby avoid the most severe levels of climate change. It is already too late to avoid moderate climate change — as those emissions are already in the air and in steadily increasing concentrations over recent decades.

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

Europe’s climate policy proposals reflect the lowest level of ambition required to keep global warming at 2°C, while its goals on renewable energy are “disappointing” and bad news for the industry, according to a new report by banking giant HSBC.

Released on Wednesday, the report is based on the publication of the European Commission policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030, which it describes as “a first indication of the EU negotiating position in the run up to a global climate deal in Paris 2015.”

In a nutshell, the EU 2030 climate and energy package proposals are for a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG’s) and an EU renewables share of at least 27 per cent in energy consumption, with no individual country goals.

The HSBC report describes the 40 per cent by 2030 GHG aim as “modest” but expected, adding that it “implies a 2% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for GHG reduction from now on, increasing ambition from the 0.2% pa rate of reduction left for delivery of the 2020 goal.”

But in the context of the long-term goal of an 80 per cent cut in greenhouse gases by 2050, the bloc’s proposals “offer the lowest level of climate ambition” possible, says the report.

“This is the lower end of the GHG emission reduction range (80- 95%) expected from the developed countries by 2050, to limit the global temperature increase to 2°C,” says the report.

“The 2030 GHG reduction target needs to be translated into national GHG targets for the non-ETS sectors before 2021. In addition, member states need to draw up their national plans for competitive, secure and sustainable energy for the period up to 2030.”

On renewables, HSBC describes the 27 per cent goal for the proportion of renewable energy in the overall mix by 2030 as “disappointing,” noting that it suggests growth of renewables in the energy mix will actually slow from a rate of 5 per cent per annum in 2010-2020, to 2 per cent during the 2020-2030 decade.

“The proposed target implies a decline in the growth rate of renewable installations from 2021-30 compared with 2011-20,” says the report (see charts below). “For electricity, from 2020-2030 we estimate 150GW of total new renewable capacity addition, compared with 210GW during the previous decade.”

And while the report notes that this scenario is “marginally better” than the EU trends to 2050 scenario, which points to just a 1 per cent renewable energy growth rate in 2020-30, it stresses that the 2030 package is, on balance, “a negative” for Europe’s renewable energy industry, with no new target for energy efficiency.

“(The research) shows more differences in views in Europe on renewable energy targets than for GHGs,” says the report. “For instance, the UK and Poland have strongly opposed any mandating of renewable targets, whereas Germany and France favoured it.”

The proposed package also provides nations like the UK with the option to choose nuclear technology over renewable expansion. In particular, says the report, there appears to be “increased risk for the offshore wind technology given its higher capital costs and project development risks.”

“Recently, Germany announced its plan to scale down its 2020 offshore wind target from 10GW to 6.5GW, while also limiting annual wind and solar installations to 2.5GW each.”

“We now see increasing downside risks for offshore wind targets in the UK, the largest offshore wind market, not only in entire Europe but also globally. In case of a scale down in the UK offshore wind expectations, supply chain development and technology cost reductions are likely to slow down, thereby adversely impacting the offshore wind installations globally.”

In the absence of country-specific renewable targets, the report points to the carbon price as “an important driver for the economics around renewable capacity additions.”

“The European Commission, rather ambitiously in our view, expects carbon prices to increase to €40/tonne in 2030 under the proposed framework, from an estimated price of €5/tonne in 2020,” says the report. “Prices at €40/t would help accelerate a switch from coal to gas and renewable technologies.”

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This article, HSBC: Europeans Dragging Their Feet On Climate Action, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Massachusetts Invests $50 Million in Climate Resiliency Plan

by Silvio Marcacci

The impacts of rising sea levels, temperatures, and extreme weather keep adding up for America’s communities, but real action at the federal and international level keep getting pushed off to a later date – so what are local officials left to do?

If you’re Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, the answer is pretty simple: Invest $50 million into a climate resiliency plan to address current and future impacts of a warming planet on his state’s economy and residents.

Coming just six months after Maryland’s groundbreaking climate change action plan was unveiled, Massachusetts’ forward-looking action highlights a growing trend of state and local elected officials taking the climate fight into their own hands.

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Governor Deval Patrick photo via Massachusetts Office of the Governor

Governor Deval Patrick photo via Massachusetts Office of the Governor

First, Boost Grid Resiliency Against Extreme Weather

Governor Patrick’s plan focuses on strengthening the state’s power grid against the rising tide of extreme weather. $40 million of the total plan will go directly into a municipal resilience grant program administered by the state Department of Energy Resources that funds clean energy technologies to harden energy services and boost distributed generation.

In addition to adding clean power generation across the grid, Massachusetts’ Department of Public Utilities will coordinate efforts to harden the state’s electricity transmission and distribution system against extreme weather while deploying new microgrid systems.

This may all sound like it’ll cost taxpayers a pretty penny, but the grid resiliency efforts will be paid by retail electricity suppliers operating in Massachusetts who aren’t able to meet their compliance obligations under the state’s renewable portfolio standard. These Alternative Compliance Payments will fully fund the grid hardening effort and hold taxpayers harmless.

Second, Protect Coastal Communities And Public Health

But Massachusetts’ climate resiliency efforts won’t just focus on the power grid. The remaining $10 million will come from existing capital funds and be split among projects to repair dams and coastal infrastructure damaged by extreme weather in recent years, including two separate $1 million grant programs to address sea level rise along the coast and fund green infrastructure coastal resilience pilot projects.

State agencies will also work to create best practices and resources to share among local officials. The state’s Department of Public Health will work to identify additional issues local government should consider, boost training, analyze the spread of diseases resulting from warmer temperatures, and assess vulnerable water infrastructure. $2 million in additional funding proposed in the state’s fiscal year 2015 budget will cover these interagency efforts.

From Clean Energy Leader To Climate Leader

The Bay State has already become a national model for how to build a successful green economy by growing green jobs 11.8% in 2013 alone, ranking first in the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s national ranking of statewide energy efficiency for three consecutive years, and crushing its own solar power goals.

But with this plan, Massachusetts joins the vanguard of local governments working to protect their communities even if the federal government won’t. “We have a generational responsibility to address the multiple threats of climate change,” said Governor Patrick. “Massachusetts need to be ready, and our plan will make sure that we are.”

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This article, Massachusetts Invests $50 Million In Grid, Coastal Climate Resiliency, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

 

Silvio Marcacci
Silvio Marcacci

Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

Study Shows Why We Need A Carbon Tax, Not R&D To Preserve Livable Climate For Our Children

by Guest Contributor

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Originally published on ClimateProgress
by Joe Romm

So there’s this new study in Nature Climate Change, “Intra- and inter-generational discounting in the climate game.”

Sounds too wonky to get many eyeballs, no? That’s why editors at places like TIME magazine have jazzed it up with this sort of headline: “Why We Don’t Care About Saving Our Grandchildren From Climate Change.”

Except that isn’t exactly what the study shows, as we’ll see. Indeed, the study design is such that it may not show anything at all relevant to climate change (and so all headlines about it, including mine, need an asterisk).

But if you accept the study,then you ought to accept the study’s own conclusions, which make clear how much more important a price on carbon is than, say, a massive new research and development program in carbon-free energy, if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming.

The study ran a “collective-risk group experiment.” TIME has a detailed explanation of it:

Each subject in groups with six participants was given a $55 operating fund. The experiment went 10 rounds, and during each round, they were allowed to choose one of three options: invest $0, $2.75 or $5.50 into a climate account. The participants were told that the total amount contributed would go to fund an advertisement on climate change in a German newspaper. If at the end of the 10 rounds, the group reached a target of $165 — or about $27 per person — they were considered to have successfully averted climate change, and each participant was given an additional $60 dollars…. If the group failed to reach the $165 target, there was a 90% probability that they wouldn’t get the additional payout. As a group, members would be better off if they collectively invested enough to reach that $165 target — otherwise they wouldn’t get the payout — but individually, members could benefit by keeping their money to themselves while hoping the rest of the group would pay enough to reach the target.

The bold-faced sentence above is a buried bombshell, as we’ll see.

Here’s the twist, though: that $60 dollar endowment was paid out on three different time horizons. In one treatment, the cash was given to the groups the next day. In the second treatment, it was given seven weeks later. And in the third treatment, the cash was instead invested in planting oak trees that would sequester carbon — but since those trees wouldn’t be fully grown for years, all the benefit would accrue to future generations, not the current players in the experiment. The difference between that third treatment and the first and second is what’s known as “intergenerational discounting,” which happens when the benefits of an action in the present are highly diluted and mostly spread among many people in the future. Which, as it happens, is pretty much how climate policy would work.

Unsurprisingly, the more delayed the payout was, the less likely the experimental groups would put enough money away to meet the goal to stop climate change. Even among those who knew they’d get the payout the next day, only seven of 10 groups invested sufficient funds, while none of the 11 groups who knew their endowment would be invested in planting trees gave enough money to “stop” climate change.

Unsurprisingly, indeed. Nothing about this study is terribly surprising except the sweeping generalizations made about it. For instance, the news release asserts “A study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change reveals that groups cooperate less for climate change mitigation when the rewards of cooperation lay in the future, especially if they stretch into future generations.”

Except that the groups weren’t asked to invest in climate change mitigation! They were asked to invest in newspaper advertisements urging people to do stuff (details here). One doesn’t have to be very well-informed (or very cynical) to understand that newspaper advertisements are not a terribly good investment if you are genuinely concerned about climate change.

And you don’t have to be highly informed on climate change to realize that we aren’t going to solve the climate problem by planting trees — and this study was done with Germans, who tend to be better informed than most on climate matters.

Time magazine quotes the conclusion of the study itself:

Applying our results to international climate-change negotiations paints a sobering picture. Owing to intergenerational discounting, cooperation will be greatly undermined if, as in our setting, short-term gains can arise only from defection. This suggests the necessity of introducing powerful short-term incentives to cooperate, such as punishment, reward or reputation, in experimental research as well as in international endeavors to mitigate climate change.

In short, we need a price on carbon to have the long-term harm from carbon pollution reflected in the short-term (i.e. current) cost of fossil fuel-based energy. The obvious reward is to return the money collected from, say, a carbon tax back to individuals and businesses, thus rewarding those who reduce their carbon pollution.

Oddly, TIME draws the exactly-backwards conclusion:

The Nature Climate Change study also underscores why “win-win” climate policies — like innovation investments that can lead directly to cheap clean energy, rather than policies that make dirty energy more expensive — are likely to be the most effective ones. Barring a species-wide personality change, few of us will be willing to endure present pain so that our grandchildren won’t have to endure an unlivable climate.

To the extent that “innovation investments” mean big, new investments in R&D, then the study suggests that is precisely what won’t work. After all, asking Americans to spend billions of their tax dollars on R&D is “present pain” but the benefits of R&D obviously accrue only to future generations (unless the R&D effort is used as an excuse to delay mitigation even longer, in which case it effectively harms future generation by undercutting urgent efforts to avoid crossing irreversible climate tipping points).

TIME does make the case for aggressive deployment of clean energy:

Fortunately, short-term incentives for fighting climate change do exist. It takes decades to benefit from reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions, but phasing out fossil fuels like coal and oil can bring immediate improvements in air pollution. And air pollution has turned out to be even more dangerous than experts thought, with the World Health Organization last week declaring that bad air is a leading environmental cause of cancer, comparable to secondhand smoke.

Precisely. And if we add a revenue-neutral carbon price then we ensure short-term incentives match long-term interests.

We know human beings are capable of making tremendous sacrifices for their children’s well-being. Heck, we are willing to “endure present pain” — by working harder and/or saving money — to pay for higher education that won’t provide measurable benefits to our children for a long, long time.

BOTTOM LINE: It may well be that the study’s design is too narrow to support any definitive generalizations about climate change at all. But to the extent that we can draw larger conclusions, it’s that climate change mitigation efforts require “powerful short-term incentives to cooperate, such as punishment, reward or reputation.” And nothing meets that goal like a price on carbon.

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This article, Study Shows Why We Need A Carbon Tax, Not R&D, To Preserve Livable Climate For Our Children, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀

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How Change Manifests, How Action To Stop Global Warming Must Come About

by Cynthia Shahan

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earth globe
Image Credit: Grassy Earth via Shutterstock

There is just something about brevity. A recent episode of David Biello’s Scientific American podcast Sixty Second Earth cuts to the chase of how change manifests, and how to most effectively tackle the global warming crisis: by local action. Here’s a transcript of part of the Sixty Second Earth podcast:

It’s obvious. Global efforts to combat climate change have failed. International summits are full of hot air and greenhouse gas pollution continues to rise. If a country bails on a climate commitment, they pay a price of, well, zero.

Turns out that’s okay, at least according to game theory analyses by researchers at the University of Lisbon. Their models suggest that punishment by global institutions has no effect. They also say that global summits actually impede cooperation.

Now, in a new report, the researchers suggest that if punishment starts getting handed out at the local level, say city governments, what emerges is a much more cooperative global regime for combating climate change.

Interestingly, though, the local actors must be stimulated by an understanding that global warming means catastrophe… big time. Thus, the remarkable bottom line to change is essentially an old bumper sticker tagline (link added):

Nevertheless, the math of how people play games suggests that successfully curbing carbon pollution will rely on the old adage: think globally… act locally.

The journal Nature Climate Change describes how that proverbial pond inspires change with many ripples from within — it is the rippling of change (link added):

We show that a bottom-up approach, in which parties create local institutions that punish free-riders, promotes the emergence of widespread cooperation, mostly when risk perception is low, as it is at present3, 7. On the contrary, global institutions provide, at best, marginal improvements regarding overall cooperation. Our results clearly suggest that a polycentric approach involving multiple institutions is more effective than that associated with a single, global one, indicating that such a bottom-up, self-organization approach, set up at a local scale, provides a better ground on which to attempt a solution for such a complex and global dilemma.

Another international climate conference is coming up, this one being held in Poland. There isn’t much optimism regarding what is to come out of this, and it seems there’s no reason for optimism. What is needed is a stronger focus on creating action on the local level. What is needed is an emphasis on communicating the great risks and costs that come with global warming, while showing people local solutions that they can implement in their cities. People are starting to realize this, but the message needs to get out to more and more of us, especially the ones who are motivated and assertive enough to push for meaningful change.

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This article, How Change Manifests, How Action To Stop Global Warming Must Come About, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Cynthia Shahan is an Organic Farmer, Classical Homeopath, Art Teacher, Creative Writer, Anthropologist, Natural Medicine Activist, Journalist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.