The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Obama laid out four big questions the United States has to answer in his nearly hour-long final State of the Union address Tuesday night. One of those four points: How do we make technology work for us, and not against us, especially when it comes to solving urgent issues like climate change?

In discussing the role American needs to take in combating this issue, Obama highlighted America’s past willingness to rely on science.

“Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there,” Obama said. “We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon … Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

The administration’s push to continue making new discoveries came in a speech optimistic about America’s destiny and referencing the president’s accomplishments in office the last seven years.

Obama also presented a vision for our energy future.

“Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy,” he said. “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future—especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.”

“None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo,” he added. “But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve—that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve. And it’s within our grasp.”

McCarthy Talks Environmental Priorities in 2016

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told the Washington Post that the Obama administration is preparing an ambitious agenda on climate change in 2016, citing new efforts to lower air pollution and a predication that the administration’s Clean Power Plan would survive legal challenges.

“We’re not just going to stay with what we’ve already done,” she said. “We’re going to look for other opportunities.”

McCarthy echoed these comments on the EPA Connect blog, writing “Heading into 2016, EPA is building on a monumental year for climate action—and we’re not slowing down in the year ahead.” In reviewing 2015, she highlighted announcement of the final Clean Power Plan—a regulation meant to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants—and the global climate deal reached last month in Paris. She said her office will provide technical leadership to ensure consistent, transparent greenhouse gas reporting and inventory requirements under the global deal and would work to ensure the deal “is cast in stone.”

McCarthy is reportedly touring Ohio this week, touting President Obama’s energy and climate agenda (subscription).

Manmade Climate Change Evidence for Anthropocene Epoch

A group of geoscientists suggest that human activities, including those contributing to climate change, have altered the planet so much that their consequences are already detectable in the geological record and are reason to consider that sometime in the mid-twentieth century Earth moved into a new geologic epoch: the “Anthropocene.” As evidence that the planet has left the Holocene epoch, which began about 11,700 years ago, a new paper published in the journal Science points to mass extinction, reshaping of the planet’s surface, and anthropogenic deposits, including black carbon produced from fossil fuel combustion—all human impacts that the authors say should be acknowledged in the nomenclature.

The scale and rate of change in measures such as carbon dioxide and methane concentrations in the atmosphere, said Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and one of the study authors, are larger and faster than the changes that defined the onset of the Holocene.

“What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age,” Waters said. “That is a big deal.”

The case to approve the Anthropocene as a new epoch will be presented to the International Commission on Stratigraphy later this year.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Sticking Points for the Paris Climate Talks

On December 8, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of special issues, this week, of The Climate Post that focus on the climate talks in Paris.

At the Paris climate talks, where ministers are hammering out an international deal to curb climate change, two huge debates remain unresolved: the long-term global warming target and the amount and nature of finance that will flow to poor countries, a debate that hinges on differentiation of developing country and developed country responsibilities.

“Whether the text will also take into account a very justifiable request from the most vulnerable countries to improve on those efforts, it remains to be seen how that is going to be handled,” said United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there is a recognition of the intense vulnerability of some nations.”

It’s about Money and Temperature Goals

Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, writes from the climate talks in Paris.

The central objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that prevents dangerous interference with Earth’s climate system. The collective proposed efforts of all countries’ pre-Paris emissions pledges, or intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), add up to approximately 3 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels—well short of the 2 degree Celsius goal established at the 15th Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009.

Many countries are now advocating for a target of 1.5 C or, alternatively, well below 2 C, but there are no real provisions for revisiting INDCS this week to pursue a 2 C or 1.5 C target. One commenter suggests that the objective of the Paris agreement is not to assign and enforce a temperature goal that will keep the planet safe but to create the “structure and momentum for [mitigation] efforts that are already underway.” However, the difference between 1.5, 2, or 3 C may determine whether low-lying island countries remain habitable. These and other countries that are most vulnerable to climate change view a more aggressive temperature goal as essential to their long-term survival and will likely remain steadfast in their support for such a goal in the agreement to be finalized by Dec. 11.

Acting on the Paris pledges will require money—and the need for money introduces responsibility for providing it. One of the core principles of the UNFCCC is the notion of common but differentiated responsibility—or, more simply, that the responsibility each country bears depends on its economic condition. There is little debate that the very poorest of countries should receive what they need to finance their transition to a low-carbon economy and to adapt to climate change. However, there is disagreement about how much finance major emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil, home to nearly 40 percent of the world’s population, should receive for their efforts. China appears ready to finance much of its climate action, but it seeks headroom on emissions and proposes to lets its emissions grow until 2030. India has thus far refused to establish a peak for its emissions, proposing instead to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of its economy and establish ambitious targets for renewable energy, while allowing coal use to grow steadily and requesting external finance to achieve its goals. Brazil pledges to continue efforts to significantly reduce its largest emissions source, deforestation, largely through payments from Norway. In different ways, each of these countries argues that it is entitled to its share of the global carbon dioxide budget to advance its economy, just as the United States and other countries have done. Convincing them that carbon’s consequences (as we understand them today) should modify the terms of access to that budget will be a difficult sell. Another challenge will be determining how much money the advanced economies will provide to these emerging powers to finance their costs of mitigation and adaptation.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.