The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a break from circulation the next two weeks, returning again June 7. 

Negotiators picked up discussions toward a new global climate treaty in Bonn, Germany this week. The meeting was the first since the 2011 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban where leaders initially agreed to put together a plan that would limit Earth-warming emissions. The stakes for the 10-day meeting are high—negotiators have set goals of building support for funding developing nations to the tune of $100 billion a year by 2020 and of constructing a global, legally binding climate agreement that extends the Kyoto Protocol. While countries agreed in Durban to sign the deal by 2015, U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres insisted milestones should be set in 2012.

So far, the European Union and groups of developing countries are divided over details of how the Kyoto Protocol should be extended. The talks may have inspired Qatar—one of the largest emitters of carbon—to cut its emissions and pay into the Green Climate Fund. Qatar will host the next round of annual climate negotiations in November—the first member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to do so.

One university in Australia is looking at the effects of climate change by creating an atmosphere where CO2 is 40 percent higher than current levels and studying its impact on the environment, humans and other living things. The Aussie researchers predict an average increase of about 3 degrees centigrade, but the first results of the study won’t be available until next year. A new journal article says, depending on the area, as many as 40 percent of mammals migrate too slowly and won’t be able to keep pace with climate shifts expected in the next hundred years.

Japan Faces Summer Test

While Iran and the U.N. nuclear agency discussed Iran’s nuclear program and suspicions Tehran may have tested nuclear arms technology, Japan decided to restart nuclear reactors in one town as others there contemplated how to handle things nuclear-free before the summer’s heat sets in. At least one utility in the country is considering a rate hike to compensate for the impending hot weather, while the Japanese operator of the Fukushima plant posted a $10 billion loss stemming from the meltdown. The town is the first to restart a nuclear reactor since all the nation’s nuclear reactors were shut off following the Fukushima disaster roughly one year ago. According to one newspaper poll, residents there are split on nuclear power.

In the U.S., California also faces threats of summer power shortages due to complications with the San Onofre nuclear plant. And the nuclear reactor being built in Augusta, Ga., will not only be completed behind schedule, but come in at a much higher price—approximately $900 million.

Could cheap natural gas be choking aging nuclear plants? E&E Publishing reported the nuclear industry is questioning whether lower natural gas prices will put pressure on plants, just as cheap gas has done to coal.

EPA Declares ‘Gasland’ Town’s Water Safe

Vermont made history this week by becoming the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the hotly debated natural gas drilling technique that injects a mixture of water and chemicals underground at high pressures to release hard-to-reach oil and natural gas. The ban is not predicted have an immediate effect, however, because the state has no fracking projects under way and no evidence of natural gas reserves.

The news comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested more money to probe the technique. It was just days after the EPA announced water in the town made famous by hydraulic fracturing and the movie “Gasland” was given a clean bill of health. Though water at one home did show elevated levels of methane, the well water was declared safe. The EPA released data for 59 of the 61 wells tested, claiming “the set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give the EPA reason to do further testing.” The finding has residents of the northeastern Pennsylvania town disputing the claim. The lawsuits and tests revolving around the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas have made it difficult for insurers to price risk.

While drilling continues in Pennsylvania—generating about $3.5 billion in 2011—the U.S. Department of Interior recently found roughly two-thirds of land leased by the oil industry goes unused. This equates to roughly 46 million acres both on- and offshore.

Recent cyber attacks aimed at computer networks belonging to U.S. natural gas pipeline companies may have ties to China, the Christian Science Monitor reported. The U.S. and China have agreed to cooperate on cyber security despite China’s implication in the pipeline attacks. As a whole, the energy sector is becoming more vulnerable to these types of attacks, which also struck Iran last month.

Some, however, are looking to other methods for energy generation. One group of researchers in California is trying to harness viruses for energy needs. As Norway opened the world’s largest carbon capture and storage test facility, La Ventosa Mexico—the windy place—inched its way toward earning a title for “the largest growth of wind power projects anywhere in the world.” The Atlantic Wind Connection project, a network of offshore wind farms off the East Coast that could power close to two million homes in the next 10 years, received permission to move forward. The “first-of-its-kind project” would be served by a 380-mile underwater power line running from Virginia to New Jersey.

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.

 

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a surprise turnaround, the United Nations climate talks managed to produce a new deal to eventually curb global emissions moving forward. In a press release announcing the agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called it a “breakthrough.”

The new agreement marks a break from the Kyoto Protocol, which divided the world into two categories—the developed and the developing world. Instead, said the European Union’s Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, the new agreement reflects “today’s mutually interdependent world,” and moves toward an agreement that partners all countries in combating climate change.

The new agreement—dubbed the “Durban Platform“—created a group with an unwieldy name, the Ad Hoc Working Group on a Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which has the mandate to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force.” In essence, it is an agreement to finalize an accord no later than 2015, which would go into effect in 2020.

The agreement would also extend the Kyoto Protocol, set to expire at the end of 2012, for an additional five years, allowing the system’s carbon trading to continue. This won’t have much impact on carbon markets or renewable investment in the next few years, analysts told Reuters, but could have an effect over the longer term.

How the Deal Was Done

To forge the deal at the thirteenth hour, the talks were extended nearly two days.

The push for the new agreement reportedly came from developing nations and those likely to be most affected by climate change, which put pressure on the European Union to work for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

The bloc of emerging countries known as BASIC—Brazil, South Africa, India and China—was divided, with India the strongest holdout against binding emissions cuts for these countries—at least until richer countries met the targets they’d already committed to.

India was persuaded by an addition in the Durban text of an option of an “outcome with legal force”—although the difference in meaning between that and a protocol or “legal instrument” is not yet clear. The United States’ Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, said overall it is “pretty clear that we’re talking about something probably in the nature of a protocol.”

Just after the talks wrapped up, Canada pulled out of Kyoto Protocol, saying it won’t meet the goals it had agreed to for cutting its emissions, bringing condemnation at home and abroad. Nonetheless, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said Canada still has a “legal obligation” to cut its emissions.

Landmark or Disaster?

Opinions were divided over the new pact’s significance.

Some called it a “landmark deal,” although many seem to think it is unlikely to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the line the U.N. had drawn for “dangerous climate change.”

A Nature editorial called the outcome “an unqualified disaster” for the climate, and argued politicians can no longer talk “with a straight face” of meeting the 2-degrees-Celsius goal. With India’s agriculture under major threat from further warming, the country’s reluctance to sign a binding climate treaty was “suicidal,” argued Gwynne Dyer.

Persian Gulf Tensions

Meanwhile another deal was being hashed out, among the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). They agreed to raise officially allowed production to 30 million barrels a day—but since production is already at that level, the agreement will likely have little effect on oil prices. The compromise came out in Saudi Arabia’s favor, since the country defied other OPEC members earlier this year and unilaterally raised its own production.

Oil markets are “cooling” as the Eurozone crisis has slowed global growth, said the International Energy Agency; nonetheless, the agency warned oil prices are high enough to threaten growth.

Tensions between Iran and the West continued, with some saying a covert war has already begun. An escalation would likely drive oil prices much higher, and the U.S. and European Union are reportedly trying to find ways to apply pressure to Iran that would neither raise oil prices nor hand Iran windfall profits.

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.

Editor’s Note: The Nicholas Institute is transitioning away from sending The Climate Post via Google Feedburner. If you are receiving our new posts Thursday’s at 5 p.m. via Google, please unsubscribe from the feed by clicking the link at the bottom of the e-mail. Forward the e-mail on to nicholasinstitute@duke.edu to re-subscribe using our new service. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and appreciate your interest in our weekly write-ups.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman expressed skepticism about the science on climate change, so now all GOP candidates are on the record as doubting either that the planet is clearly warming, or that people are responsible for most of the warming.

Of all the GOP candidates, Huntsman had been the most supportive of action on climate change: in 2007, as governor of Utah, he signed up his state for a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions.

There has been an increase in climate skepticism in the past year and a growing reluctance to say anything about climate, especially among Republicans. The turning point—argued the National Journal’s cover story, “Heads in the Sand“—was the 2010 Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on campaign spending and boosted so-called super political action committees (super PACs) that can take unlimited funds.

The deniers haven’t won yet, though, argued Bill Chameides of Duke University. Most Americans accept the basics of climate change, more investment went into green energy than fossil fuels in 2010, and some of the biggest energy companies—such as ExxonMobil—affirm that climate change is real.

Little Agreement in Durban

As the United Nations climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, come near their close, there is little hope of coming to an agreement. The executive director of the International Energy Agency said the lack of progress is a “cause for concern,” and urged countries: “Don’t wait for a global deal. Act now.”

China showed signs of softening its stance on a climate agreement, saying it may “shoulder responsibilities” for cutting emissions, as long as it is not held to the same standards as richer countries—a move an Oxfam climate campaigner called “really encouraging.”

Meanwhile, a new study reported greenhouse emissions from the developing world have surpassed those of the developed world (using the Kyoto Protocol’s definitions for each group)—and it happened much earlier than expected.

The president of the Worldwatch Institute, Robert Engelman, proposed a “shadow climate regime”—an alternative approach that erases divisions between developed and developing countries as well as caps on emissions, and taxes all emissions, regardless of where they originate.

Because of the slow progress on climate treaties, scientists have been looking increasingly at geoengineering—global schemes for cooling the planet—and a collaboration  between Britain’s Royal Society and two other groups called for more research into these methods.

Nuclear Decline, Stormy Rise of Renewables

The world’s nuclear power dropped in 2011, as plants were knocked out by Japan’s tsunami, shut down, or those under construction canceled or postponed. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its recent World Energy Outlook, detailed how the world might get by in a scenario with declining nuclear power, but said meeting the climate change targets under discussion at Durban would require “heroic achievements in the deployment of emerging low-carbon technologies,” in particular for countries like Japan.

China’s wind and solar capacity will soar in the next decade, adding the equivalent of 180 nuclear power plants, the IEA forecast.

The growth of China’s solar industry has been a source of contention with America, leading the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to launch an investigation into China’s support for its solar industry. The ruling said U.S. companies had been harmed by China’s policies, but China’s Commerce Ministry argued the reaction smacks of protectionism. The ITC voted to continue its investigation.

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.

Editor’s Note: The Nicholas Institute is transitioning away from sending The Climate Post via Google Feedburner. If you are receiving our new posts Thursday’s at 5 p.m. via Google, please unsubscribe from the feed by clicking the link at the bottom of the e-mail. Forward the e-mail on to nicholasinstitute@duke.edu to re-subscribe using our new service. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and appreciate your interest in our weekly write-ups.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In Durban, South Africa, the latest round of United Nations climate negotiations opened with a plea from South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, for countries to look beyond national interests. So far, however, the talks have been marked by many of the same divisions that plagued earlier meets.

A coalition of environmental groups—including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists—accused the U.S. of negotiating in bad faith. At the conference, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela stalled on decisions about a Green Climate Fund to pay for clean energy and climate change adaptation in poorer countries.

In response, the European Union (EU) urged a conclusion on the fund, and took the hardest stance it ever has in such negotiations, insisting on stiff conditions for China and developing countries and demanding a road map for moving forward.

Meanwhile, Canada’s environment minister called the country’s decision to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol “one of the biggest blunders” an earlier administration made since they had no intention of meeting the pledge. This led a group of African leaders to plead Canada to reconsider.

Climategate 2.0

A week before the climate talks began, a new collection of 5,000 e-mails from climate researchers surfaced, apparently part of the same set obtained and then leaked in 2009 in the so-called “Climategate” affair. Despite widespread accusations of bias and manipulation of data, the researchers involved were cleared of wrongdoing.

But the new release of the second batch of e-mails led U.S. Rep. Ed Markey to state: “This is clearly an attempt to sabotage the international climate talks for a second time.” Markey called for more intense investigation into how the e-mails were hacked. While U.K. police investigated the apparent crime before, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed the police spent little on this effort.

To try and get clues of who may have been responsible, the Guardian reached out to readers to help troll through the files and uncovered an encrypted file apparently created by the hacker.

Emissions Warning

The latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin from the World Meteorological Organization recorded an unusually large increase in the CO2 level in the air in 2010—a jump of 2.3 parts per million over the year, compared with the average over the preceding decade of 2.0 parts per million each year.

If this trend continued for the rest of the century, the world would warm some 6 degrees Celsius, warned Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

However, this forecast is at odds with other warnings the IEA has made, argued Chris Nelder of SmartPlanet—in particular, Birol’s warning that the world has reached the peak of conventional crude oil production, and that high oil prices are hampering economic growth.

Threat of “Oil Armageddon”

Oil-importing countries continued to feel the bite of high oil prices; nonetheless, this year renewable energy spending passed a milestone, topping investment for fossil power plants.

Oil prices may spike again, many analysts warned, after France urged many countries to halt Iranian oil imports, and the U.S., Britain and Canada teamed up to apply new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

However, the EU, poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest oil importer, can’t afford to refuse Iranian oil, the Wall Street Journal argued. Likewise, the U.S. had been considering sanctions, CNN reported, but hesitated because of the toll an oil price spike would likely have on the global economy. With relations between Iran and the West quickly worsening, Reuters reports oil consuming nations, hedge funds and refineries are preparing for an “oil armageddon.”

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.