The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The five members of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday unanimously rejected a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the Department of Energy (DOE) to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in the electricity markets FERC oversees (subscription). Instead it opened a new proceeding in which it calls on regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) to submit information to FERC on certain resilience issues and concerns within 60 days (subscription).

Since Sept. 28, when DOE Secretary Rick Perry proposed mandating that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid, a broad array of power sector stakeholders have raised concerns about the legality and vagueness of the proposed rulemaking and the short timetable to implement it.

In voting against the DOE proposal, FERC found that neither the proposal nor comments on it revealed a problem with existing market rules.

“While some commenters allege grid resilience or reliability issues due to potential retirements of particular resources, we find that these assertions do not demonstrate the unjustness or unreasonableness of the existing RTO/ISO tariffs,” FERC wrote. “In addition, the extensive comments submitted by the RTOs/ISOs do not point to any past or planned generator retirements that may be a threat to grid resilience.”

FERC went on to note that even the DOE’s own grid reliability study, cited to justify the DOE proposal, “concluded that changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

FERC’s Jan. 8 order means electric grid operators must answer questions from the commission about how they define resilience, what they do to ensure it and how they evaluate threats to it.

Although FERC could issue a new order after receiving that information, The Washington Post suggests that the language in the current order would support the trend toward free competitive electricity markets.

One issue not raised in the debate, which centered on market concerns, was changes to the electric system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Researchers at Resources for the Future projected significant emissions increases and negative effects on social welfare had the DOE Notice of Proposed Rulemaking gone forward.

Trump Administration Unveils Plan to Vastly Increase Oil Drilling Off U.S. Shores

The Trump administration revealed a draft plan that would greatly expand oil drilling to areas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans that were previously protected.

“This is a start on looking at American energy dominance,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, adding that the proposal would make the United States “the strongest energy superpower” (subscription).

Previous administrations had largely limited offshore oil and gas production to the Gulf of Mexico, but Zinke’s proposal would make more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf open for leasing. His proposal includes 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024 in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas. Among them: 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 in the Atlantic, and 7 in the Pacific (some off the coast of California).

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” Zinke said (subscription). “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which would oversee the leasing process, will hold a 60-day public comment period on the plan.

Although embraced by oil and gas industry groups, the proposed plan is expected to face opposition from governors of many coastal states and many U.S. lawmakers.

On Tuesday, a group of 37 senators called the proposal “the height of irresponsibility” (subscription).

“This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry,” the senators wrote in a letter to Zinke.

The proposal follows an April 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump requiring that the Interior Department reconsider former President Barack Obama’s five-year offshore drilling plan.

If finalized, the proposal would reverse Obama’s ban on drilling on the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic, but, in addition to Florida waters which Zinke this week closed to drilling, it would keep off-limits the waters near Alaska’s far-western Aleutian Islands, which were protected by former President George W. Bush.

People’s Hearings on Clean Power Plan Begin

Several “people’s hearings” planned by states to discuss the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) repeal of the clean Power Plan took place in New York, Maryland and Delaware this week. Proposed to be repealed in October, the rule aimed to set state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants.

The hearings follow an announcement last month by the EPA that it will hold three more hearings on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan—in California, Wyoming and Missouri—after criticism for not conducting a transparent review process and previously holding only one public hearing over two days in Charleston, West Virginia.

Transcripts and comments associated with the hearings will be sent to the EPA as part of its rulemaking—EPA is presently taking input on what should replace the rule. In an interview with Reuters, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt listed replacement of the Clean Power Plan as one of his top 2018 priorities—alongside plans to greatly reduce EPA staff and rewrite the Waters of the United States rule.

“A proposed rule will come out this year and then a final rule will come out sometime this year,” Pruitt said of the Clean Power Plan’s replacement.

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

A study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that more than a quarter of Earth’s land will become significantly drier even if the world manages to limit warming to the Paris Agreement goal of less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Limiting the temperature rise to the agreement’s more ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce the amount of land affected.

“Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20–30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2 degrees C [Celsius],” said Manoj Joshi, study co-author from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. “But two-thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees C.”

According to the study, the regions that would most benefit from keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius are parts of South East Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, Central America and Southern Australia.

The study authors used projections from 27 global climate models to identify the areas of the world where aridity will substantially change when compared to current year-to-year variations. With a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, they found that between 24 percent and 32 percent of the Earth’s total land surface will become drier. At an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, only between eight percent and 10 percent of that surface becomes drier.

Aridification could dramatically increase the threat of widespread drought and wildfires. It is also a threat to agriculture, water quality and biodiversity, noted Chang-Eui Park, the study’s lead author from China’s Southern University for Sustainability and Technology.

Park likened the emergence of aridification to “a shift to continuous moderate drought conditions, on top of which future year-to-year variability can cause more severe drought. For instance, in such a scenario 15 percent of semi-arid regions would actually experience conditions similar to ‘arid’ climates today.”

Trump Administration Repeals Proposed Rules for Hydraulic Fracturing on Government Land

One day after a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reconsider it’s decision to overrule a lower court’s rejection of a proposed Obama-era rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rescinded the rule. Under the proposed rule, companies would have had to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, whereby pressurized water is pumped underground to break open hydrocarbon deposits to increase well productivity.

The rule had been scheduled to go into effect in 2015, but it was never implemented due to court challenges by energy industry groups and several oil- and natural gas-producing states, which argued the rule was over-reaching and duplicative of state requirements, as well as by environmentalists, who pointed to a need to regulate potential risks to groundwater.

“This final rule is needed to prevent the unnecessarily burdensome and unjustified administrative requirements and compliance costs of the 2015 rule from encumbering oil and gas development on Federal and Indian lands,” BLM wrote in the 26-page final rule.

The move took effect immediately on December 29, skipping the 30-day waiting period often incorporated into rollbacks.

Vogtle Nuclear Project Gets Green Light

Georgia’s Public Service Commission has voted unanimously to allow construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle to continue. Plagued by delays and escalating costs, the Vogtle reactors represent the only large-scale nuclear construction underway in the United States since abandonment of two reactors this summer by South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper. This week, Dominion Power bought SCANA and assumed these failed South Carolina nuclear project costs.

“The decision to complete Vogtle 3 & 4 is important for Georgia’s energy future and the United States,” said Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, in a statement. “The Georgia Public Service Commission has shown leadership in making this complex and difficult decision and recognized that the Vogtle expansion is key to ensuring that our state has affordable and reliable energy today that will support economic growth now and for generations to come.”

Co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, the reactors are presently scheduled to come online in 2021 (unit 3) and 2022 (unit 4).

The commission attached conditions to its approval of the Vogtle completion, including a lower return on equity for Georgia Power; more money returned to ratepayers; and the possibility of re-examining the project if Congress doesn’t extend a production tax credit for nuclear power past a 2021 expiration date.

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.

China Announces Long-Awaited Carbon Market Plan

On December 21, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next week in observance of the holiday. It will return on January 4, 2018.

China, the world’s top polluter, unveiled plans for an emissions trading scheme on Tuesday.

This carbon market, which would allow facilities to trade credits for the right to emit planet-warming greenhouse gases, would initially start with China’s power sector. It would include approximately 1,700 utilities that each emit more than 26,000 tons of carbon a year—adding up to more than 3 billion tons of carbon emissions annually. Experts indicate it will take at least a year for the program to get underway, although the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) gave no hard deadlines for launch. Over time, China is expected to gradually tighten annual allocations to force up the emissions credit price.

“Everything is gradual, step by step,” said Li Junfeng, a senior government adviser on the carbon market plan.

Nine regions and cities, including Jiangsu, Fujian and seven regions with pilot schemes, will coordinate to establish the program, the NDRC said.

Although details of the market’s expansion have not yet been released, once the market is fully operational, it is expected to cover eight sectors: power; iron and steel; non-ferrous metals, such as aluminum; chemicals; petro-chemicals; paper; building materials; and civil aviation. Designed to encompass as much as 40 percent of the nation’s total emissions, the program aims to be more than twice the size of the European Union’s emissions trading scheme.

Efforts to Replace the Clean Power Plan Underway

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Clean Power Plan Monday, asking the public to comment on what a replacement rule might look like. In October, the Trump administration proposed repealing the Obama-era rule, which sets state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants.

“EPA is considering proposing emission guidelines to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing electric utility generating units (EGUs) and is soliciting information on the proper respective roles of the state and federal governments in that process, as well as information on systems of emission reduction that are applicable at or to an existing EGU, information on compliance measures, and information on state planning requirements under the Clean Air Act (CAA),” the notice reads.

The notice followed an announcement Friday that the EPA plans to terminate the rule in 10 months. The agency has suggested that it could have a replacement by October 2018. The news came as part of a broader Trump administration agenda to retract many environmental and other regulations.

Studies Strengthen Link between Human-Caused Climate Change and Some Extreme Weather

On the heels of an announcement by the Trump administration that climate change would be removed from the list of national security threats, new studies are pointing to further connections between global warming caused by human activities and past extreme weather events such as heat, drought, flooding and wildfire outbreaks.

A United Kingdom Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) analysis of 59 studies published in the last two years examined the influence of climate change on extreme weather. It suggests that warming worsened that weather in 70 percent of cases.

A separate group of studies published last week in Explaining Extreme Events in 2016 from a Climate Perspective, a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), analyzed 27 extreme weather events from 2016, the hottest year in recorded history, and found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of them.

Many of the BAMS studies found a strong likelihood of a human influence on extreme weather events but stopped short of saying they were outside the realm of natural variability, and not all of the studies linked 2016’s extreme events to human activity.

But it’s the first time in BAMS history that scientists have found some events that could not have occurred in the absence of global warming. According to the new reports, the three definitively human-caused extreme events in 2016 were the overall global temperature increase; record heat in Asia; and marine hot spots in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea (where a mass of warm ocean water has been dubbed “the Blob”) and off the coast of northern Australia.

“For years, scientists have known humans are changing the risk of some extremes,” said Jeff Rosenfeld, BAMS editor in chief (subscription). “But finding multiple extreme events that weren’t even possible without human influence makes clear that we’re experiencing new weather, because we’ve made a new climate.”

 

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

A new report from Moody’s outlines how the credit rating agency will evaluate the impact of climate change in its ratings for state and local bond issuers. The report warns cities and states to prepare for climate change or face increased difficulty maintaining or obtaining higher credit ratings.

Ratings from Moody’s also help determine interest rates on bonds issued by cities to fund roads, buildings and other civic projects. Cities not adequately preparing for climate change, then, may face higher rates.

“The interplay between an issuer’s exposure to climate shocks and its resilience to this vulnerability is an increasingly important part of our credit analysis, and one that will take on even greater significance as climate change continues,” the report notes.

Moody’s uses six indicators to assess exposure to the physical climate change, including hurricanes and extreme-weather damage as a share of the economy, and the share of homes in a flood plain.

Moody’s identifies Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas as the states most at risk for damage from climate change. It says it will assess both a city’s ongoing risk from climate trends and climate shock from extreme weather events such as natural disasters, floods and droughts.

“What we want people to realize is: If you’re exposed, we know that. We’re going to ask questions about what you’re doing to mitigate that exposure,” said Lenny Jones, a managing director at Moody’s. “That’s taken into your credit ratings.”

Mayors Sign Climate Charter

More than 50 North American cities signed the Chicago Climate Charter Tuesday during the North American Climate Summit in Chicago, where former President Barack Obama spoke, calling cities, states and nonprofit groups “the new face of leadership” on climate change.

“Obviously we’re in an unusual time when the United States is now the only nation on Earth that does not belong to the Paris agreement,” Obama said. “And that’s a difficult position to defend. But the good news is that the Paris agreement was never going to solve the climate crisis on its own. It was going to be up to all of us.”

The mayors, who attended the summit hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, hailed from cities across North America, including Mexico City, San Francisco and Phoenix.

“Climate change can be solved by human action,” said Emanuel (subscription). “We lead respectively where there is no consensus or directive out of our national governments.”

The charter calls for mayors to achieve a percent reduction in carbon emissions at least as stringent as the Paris Agreement; to quantify, track and report emissions; to support flexibility for cities to take action on climate issues; and to incorporate climate issues into emergency planning, among other provisions.

The charter also calls for cities to work with scientific and academic experts to find solutions. Some mayors have specifically agreed to commitments to expand public transportation and invest in natural climate solutions such as tree canopy and vegetation.

Study: Melting Arctic Sea Ice Will Lead to Increased Drought in California

Scientists have linked rapidly melting Arctic sea ice to warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels. Now new research shows it could also reduce rainfall in California, worsening future droughts in the state. By mid-century, according to a study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, loss of ice in the Arctic and warming temperatures there could drop California’s 20-year median for rainfall by as much as 15 percent.

“Sea-ice loss of the magnitude expected in the next decades could substantially impact California’s precipitation, thus highlighting another mechanism by which human-caused climate change could exacerbate future California droughts,” the study says.

The authors describe a series of meteorological events that lead to formation of storm-blocking air masses in the North Pacific—masses similar to the so-called Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, a nickname given to the persistent region of atmospheric high pressure that occurred over the Northeastern Pacific Ocean that kept rain from making landfall during California’s 2012–2016 drought. Although the study doesn’t attempt to explain that drought, its lead author, climate scientist Ivana Cvijanovic said it could help scientists understand future weather patterns.

“The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what the sea-ice-driven precipitation decline could look like,” she said.

Previous studies hypothesized that the North Pacific atmospheric ridge is due to increased ocean surface temperatures and heat circulation in the tropical Pacific. The new study elaborates on that understanding by describing the relation of Arctic sea-ice loss and tropical convection.

The authors say large-scale warming of the Arctic surface and lower atmosphere affects the way heat travels from Earth’s lower latitudes into the Arctic, in turn causing circulation changes in the deep tropics that eventually boost the buildup of a giant high-pressure system, like the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, off the California coast. In normal winters, high and low-pressure systems alternate. But when there’s a ridge, the wet and wintry Pacific storms instead slide north.

“We should be aware that an increasing number of studies, including this one, suggest that the loss of Arctic sea ice cover is not only a problem for remote Arctic communities, but could affect millions of people worldwide,” said Cvijanovic.

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

The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board recently unanimously approved draft regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants and to link the state with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state carbon cap-and-trade program, in 2019. The draft plan aims to cap emissions from the state’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and to reduce them 30 percent by 2030.

“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” said outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe at the time of the order. “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void.”

The draft rule proposes two starting levels for Virginia’s carbon cap: 33 million or 34 million tons, starting in 2020—decreasing by roughly 3 percent each year. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality aims to finalize and present the rule to the air control board for final approval next year.

The rule, which is expected to deliver a boost to renewable and energy efficiency in the state, could increase average residential bills by about 1 percent, commercial bills by 1.1 to 1.4 percent, and industrial bills by 1.3 to 1.7 percent by 2031, according to modeling work conducted on behalf of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

New Jersey, a state that Gov. Chris Christie withdrew from RGGI in 2011, is expected to rejoin the group when Gov.-elect Phil Murphy takes office.

EPA Holds Hearing on Repeal of Clean Power Plan

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted a two-day hearing in West Virginia this week on its proposal to terminate the Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state reduction targets for power plants. The West Virginia hearing is the only one of its kind scheduled on the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, though written public comments are being accepted by the EPA through Jan. 16.

Finalized by the EPA in 2015, the plan sought to reduce emissions from power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. But the Supreme Court stayed the plan after energy-producing states sued the EPA, saying it had exceeded its legal reach.

More than 250 people were signed up to present opposing and supporting views for the plan’s repeal, as speakers delivered comments simultaneously in three hearing rooms.

In the heart of coal country, there were many coal supporters who said the Clean Power Plan would cost utilities billions of dollars, raise energy bills and result in the loss of coal mining jobs. Others spoke out against the repeal, citing concerns over health and the acceleration of climate change if the plan did not take effect.

Trump Administration Issues Permit for Arctic Drilling

For the first time in two years, the federal government issued a permit to for drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The permit allows the Italian oil and natural gas company Eni U.S. Operating Company Inc. to begin exploratory drilling from a man-made island off Oliktok Point in the Beaufort Sea as soon as next month.

“Achieving American energy dominance moved one step closer today with the approval of Arctic exploration operations on the Outer Continental Shelf for the first time in more than two years,” said the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Just weeks before leaving office, former President Barack Obama used the rarely invoked Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to ban new offshore leasing in large swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. But the Trump administration has worked to reverse that and other rules reining in the energy sector—issuing an executive order in April to review the Obama plan.

Granting of the permit to Eni comes as the Trump administration considers opening up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. The Senate Budget Committee approved the measure Tuesday in a 12–11 party line vote.

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

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next Thursday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return November 30.

Although the world’s greenhouse gas emissions leveled out between 2014 and 2016, new studies presented this week at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, suggest that emissions will rise 2 percent in 2017.

“The temporary hiatus appears to have ended in 2017,” wrote Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who along with colleagues at the Global Carbon Project tracked 2017 emissions to date and projected them forward in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Economic projections suggest further emissions growth in 2018 is likely,” wrote the authors.

The primary driver of the rising emissions increase is a 3.5 percent increase in China’s emissions due to decreased use of hydropower and an uptick in coal use. India is expected to see a 2 percent rise in emissions. Meanwhile, the United States, the world’s second largest emitter behind China, is projected to experience a 0.4 percent decline in emissions.

The studies add urgency to the efforts of those in Bonn to negotiate the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the global treaty that aims to limit global warming. Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the Global Carbon Budget 2017 study and director of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, said the timeframe for meeting Paris Agreement targets is shortening: “Our expectations had always been that emissions would grow, but perhaps not as steeply as this.

“With global CO2 emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5C,” Le Quéré added.

COP 23: Coal, Finances, and Subnational Support

As signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) finish the second week of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, their focus remains on hammering out the details of the Paris Agreement, the global treaty aiming to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

How exactly the needed actions will be financed is yet to be seen.

“We need all financial players—public, private, domestic, international—and including markets and regulators, to work together effectively to mobilize at least $1.5 trillion in climate finance that is needed every year,” said Eric Usher, head of Finance Initiative at the U.N. Environment Programme.

Now that the United States is the only country not supporting the Paris Agreement—President Donald Trump announced in June that it would withdraw from the agreement—the administration’s only appearance at the conference focused on fossil fuels.

George D. Banks, special adviser to President Trump on international energy issues, led a panel with top American energy executives, offering that “without question, fossil fuels will continue to be used, and we would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure when fossil fuels are used that they be as clean and efficient as possible. This panel is controversial only if we choose to bury our heads in the sand.”

Despite the Trump administration’s stance on the agreement, U.S. states and cities are looking to take action on climate change. This week, 20 states and 50 cities signed a pledge to abide by the emissions reduction targets of the Paris agreement.

“It is important for the world to know, the American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us,” former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said in Bonn.

The group is vowing to take measures, such as reducing coal-fired power and investing in renewable energy and efficiency, which would substantially reduce its carbon output.

Study: A Warming Planet Makes Harvey-like Storms More Likely

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, some researchers pointed to the increased likelihood of extreme rain events as the planet warms, but a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes further. It supports the idea that the specific risk of such events is already on the upswing because of humans’ contributions to climate change. According to the study author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, since the end of the 20th century, global warming has helped increase the annual likelihood of Harvey-like rainfall in Texas by 6 percent. By century end, that probability could rise to 18 percent.

To better understand how climate change is skewing those odds, Emanuel generated 3,700 computerized storms for each of the three climate models used in the study. He situated Texas storms in the climates of the years from 1980 to 2016. In these climates, he found that an event producing 20 inches of rain was extremely rare. When he performed a similar analysis in the projected climates of the years 2080 to 2100, Harvey’s 33 inches of rain in Houston became a once-in-a-100-year event, rather than a once-in-a-2,000-year event, and for Texas as a whole, the odds increased from once in 100 years to once every 5.5 years.

“The changes in probabilities are because of global warming,” Emanuel said.

In the study, global warming helped slow hurricanes by pushing land and ocean temperatures closer together, leading to the kind of longevity witnessed with Harvey, but the other and greater effect of that warming is the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture.

“If [general circulation] slows down, then places near the coast will get more rain,” Emanuel said. “But the main reason our technique shows increasing rainfall is that there’s more water in the air.”

The significance of this study, Emmanuel noted, is to alert city planners to the changing probabilities of large-scale hurricanes in Texas.

“It is important for those people who will rebuild Houston and rethink its infrastructure to understand the magnitude of the risk and how it will change over time,” he said.

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

This week, signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) meet in Bonn, Germany, to discuss implementation of the Paris Agreement, a global treaty that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Before the meeting wraps up Nov. 17, signatories hope to lay the groundwork for the conclusion of the Paris agreement terms at COP24 in Poland, including rules on transparency, accounting, markets, and resilience.

“The conference in Bonn is a preparatory meeting for the next COP in Poland, where the fine print of the Paris Agreement will be decided,” said Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the German environment ministry. “In a nutshell, it’s about shaping the transparency rules on how states measure and report their progress in climate mitigation. The Paris Agreement is built as a bottom-up structure, where the [parties] themselves decide the contributions they can and want to make. This is why it’s most important to make sure that every party abides by their own targets and honestly reports about their efforts and results. So even though it’s very hard to communicate this to the public, the negotiations in Bonn are actually about the heart of the Paris Agreement.”

Since COP23 kicked off Nov. 6, two holdouts from the 2015 Paris Agreement signing—Syria and Nicaragua—have become signatories. That leaves the United States as the only country in the world not supporting the deal to limit global greenhouse gas emissions. President Donald Trump announced in June that the U.S. would withdraw from the climate agreement, a process that will be complete in 2020.

A significant focus at the COP23 is actions of cities, states, and other subnational actors that are stepping up to address climate change. Later this week, California Gov. Jerry Brown, together with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, will release a new report highlighting the progress of U.S. states, cities, and businesses in addressing climate change.

U.S. states, such as California, are signaling even further climate action. Brown proposed linking his state’s carbon market with the European Union’s and announced plans to cooperate on market design and implementation in Brussels, Tuesday.

“I would hope that we could explore linking California and the European Union,” Brown said. “We are already linked with Quebec. We are about to be joined by Ontario. Other states are also considering joining. That would be a concrete investment kind of move that California and other states and provinces could become a part of.”

Study Finds Strong Link Between Climate Change and Human Activities

A scientific report, released last week, says that it is “extremely likely” the use of fossil fuels and human activities are the main cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization. According to that report, a global average temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 115 years has led to record-breaking weather events and temperature extremes.

“It is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” says the Climate Science Special Report, part of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

The assessment, mandated every-four-years by the Global Change Research Act, analyzes human and naturally caused global changes and their effects on everything from agriculture and energy production to human health. Produced by 13 federal agencies and peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, it is the United States’ most definitive statement on climate change science.

The Climate Science Special Report affirms that the United States is already experiencing more extreme heat and rainfall events and larger wildfires in the West, but sea-level rise may be the clearest evidence of climate change. More than 25 coastal U.S. cities are experiencing increased flooding, and seas could rise by from 1 to 4 feet by the year 2100. A rise of more than eight feet is “physically possible” with high emissions of greenhouse gases. Of the rapidly escalating levels of those gases in the atmosphere, the report states, “there is no climate analog for this century at any time in at least the last 50 million years.”

The report cautions that current climate models are likelier to underestimate future warming than to overestimate it. Although those models have accurately predicted the past few decades of warming, they may fail to capture how warm Earth can get. Researchers may not fully understand climate tipping points—difficult-to-predict points of no return.

Trump USDA Nominee Withdraws from Consideration

Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s pick for chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture, withdrew himself from consideration for the post. Clovis, whose nomination hearing was scheduled for this month, blamed the political tone in Washington for his decision in a letter to Trump.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis wrote.

The professor and conservative radio talk show host from Iowa, who served as national co-chair of Trump’s campaign, had come under fire after foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty to charges related to brokering of a relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Clovis was also scrutinized for his climate change skepticism and lack of an advanced science degree, a 2008 farm bill requirement of appointees to the position.

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

As the United Nations prepares to welcome delegates from across the world to Bonn, Germany, on Monday for the annual Conference of Parties meeting (COP23), the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) has released its yearly “Emissions Gap” report indicating a disparity between the world’s stated ambitions on climate in the Paris Agreement and what actions are actually needed.

The report indicates the present national pledges under the agreement are only one third of the reduction in emissions required by 2030 to meet targets, which aim to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The pledges by countries, it says, would lead to temperature rises of as much as 3 degrees Celsius or more by the end of this century, but it would make the chance of getting to 4 degrees Celsius or more of warming considerably smaller.

Although the gap between commitments could be large, the report suggests that it is still possible to close it in a cost-effective way. A large portion of reductions come from six specific efforts: solar energy; wind energy; efficient appliances; efficient passenger cars; aforestation; and stopping deforestation.

“These six categories sum up a potential of 18.5 GtCO2e in 2030 (range: 15-22 GtCO2e), making up more than half of the basic potential,” the report says. “Equally important, all these measures can be realised at modest cost, and are predominantly achievable through proven policies.”

What about the U.S.—the second largest emitter—not honoring its Paris Agreement commitment? Even though President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement this summer, the chances are good we can live up to the emissions reductions promised suggests UNEP Director Erik Solheim. “In all likelihood, the United States of America will live up to its Paris commitment, not because of the White House, but because of the private sector,” said  Solheim. “All the big American companies are dedicated to go in the green direction.”

Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach New High in 2016

The carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere rose higher than it’s been in 800,000 years—145 percent of pre-industrial levels, according to a new report. The U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin that a strong El Niño event and human activity contributed to the increase of CO2 concentrations—403.3 parts per million last year, up from 400 in 2015.

“Without rapid cuts in COand other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet. COremains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. The laws of physics mean that we face a much hotter, more extreme climate in the future.”

The study uses monitoring by ships, aircraft and weather stations on land to track emissions trends since 1750. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it said, is now increasing 100 times faster than at the end of the last ice age due to population growth, intensive agriculture, deforestation and industrialization.

Measures to mitigate climate change must be taken, the report warns, including work to develop renewable energy and transportation systems.

Studies Assess Cost and Effects of Climate Change

A report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s auditing arm, urges the Trump administration to take climate change risks seriously and begin formulating a response. The office analyzed the financial costs of extreme weather events and wildfires in the United States, finding that these events have cost the government more than $350 billion over the past 10 years.

“The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses,” indicates the study, which drew on interviews with 26 scientific and economic experts and 30 studies over two years to draw its conclusion. “By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks.”

A separate study by a leading medical journal, The Lancet, focused on the impacts and cost of weather-related disasters and a warming climate.

“Between 2000-2016, there has been a 46 percent increase in the number of weather-related disasters, and 125 million adults aged over 65 were exposed to heat waves,” the journal indicated. “Increasing temperatures have led to around 5.3 percent loss in labor productivity, and economic losses linked to climate-related extreme weather events were estimated at $129 billion in 2016.”

The Lancet study cites a number of ways climate change is already affecting health—heat waves, mass migrations, infectious diseases, economic problems, natural disasters and malnutrition.

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 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed that FERC change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants compete in wholesale power markets. The change would mandate that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for electricity. The plan may represent the Trump administration’s most consequential attempt to reshape the electricity market to date.

Perry proposed the rule change in the name of electric grid resilience, which he said is threatened by recent coal and nuclear plant closures. With the letter, he enclosed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking directing FERC to either take final action to implement the change within 60 days of the notice’s publication in the Federal Register or to issue the proposed rule as an interim final rule. The notice includes legal justification for FERC’s authority to issue the proposed rule without an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement.

The proposed rule, which fits with the Trump administration’s stated intention to support fossil fuels, is not the first attempt to alter wholesale electricity markets in light of changes in the electricity sector. The PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization that operates the grid and electricity market in 13 eastern U.S. states, is exploring ways to make wholesale electricity markets and evolving state policies work better together. A range of perspectives on PJM’s proposed responses to state subsidies for various generation sources were reflected last week at an event, co-hosted by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute, on harmonization of state energy policies and PJM’s markets.

Energy analysts and energy regulators, including former FERC commissioners, have criticized Perry’s proposal, saying it could increase customer costs and power sector pollution while actually doing little to enhance system resilience.

Perry’s proposal presents no evidence of immediate dangers to the nation’s grid from retirements of marginal coal and nuclear plants, according to a broad group of energy companies that made a joint filing urging FERC to reject Perry’s push for fast action. In an updated motion filed Tuesday, the 11 groups asked for an extension of FERC’s comment deadline.

According to EnergyWire, the proposal appears to contradict a report from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), which it cites. The report makes no claim of a grid in crisis and notes that essential reliability services—typically furnished by retiring coal and nuclear plants—are within the capacity of gas, renewable power and electricity storage to provide.

Nor does the proposal completely align with a DOE-ordered study, cited in the 11 energy associations’ joint filing, on the reliability of the nation’s electric grid that was released in August. That study conceded that the rapid increase of renewables has not undermined the power network, though it, too, called for changing electricity pricing rules, along with loosening of pollution regulations, to protect the coal industry.

Proposal Suggests Ending Clean Power Plan, While Court Orders Methane Rules Move Forward

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will propose a repeal of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants, reports Reuters.

An EPA document distributed to members of the agency’s Regulatory Steering Committee indicated that the EPA “is issuing a proposal to repeal the rule.” It went on to say it intends to issue what it calls an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input as it considers “developing a rule similarly intended to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel electric utility generating units.”

But Gina McCarthy, who served as EPA administrator under former President Barack Obama starting in July 2013, says that pronouncements don’t equal the law and that moves to undo Obama’s climate legacy will not withstand legal challenges.

“You really have to work hard to show the prior administration made a mistake when it made the rules,” said McCarthy. “Did we get the science wrong? The law wrong? The facts different? I think you’re going to see we did a good job, so it’s going to be a long time in discussions in the courts, and I think in the end things will continue to move forward.”

A Trump administration review of the Clean Power Plan is expected to be finalized this fall, according to an EPA court filing.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday ordered that the Trump administration acted unlawfully when it delayed a separate emissions rule designed to reduce leaking, venting and flaring of methane emissions from oil and gas drilling activity. This week the Trump administration announced another proposal to stall standards until 2019, but EnergyWire reports that the district court’s order means the rule will now take effect.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Flat for Third Consecutive Year

Earth-warming carbon dioxide emissions remained static in 2016, according to data from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA). Of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, only India experienced an increase (4.7 percent). China and the United States, the top two emitters, experienced decreases (0.3 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively), resulting primarily from reduced coal use.

2016 marks the third year in a row that carbon dioxide emissions have not increased. That’s an unprecedented trend at a time when the global economy is growing, according to NEAA. Yet, their amount—upward of 35 billion tons last year—is still enough to raise global temperatures to dangerous levels. In some big countries, these emissions are still increasing, suggesting that they are not guaranteed to remain flat or to decrease in the future.

Importantly, the NEAA report also found that greenhouse gas emissions other than carbon dioxide rose by approximately 1 percent. Moreover, the report did not account for carbon dioxide emissions from land use changes, which are more difficult to estimate and vary significantly from year to 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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A Trump administration review of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants, is expected to be finalized this fall, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a court filing last week.

The EPA was expected do away with the signature climate regulation, which the Supreme Court stayed in early 2016 and which would require the U.S. electricity sector to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by up to 32 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2030. But, according to Politico, the Trump administration has suggested that it might consider a replacement at the urging of power companies fearful that a repeal could trigger courtroom challenges that would lead to years of regulatory uncertainty.

If, for reasons of regulatory certainty and legal prudence, the Trump administration does conclude that some limits on the plants’ carbon emissions are a good idea, The Hill reports that the regulation is likely to focus solely on carbon reductions that plants can achieve, mainly by improving the efficiency of coal-fired generators. By contrast, the existing rule ordered reductions based not just on efficiency gains but also on use of relatively low-carbon power sources like natural gas as well as renewable fuels. Hence carbon reductions achievable through a Trump rule would be much lower than former president Barack Obama’s rule, and emissions might actually rise if efficiency gains discouraged the closure of coal plants by making them cheaper to operate.

If the Trump administration does move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, it will have to change the cost-benefit calculus to justify the move, reported ClimateWire (subscription). According to the Obama-era EPA, every $1 spent on compliance might buy $6 in benefits, in part by averting premature deaths and health problems. The Trump administration’s cost-benefit analysis, promised last March as part of its announced review of the rule, could telegraph how it might recalculate the benefits of curbing climate change as it moves to eliminate other Obama-era regulations.

Announcement of the Clean Power Plan review’s finalization came as officials from the White House’s policy councils and representatives from federal agencies, including the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, met to begin plotting a climate and energy strategy, one aimed at new policies that break from the Trump administration’s extensive efforts to repeal climate regulations and to push back on the public perception that the administration doesn’t support climate change science, a perception reinforced by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s launching of a critique of the validity of that science.

“This was a forward-looking meeting on strategy and how to prioritize the administration’s climate goals and objectives moving forward,” said an administration spokesman said. “This particular meeting was more big picture strategy.” The purpose was to bring together “a whole group of stakeholders … that are involved in climate issues and looking ahead to what policy initiatives we may put in place.”

Nevertheless, on Monday the EPA announced that it is preparing to submit a final report to the White House on rules that are ripe for repeal because they may burden fossil fuel production and use—a report required of all federal agencies by Trump’s March executive order on regulations, E.O. 13783, and by subsequent Office of Management and Budget guidance.

Ontario Joins California and Quebec in Carbon Market

Ontario joins California and Quebec in their cap-and-trade program, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Announced on Friday, the agreement, which takes effect Jan. 1, creates the world’s second largest carbon market behind the European Union’s market.

“Climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions,” said Kathleen Wynne, premier of Ontario. “Now more than ever, we need to work together with our partners at home and around the world to show how our collaboration can lead to results in this international fight. Today’s carbon market linking agreement will add to the success we have already seen in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario, Québec and California. We are stronger together, and by linking our three carbon markets we will achieve even greater reductions at the lowest cost.”

The system puts a “cap” on the amount of pollution companies in certain industries can emit. If they exceed those limits, they must buy allowance permits at auction or from other companies that come in under their pollution limits. Linking the carbon markets means participating companies will be able to use carbon allowances and offsets issued by any of the three governments at their quarterly auctions. The addition of Ontario significantly expands the allowance market, according to California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young.

“Ontario’s market is roughly 40 percent to 50 percent the size of California’s carbon market,” he said. “Quebec’s is 15 percent of California’s.”

Transportation Emissions under Microscope

The Federal Highway Administration announced that the 2016 Transportation Clean Air Rule, which requires state and local planners to track and curb pollution from trucks and cars on federal highways in their jurisdictions, goes into effect today.  Legal pressure following a Trump administration announcement, in May, to “indefinitely delay” the rule earned its reinstatement.

With the rule back in place, the Federal Highway Administration can resume working with state and local planners to find transportation options that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the first compliance deadline of October 2018.

Originally finalized days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the rule requires state and metro transport agencies and planning organizations to track carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles traveling on the national highway system. The agencies also must set two-year emissions-reduction targets, four-year targets, or both, and they must periodically report on their progress.

A Federal Register notice indicates that the Trump administration will still propose a rule repeal by the end of the year—possibly finalizing it in spring 2018.

Some states, including California and Massachusetts, already require highway planners to consider the climate impacts of roads. For California in particular, history, legal precedent and regulatory defiance has given the state the unique authority to write its own air pollution rules and set its own auto emissions standards. For now, the federal waiver allowing California to set these standards will not be revoked, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. It appears California may re-open discussions on its greenhouse gas limits for cars and trucks for 2025 if automakers and the Trump administration embrace tougher targets that the state is seeking for later years.

“The price of getting us to the table is talking about post-2025,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board. “California remains convinced that there was no need to initiate this new review of the review and that the technical work was fully adequate to justify going ahead with the existing program, but we’re willing to talk about specific areas if there were legitimate concerns the companies raised — in the context of a bigger discussion about where we’re going post-2025.”

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.