Crypto-Climate Change: Bitcoin Emissions May Push Us Above 2C In Two Decades

Capture1Created and released in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin (BTC, XBT) embodies a very simple concept; we don’t need a centralized agency controlling our money. The Peer-to-Peer cryptocurrency uses a public ledger—a blockchain—to monitor transactions between users, thereby cutting out the central bank. Each transaction is recorded as a block and added to the blockchain. Each user keeps a copy of the ledger as a way to decentralize the system and prevent falsified transactions. As a method of transaction verification, users with the proper computer skills “mine” the blockchain. They use ASICs (Applied-Specific Integrated Circuits) to receive a blockchain and verify the transactions within. In exchange, the miner receives a small amount of BTC. This is where the issue arises.

Mining the blockchain requires a massive amount of energy. In November 2017, the BTC network consumed more energy than the Republic of Ireland. As of May 2018, Digiconomist estimated that Bitcoin usage emits 33.5 MtCO2e annually. When combined with other cryptocurrencies, these emissions rival those of countries like Sweden and Norway. Large emissions are inherent in the mining system.

Capture

Mining is a winner-take-all game. The full reward goes to the miner who solves the puzzle first. The greater your processing power, the greater your chance of success. The more electricity you use, the faster your computer runs. As long as the reward for successfully mining covers the cost of that electricity, the practice is profitable. The Bitcoin network as a whole reinvests almost all of the BTC paid out as reward into its electricity consumption.

As I write this, a single Bitcoin (BTC) is valued at $5,651.14. The reward for successfully mining a block is 12.5 BTC (approx. $70,600.00) plus any transaction fees that occurred during the time it took to mine the block (approx. $2500). This process occurs every ten minutes. The system rewards miners for using as much electricity as is feasible and penalizes those miners that don’t.

Although it is hard to predict the rise and fall of cryptocurrencies, their use may return to popularity. On November 14, 2018, Bitsane, a trading platform, released a public announcement that it had officially listed USDT (Tether) for trade. USDT is known as the digital dollar and the first stable crypto-coin. It is backed by the US Dollar and provides an easy method for liquidating cryptocurrencies, making them more tradable and, perhaps, priming them for the wide-use that fans have hoped for.

The blockchain also has the potential to revolutionize climate change action. Groups such as the Blockchain Climate Institute have embraced this technology and have advocated for its use in climate finance and as a reporting mechanism. In a new book, Transforming Climate Finance and Green Investment with Blockchains40 experts explore its applications in implementing the Paris Agreement. The topics it covers include blockchain applications in renewable energy smart grids, climate finance transfers, clean technology transfers, carbon markets, and the enforcement of green finance regulations. These topics will also be discussed in various side events at COP24. As widely distributed ledgers, blockchains are “trust machines” that can scale and speed up vital climate actions in the near future.


A stumbling block at COP 23 – Finance

huddle-Fiji-in-BonnThe cost of mitigating climate change is estimated at 200-350 billion Euros (236-413 Billion USD) per year by 2030. It is a manageable sum in terms of a global burden, only 1% of global GDP. In terms of who pays and how much to pay, however, it becomes a disputed figure. For example, developed countries agreed in 2010 to “mobilize” 100 billion USD annually by the year 2020 in paragraph 98 of the COP16 decision 1/CP.16. Unresolved issues regarding this commitment remain, even in 2017.

Philosophically, this divide has on one side the developed countries as having the ability and the responsibility to pay. Developed countries use more energy than under developed countries. On the other side, the underdeveloped countries need financing and the know-how to ensure that future development in their countries is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

At COP23, this issue came to the forefront where it stopped the APA closing plenary dead in its tracks on Wednesday afternoon, the day the APA was scheduled to close. Negotiations lasted through the night. The underdeveloped countries, led by the G77, wanted developed countries to make concrete commitments through the biennial communication requirements as required by Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement. The G77 also referred to Paris Agreement Articles 13 (transparency) and 15 (compliance) to make this requirement enforceable.greendollars

In response the developed countries argued that Article 9.5 is a procedural matter and that the G77 countries want to discuss the dollar commitments. They argued that this is beyond the scope of the Paris Agreement.

The result was to urge both sides to act on their commitments and to refer this matter to a High Ministerial Dialogue for further discussion.  In other words, onwards to 2018.

 


Continuing to Decouple

Photograph by Carlos Barria - REUTERS

Photograph by Carlos Barria – REUTERS

For the third year in a row, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the energy sector remained level while the global economy grew. This continues to buck the economic thinking that economic growth, typically measured with gross domestic product (GDP), cannot be decoupled from environmental degradation. The current trend of decoupling GDP from CO2 emissions is largely due to the global growth of renewable energy use. Solar energy was the fastest growing source of renewables in 2016, while hydropower supplied the largest portion of global electricity demand growth of all the renewables. 

A recent report from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released September 28, 2017 found that of the five largest emitters, which account for 68% of global CO2 emissions, only India showed a significant rising trend of greenhouse gas emissions. China, the U.S., the E.U., Russia, and Japan all had flat or decreased greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. However, in a departure from the IEA report from March 2017, this report found that global emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2016. Of these non-CO2 greenhouse gasses, methane emissions represented the largest portion—19% of global emissions. The primary sources of methane include fossil fuel production, cattle, and rice—a staple crop in the developing world.

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, another recent study released in September 2017 in Science revealed that a thinning of tropical forest density has led to a net carbon loss across every continent. This indicates that forests are no longer behaving as sinks because they have been degraded through logging, fire, and drought, among other factors. Forests provide a vast natural resource for developing countries yet increasing the sink capabilities of forests through afforestation, reforestation, and decreased forest degradation are among mitigation goals of these countries. This study highlights both the importance and the challenge of those goals. The international target of limiting warming to no more than 2˚C is unattainable without vast carbon sinks like these forests.

The decoupling of emissions from economic growth globally is cause for celebration. However, as seen with India, this trend is still tentative as developing countries work to increase economic growth, which could include increased agricultural production, forests use, and energy use. To continue decreasing global emissions, more work is required to assist the developing world with sustainable development. Increased methane emissions from the agricultural sector and increased CO2 emissions from loss of forest mass are among several challenges facing the developing world as they seek to grow. There are viable solutions to many of these problems. Yet these solutions require significant assistance and resources from the international community.

The developing world requires assistance in electrification and energy diversification in the way of hydropower and other renewables so the decoupling trend can continue. These countries also require capacity building to bolster forestry sector projects; the transfer of technology and best practices to assist with the growth of sustainable agriculture; and of course, continued mitigation efforts from developed countries.


Sustainable Standard of Living?

wind-turbines17On October 9th, during the second U.S. Presidential Debate, the environmental community found an unlikely hero. Kenneth Bone rose in the final minutes of audience questions and asked both candidates, “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?” This pointed inquiry brought the environmental crisis back to the forefront of the debate, nudging both candidates to lay out their plans for combating the imminent energy crisis caused from finite fossil fuels. After that moment passed, there was something inherent in Mr. Bone’s question that stuck. His question implied a noteworthy limitation. US energy needs must be met. What is so astounding is that despite Mr. Bone’s well intentioned question, he assumes that the United States will be able to simultaneously achieve energy resilience and go about business as usual. This spurred an investigation into the compatibility of clean energy with US standards of living.

The current US standard of living is the highest yet in history with people living longer than any generation before. The US fuels this standard with an intense use of available resources. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the US consumes a third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, and 23 % of its coal. The US uses over 19 tons of carbon per capita compared to the global average of only five tons. US standards are dependent on a crucial factor: resource availability. In an age where scarcity is increasingly worrisome, a crossroads appears. Researchers have developed many solutions to address this issue. Some are incredibly provocative as they require radical change on an individual level. Others utilize technology either conservatively, or radically to impact global warming.

In one of the more radical behavioral positions, Chris Clugston lays out his perspective. He argues that the mismanagement of America’s resources combined with increasing financial insecurity from the global market has culminated in an irrefutable observation: habits have to change. It can no longer popular to remain complacent in the relative opulence American citizens enjoy. The means to achieve a sustainable and resilient energy sector have evolved from merely weaning the masses from fossil fuels to solar panels and windmills, to necessitating behavioral adaptation. The grim picture he portrays in that article sets the stage for a dismal future, plagued by the unpreparedness of the populous to acknowledge the true implications of scarcity if people are hesitant to act.

However, there are other perspectives. Some believe that with the dual advances in conservation and efficiency, scientists will not only be able to match the current standard of living Americans have grown accustomed to, but they will actual produce more energy than we use. The Energy Justice Center finds that solar alone, when implemented efficiently, can provide 55 times US current energy use, and wind can provide 6 times US current usage. Effective use of these existing technologies can maintain the US standard of living while transitioning the energy sector to more resilient sources.

Others believe that the threat posed by climate change is not insurmountable. Harvard physicist David Keith believes that science can, while not completely curing, mitigate the symptoms of global warming. If technological advancements can relieve the symptoms of global warming, then the inspiration to act to discover new fuels and generally reform energy use would disappear.

Ultimately, maintaining the current standard of living in a renewable world remains a debatable possibility. However, there is no harm that can come from introducing frugality from the individual level into American energy consumption. If everyone works to reduce their needs, then sustainable energy goals become that much more tangible.


Obama on Climate Change

obama weekly addressIn his weekly address last Friday, President Obama summed up his administration’s record on climate change.  Calling it “one of the most urgent challenges of our time,” he pointed to progress made since 2008.  This includes:

  1. clean energy investment (300% increase in wind power, 3000% increase in solar power),
  2. lowest carbon emissions from energy in 25 years,
  3. continued economic growth,
  4. energy efficiency investment,
  5. changed management of coal mining on federal lands (source of 40% of US coal), and
  6. higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

On his “to do” list during the last months of his last term, President Obama put:

  1. implementing new fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles** and
  2. devising plans to achieve the North American goal (with Mexico and Canada) of 50% clean power by 2025.

While the President did not specifically address US ratification of the Paris Agreement, he closed this short “fireside chat” by highlighting US leadership on climate change.  He said: “[T]here’s no doubt that America has become a global leader in the fight against climate change.  Last year, that leadership helped us bring nearly 200 nations together in Paris around the most ambitious agreement in history to save the one planet we’ve got.  That’s not something to tear up – it’s something to build upon.  And if we keep pushing, and leading the world in the right direction, there’s no doubt that, together, we can leave a better, cleaner, safer future for our children.” 

You may watch the short address here.

** These final rules for medium- and heavy-duty trucks came out just after I posted. Heavy-duty trucks alone account for about 20% of US transportation GHG emissions. According to the EPA, these fuel efficiency standards will “lower CO2 emissions by approximately 1.1 billion metric tons, save vehicle owners fuel costs of about $170 billion, and reduce oil consumption by up to two billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program. Overall, the program will provide $230 billion in net benefits to society, including benefits to our climate and the public health of Americans. These benefits outweigh costs by about an 8-to-1 ratio.”

 


Solar Energy Growth Really Heating Up

News about the increase in solar energy potential and development Montgomery Cty Divisionhas been robust across all the climate news aggregators for some time. And, targeted outlets like the U.S-based Solar Energy Industries Association News (weekly) and the Australian-based Solar Daily abound with exciting stories. Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 8.11.42 PMThe overwhelming consensus is that this technology has really caught fire, as costs have dropped and attention to the growing dangers of climate change has expanded.

Global adoption is expected to get a substantial lift from the International Solar Alliance (ISA). We brought you news of this initiative, launched in Paris at COP21 (December 2015) by India and France. Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 8.07.02 PMIt now has a steering committee, an interim secretariat, and roughly 120 country members, focused primarily in the region between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. (See ISA’s Working Paper here.) Its ambitious goal of facilitating U.S. $1 trillion for solar development by 2030 became a pledge at ISA’s April meeting, held as a side event during the signing of the Paris Agreement. Joining co-hosts Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Power, Coal & Renewable Energy, and Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister of the Environment/CO21 President, were ministers and representatives of 25 countries. They also agreed to collaborate in scaling up currently small-scale solar technologies, pursue R&D, and build technology capacity, all with the aim to lower the cost of finance and facilitate investment.

The cost of solar power is already declining rapidly. Earlier this week, The National (a publication of Abu Dhabi Media) reported a new record-low price of U.S. 2.99 cents/Kwh in a bid by a consortium of developers to install an 800 MW set of solar projects in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This represents a 50% drop in just one year in the lowest price for solar, to a figure that is now below the cost of new coal-fired power in Dubai.

Here in the U.S., the #MillionSolarStrong campaign is sharing the news that more than 1 million domestic systems have been installed, Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 8.13.15 PMwith the 2 million mark estimated to be crossed by 2018. A sure sign that this technology has been mainstreamed, the campaign’s solar declaration has more than 80 significant organization and corporate signatories; and even Obama tweeted the hashtag.

Speaking of ‘catching on fire,’ Solar City just released interesting data and illustrative animations on solar’s “contagion” in the U.S. Researchers analyzed this trend in homeowner adoption a couple of years ago, and attributed it to “neighbor effects,” neighborhood-solar-panels-456x295in which people living near new installations get a chance to readily talk to those new adopters about their decision, and can begin to see solar as more of a possibility for themselves. Incentives, including referral discounts and leasing as an alternative to buying, seem to be contributing, as well.

Overall, solar’s role as a mainstay of our global low-carbon energy future is quite a sizzling prospect.


Clean cars, clean energy

electric carThis piece in Bloomberg news, The Dirty Road to Cleaner Cars, captures well the conundrum of cleaning up vehicular emissions.  22% of US CO2 emissions come from the transportation sector.  (This number is17% worldwide.)

Tesla set records when it launched its Model 3 in April, racking up more than 400,000 reservations for the $35,000 sedan since then. So it’s clear that there is a level of consumer awareness of, and demand for, reducing tailpipe GHG emissions.

But while electric cars are part of the solution – especially in sparsely populated locations, where mass transit is not feasible (like rural Vermont, where vehicular emissions comprise 26% of our carbon footprint) – they can only be as clean as the source of the juice that fuels them.

Eric Roston writes “with the solar, wind, natural gas, and (still potential) nuclear revolutions, the metabolism of the energy system is accelerating. Electric cars lead the parade.”

For Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, electric cars are just one of three ways of cleaning up the US energy system.  He first points to improving the efficiency of fossil fuel-generated electricity while also increasing zero-carbon power as quickly as possible before plugging buildings and vehicles into this clean(er) electric power grid.  His mantra? “Clean electricity, and electrify everything you can.


If you build it, they will come

Clean LineU.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz just announced the approval of a large-scale transmission project that will bring wind power from Texas and Oklahoma to the southeastern states. Called the Plains & Eastern Clean Line, the $2.5 billion transmission line is the largest of several clean energy infrastructure projects being developed under DOE partnerships. Moniz says that “moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is high in demand is essential for building the grid of the future,” and highlights the tangible benefits of creating jobs, reducing emissions, and increasing grid reliability. The P&E Clean Line is expected to start construction on the 600-kilovolt, direct current line in 2017 and bring it into service in 2020.

The DOE’s action to greenlight the greening of US electricity comes over the opposition of several states. The DOE is helping private developers get these projects running using, for the first time, its power to partner with transmission companies found in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  Arkansas regulators had refused to site the new P&E Clean Line five years ago because the project developer didn’t operate in the state and so wasn’t considered a utility under state law. (Missouri regulators have acted similarly on another clean line, the Grain Belt Express.) The Department’s decision will likely be challenged, questioning its authority under the 2005 law to take land for the line. Landowners argue that federal eminent domain is unconstitutional because the project isn’t needed.


Decoupling GHGs from GDP: Year 2

IEA 2015The International Energy Agency (IEA) released new data today showing that global GHG missions related to energy held steady again for the second year in a row while the global economy grew. Renewable energy was key to stabilizing emissions levels, with more than 90% of new energy generation coming from renewables – the highest level in more than 40 years.

From IEA director Fatih Birol’s perspective, “Coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris, this is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change.  This means the decoupling of global emissions and economic growth is now confirmed.”

For more specific analysis, including the roles that the U.S. and China played in this result, read the press release and accompanying data set here.


Cleaning up India’s energy mix

dehli pollution2015 marked the first time that the average Indian was exposed to more air pollution from fine particulate matter than the average Chinese, reports Greenpeace. In response, India has introduced new taxes aimed at cutting pollution and reducing emissions.  The country’s finance minister announced this week a tax of up to 4% on new passenger vehicles.  It’s estimated that almost 40% of Dehli’s air pollution comes from vehicle emissions alone.

India is also taking aim at cleaning up its energy mix, both for local pollution abatement gains and for global GHG mitigation.  When announcing the car tax, the finance ministry also announced a doubling of its tax on coal, which comprises 70% percent of India’s energy mix. With an eye toward low carbon energy sources, the government plans to allocate $430 million for nuclear power development.

It also continues to emphasize solar energy development. The BRICS development bank, along with the World Bank and the Asian Development india solar missionBank, recently announced that they will each provide $500 million in financing for rooftop solar in India. These loans will be used to provide a 30% subsidy to public institutions that set up rooftop solar power systems. India aims to have 100 GW of solar power capacity operational by April 2022, with 40% of it coming from rooftop solar. Currently rooftop solar contributes only 10% of the total 5 GW solar power capacity.  To spur development, the Indian Cabinet recently approved a rooftop solar subsidy of $770 million by 2022 for public institutions, to complement the international development bank loan pledges.

 


Have these states been HAC’d?

governors accordIn the final days of COP21, the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) urged all Parties to join in the effort to keep global warming below 1.5C.  Started as an initiative of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, in its final hours HAC’s members included the US, EU, and Brazil along with the Marshall Islands and Kiribati.  It was THE in group in Paris on December 12.

This week, in response to the US Supreme Court stay of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), 17 state governors announced the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future.  In it, they “recognize that now is the time to embrace a bold vision of the nation’s energy future. And to do so, states are once again poised to lead. We join together, despite unique opportunities and challenges in each state, to embrace a shared vision of this future.”  Interestingly, this group embraces many of the CPP’s components for achieving emissions reductions, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and integrating solar and wind generation into electricity grids.  

The Accord is bipartisan, including both California and New York and Michigan and Iowa.  The signing states represent around 40% of the US population. California Governor Jerry Brown (D) framed it as “governors from both parties have joined together and committed themselves to a clean energy future. Our goal is to clean up the air and protect our natural resources.”  Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) said that it “provides a platform for Nevada to leverage new partnerships, gain and share knowledge and an opportunity to introduce our energy advancements to other states . . . that will allow Nevada to continue to lead the nation in renewable energy production, energy conservation, and the exportation of energy.”

High ambition indeed.

 

 


Are US COP21 pledges in trouble? UPDATE

IMG_24022/19/16 UPDATE:  Since my post on Monday, Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, has weighed in.  Speaking from Brussels, where he was meeting with the EU’s Climate and Energy Commissioner, Stern was quoted as saying “it is entirely premature, really premature to assume the Clean Power Plan will be struck down but, even if it were, come what may, we are sticking to our plan to sign, to join. We’re going to go ahead and sign the agreement this year.”  He pointed out how different the situation President Obama faces when signing the US on to the Paris Agreement than President Clinton’s support of the Kyoto Protocol that was then abandoned by his successor, President George W. Bush. “Paris was seen as such a landmark, hard-fought, hard-won deal that, for the U.S. to turn round and say we will withdraw, that would inevitably give the country a kind of diplomatic black eye that I think a president of any party would be very loath to do.”  He added:  “We think we are going to prevail in the court but we are going to go ahead and sign the agreement this year. Period. And we are not in any way going to back away from our 2025 targets.”
* * *

obama at COP21This has been the question of the week in the US environmental community (and to some degree, in the international community as well).

The US Supreme Court granted a stay on Tuesday to the plaintiffs challenging EPA’s authority to devise the Clean Power Plan (CPP) under its Clean Air Act rulemaking authority.  In Paris and at home, the CPP has been described as the cornerstone of US pledges under the Paris Agreement.

While a stay is only a procedural decision that stops implementation of a challenged law during litigation, the fact that five out of nine SCOTUS justices granted it caused a collective gasp last Tuesday night in the enviro law community.  Why?

First, and foremost, no one was expecting it.  The plaintiffs’ motion for a stay had already been denied by the D.C. Circuit (which will hear the case on the merits in June).  This ruling was accepted by both sides of the lawsuit as well grounded in precedent.  In fact, many saw the appeal to the Supreme Court as a “hail Mary” pass.  (No Cam Newton jokes here.)  Second, the stay indicates that at least five justices think that the plaintiffs could be harmed by complying with a rule that, when it inevitably arrives at the Supreme Court after the D.C. Circuit’s decision, may be held invalid.

Reading the blogs and Tweets of the last six days, it’s safe to say that the jury is out on what this SCOTUS decision means for the CPP and for the Paris pledges. One slice of expert opinion talks everyone off the ledge by reminding us that it’s just a short-term procedural victory, not a decision on the merits.  David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) embodies this effort in this interview.

On the impact of the stay at home, there’s a difference of opinion.  The Washington Post reported that “about 48 hours after the court’s decision, major utility companies are reacting to the move with a collective shrug.”  The largest trade association of electricity providers, Edison Electric Institute, was quoted saying that “electric utilities are investing in clean energy and pursuing energy efficiency” regardless of legal challenges to the CPP — even companies, like AEP, who are listed among the plaintiffs.  Pointing to Congress’s recent renewal of clean-energy tax credits and increasing private sector investments in clean-energy projects, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy adds that “the CPP is underpinning a [market] transition that is already happening and will continue to happen.” States like New York and California immediately called press briefings to state their continued implementation of the CPP.  A variety of state official responses, similar in tone, have been collected by the Georgetown Climate Center.  Yet Justin Pidot of the University of Colorado School of Law reads the stay as a sign that the coal industry is “too big for EPA to regulate absent an express congressional directive.”

On the international impact of the stay, observers express concern at the high level of international relations more than in the nitty gritty detail of achieving the Paris pledges.  Michael Gerrard of Columbia’s Center for Climate Change Law emphasizes that while the CPP is important to the US plan for mitigating GHG emissions, it’s not the only game in town.  Gerrard points to several facts in his blog post on Wednesday that the mainstream media hasn’t clearly picked up.  First, the CPP doesn’t fully kick in until well into the longer-range US INDC pledges.  Citing the US’s Biennial Report (a required communication under the UNFCCC) that was filed just last month, Gerrard points out that the CPP’s actual emissions reductions do not begin until 2022, and thus don’t affect the 2020 pledge of reducing 17% below 2005 levels.   In terms of the 2025 pledge of 26% to 28% reduction, Gerrard sees that the US was also relying on fuel economy and energy efficiency standards, phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, reducing methane emissions, and for the ultimate reach, counting forests and other vegetated land masses as GHG sinks.

In contrast, Michael Wara of Stanford Law School believes the US’s international reputation for making good on the Paris Agreement pledges — already weakened by our unreliable behavior on the Kyoto Protocol — took a hit from the stay, especially given our bilateral negotiations with China and India and the role that the CPP-based reductions played in them.   (He also sees “significant ramifications” for the U.S. electric power sector given that continued uncertainty in regulating carbon hurts long-term electric utility investments, which could result in higher prices for consumers and competitive disadvantages in trade. (This post from the law firm of Stoel Reeves provides more details on this point.))

Now, with Justice Scalia’s death two days ago and the ensuing debate about who will appoint his replacement, the role of the Court in US domestic climate change law and its international commitments is even more acute.

 

 


Subnational leaders leading the way

logo_tagline1Under 2 MoU”  – no it’s not Prince’s latest song, it is the initiative of subnational leaders (Mayors and Governors)  committing to limit emissions below 2 metric tons per capita by 2050 which is the amount of reductions needed to limit global warming to less than 2°C. This initiative, supercharged by the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown of California, has grown to include 65 jurisdictions from 20 countries spanning 5 continents. The commitments collectively represent “more than $17.9 trillion in GDP and 588 million people. If the signatories represented a single country, it would be the largest economy in the world by GDP, surpassing the United States.” These subnational efforts can have a real and positive effect to galvanize action at COP 21. They hope to influence other leaders and national governments to follow their lead. Governor Inslee of Washington State proudly declared at the Conference: “Let me say that we rebel against the term ‘subnationals’, we think we are supernationals… we are leading the charge with super work here.”

And that work will need to continue after Paris. These subnational leaders are the ones implementing the many of the efforts to be undertaken in the Agreement. Subnational reductions represent 50% of the potential emission mitigation. These leaders are the ones in charge of directing transformative change in our daily lives in the sectors of transportation, air quality, land use, and building codes.

It was no coincidence that the panelists at the COP 21 press briefing were from the North American Pacific Coast. As Governor Inslee noted: “The West coast lives on innovation – it’s our stock and trade”. He, along with Governor Brown, Mayor Schaaf of Oakland, CA, Mayor Robertson of Vancouver and Mayor Pollak of Montreal, emphasized that Developed Country Parties must act on climate change now or it will cost trillions to fix it in the future. The world needs to stretch to reach the climate goal and local governments can push and provide example for 100% renewables and innovative ways to decrease emissions as a whole. A creative economy will find these solutions.

Green Jobs Now

While some jobs in the “old” economy will be lost, there are new opportunities in the green economy to benefit global health. A green economy creates jobs. The proof lies in the example from British Columbia which put a tax on carbon in 2008. Carbon-intensive industries were able to take a staged approach and given relief as they proceeded to become green. The benefits have been seen over multiple years with emissions reductions and an increase in the economy despite the global financial crisis. The tax is revenue-neutral; it is returned in the form of tax reduction. Therefore, this is an economic stimulus! The transition to clean energy has stimulated the economy of Oakland where the Rising Sun Energy Center is training people coming out of prison and high school graduates to do energy audits and provide skills in installing solar panels and other construction work associated with green energy.

However, it is not only the developed global north who are implementing these initiatives. The second group of panelists was composed of leaders from forest-rich developing countries. The panel included; Governor Ayada of Cross River State, Nigeria; Governor Gambini of Ucayali, Peru; Governor Sandoval-Diaz of Jalisco, Mexico; and Governor Melo de Oliveira of Amazonas, Brazil. These countries must find finds ways to promote green jobs to supply their poor citizens with sustainable development and be provided with sufficient support to preserve their resources. They need to find the balance between providing a livelihood to their people and preserving the wealth of their forests. Creatively, Nigeria has seen growth in green economy. They have provided jobs for their youth as the “green police” who discourage the cutting trees and plant new ones to absorb CO2. Not only is this a means of conservation, it also combats desertification. Peru has been able to reclaim approximately 1 million hectares of degraded areas for re-forestation. Amazonas, home to millions of acres of the “lungs of the world”, is also home to both acai and camu-camu  fruits which are used commercially. Investment in Amazonas’ biodiversity makes it ripe for new sustainable development.lungs

Sustainability is key; developed countries must recognize that their forests represent the wealth of these developing areas. Engagement in a critical dialogue with regard to aid is necessary to ensure the health of the land and all the peoples of the world. As these panelists demonstrate, innovative efforts at the subnational level can lead the world to a transformative economy that keeps the environment safe.

 

 


Carbon Capture and Sequestration – A Cautionary Tale

www.energydigital.com“That is not what the IPCC says.”

 

At an event promoting carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS), an audience member who co-authored a section of the IPCC Synthesis challenged the assertion that carbon capture and sequestration is a necessary technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In doing so, he highlighted the tension between competing emissions reduction strategies.

 

While COP negotiators work on the final details of the Paris Agreement, industry and government are readying their proposed solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When you have a problem like global warming, there is no shortage of proposed solutions. Unfortunately, the solutions that get promoted don’t always make the best environmental sense.

 

A poster child for misplaced attention is carbon capture and sequestration. The case of CCS demonstrates the powerful influences of technology, economics, and politics in determining how the world will combat climate change. Governments and companies have invested billions of dollars into developing CCS technology and piloting CCS projects. For all of their economic investment, CCS technology has yet to demonstrate that it can provide significant GHG emissions reductions. CCS pilot projects have been operating since 1996 and during that time period, they have sequestered millions of tons of CO2. It sounds impressive until compared against annual global anthropogenic CO2 emissions which exceed 9,000 million metric tons.

 

In 2005, the IPCC published a report on CCS technology stating that it was a key potential technology for reducing emissions. The IPCC stated that there is no single solution to reducing emissions and that a suite of mitigation efforts is required. The IPCC put CCS on a list of energy options that included energy efficiency improvements, switching to lower carbon fuels, renewable energy sources, enhancement of biological sinks, and reduction of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. Each one of these options is distinctly different from CCS. In the last decade, each one of them has scaled up to produce significant emissions reductions.

 

Governments and industry have pushed CCS as the technology of the future for the last 20 years. CCS technology doesn’t have another 20 years to prove that it is a viable commercial-scale technology. If the economics worked, the technology would have already been rolled out across the globe.  The only industries building CCS plants are doing so with the financial support of their governments. The largest CCS plant in the world was built with more than $1.2 B in government support. Without the support it would not have been built.

 

When the negotiators wrap up their duties next week, the work will start on achieving the agreed-upon emissions reductions. Industry and government will have their proposals. As the IPCC author demonstrated, not all proposals are equal or necessary.


The Ying and the Yang of the Low Carbon Economy

 

Montgomery Cty DivisionThe call for a new low carbon economy is echoing through the halls of COP 21. In the opening ceremony, French President Francois Hollande, Prince Charles, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon all urged the world to transition to a new low carbon economy.

 

Making that transition requires action on multiple fronts. First, countries must address market distorting and environmentally destructive fossil fuel subsidies. Second, countries must power their economies with renewable energy.

 

Two separate events today indicated that countries and industry are starting to make that transition. Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform unveiled a communiqué calling on all countries to stop the subsidization of carbon intensive fossil fuels. Indian Prime Minister Modi and French President Hollande, launched the International Solar Alliance to help bring solar power to developing countries. Presented separately but connected by common goal, the two projects are cutting the path to a new clean energy economy.

 

Countries spend almost $500 billion/year on fossil fuel subsidies. They subsidize the consumption and production of fossil fuels. The subsidies unfairly tilt the market towards carbon intensive fossil by preventing clean energy technologies from competing on a level playing field. The FFFSR communiqué urged countries to take the money spent on fossil fuel subsidies and repurpose it to enhance education, health, and environmental programs. Countries have argued that subsidies are necessary to support the poor, who could not otherwise afford fuel. FFFSR research revealed that only 3 percent of subsidies are used to support the lowest income brackets.

 

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is multi-country partnership to bring solar power to developing nations. The ISA is focused on increasing solar power generation in the 120 countries located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Developing nations often have an abundance of solar potential but they lack the technology and finance to develop their resources. Germany, Italy, and Japan, the countries with the highest rates of solar penetration, are not rich in solar resources but are rich in technology and finance. The ISA will bring solar power to where it has the most economic and environmental potential.

 

The developing countries targeted by the ISA are areas where power usage is increasing. Adding renewable power to the grid in a developing country displaces high carbon emitting resources. For example, India is third largest consumer of coal in the world, it also has 300 million people who lack electricity. The type of electricity used to connect that group will have a huge impact on global climate change mitigation efforts. India is choosing the renewable energy pathway by setting a goal of 100 GW of installed solar power by 2020. India currently has 4 GW of installed solar power. To bridge this gap, India will need international financial and technology support.

 

India is investing $30 M USD in a new National Institute of Solar Technology with the goal of reducing regulatory hurdles, developing common standards to speed up production, developing innovative finance mechanisms, and supporting technology improvements. Estimates of the total investment needed to realize the solar potential of developing countries reach $1000 billion; a number that could be easily reached by re-tasking fossil fuel subsidies.

 

Developing nations have an untapped resource shining down on them. The ISA aims to spur transformative action in this field. Today, Prime Minister Modi started his announcement by stating that many Indians begin their day with a prayer to the sun. He ended his presentation by proclaiming that the ISA represents a “sunrise of new hope.” A sunset on fossil fuels would help the sun rise on a new low carbon economy future.