Science

A critical opportunity to build on the Paris Agreement

International negotiators will gather in Kigali, Rwanda, next month with the goal of phasing down one of the most potent and rapidly expanding greenhouse gases affecting the climate. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of industrial chemicals used worldwide in air conditioners, refrigeration, foam products, and aerosols.

Momentum for taking action is building. On the sidelines of the recent U.N. General Assembly, more than 100 nations signed a declaration calling for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to ambitiously deal with HFCs, with an early freeze date for developing countries and an early first reduction step for developed countries.

To jump start the transition away from HFCs, 16 donor nations have offered $27 million in new and additional money for use by developing countries in limiting HFC use in 2017. Donor countries are also committing to support the longer-term phase-down costs under the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.

In an unprecedented move, a group of philanthropists (19 foundations and private individuals including Bill Gates and Tom Steyer) have offered an additional $53 million to developing countries to support efforts to move from HFCs to more energy-efficient alternatives.

The business community also added its voice to that of governments and philanthropic organizations with more than 500 companies and organizations issuing a call to action in support of an ambitious agreement on an HFC phasedown in October.

Action on HFCs is the single most significant step nations can take this year to advance the goal established in the Paris Agreement of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Estimates are that an ambitious HFC amendment would reduce global warming by as much as 0.5 degrees by the end of the century. 

While momentum for an ambitious agreement this year is strong and building, it is by no means assured. Even with more than 100 nations on board, reaching an international consensus in Kigali will not be easy. 

A large number of developed and developing countries have supported a developing country freeze in HFC use beginning around 2021, but India has supported a 2030 freeze date and Gulf Cooperation Council countries proposed a 2028 freeze. 

Issues under discussion include the costs and availability of alternatives, the role and timing of patent protections, the rules governing support of projects under the Multilateral Fund, and the need for updated standards for the safe handling and use of more flammable refrigerant alternatives. While there is general support for incorporating enhanced energy efficiency into the transition away from HFCs, there are questions about the ways to achieve this objective.

Solutions are on the table for all of these issues. Given progress to date and the financial resources now available to developing countries to support an ambitious HFC amendment, agreement in Kigali is well within reach. The costs of acting to reduce HFCs are small compared to the very real and present costs of inaction to limit changes to our climate.

We need to prepare for more downpours

When rain comes all at once, the impacts can be devastating, and deadly.Army National Guard Photo of Louisiana Flood Rescue

  • Two feet of rain – that is about four months’ worth – fell in parts of Louisiana over the past few days, forcing thousands to flee their homes as water rose to the rooftops. More than a dozen people have died in the flooding.
  • On July 30, nearly six inches of rain fell in two hours in Ellicott City, Md., turning Main Street into a raging river that swept away cars, tore up storefronts, and killed two people.
  • About a month earlier, up to 10 inches of rain fell in 12 hours in parts of West Virginia, causing flooding that killed 26.

Heavy downpours are expected to become more frequent in a warming world. That’s because warmer air can hold more water vapor. For each degree of warming, the air’s capacity to hold water vapor goes up by about 7 percent. An atmosphere with more moisture can produce more intense precipitation, which is what we’ve been seeing.  

Heavy downpours increased 71 percent in the Northeast and 27 percent in the Southeast between 1958 and 2012, according to the National Climate Assessment.

Last year, flash and river floods killed 176 people in the United States, more than for any other weather-related disaster.

Better infrastructure -- both “green,” like using soil and vegetation to absorb rainfall, and “gray,” using manmade materials for pipes and walls -- can give the water someplace to go other than into homes and businesses.

In urban areas, where concrete and asphalt have replaced water-absorbing soils, rain gardens and porous pavements can reduce the amount of storm water pouring through the streets, or overwhelming water treatment plants.

In other areas, more extensive storm protection infrastructure, like flood walls and storm water storage and pumping facilities, may be needed. Nashville is considering building a $110 million flood wall and pumping system after flooding in May 2010 killed 11 and caused more than $2 billion in private property damage. After initially blocking the plan, the council this summer authorized completing designs and seeking community input.

Green and gray infrastructure can even be combined. Cities like Philadelphia and Hoboken, N.J., are topping underground storm water storage tanks with recreational fields for the community.

Flood protection is costly, but so is flood cleanup. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates four severe floods – in Texas and Oklahoma in May 2015, South Carolina in October 2015, Texas and Louisiana in March 2016, and Houston in April 2016 – caused an estimated $7 billion in damages and killed 69 people.

More frequent and intense downpours are one of the impacts we can expect from climate change. Cities, states and businesses will need to work together to strengthen infrastructure and protect properties and lives.

Energy innovation can help power the nation

Jay Premack/USPTO

Innovation to Power the Nation (and the World): Reinventing our Climate Future event held at the Carnegie Institute of Science Auditorium. Keynote remarks by Michelle Lee, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office; and panelists including: Dr. Jayant Baliga, Dr. Kristina Johnson, Nathan Hurst, Bob Perciasepe and moderated by Amy Harder. 

Energy, business and policy experts agree: Current technologies aren’t enough to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, the ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement. We will need innovation to fill the gap.

Where do we need breakthroughs? What do we need do more, do differently or do faster to evolve our energy system to be efficient, dependable and low-carbon? What policies would help drive the innovation we need?

These are some of the questions that guided a recent discussion C2ES helped organize at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director Michelle K. Lee opened the conversation by  emphasizing the importance of innovation to face the challenges posed by climate change. “History has shown us there are few challenges that innovative minds cannot overcome,” she said.

Here are some of the highlights of the discussion, which you can watch here:

We can vastly improve energy efficiency

Dr. B. Jayant Baliga, an inventor with 120 patents and a professor at North Carolina State University, sees an enormous opportunity to improve energy efficiency, not necessarily through new inventions, but by more widely using some of the technologies we already have.

One of Baliga’s inventions, the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT), dramatically improves efficiency in power flow in everything from appliances to cars to factories, saving an estimated 100 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Using variable speed motor drives that take advantage of IGBTs can improve efficiency by 40 percent, but only about half of U.S. motors run on these drives, compared with nearly 100 percent in Europe, Baliga said. With two thirds of U.S. electricity used to run motors, the energy savings could be enormous.

Lighting consumes about a fifth of electricity in the U.S. Going from incandescent bulbs to CFLs reduces energy use 75 percent. But in the U.S., only 2 billion out of the 5 billion light sockets have CFL bulbs in them, Baliga said. “We need some encouragement for people to use these kinds of lights,” he said.

Business plays a crucial role

Businesses understand the importance of climate change for both their operations and customers. Nate Hurst, Chief Sustainability & Social Impact Officer at HP, said companies should examine their operations and supply chains to drive energy efficiency, and also make products that are as energy efficient as possible.

HP, along other multinational companies, recently pledged to power global operations with 100 percent renewable energy, with the goal of 40 percent by 2020. The company also announced a new commitment to achieve zero deforestation also by 2020, which means all HP paper and paper-based packaging will be derived from certified recycled sources.

Companies need to diversify their energy sources, but the biggest challenge is price. Hurst suggested government incentives and tax credits can play a role in bringing alternative energy prices down.

Policy is needed at the federal, state and city level

C2ES President Bob Perciasepe said policies to recognize the costs of greenhouse gas emissions, such as a price on carbon, can stimulate innovation. Cities, states and businesses are pressing forward with policies and actions to save energy and expand clean energy. C2ES recently launched an alliance with the U.S. Conference of the Mayors to bring businesses and cities together to speed deployment of new technologies.

One area where more innovation is needed is carbon capture, use and storage. “We know how to do it, but we have to find cheaper ways to do it,” Perciasepe said. “And we have to find ways to use carbon, not just shove it all back into the earth.” For example, the Ford company is testing ways to capture carbon emissions from its manufacturing plants to make plastic for use in the interior of cars.

Hydropower can play a key role

Dr. Kristina Johnson, an electrical engineer and former Undersecretary for Energy at the Department of Energy, said it’s crucial to find new ways to use renewable energy. Her company, Cube Hydro Partners, acquires and modernizes hydroelectric facilities and develops power at unpowered dams.

“When we built our first little power plant in an existing dam, it cost less than $20 million, but it was the equivalent of having planted a million fully grown trees in the rainforest, which would have been a billion dollars,” she said. Hydropower can help provide constant energy to fill in for wind and solar power, she said.

Other areas where innovation would boost clean energy would be small modular nuclear reactors, although more work needs to be done on handling the waste, and an economic way to store or reuse emissions from fossil fuel plants, she said.

The last question asked by moderator Amy Harder of The Wall Street Journal was: What is the most important invention society needs to make and bring to scale to address the challenge of climate change?

What our panelists said:

  • A visionary new source of power,
  • Enhanced versions of the sources already known, such as ocean currents or solar power,
  • The right economic incentives to scale the solutions we already have, and
  • New materials that can be reused and recycled without compromising quality.

Preparing for more summer heat waves

Heat Wave PhotoClimate change is causing longer and hotter heat waves that take a toll on public health and on a community’s economy, prompting some local governments to take action.

Heat can be deadly. From 2006-2010, exposure to extreme heat resulted in 3,332 U.S. deaths. The elderly and the poor are among the most vulnerable due to pre-existing health issues and limited access to air conditioning. But young outdoor enthusiasts are also at risk. Five hikers died during a heat wave this summer in Arizona, where it got as hot as 120 degrees F.

Heat waves are not only dangerous, they’re also expensive. Extreme heat can damage crops and livestock, reduce worker productivity, drive up energy costs, and increase demand for water resources. A 2011 heat wave and associated drought in the Southwest and Southern Plains cost $12.7 billion.

A hotter, drier Southwest

While it’s hard to determine how climate change influences individual extreme weather events, we do know climate change exacerbates both their frequency and intensity.

In the Southwest, residents are expected to see an additional 13 to 28 extremely hot days (temperatures of 95F or hotter) by mid-century, and 33 to 70 additional days by the end of the century. Higher temperatures will also exacerbate droughts and fire cycles.

How to prepare

The Southwest region has already taken steps to prepare for the impacts of more extreme heat. This is especially critical for urban areas, where stretches of heat-absorbing concrete and asphalt create a heat island effect, increasing temperatures in some cities by up to 15 degrees above surrounding areas

In Southern California, the city government in Chula Vista is working to implement 11 strategies to help adapt to the impacts of climate change. They include using reflective or “cool” paving and roofing to reduce the urban heat island effect, and amending building codes to incentivize water reuse and lower demand for imported water.

In Arizona, the city of Phoenix’s Water Resource Plan includes short- and long-term strategies to deal with water shortage scenarios, including monitoring supplies and managing demand, developing increased well capacities for water storage, and coordinating with neighboring counties to secure additional water resources.

A council of local governments in Central New Mexico is working to determine the impacts of heat waves on infrastructure, including the role of extreme heat in degrading asphalt and pavement, and what types of pavement materials are most resilient to extreme heat.

Early efforts to improve climate resilience can help a community prepare for costly extreme weather events and more quickly bounce back from them. Local governments like the cities of Phoenix and Chula Vista and those in New Mexico are demonstrating strong leadership that can be an example for others. Coordinating with partners in state government and the business community, including through the C2ES Solutions Forum, can ensure local governments’ resilience plans provide maximum protection against the heat waves of the future.

Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is considered the world’s most successful international environmental treaty. 

Under the Protocol, nations phased out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – a class of compounds that were used mostly in aerosol sprays, refrigerants, foams and as solvents, and were damaging the protective ozone layer that shields the planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation.  Recent evidence shows that the ozone hole over Antarctica is beginning to repair itself because of efforts under the Protocol to reduce ozone-depleting substances.

Because ozone-depleting substances and many of their substitutes are also potent greenhouse gases, their phase-out under the Montreal Protocol is critical to international efforts to address climate change.

Negotiations are under way to amend the Montreal Protocol to now phase down the replacements for CFCs and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These alternatives, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), while not harmful to the ozone layer, are a fast-growing source of potent greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

Because HFCs have a relatively short atmospheric lifetime (compared to carbon dioxide), their phasedown could reduce temperature changes in 2100 by an estimated 0.5 degrees Celsius. These reductions are critical to meeting the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement to keep warming well below 2 degrees.

History

The Montreal Protocol is a part of the 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, which commits its 197 parties to protect human health and environment against “adverse effects” of human-induced changes to the ozone layer. 

The Montreal Protocol, which was adopted in 1987 and entered into force in 1989, limits the consumption and production of ozone-depleting substances. Since its entry into force, the Montreal Protocol has phased out over 98 percent of the world’s consumption of ozone-depleting substances.

Key Issues Ahead

Under the Dubai Pathway adopted in 2015, parties to the Montreal Protocol have agreed to work toward adoption of an amendment in 2016 to phase down HFCs.  HFCs are widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning, foam blowing, and other applications and often replace CFCs and HCFCs. Though they now account for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, HFCs are extremely potent greenhouse gases whose use is projected to grow rapidly, particularly in developing countries phasing out HCFCs.

Parties are meeting in October 2016 to attempt to finalize an amendment to the protocol. Key issues include:

  • Funding for developing nations for HFC replacements

A significant feature of the Montreal Protocol is its Multilateral Fund, established to provide funds and facilitate the transfer of technologies to help developing countries comply with their obligations under the protocol. Although the costs associated with patents and royalties are eligible for funding under the Multilateral Fund, parties have raised concerns that patents on the production and use of recently developed low global warming potential substitutes for HFCs could restrict their access to, or increase the cost of, transitioning to these alternatives.

  • Exemption for air conditioning in countries with high ambient temperatures

One critical concern is whether suitable alternatives for air-conditioning applications are available and adequately demonstrated for cooling capacity and energy efficiency under conditions of high ambient temperatures. Given the critical importance of these applications, one option being considered by parties is to provide a time-limited exemption for those uses in extremely hot countries.

  • Baseline and phase-down schedule

A range of proposals have been put forward by parties for setting baselines and phase down schedules for both developed and developing countries.  Past control schedules have typically allowed for a 10-year delay between controls on developed and developing countries.  A control schedule that sets near-term baselines, limits the lag time between controls developed and developing countries, and achieves an ambitious phase down schedule will deliver the greatest climate benefits.

  • Maximizing Energy Efficiency Gains

In shifting to new low global warming refrigerants, parties have the opportunity to select new refrigerants and equipment that maximize the gains in energy efficiency. Air conditioning and refrigeration are significant and rapidly growing energy use sectors in developing countries and efforts under the Multilateral Fund to incentivize energy efficiency gains could double the climate change benefits from a shift to low global warming gases.

C2ES Resources:

Solutions Forum Webinar: Financing Climate Resilience – What Are Our Options?

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
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Noon – 1:30 p.m. ETWatch video of this eventView slides

Webinar: Financing Climate Resilience – What Are Our Options?

Extreme weather events and disasters are already damaging assets, disrupting supply chains, reducing productivity and revenues, and destroying livelihoods. Projected climate impacts will also likely hit the creditworthiness of companies, posing risks to financial institutions and may affect companies' credit ratings. The need to update infrastructure provides an opportunity to build in climate resilience.

This webinar explores options for financing resilience and features an interactive discussion with experts in the field about opportunities and potential challenges.

 

July 21, 2016
Noon – 1:30 p.m. ET

Watch video of this event

View slides

Speakers

Bruce Ciallella
Managing Director for HUD Programs (Office of Recovery), New Jersey Energy Resilience Bank

Shalini Vajjhala
Founder & CEO, re:focus partners

Katy Maher
Science Fellow and Resilience Project Coordinator, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Fatima Maria Ahmad
Solutions Fellow, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

 

Speaker Bios

 

Shalini Vajjhala is founder & CEO of re:focus partners, a design firm dedicated to developing integrated resilient infrastructure solutions and innovative public-private partnerships, including the RE.invest Initiative and the RE.bound Program. Prior to starting re:focus, Ms. Vajjhala served as Special Representative in the Office of Administrator Lisa Jackson at the U.S. EPA, where she led the U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of International & Tribal Affairs, and Deputy Associate Director for Energy & Climate at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She joined the Obama administration from Resources for the Future, where she was awarded a patent for her work on the Adaptation Atlas. Ms. Vajjhala received her Ph.D. in engineering & public policy and Bachelor of Architecture from Carnegie Mellon University.

Katy Maher is a Science Fellow and Resilience Project Coordinator at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). She contributes to C2ES’s efforts to assess and communicate the current state of knowledge regarding climate change and its impacts, and to promote actions that strengthen climate resilience. Ms. Maher has more than eight years of experience supporting climate change impacts and adaptation projects. Prior to joining C2ES, she worked for ICF International assisting a range of clients – including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Agency for International Development, and state and local governments – in assessing climate change risks and developing adaptation solutions. Ms. Maher also served as Chapter Science Assistant for the Social, Economic and Ethical Concepts and Methods chapter of Working Group III’s contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Fatima Maria Ahmad is a Solutions Fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) where she co-leads the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative with the Great Plains Institute. Ms. Ahmad focuses on financing opportunities and policy support for emerging energy technologies, including carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS). In a volunteer capacity, Ms. Ahmad is the Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Section of International Law International Environmental Law Committee and is the Women’s Council on Energy & the Environment Vice-Chair for Membership.

Bruce Ciallella is currently the Managing Director for HUD Programs (Office of Recovery). In this role, he oversees the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA). His role includes managing the Stronger NJ Business Grant Program, the Stronger NJ Business Loan Program, the Neighborhood Community Revitalization Program, and the Energy Resilience Bank. Prior to joining the EDA, Mr. Ciallella served as Deputy Attorney General for the state of New Jersey representing the EDA and New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency in various legal matters, including but not limited to the creation of various Hurricane Sandy programs. Furthermore, before joining the state, Mr. Ciallella was a market maker on the floor of the NASDAQ OMX PHLX trading in the oil service, homebuilder, and gold and silver sectors.

 

 

 

Link between extreme weather and climate change comes into focus

Scientists have typically been cautious when discussing the link between a single extreme weather event and climate change, preferring to focus on broader trends. Previous work, including a paper I wrote with Jay Gulledge four years ago, described a framework for how to think about the link.

But a new report from the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) is making the connection more clear by defining the relative contributions of climate change and other natural sources to the risk of individual weather events. The NAS report – an exhaustive, systematic examination of the peer-reviewed literature – finds high confidence in attribution studies linking individual extreme heat and cold events and climate change, and a more moderate confidence level for several other types of events.

Climate change is making extreme weather more likely. But individual weather events like heat waves or hurricanes are always the product of several risk factors, such as El Nino, climate change or other natural variability, akin to how a poor diet and smoking increase the risk of poor health later in life.

Extreme event attribution attempts to quantify the influence of climate change in comparison to other factors. Determining to what extent climate change strengthened or weakened the event can further our understanding of how much impact climate change is having on our weather.The NAS report assigns a confidence level to the climate impact for a variety of weather events based on three supporting lines of evidence:

  • The physical mechanisms that link climate change to a particular extreme
  • The length and quality of the observational record showing the baseline risk level and changes to date
  • Computational climate modeling showing an increase in risk for a class of extreme event

The report finds the strongest links to climate change for extreme heat and cold, with the highest level of confidence across all three lines of evidence. Drought and extreme rainfall have medium confidence for physical understanding, observation and modeling. Extreme snowfall has medium conference for two out of three, physical understanding and modeling, while the observational record for snowfall is poor.

Ten Myths About Intellectual Property Rights and the Montreal Protocol

Ten Myths About Intellectual Property Rights and the Montreal Protocol

April 2016
 

By Steve Seidel and Jason Ye

Download the Brief (PDF)

This brief explores myths and facts about intellectual property rights as they are covered in the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to limit high global warming potential (GWP) gases. 

Jason Ye
Stephen Seidel
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Action on HFCs heats up

We’re seeing new movement toward phasing down the fastest-growing group of greenhouse gases – hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. These chemicals are widely used in refrigerators, air conditioners, foam products, and aerosols. And while they don’t stay in the atmosphere long, they can trap 1,000 times or more heat compared to carbon dioxide.

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new regulations demonstrating its commitment to limiting the use of HFCs domestically. It proposed changes to its significant new alternatives program (SNAP) aimed at expanding the list of acceptable alternatives that minimize impacts on global warming while also restricting the use of HFCs in sectors where alternatives are now available. EPA estimates the proposed rule could avoid up to 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030, which is equal to the energy-related emissions from about one million homes for one year.

Internationally, one sign of growing support for acting on HFCs came this month during the first visit by a U.S. president to Argentina in almost two decades. President Obama and newly elected Argentinian President Mauricio Macri explored opportunities to partner to address global challenges like climate change.

They affirmed their commitment to take action this year to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs, which are substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were successfully phased out under the 1989 Montreal Protocol. The two leaders also endorsed the understandings reached at the Dubai Montreal Protocol meeting in November 2015 on financial support for developing countries to implement an HFC phasedown.

A key opportunity will come next week when Montreal Protocol negotiators meet in Geneva to build on the progress made toward reaching agreement this year on an HFC phasedown amendment.

Collaboration for Climate Resilience in Stamford, Connecticut

Collaboration for Climate Resilience
in Stamford, Connecticut
 
March 2016
 

The city of Stamford, Connecticut, is a corporate hub with more than 125,000 residents, the third largest city in the state. As a coastal city, Stamford is vulnerable to threats of climate change, extreme weather, and natural disasters, making it imperative for the city’s leadership to plan for resilience.

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