Climate Compass Blog

The Paris talks: Looking behind the scenes

Negotiations toward a new global climate agreement resume Monday in Bonn amid growing concern that time is running short – the agreement is due this December in Paris – and that the remaining task is monumental.

Indeed, while the new text negotiators will be working from is a bit more coherent than the last one, it is still a very long way from something countries could sign on to in Paris.  Parties hopefully will make progress this week narrowing options and will task the co-chairs with producing a much more streamlined text for the next meeting in October.

The state of the text, though, may not the best measure of the state of the negotiations.  The tedious slog of the formal sessions in Bonn may be what’s most visible. But countries are spending even more time talking in other, less formal settings, at multiple levels. And the conversations there are considerably more encouraging.

One example is C2ES’s Toward 2015 dialogue, which brought together senior negotiators from China, the United States and 20 other European, Asian, Latin American and African countries for eight in-depth discussions over 15 months.  A final report last month from dialogue co-chairs Valli Moosa and Harald Dovland outlines key elements of a Paris deal.

Climate change and the near-record 2015 wildfire season

The wildfires ravaging the Western United States are among the most damaging on record, and the season isn’t over yet. For those who have been following the region’s changing climate patterns, however, the damage is hardly surprising, and this could be only the beginning.

So far this year, 41,000 fires have burned 7.5 million acres of forests and grasslands across the United States. Only nine years have seen more acres burned in total than have already burned this year. The record is 9.8 million acres in 2006.

Baked Alaska

In Alaska, the 2015 wildfire season will likely go down as the second-biggest on record. More than 5.1 million acres – or 8,000 square miles – have burned so far this year. The most damaging – 6.6 million acres – occurred in 2004. Although this was an extreme fire season, the state was fortunate that the weather eventually cooperated. By mid-July, the fires had already charred 4.5 million acres, or 88 percent of the total.

The fires that plagued central Alaska during the late spring and early summer months are now mostly under control, as the dry summer heat gives way to cooler and wetter weather. The persistent ridge of high pressure has broken down as waves of moisture now stream in from the surrounding waters – the annual sign that autumn is quickly approaching.

As the fires die out in Alaska, the attention now turns to the lower 48. What was a sporadic, yet manageable, start to the fire season has now turned into conflagration of tragic proportions.

What the EPA rules mean for carbon capture and storage

In its final rules for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants, EPA recognized the importance of carbon capture and storage technologies to achieving U.S. carbon reduction goals.

New coal-fired power plants will likely need to capture some portion of potential emissions to meet final federal standards for emissions. While not required, existing coal and natural gas power plants may pursue carbon capture and storage (CCS) to meet state emissions targets under the final Clean Power Plan.

However, a regulatory requirement for CCS does not guarantee the development of commercial-scale projects, and additional work will be needed to address the economic barriers to CCS.

In the rule covering new power plants, EPA confirmed its original finding that CCS is technically available and feasible to implement. EPA’s final rule set an emissions standard of 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated. This is less stringent than the 1,100 lbs CO2/MWh limit originally proposed. But given that the most efficient coal plant without CCS is still likely to emit around 1,700 lbs CO2/MWh, adopting CCS is likely required.

US cities offer diverse incentives for electric vehicles

Cities and states are deploying a wide variety of incentives to promote more adoption of electric vehicles to reduce emissions and improve our energy security.

Consumers in Houston can get a state subsidy for buying a new EV. In the Phoenix area, EV buyers get registration fees waived and single-occupant HOV lane access. EV drivers in Portland receive fewer city and state incentives, but benefit from more publicly available charging infrastructure.

EV incentives vary by the amount consumers can save, how the incentives are applied, and who is offering the incentive.

A new report sheds light on how the 25 largest U.S. cities stack up in promoting EV deployment. These cities together represent more than half of the public electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the U.S. and about two-thirds of new electric vehicle registrations.

The white paper published by the International Council on Clean Transportation with input from C2ES and C40 and support from the 11th Hour Project, catalogues data on policies and actions by state agencies, municipal agencies, and local utilities that promote EV sales and analyzes the benefits to consumers.

EPA's Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver's seat

The finalization today of EPA’s Clean Power Plan offers Americans a clear, realistic roadmap for addressing planet-warming emissions that threaten the environment and the U.S. economy.

Most importantly, it puts states in the driver’s seat to devise innovative strategies to reduce emissions efficiently and cost-effectively. Now it's time for states to work together with businesses and cities to craft the approaches that work best for them.

Climate change is a critical challenge, and the impacts will only grow more costly if we fail to act. Last year was the warmest on Earth since we started keeping records over a century ago. During the first half of this year, it got even hotter. Climate change impacts include more extreme heat, which can exacerbate drought and wildfires, more frequent and intense downpours that can lead to destructive floods, and rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities.

Many cities, states, and companies recognize climate risks. And many are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New federal standards are already reducing heat-trapping emissions from the second-biggest source, transportation, by increasing the fuel economy of cars and trucks. The Clean Power Plan takes the next logical step by addressing the largest source: the electric power sector, responsible for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.