Climate Compass Blog

California's drought breaks records

In California, it’s almost impossible to avoid hearing about the drought. Restaurants serve water only upon request, “Save Our Water” radio ads run daily, and the issue headlines news broadcasts.

The persistent drought threatens to increase the risk of wildfires, damage crops, and harm wildlife. For example, UC Davis researchers estimate the state’s farm industry could lose $1.7 billion and nearly 15,000 jobs in 2014 due to the drought.

While Californians are no strangers to drought, this one in particular is cause for alarm. For the first time in the 15-year history of the National Drought Monitor, the entire state faces ‘severe’ (in yellow in Figure 1 below), ‘extreme’ (in red), or ‘exceptional’ (in dark red) levels of drought. In fact, October 2013-September 2014 could wind up being one of the driest periods in nearly 500 years.

Relief is unlikely to come soon. The Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests the drought will persist and intensify in California through the summer.

Figure 1. The entire state of California is experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional drought. This is the first time this has happened since the Drought Monitor began such classifications 15 years ago. Source: US Drought Monitor: California, (National Drought Mitigation Center, 2014), http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CA

EPA’s proposed carbon standard for power plants is stringent and flexible

The Obama Administration today took a major step toward reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that are impacting our climate. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its “Clean Power Plan,” which leverages existing authority in the Clean Air Act to propose carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions. The proposal would cut emissions in the power sector by 30 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels. We reviewed the basics of the Clean Power Plan with four critical questions in mind:

1. Is the standard based on emission reductions outside the power plant fence line?

The short answer is “yes.” EPA cannot require states or power plant operators to take any specific measures, but it can set the emissions target stringent enough so that it would be challenging to achieve unless certain measures are taken. EPA is proposing state-specific targets based on the capacity of each state to leverage four “building blocks.” They are:

  1. Make fossil fuel power plants more efficient.
  2. Use low-emitting natural gas combined cycle plants more where excess capacity is available.
  3. Use more zero- and low-emitting power sources such as renewables and nuclear.
  4. Reduce electricity demand by using electricity more efficiently.

Although “outside-the-fence-line” measures are not specifically required under the proposal, states would be hard-pressed to meet their targets without using programs to reduce the demand for fossil electricity, by, for example, increasing energy efficiency and encouraging renewable energy.

Looking to Figure 1, EPA has chosen the System-level Option.

Figure 1: Scope of reduction requirements

Eight states take a big step to advance zero-emission vehicles

States representing more than a quarter of U.S. car sales made a strong statement today that they’ll be engaged in advancing the deployment of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs).

In their “Multi-State ZEV Action Plan,” eight states — California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont — lay out an ambitious agenda to support vehicle sales and fueling infrastructure over the next decade with the goal of putting 3.3 million ZEVs on the roads by 2025. These vehicles, which include cars fueled by electricity and hydrogen, are a key part of our efforts to reduce the emissions contributing to climate change.

The transition to a low-carbon transportation system will take decades and cost billions. As C2ES has noted in our work in this area, government is unlikely to make significant new investments in the near term, but it can play a critical role in encouraging private sector investment in ZEVs and their infrastructure.

Pricing carbon - What are the options?

Judging from the climate policy debate in Washington, one might conclude that carbon pricing is only a concept, or something being tried in Europe.

But in fact, 10 U.S. states (California and the Northeast states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) have carbon trading programs. That means more than a quarter of the U.S. population lives in a state with a price on carbon. And a growing number of nations and provinces around the globe are turning to carbon pricing to cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage energy innovation.

Over the years, C2ES has closely examined the many ways available to price carbon, including a cap-and-trade system, an emissions tax, and a clean energy standard with tradable credits.

A crucial meeting for the Green Climate Fund

Finance for developing countries is a perennial issue in international climate negotiations. Progress on that front will be critical to a successful outcome in Paris next year, when countries hope to conclude a new global climate agreement.

Many are hoping developed countries will come forward with new financial pledges at a leaders summit being convened this fall by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, providing momentum heading into Paris. Their willingness to do so depends heavily on the outcome of a meeting next week in Songdo, South Korea.

The board of the new Green Climate Fund, which will channel finance from developed to developing nations for mitigation and adaptation, is meeting May 18-21 in hopes of breaking earlier impasses on the fund’s basic operating rules.