Climate Compass Blog

New car rules get it right on energy, the environment and the economy

Today the federal government issued vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards that enjoy broad support from automakers, auto workers, environmental groups, and consumers. Why is everyone so happy, when the idea of regulation is anathema to so many? It’s both because of what the rules do, and how they do it.

As a result of these new standards, we will see the fuel economy of the average new vehicle increase by up to 90 percent by 2025. That will save each car buyer thousands of dollars in fuel costs. We’ll also see greenhouse gas emissions from the average new vehicle decrease 40 percent.

This represents the single largest step ever by the federal government aimed at reducing the carbon emissions that are warming the planet.

The new rules achieve these important goals by setting tough environmental and energy objectives, but leaving it to businesses to innovate to achieve them. This flexibility means that consumers will still have a wide choice of vehicles in the marketplace.

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Two More Lows for Arctic Sea Ice

The loss of Arctic sea ice is progressing more rapidly and clearly than just about any other indicator of global climate change. As I’ve discussed previously, the minimum summer sea ice extent (i.e. the two-dimensional area of the floating ice cap) set new record lows in 2002, 2005 and 2007. Similarly, the total volume of sea ice set record lows in 2007, 2010 and 2011. For the first time since 2007, both the sea ice extent and volume have set new record lows in the same year (see figures). And what’s more, they did it with weeks remaining in the melt season, which usually ends in mid-September. So the records have been broken this year, but we don’t know yet just how low the extent and volume will go.

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Trends in carbon emissions show need for a more balanced climate agreement

When climate negotiators meet in Bangkok this week for the latest session of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they will (hopefully) begin substantive discussions under new terms better reflecting how much the world has changed since the Convention’s adoption in 1992.

Of particular relevance is the dramatic shift in the distribution of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over the past two decades, as highlighted in the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency’s 2012 Trends in global CO2 emissions. A telling statistic: In 1990, industrialized countries that negotiated targets under the Kyoto Protocol (including the U.S.) accounted for 68 percent of global CO2 emissions; in 2011, the authors estimate, this share was 41 percent.  Developing countries now account for well over half of annual global emissions – with China and India generating a full third.

Consumers and global climate will win with new vehicle standards

As early as this week, the federal government will announce what is likely the largest move ever to save oil. If last year’s proposal becomes final, as expected, the fuel economy of a typical new car will go up by more than 70 percent by 2025. The standards will improve how far cars and trucks travel on a gallon of gas even more than the original corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, enacted by Congress in 1975.

The new passenger vehicle standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions are also the single largest move by the federal government to address climate change. Three critical factors made this possible: consumer commitment, technological progress, and smart public policy.

Should wind tax credit stay or go?

I recently responded to a question on the National Journal blog, "Should Congress extend the production tax credit for wind energy or let it expire at year's end?"