Climate Compass Blog

This winter was cold for some, not for all

A lot of folks in the eastern half of the United States are breathing a sigh of relief that spring is just around the corner. Average temperatures this winter were among the Top 10 coldest in some parts of the Upper Midwest and South. More than 90 percent of the surface of the Great Lakes is frozen, the highest in 35 years.

But while East Coast and Midwest kids have been sledding and their parents have been shoveling, it has not been cold everywhere. In fact, many areas are unusually warm.

In Alaska, January temperatures were as high as they have been in 30 years. The Iditarod dogsled race was especially treacherous this month because of a lack of snow. Crews had to stockpile and dump snow on the ground at the finish line in Nome, where temperatures earlier this winter broke a record.

Globally, January was the fourth warmest on record – really – despite pockets of well-below-normal temperatures in parts of the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most areas of the world experienced warmer-than-average monthly temperatures. For example:

  • China experienced its second warmest January on record.
  • France tied its warmest January.
  • Parts of Brazil and Australia saw record heat.
January temperatures were above normal for much of the globe.
January temperatures were above normal for much of the globe.

Why we shouldn’t throw out flood insurance reform

It’s not surprising that homeowners in flood-prone areas are asking their representatives in Congress to protect them from higher flood insurance bills.

Here’s the question. Who is going to protect them from higher floods?

Congress in 2012 did the right thing in fixing a broken flood insurance system that has fallen $24 billion in debt, largely because the price of flood insurance hasn’t for many years matched the risk of a flood. Now, both the House and Senate have passed bills that would undo many of these reforms.

Congress should find a way to address both the immediate and long-term concerns of their constituents, and the rest of the nation. We can’t ignore the plight of families facing hefty insurance increases, and we must ensure that the process of making flood insurance reflect flood risk is fair and transparent. But we also can’t ignore the increasing costs and risks associated with growing coastal development in an era of rising seas and heavier precipitation.

Among the problems with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that we outlined in a C2ES brief:

Three lessons from climate leaders

Charting a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can be a challenge. Changing the perceptions and habits of employees, customers, and stockholders isn’t easy. But if done effectively, it can bring award-winning results.

Fifteen organizations and two individuals received Climate Leadership Awards for driving climate action and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The awards are given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), the Association of Climate Change Officers and The Climate Registry.

Awardees came from a wide array of sectors, including finance, manufacturing, retail, technology, higher education and local government. They included C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council members IBM and Johnson Controls, who were honored for achieving aggressive corporate greenhouse gas reduction goals.

At the Climate Leadership Conference in San Diego, three award winners shared key strategies that could help others take action.

Tenants and landlords can both save with energy efficiency upgrades

Talk about a win-win. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and government-backed mortgage provider Freddie Mac recently agreed on a plan that will cut carbon emissions and at the same time make rental housing more affordable.

The plan will make it easier and cheaper for property owners to get loans for energy efficiency upgrades. This is a big deal because studies estimate that increasing the efficiency of U.S. multifamily rental properties could deliver as much as $9 billion in energy savings by 2020. It could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35 million metric tons – the equivalent of taking 7.2 million cars off the road or shutting down 10 coal-fired power plants. 

With studies showing that rental properties are generally less efficient per square foot than owner-occupied homes, helping renters and their landlords save energy (and money) is a key step toward reducing overall U.S. energy use. 

The EPA-Freddie Mac initiative, part of the president’s Climate Action Plan, also will make available more data on energy and water use in multifamily properties. Tenants will better understand the energy costs of living in a particular home, letting them make more informed decisions. And owners will have a new incentive to make their properties more efficient, and therefore more appealing to potential renters. Additionally, property owners and tenants alike will be able to see how efficient their properties are compared to others.

EPA and Freddie Mac aren’t the only ones working to address this challenge. C2ES, through the Make an Impact program, has launched a web-based effort to reach out to renters with customized energy efficiency information. (Read about it in this blog.)  

Accounting for scientific uncertainty in a dangerously warming world

Most people at some point develop a “Plan B” – in case their first choice of college doesn’t accept them, or it rains on the day of their planned outdoor party, or the deal for the house they wanted falls apart. The same principle applies for more dire situations, such as a city having plans in hand for an orderly evacuation in case of a large-scale disaster. We hope such an event will never happen, but the mayor had better be prepared in case it does.

In a commentary today in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, three colleagues and I discuss the need for a “Plan B” for climate change: How will we cope with increasingly severe climate impacts if we are unsuccessful in limiting global warming to a chosen target?

In the 2009 Copenhagen climate accord, countries set a goal of limiting global warming to below 2 °C (3.6 °F) above the average global temperature of pre-industrial times. However, given that the planet has already warmed by 0.8 °C, additional warming is already locked into the system, and global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, this “Plan A” has become increasingly difficult and may become impossible to achieve if widespread emissions reductions do not begin within this decade. A maximum warming target is a necessary goal of climate policy, but what if our efforts fall short?

Some voices in the environmental community will feel that asking this question is ceding failure, but I disagree. Instead, it means admitting that we can’t perfectly foresee the future and that we need to be prepared for surprises. This is called risk management and everyone from parents, to mayors, to companies, to the U.S. military uses risk management every day to cope with uncertainty.