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Weekly Roundup 12-16-2016

Your Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending December 16, 2016 follows.  Please forward it to anyone you think might be interested.

With the selection of Rick Perry as Energy Secretary and Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary, President-elect Donald Trump continues to nominate individuals for his cabinet who are skeptical of the role of fossil fuel combustion in driving climate change.  However, the nomination of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is more complicated, given the company’s endorsement of the Paris Climate Agreement and its support for a carbon tax.  Nevertheless, the next four years will be difficult for the fight against climate change, given the large role of the fossil fuel industry in the new administration.  Consequently, concern about the potential policies of the Trump administration is causing climate scientists to copy important data files from government agencies to private servers to ensure their availability during Trump’s term.  Still, climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern was more sanguine, although he did say “There’s no point wringing hands and weeping into whatever it is we weep into; at the same time, be alert, be very alert. These are difficult times.”

Officials from 24 Republican-led states want President-elect Trump to act on his first day in office against the Clean Power Plan (CPP).  The officials wrote to Trump on Thursday with a four-part plan to undo the CPP and ensure that a future president could not implement a similar policy.  Perhaps the governors of those states should listen to the voters.  According to a new survey from Yale and George Mason Universities, “70% of registered voters support setting strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, even if the cost of electricity to consumers and companies increased.”  In spite of actions by those seeking to dismantle the CPP, local leaders have vowed to continue their fight against climate change and its effects.  For example, the city council of Portland, OR, voted unanimously on Wednesday to adopt zoning code changes that ban the construction of new major fossil fuel terminals and the expansion of any existing ones.

Climate

A task force composed of executives from major companies, banks, and insurance companies (formed by the Financial Stability Board, an arm of the G-20 industrialized nations) has released its recommendations for improving the ways in which markets can respond to the uncertainties associated with climate change.  Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg had an opinion piece in The Guardian on Wednesday about the report.

At the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU’s) Fall Meeting in San Francisco this week, scientists reported on last winter’s Norwegian research expedition to study the sea ice near the north pole.  Mats Granskog, chief scientist on the expedition, said “This thinner and younger ice in the Arctic today works very differently than the ice we knew.  It moves much faster.  It breaks up more easily.  It’s way more vulnerable to storms and winds.”  Also, at the AGU meeting, NOAA released its Arctic Report Card for 2016, noting that the Arctic is warming at an “astonishing” rate

A new paper in Nature Geoscience reports on the retreat of mountain glaciers around the world.  The study’s purpose was to determine whether the retreat has accelerated and whether it can be attributed to climate change.  For 36 of the 37 glaciers studied there is a more than 90% chance that the retreat accelerated because of climate change and for 21 there is a greater than 99% chance.  Meanwhile, warming temperatures in the Arctic are expected to cause polar bear and reindeer populations to decline, according to papers at the AGU meeting.

Two studies have provided a better understanding of the melting of Antarctic glaciers.  In West Antarctica, five glaciers terminate in the Amundsen Sea and contribute more than 10% of current sea level rise.  A team of scientists from the UK’s Centre for Polar Observation and Monitoring has combined almost 25 years of altimetry observations from five different satellites operated by the European and American space agencies to determine how the thickness of the glaciers has changed.  Their results show that all the glaciers are thinning, but each in a unique way.  In East Antarctica, the Totten glacier is the largest and carries more ice toward the sea than any other glacier in that ice sheet.  The second study confirmed that, just like in West Antarctica, the Totten glacier is melting from below because of the flow of “warm” ocean water under its ice shelf.  In addition, a new paper in Nature Climate Change concludes that a large lake on the Roi Baudouin ice shelf in East Antarctica was formed because strong winds blew away reflective snow, exposing the dark ice to the sun’s rays.  There were also buried lakes, calling the stability of the ice shelf into question.  Better understanding of Antarctic glaciers has caused two prominent glaciologists to state that research priorities should be coupled to policy needs to allow appropriate policy decisions for coping with sea level rise likely to exceed 6 ft this century.  (The link is to the abstract.  A subscription to Science or access through a library is required to view the full article.)

Each year members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) assess extreme weather events worldwide to ascertain whether their occurrence was influenced by human-caused climate change and the results of the assessment are released as a special edition of the Bulletin of the AMS.  The report for 2015, which was just released, found that global warming influenced 24 of the 30 events studied.  The Conversation has an infographic that summarizes the report's findings.

Energy

According to a new report from Arabella Advisors, the value of investment funds committed to divesting from fossil fuels has doubled in just over a year.  The report states: “···the value of assets represented by institutions and individuals committing to some sort of divestment from fossil fuel companies has reached $5 trillion.  To date, 688 institutions and 58,399 individuals across 76 countries have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies···.”  Furthermore, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, formed last year by Bill Gates and other billionaire investors, announced on Monday that it is investing $1 billion in the Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund to spur clean energy technology.

According to the 4th Quarter 2016 U.S. Solar Market Insight report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), over 4,100 megawatts of solar PV were installed in the U.S. during the 3rd quarter of 2016.

There are 58 “Climatescope” countries and all are regarded as developing nations in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East.  According to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, PV solar is now on a par with wind energy and will soon become the cheapest form of energy in those countries.  They also installed more renewables this year than the OECD countries, with 69.8GW deployed versus 59.2GW.

Beginning January 15, 2017 land-based wind farms will be granted 30-year U.S. government permits that allow for the accidental deaths of bald and golden eagles.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the population of golden eagles in the U.S. could withstand a loss of about 2,000 birds annually, whereas bald eagles could sustain as many as 4,200 fatalities a year.  On Monday, the first off-shore wind farm in the U.S. began sending electricity to the grid.

According to a new paper in Environmental Research Letters, in 2014 atmospheric methane concentrations rose 12.5 parts per billion (ppb) and in 2015, 9.9 ppb, compared to an annual increase of about 0.5 ppb a decade ago.  The major source of the increase was agriculture, especially in the tropics.  This finding was consistent with a study published in April in the journal Science.  Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA removed language claiming that hydraulic fracturing has no “widespread systemic impacts” on drinking water from its final report on the subject.

According to an analysis by the Carbon Tax Center, 38% of the electricity sector’s carbon reduction in the U.S. since 2005 is due to energy efficiency and 20% is due to solar and wind; only 42% is due to substitution of natural gas for coal.  According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, 33 states have decreased their carbon emissions since 2000 while simultaneously growing their economies.  Carbon Brief has prepared an interactive graphic illustrating how each state performed.  Finally a new analysis from the University of Texas Energy Institute provides a county-by-county map showing the cheapest energy source for electricity production in the U.S.

A new report by the MIT Energy Initiative, in collaboration with the Institute for Research in Technology at Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid, Spain, offers a roadmap for the redesign of the electrical grid.  According to David Unger at Midwest Energy News “the report’s recommendations fall under two broad headings: 1) Charge consumers for electricity in a way that takes into account when and where it is produced and used, and 2) Reform regulations and policies to level the playing field between traditional, centralized power producers and emergent, distributed ones.”

According to The Guardian: “The Canadian government has agreed [to] a deal with eight of the country’s 10 provinces to introduce its first national carbon price, Justin Trudeau has told reporters.  The prime minister said the move would help Canada meet its international climate change obligations.”  The price would start at C$10 (US$7.60) a tonne in 2018, rising by C$10 a year until it reaches C$50 in 2022.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus