News

The White House has sought to downplay a major climate change report, which was compiled by 13 US federal agencies.

The study is at odds with assertions from President Donald Trump and several members of his administration.

It says it is “extremely likely” human activity is the “dominant cause” of global warming.

A spokesman for the White House said it supported “rigorous scientific analysis and debate” but added that the climate was “always changing”.

White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said it was not certain how sensitive the Earth’s climate was to greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Trump, who has embarked on a tour of Asia, once said the concept of global warming was created by the Chinese in order to make American manufacturing less competitive.

Earlier this year, he announced he was pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement to cut global emissions.

Apocalyptic predictions

The Climate Science Special Report, which was approved by the White House, was compiled by US government scientists.

It argues that it is “extremely likely” that human activity is causing rapid global warming with dire consequences for the US and the world.

The scientists’ predictions include:

  • A global sea level rise of up to 8ft (2.4 metres) cannot be ruled out by the end of the century
  • Risks of drought and flooding will increase
  • There will be more frequent wildfires and devastating storms

Running to nearly 500 pages, the report concludes that the current period is “now the warmest in the history of modern civilisation”.

It is “extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause”, it finds, adding that “there is no convincing alternative explanation”.

President Trump has made it easier for industry to pollute and he has appointed to key government positions men who are sceptical of their own scientists, the BBC’s James Cook, in Los Angeles, says.

Only on Thursday, Mr Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, told US media that while he thought climate change was real and humans had an “impact on it”, he still thought “the science [was] out on” whether humans cause 100% of it.

The researchers say there was no political interference in, or censorship of, their report.

BBC

 

Jamaica, AOSIS formalise position ahead of COP23

 Jamaica’s climate negotiators, who are in Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), are reporting a good first day of the preparatory meetings leading up to the global climate change conference which runs from November 6-17.The negotiators — led by retired meteorologist Clifford Mahlung and Senior Technical Officer Dr Orville Grey as well as principal director of the Climate Change Division Una May Gordon left the island on Sunday and had their preparatory meeting yesterday. The rest of the 22-member delegation is expected to depart the island next Sunday.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) — the bloc with which Jamaica and other Caricom states negotiate — met to formalise its position going into the conference. The Group of 77 and China will have its preparatory meetings on Thursday and Friday, while Saturday and Sunday are scheduled for round-table discussion.

“The meeting was a success,” Gordon told the Jamaica Observer from Bonn. We had the AOSIS prep then met with the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice chair.”

At the top of the agenda for AOSIS, and by extension Jamaica, is long-term climate financing, without which, it contends, small islands which are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change will not be able to survive.

Developed country parties committed to jointly mobilising US$100 billion annually by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation. Climate Policy Initiative reported in 2015 that global finance flows reached at least US$391 billion in 2014 as a result of a steady increase in public finance and record private investment in renewable technologies.

Jamaica is currently benefiting from one of the climate financing initiatives, having recently received a grant for US$300,000 under Green Climate Fund’s Readiness Programme. The funds are earmarked to develop its physical, technological and human resources to tackle the immense challenges posed by climate change, by strengthening the capacity of the Climate Change Division, the national designated authority in Jamaica. The country has also been approved to receive another grant which the Government says will be used to strengthen the capacity of the private sector to access resources for climate action.

That type of capacity-building, Gordon argued, is critical if the country is to implement strategies to effectively deal with climate change

“Funds are available for climate change adaptation and mitigation, but if we don’t increase and strengthen our capacity to target and access these funds they are going to pass us by,” she said at a consultation with climate change interests in Kingston a week ago.

We recently joined 59 developing countries around the world which have access to funds.

She explained that adapting to and mitigating the threats posed by climate change will require significant outlays of funds, not only for infrastructural projects, but for human resource development as well as for investment in technical and technological advances.

Speaking at that consultation, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz said the impacts will be felt not only in the agriculture industry, but also in tourism, real estate, timber, and equity portfolios. He referenced a UN-ECLAC study, which estimates that the cumulative losses due to loss of marine ecosystems by storm damage and other factors up to 2050 may average as much as US$366 million per year, and pointed to Citigroup data, which showed that global warming could adversely affect the gross domestic product of countries around the world by up to $72 trillion.

“Mitigation costs alone could be in the range of US$140-US$175 billion per year by 2030,” said Vaz.

“Climate change has far-reaching implications for our future, particularly in terms of lives, livelihoods, and the country’s sustainable development goals. As a Government, many of the decisions that we must make in this country must take into consideration job creation, economic growth, and competitiveness, [but] climate change has the potential to disrupt our plans, programmes and projects.

“Long-term financing, therefore, remains one of the critical areas on the agenda of SIDS as we prepare to go into the discussions in Bonn,” he said.

The annual global climate talks are coordinated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Jamaica Observer

Minister without portfolio with responsibility for water, works and housing Dr Horace Chang says the housing sector must be governed by regulations and practices that are sustainable, climate-resilient and will ensure the safety and security of Jamaicans.

He made the comments ahead of the regional housing conference to be hosted by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, October 18-20 at the Iberostar Rose Hall Suites Hotel, Montego Bay.

The inaugural conference, themed ‘Providing Safe, Legal and Affordable Housing for All: From Policy to Implementation’, is expected to expose some of the issues and, where possible, bring solutions to the housing market. It will also identify best practices that can be used to improve service delivery and innovative approaches to housing.

Areas to be discussed include housing costs and financing, building technology within a changing environment, housing and land tenure, and housing sector management.

“The conference comes at an opportune time given the need to ensure that our houses are built with the best quality materials, which are environmentally friendly, structurally sound and climate-resilient,” stated Minister Chang.

He said these considerations are even more important considering recent devastating hurricanes which have impacted several islands in the Caribbean.

“This need is even more urgent in the face of climate change as our construction industry must adapt to the new realities, and must ensure that our buildings are robust and can withstand the more intense impacts of climate change, with its extreme weather events,” he explained.

In the meantime, Chief Technical Director at the MEGJC with responsibility for water, works and housing Doreen Prendergast said the regional conference has received overwhelming local and international support.

She indicated that representatives from St Lucia, Barbados, Guyana, World Bank, IDB, Cities Alliance, Habitat for Humanity and a representative from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development are scheduled to attend, and in some instances make presentations.

“There is a great need for this type of forum because of the challenges within the housing sector,” said Prendergast. “Challenges pertaining to governance, security of tenure, and housing need and demand that are not being satisfied.”

The ministry has received 26 abstracts from academia for the conference, which are intended to provide an avenue for academia to help chart the policy and planning of the sector.

Jamaica Observer

Hurricanes Irma and Maria are still fresh in the mind of all of us who experienced them in the British Virgin Islands and wider Caribbean. These hurricanes have affected so many people, and everyone will have their own heart-breaking, moving and inspiring story to tell. I wanted to highlight a few, and share what I’ve been up to as well.


In the wake of the hurricanes, Virgin Unite has been working with Team Rubicon to bring practical, immediate and vital help to affected communities across the BVI. Lizzy Stileman, a member of Team Rubicon, shares her views about the impact of the hurricanes, and what needs to happen now. Meanwhile, John Ratliff – a long-time friend of Virgin Unite and member of our advisory council for the Virgin Unite Community – shares his story about flying out to the BVI to help on the ground. Below I’ve also shared Sam’s moving film, Help Hope Hurricanes, sharing his view from Virgin Gorda in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Meanwhile, I have been continuing to rally aid and support for the BVI as we continue the recovery process. I recently met with more than 50 representatives of Caribbean governments and utility companies at the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum in Miami. It was hosted by BMR Energy, one of Virgin Group’s investments, and gave us all a platform to discuss plans to expand the use of renewable energy in the region.

We highlighted the importance of renewable energy – solar, wind, geothermal and others – to reduce costs, reduce the harm being done to the environment and increase the resilience of their electric systems to withstand future hurricanes. In the aftermath of Irma and Maria, this message resonated more than ever.

It was inspiring to see so many decision makers and stakeholders gathered together, committed to tackling climate action now, and putting clean energy as the centerpiece of rebuilding efforts in the Caribbean. There has never been a more important time to push for this type of infrastructure.

Before returning to the BVI, I also travelled to Puerto Rico to meet with governor Ricardo Rosselló. I wanted to meet in person to share my heartfelt thanks for the incredible support Puerto Rico gave to the BVI during Hurricane Irma. We also discussed plans to power Puerto Rico with more clean energy, and the Rocky Mountain Institute plans to complete a study on the most effective ways to do this. It was a really positive visit, testament to the amazing people in Puerto Rico, in such a testing time.

Back in the BVI, I would echo Lizzy’s words: “There is still so much work to do here and there are so many people suffering. It will take years to recover, but it will recover.”

To help further support the affected communities please donate to the BVI Community Support Appeal and help us build a better, cleaner, stronger and more sustainable Caribbean region.

Virgin

Concentrations of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Last year’s increase was 50% higher than the average of the past 10 years.

Researchers say a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather phenomenon drove CO2 to a level not seen in 800,000 years.

Scientists say this risks making global temperature targets largely unattainable.

This year’s greenhouse gas bulletin produced by the WMO, is based on measurements taken in 51 countries. Research stations dotted around the globe measure concentrations of warming gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

The figures published by the WMO are what’s left in the atmosphere after significant amounts are absorbed by the Earth’s “sinks”, which include the oceans and the biosphere.

Climate change: a guide

A brief history of Earth’s CO2

Global Change Calculator

2016 saw average concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million, up from 400ppm in 2015.

“It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network,” Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO’s global atmosphere watch programme, told BBC News.

“The largest increase was in the previous El Niño, in 1997-1998 and it was 2.7ppm and now it is 3.3ppm, it is also 50% higher than the average of the last ten years.”

El Niño impacts the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by causing droughts that limit the uptake of CO2 by plants and trees.

Emissions from human sources have slowed down in the last couple of yearsaccording to research, but according to Dr Tarasova, it is the cumulative total in the atmosphere that really matters as CO2 stays aloft and active for centuries.

Over the past 70 years, says the report, the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is nearly 100 times larger than it was at the end of the last ice age.

Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other gases have the potential, according to the study to “initiate unpredictable changes in the climate system… leading to severe ecological and economic disruptions.”

The study notes that since 1990 there has been a 40% increase in total radiative forcing, that’s the warming effect on our climate of all greenhouse gases.

“Geological-wise, it is like an injection of a huge amount of heat,” said Dr Tarasova.

“The changes will not take ten thousand years like they used to take before, they will happen fast – we don’t have the knowledge of the system in this state, that is a bit worrisome!”

According to experts, the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago, in the mid-Pliocene era. The climate then was 2-3C warmer, and sea levels were 10-20m higher due to the melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets.

Other experts in the field of atmospheric research agreed that the WMO findings were a cause for concern.

“The 3ppm CO2 growth rate in 2015 and 2016 is extreme – double the growth rate in the 1990-2000 decade,” Prof Euan Nisbet from Royal Holloway University of London told BBC News.

“It is urgent that we follow the Paris agreement and switch rapidly away from fossil fuels: there are signs this is beginning to happen, but so far the air is not yet recording the change.”

Another concern in the report is the continuing, mysterious rise of methane levels in the atmosphere, which were also larger than the average over the past ten years. Prof Nisbet says there is a fear of a vicious cycle, where methane drives up temperatures which in turn releases more methane from natural sources.

“The rapid increase in methane since 2007, especially in 2014, 2015, and 2016, is different. This was not expected in the Paris agreement. Methane growth is strongest in the tropics and sub-tropics. The carbon isotopes in the methane show that growth is not being driven by fossil fuels. We do not understand why methane is rising. It may be a climate change feedback. It is very worrying.”

The implications of these new atmospheric measurements for the targets agreed under the Paris climate pact, are quite negative, say observers.

“The numbers don’t lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

“We have many of the solutions already to address this challenge. What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency.”

The report has been issued just a week ahead of the next instalment of UN climate talks, in Bonn. Despite the declaration by President Trump that he intends to take the US out of the deal, negotiators meeting in Germany will be aiming to advance and clarify the rulebook of the Paris agreement.

BBC

So … that was fast. US natural gas stakeholders barely had time to congratulate themselves for pushing coal out of the power generation market, and it looks like karma is already getting the last laugh. Low-cost renewable energy is beginning to nudge natural gas aside. In the most recent and striking development, California’s massive 262-megawatt Puente gas power plant proposal has been shelved, perhaps permanently.

Electricity Consumers Push Back On Natural Gas

Reporter Ivan Penn of the LA Times has the scoop on the Puente project, and he teases out several powerful forces at work against natural gas.

One key element is consumer pushback. At first glance, the proposal doesn’t seem overly controversial. The proposed plan, a project of NRG Energy, does not involve constructing a new facility. It would have replaced two existing gas units at the company’s existing Mandalay power generation facility in Oxnard, California.

All things being equal, the proposal would provide at least some degree of environmental benefit, because the new units would use 80% less water for cooling than the existing ones.

However, criticism of the new gas project was intense. Penn sums it up: earlier this month, a two-member review committee of the California Energy Commission took the rare step of issuing a statement recommending that the full Commission reject the plans after receiving “hundreds of messages protesting the project as another potential pollution threat to a community already overwhelmed by electricity-generating plants.”

The Rates Are Too Damn High

Aside from concerns about local air quality, Penn also cites an LA Times investigation indicating that the state’s energy policy has over-estimated the demand for natural gas power plants, resulting in artificially high rates:

“The commissioners’ recommendation followed Los Angeles Times investigations that showed the state has overbuilt the electricity system, primarily with natural gas plants, and has so much clean energy that it has to shut down some plants while paying other states to take the power California can’t use. The overbuilding has added billions of dollars to ratepayers’ bills in recent years.”

According to Penn, NRG officials maintain that older plant retirements by 2021 make replacement imperative to build up now.

At current costs, local ratepayers won’t get much relief if old power units are replaced with wind or solar.

My Beach, My Choice

Land use issues and environmental justice issues also come into play. NRG’s Mandalay power generation facility is located on the beach, and as NRG acknowledges, in 2014 the City of Oxnard enacted a moratorium on coastal development.

That complicates development plans within the power plant site, though NRG emphasizes that the final decision rests with state-level regulators.

Among those objecting to the plant from outside the local community is billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who co-authored an op-ed about the proposed facility raising the environmental justice issue:

“…in our state, not all beaches are created equal. That becomes painfully clear if you drive 50 miles north of Los Angeles to Oxnard, where the beaches have been seized by corporate polluters, marred by industrial waste and devastated by three fossil-fuel power plants that sit along the shoreline.

“Oxnard has more coastal power plants than any other city in the state, and not coincidentally, its population is predominantly Latino and low-income….”

Oxnard residents — and no doubt, real estate developers — are looking forward to transitioning coastal property out of industrial use altogether. Here’s LA Times reporter Dan Weikel on that topic:

“Many residents of this predominantly Latino city with a population of 205,000 say they are fed up with the degradation. Their growing dissatisfaction with the condition of large sections of beach has coalesced into an effort to deindustrialize and restore the shoreline of this city that is framed by Ventura and Camarillo and wraps around the town of Port Hueneme.”

So, What’s The Solution?

The Puente project has been suspended, not canceled. However, chances of revival are slim. Although the most recent study affirms that renewable energy is a more expensive choice currently, Steyer points out that the redevelopment of Oxnard’s beachfront could be balanced out by new economic activity related to tourism and recreation.

That opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms, as waterfront development typically drives up the cost of housing, squeezing former residents to outer rims with longer commutes and fewer resources.

Sticking to the energy cost issue, the basic problem comes down to local energy vs. long distance transmission.

NRG makes the case that local energy generation is more reliable. That’s a fair assessment as a general principle, as the old model of centralized power plants falls out of favor. Local and on-site generation is becoming a consensus argument among energy experts, regardless of the power source.

On the other hand, the risk involved in transmitting electricity from remote wind farms and solar power plants could be offset by local storage sites, where the growing microgrid movement would come into play.

New tools for financing energy efficiency improvements could also help tamp down local energy demand and ease the way for a more interactive grid that enables consumers to tweak their electricity consumption to help prevent outages.

Cities like Oxnard can also tap into a growing renewable energy knowledge base that leverages local opportunities for renewable energy development and energy efficiency improvements.

Most of all, the Trump administration’s willy-nilly approach to oil and gas development — for example, a new proposal involving drilling along the Pacific coast — raises the stakes for citizens far outside of the communities dealing with local land use issues, leading to a groundswell of support for alternatives.

Clean Technica