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Geneva climate talks wrap up with diverse menu of options
Another round of climate talks concluded in Geneva last week, yielding an 86-page draft that includes multiple versions of the language for the treaty to be signed in Paris this December. The chairmen of the negotiations invited all participants to submit their preferred formulations, seeking to avoid a repeat of past schisms touched off when smaller countries felt they hadn’t been heard. Among the issues still to be decided: whether the pact will call for a complete phase-out of fossil fuels, the aid that rich countries will provide to the less affluent, and the pact’s enforceability. Even if they purport to bind their signatories, all treaties ultimately depend on domestic political will.
UK parties agree on climate ahead of election; Canada splits
In the run-up to this May’s elections, the leaders of the UK’s three largest political parties jointly promised to adopt carbon budgets, transition to a low-carbon economy, stop burning coal for electricity unless its emissions are captured, and push for a global pact that holds global warming to 2˚C or less. The agreement, brokered by an alliance of green groups, may take the climate off the table in the campaign. In Canada, where elections will be held in October if not sooner, opposition leaders advocate climate action, in strong contrast to fossil fan Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with Liberal Justin Trudeau proposing a national carbon pricing program.
Let us not to the growth of green power admit impediment
Two tech giants announced hefty renewable electricity deals last week, with Google buying power from a renovated three-decade-old wind farm in Altamont Pass, and Apple inking an $850 million deal for 130 megawatts of solar electricity. On the 21-percent-carbon-free Hawaiian grid, where widespread installation of rooftop solar put the brakes on advantageous net-metering arrangements, researchers are testing smarter inverters as a way to keep abundant sun power from raising line voltages and damaging appliances. And in the Sunbelt, solar-friendly policies have made several politically conservative states hotbeds of sun power, while Florida’s rules against solar leasing have held back photovoltaics from sprouting on roofs in the Sunshine State.
Report distinguishes bad from acceptable geoengineering
Mammoth schemes that would keep the planet cool by reflecting more sunlight back into space are inadvisable, says a report released last week by the National Academy of Sciences’ research division. As one reviewer noted, once they began, humanity would be committed to continue them for millennia. At the same time, the scientists found that removing carbon dioxide from the air is a worthwhile strategy, using techniques as simple as tree-planting. But the ultimate question was posed by report coauthor Ken Caldeira: “If we end up having to build a fix that’s on the scale of our energy system, why not just retool our energy system?”
Seeking the promise of clean coal, north and south
Two reports on the early operation of Canada’s Boundary Dam illustrate the opposing views on carbon capture and storage (CCS): clean coal is either an oxymoron with a high price tag or a bridge to the future that reduces carbon emissions. Cost overruns, which have beset a coal-fueled power plant using CCS in Kemper County, MS, grew worse for the utility when the state Supreme Court’s ruled that Mississippi Power must repay ratepayers $281 million spent building the plant—whose impact on its local community is explored in this lengthy article.
EVs get boost from Apple “iCar” project, charging networks
Car gossip buzzed last week with news that Apple has detailed several hundred people to design an electric car said to resemble a mini-van. EV momentum built, too, from Pacific Gas and Electric’s announcement that it will build a network of 25,000 public car chargers in northern California, and a Minnesota utility’s proposal to give EV customers a 43 percent discount on night-time recharging. Tesla—whose de facto subsidies drew fire last week—has found its Chinese customers hobbled by a spotty charging infrastructure, leading drivers to seek out fellow EV owners who will let them bum a few kilowatt-hours.
Climate shift tied to snowstorms, droughts, ski closures
Ski resorts in Cascadia—at Washington’s Snoqualmie Pass and on Vancouver Island—closed this month after warm storms laid bare slopes that would normally be deep in snow. Unseasonable Alaskan warmth forced organizers to move the starting line of the Iditarod dog-sled race 300 miles north to Fairbanks in search of snow, while Bostonians dug out from yet another snowstorm, whose magnitude can be linked to moister air and which coincided with unusually warm sea temperatures. Paradoxically, a paper published last week found that in the American Southwest, continued warming could trigger mega-droughts worse than the dry spells that plagued the region in the 12th and 13th centuries.
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On the Climate Solutions blog: Ben Serrurier describes the Clean Energy Choice Act proposed in the Washington Legislature to extend the state’s Energy Independence Act (I-937) beyond 2020 when its renewables requirement is set to top out at 15 percent; Jessica Finn Coven deplores the erosion of workplace safety and health standards that have led oil refinery workers to strike for better safeguards; Alex Epstein announces two Clean Fuels Standard hearings in Washington State; guest blogger Stuart Braman keys off of Global Divestment Day describing a new report, The Carbon Underground 2015; Ross Macfarlane chronicles the economic toll Northwest businesses are suffering due to a snowless winter; and Kristen Sheeran details Clean Fuels Standard progress in the Oregon Senate.