12 governors and provincial leaders sign climate pact
The leaders of the three West Coast U.S. states last week joined Vermont and seven other province-level heads of government from Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, and the UK in committing to deep cuts in carbon pollution by 2050. The title of their pact, the “Under 2 MOU,” alludes to the goal of holding global warming below 2 degrees C and emitting less than 2 metric tons of CO2 per capita. The move provoked skeptical commentary because most states have missed their past climate goals or, in the case of Washington, have yet to bring the legislature along. But regional limits are key: nearly a third of carbon pricing systems mapped last week by the World Bank are subnational efforts.
Obama points to security threat from climate change
President Obama proclaimed climate change a serious threat to national security, tying droughts and crop damage from severe weather to the rise of terrorism and war in Nigeria and Syria in his commencement address to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and calling failure to act “dereliction of duty.” Some research finds a link between rising temperatures and increasing human conflict, or at least that climate change may be a “threat multiplier” that intensifies the poverty, hunger, and instability that lead to conflict. Despite climate change’s “immediate risk” to national security, the CIA is closing down its main climate research program known for high quality global weather data.
Investors move bets off the fossil fuel table
The movement to divest from fossil fuels won three victories last week, as University of Hawaii regents voted to ditch the fossil fuel sector entirely, Oxford University opted to divest from coal and tar sands, and French insurance giant Axa announced it will get out of coal and triple its green investments. The announcements came as executives gathered in Paris for a business and climate summit, where investors managing $25 trillion unveiled a web portal to track climate-positive investment. But the Saudi oil minister stole the show in Paris, foretelling a future in which oil goes begging and his country exports solar electricity. Hard to believe? Watch this snippet.
Fossil sector not paying its true costs, says IMF
Governments around the world shield consumers from the true cost of fossil fuels to the tune of $5.3 trillion annually, says a study released by the International Monetary Fund last week. Although the report calls these subsidies, only about a tenth of that figure—a “mere” $492 billion—comes as actual payments or tax exemptions such as these special favors; the rest results from societal costs for health and climate impacts that are not paid by the fossil sector or its customers. A different incentive structure is at work at the highest echelons of the oil business, where CEOs reap huge bonuses for keeping new drilling on track.
New technologies can spread wind’s potential in US
New turbine designs can make wind power feasible across more of the United States, according to a Department of Energy study published last week. By continuing the trend to taller turbines—boosting the height of the hubs from the now-typical 80 meters (260 feet) to the 110- to 140-meter range—wind generation would become practical in regions of slower or less consistent wind, such as the Southeast. Provided developers can address the heightened impacts on migrating birds and the logistical hurdles of moving larger towers and blades, wind power could eventually supply 35 percent of the nation’s electricity, as depicted in this animation.
Coal continues its downward spiral
Coal’s decline continued last week as the New York Stock Exchange threatened to de-list Arch, the second-largest U.S. coal firm, and Murray Energy announced plans to lay off 20 percent of its employees. Nearly a third of US coal-fired power plants are now predicted to close by 2040, mostly in the coming decade, as a result of the EPA’s Clean Power rules. Coal’s main hope of surviving in a climate-constrained world, carbon capture technology, suffered twin blows when a consortium backed out of its stake in Mississippi’s Kemper plant and lead developer Southern Power told regulators it will have to hike rates by 41 percent to pay for the plant.
New study says EVs are years from profitability
Electric vehicles are years away from making a profit for their manufacturers, according to a new report from the technology research firm Lux, which highlighted the crucial role of cheaper batteries in making mid-price EVs a money-maker for the industry. With the slow rise of EVs, the federal government has backed away from President Obama’s pledge that 1 million plug-in cars would roam U.S. roads by 2015, a goal that is less than one-third accomplished. EVs face a new challenge from Toyota’s fuel-cell-powered Mirai, reviewed here, but both EV and fuel-cell autos look attractive next to a Tesla owner’s snarky description of test-driving a gasoline-powered car.
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On the Climate Solutions blog: Elizabeth Willmott describes how Redmond, WA has allocated $820,000 to reduce the city’s energy consumption and carbon footprint. Marlyn Twitchell explains how commercial and government fleets of trucks, buses, and tractor trailers are leading the charge toward cleaner fuels. Guest blogger Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, Columbia Riverkeeper’s Community Organizer, calls for a message to be sent to keep $85 million out of the Washington State Transportation Package. KC Golden cries foul on those who label protesters hypocrites for using fossil fuels even as they advocate for a clean energy economy. Kristen Sheeran urges pressure on the Oregon State Legislature to resist attempts to roll back recently won clean fuels legislation.