Tuesday, October 28, 2014

IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change. What does it mean for the Caribbean?IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change. What does it mean for the Caribbean?

The Caribbean’s response to Climate Change is grounded in a firm regional commitment, policy and strategy. Our three foundation documents – The Liliendaal Declaration (July 2009), The Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change (July 2009) and its Implementation Plan (March 2012) – are the basis for climate action in the region.

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscores the importance, scientific rigour and utility of these landmark documents. The IPCC’s latest assessment confirms the Caribbean Community’s longstanding call to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius as outlined in the Liliendaal Declaration. At the Nations Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) Meeting in 2009, which took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Caribbean Community indicated to the world community that a global temperature rise above 1.50C would seriously affect the survival of the community.

In 2010 at the UNFCCC COP Meeting in Cancun, governments agreed that emissions ought to be kept at a level that would ensure global temperature increases would be limited to below 20C. At that time, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which includes the Caribbean, re-iterated that any rise in temperature above 1.50C would seriously affect their survival and compromise their development agenda. The United Nations Human Development Report (2008) and the State of the World Report (2009) of The Worldwatch Institute supports this position and have identified 20C as the threshold above which irreversible and dangerous Climate Change will become unavoidable.

Accordingly, the Caribbean welcomes the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report prepared by over 2000 eminent scientists. It verifies observations in the Caribbean that temperatures are rising, extreme weather events are occurring more frequently, sea levels are rising, and there are more incidences of coral bleaching. These climatic changes will further exacerbate the limited availability of fresh water, agricultural productivity, result in more erosion and inundation, and increase the migration of fish from the Caribbean to cooler waters and more hospitable habitats. The cumulative effect is reduced food security, malnutrition, and productivity, thus increasing the challenges to achieving poverty reduction and socio-economic development.

The report notes that greenhouse gases emissions, the cause of Climate Change, continues to rise at an ever increasing rate. Unless this trend is arrested and rectified by 2050, global temperatures could rise by at least 4°C by 2100. This would be catastrophic for the Caribbean. However, the report is not all gloom and doom. More than half of the new energy plants for electricity are from renewable resources, a trend that must accelerate substantially if the goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C by 2100 is to remain feasible.

The IPCC AR5 Report should therefore serve as a further wake up call to our region that we cannot continue on a business as usual trajectory. It is an imperative that Climate Change be integrated in every aspect of the region’s development agenda, as well as its short, medium and long-term planning. The region must also continue to aggressively engage its partners at the bilateral and multilateral levels to reduce their emissions. The best form of adaptation is reduction in emissions level.

Dr Kenrick Leslie

The IPCC will adopt the Synthesis Report of the AR5 in Copenhagen, Denmark in late October 2014. Caribbean negotiators are already preparing to ensure that the most important information from the report are captured in the Synthesis Report.

See the highlights of the Caribbean Launch of the UN IPCC AR5 Report in this video:

Learn more about the implications of the IPCC AR5 Report via www.caribbeanclimate.bz and @CaribbeanClimate.

* Dr Kenrick Leslie is the Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, the regional focal point for Climate Change.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Micropower’s Quiet Takeover

In a cover story and article 14 years ago about the emergent disruption of utilities, The Economist’s Vijay Vaitheeswaran coined the umbrella term “micropower” to mean sources of electricity that are relatively small, modular, mass-producible, quick-to-deploy, and hence rapidly scalable—the opposite of cathedral-like power plants that cost billions of dollars and take about a decade to license and build.

His term combined two kinds of micropower: renewables other than big hydroelectric dams, and cogeneration of electricity together with useful heat in factories or buildings (also known as combined-heat-and-power, or CHP).

Besides being cost-competitive and rapidly scalable, why does micropower matter? First, as explained below, its operation releases little or no carbon.[1] Second, micropower enables individuals, communities, building owners, and factory operators to generate electricity, displacing dependence on centralized, inefficient, dirty generators. This democratizes energy choices, promotes competition, speeds learning and innovation, and can further accelerate deployment—because “vernacular” technologies accessible to many diverse market actors, even if individually small, tend to deploy faster in sum than a few big units requiring specialized institutions, complex approvals, intricate logistics, and hence long lead times.

Thanks to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which tracks investments and generating capacity, and the global expert network REN21.net, which tracks capacity and (where known) electrical output, global progress in renewables has become rather transparent. Starting in 2005 and updated with a fifth edition in July 2014, RMI’s Micropower Database added a third source: industry sales data for cogeneration equipment. Tracking renewables, minus big hydro, plus cogeneration, this database documents the global progress of distributed, rapidly scalable, and (as we’ll see) no- or low-carbon generators.

The update’s most astonishing finding: micropower now produces about one-fourth of the world’s total electricity (Fig. 1).


Operating modern renewables is essentially carbon-free, except for minor subsets fueled by biomass grown using unsustainable practices that gradually deplete soil carbon.[2] Of the estimated 3–5 percent of cogeneration fueled by biomass, most is in the forest products industry, whose biomass wastes produce most of its electricity and process heat.

Cogeneration in refineries often burns waste fuels that would otherwise be uselessly flared. Similarly, much industrial cogeneration harnesses waste heat previously thrown away. Where extra fuel is burned to make electricity as well as heat, typically far less is burned than when making them separately. If cogeneration also produces cooling and other services, it can convert as much as 93 percent of fuel energy into useful work, both in industry and in buildings. Moreover, the natural gas that fuels most cogeneration is only about half as carbon-intensive as the coal-fired power-only generation it often displaces.[3]

Big hydroelectric dams and nuclear power are also carbon-free in operation. Thus in 2013, nearly half of the world’s electricity was produced with little or no carbon release: 8.4 percent by modern renewables [4], 10.2 percent by nuclear power (set to be overtaken by modern renewables in 2015), 15.5 percent by cogeneration [5], and 13.5 percent by big hydroelectric dams (excluding the 2.8 percent small hydro classified under modern renewables).

The other half came from power-only plants, burning mainly coal. Those plants cost more to build, and often more just to run, than their competitors, so their orders are fading, their operations are dwindling, and over decades, they’ll retire in favor of cleaner, cheaper substitutes—both micropower and efficient use.


Far from recognizing that they’re being rapidly overtaken, many advocates of coal or nuclear power stations don’t even acknowledge micropower as an important competitor—even as it grabs their markets and destroys their sales. In 2009, a senior strategic planner for a major nuclear vendor told me micropower was trivial—having failed to find it in official databases of utility-owned central power stations, without understanding the difference. And even at minor market share, micropower can have major effects. The solar 4.7 percent of Germany’s 2013 generation destroyed the incumbent utilities’ business model and wiped a half-trillion Euros off their market cap. More


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mismanaging Climate Change

Pakistan’s extreme vulnerability to climate change is not a scientific secret but is, in fact, a logical certainty owing to its geographic location, inclined elevation, as well as demographics.

Former Minister Malik Amin Aslam Khan

The issue directly impacts upon the country’s already volatile water dynamics driven by the northern glaciers and the seasonal monsoon rains and, if not managed properly, could burden our economy to the tune of $6-14 billion per year (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change NEEDS study 2010). In response to this challenge, Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy has laid out a comprehensive ‘to do’ list for the government, which was approved by the government but, unfortunately, has not been acted upon by the authorities. Oblivious to this apathy and inaction, Pakistan continues to face a mammoth challenge to not only climate-proof its future development path, but also take steps to cope with an issue, which is here to stay. These steps include establishing early warning systems, effective flood plain management, improving weather forecasting with cross-border data exchange and enhancing the disaster preparedness, as well as emergency response capabilities to deal with predicted climate-induced natural disasters.

To their credit, previous governments did begin to take concrete institutional building measures, such as establishing a very high-level Prime Minister’s Cabinet Committee on Climate Change, setting up a dedicated Ministry of Climate Change built on the debris of a misguidedly devolved Environment Ministry and creating a focused climate research centre i.e., the Global Change Impact Studies Centre. However, in one stroke of convenient denial, the present government has undone and dismantled all those measures by downgrading the ministry to a division level, drastically cutting the funds for the division, leaving it headless without an appointed minister and also drying up all finances for the climate research centre. It is, thus, not surprising, that the country received a rude wake-up call when, during the recent floods, the forces of nature once again caught it totally off guard and institutionally ill-prepared to deal with a situation, which had been predicted and forewarned time and again by climate experts.

The 2014 flood came in two surges. The first surge occurred due to exceptionally high rainfall in the rivers Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and their catchments. It is a recorded fact that the Pakistan meteorological office gave clear warnings about this enhanced rainfall activity, which were not heeded to in a timely manner. The result of this negligence was that the Mangla Dam remained filled to the brim, while storm waters gathered upstream and, subsequently, the floodgates were forced open at the worst possible time when water levels were already dangerously peaking downstream. Had the water been incrementally released, as advised, the massive flood surge that eventually occurred could have been effectively prevented. Dams remain a double-edged sword — if used intelligently, they can be the best tool for controlling and regulating floods, but if used improperly, as they were on this occasion, they can quickly convert floods into mega human disasters.

This first human-induced deluge was followed by the second flood surge that occurred due to the unpredictably high ‘cloud-burst’ in Indian-held Kashmir. The information about this second surge was also received hours in advance as the water roared down River Chenab. Again, our own meteorological office issued a timely flood peak warning, but again, the reaction time and response measures of our government were found severely lacking.

The floods were triggered by climate-induced cloud-bursts and monsoonal shifts, but the human tragedy and destruction got multiplied due to poor government planning, human negligence and a criminal mixture of absence and apathy of relevant institutional response mechanisms.

Climate related calamities, including more flooding and an enhanced frequency of freak natural events are, unequivocally, predicted for Pakistan and it is time to take these warnings seriously, and for the government to heed to them by planning to deal with the consequences, limiting the damage and adapting to this shifting scenario. The recent floods, which are surely not the last one, have also rudely exposed the human, economic and environmental costs to be paid for our politically motivated aversion to building large dams, as well as the suicidal trend of encroaching upon flood plains and continuing to challenge the flood water boundaries.

Pakistan lies at the geographic crossroads of melting glaciers, shifting monsoons and enhanced disaster activity. This locational risk cannot be changed, but how we deal with this looming catastrophe can certainly be changed. What it requires is better responsive measures and heeding to technical advice and scientifically based warnings with timely decisions.

The political optics of wading through floodwaters and post disaster bear hugs with destitute and frustrated victims is beginning to lose its vote-gathering lustre. As we haplessly subject millions to avoidable disasters, it is time to face up to reality. Climate-proofing of infrastructure, conserving the yearly deluge of water that is callously flushed into the Arabian Sea and effectively enforced flood plains management needs to get the priority it deserves. The politics of underpasses and overpasses has to give way to the politics of common sense, based on what Pakistan’s real challenges are and what it is predicted to face up to in the near future. Governing with confused priorities and institutional mismanagement will continue to worsen the responses forced upon us as we face up to the unpredictability of climate change. More

Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2014.



Monday, October 20, 2014

Turks & Caicos Joins The Caribbean's Renewable Energy Race

Governor Peter Beckingham

New York, October 16,2014— Tlirks & Caicos fTCI) deepened its commitment to advancing renewable energy by joining the Carbon War Room's Ten Island Challenge today.

The Premier of Turks and Caicos, the Honorable Doctor Rufus Ewing, and Carbon War Room Operation Director, Justine Locke, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, committing to work together to reduce the island's dependence on fossil fuels through increased renewable energy production and improved energy efficiency.

"With the addition of Turks & Caicos, the Ten Island Challenge continues to expand its efforts to transform Caribbean economies and help the region achieve independence from fossil fuels."Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Carbon War Room

The Ten Island Challenge, driven by partners Carbon War Room and Rocky Mountain Institute, provides the Government of TCI the opportunity and platform to define and realize its own vision of a clean economy. In order to achieve this vision, the Carbon War Room and Rocky Mountain Institute will provide a range of technical, project management, communications, and business advisory support services.

The MOU signing builds on a commitment made by the Governor of Turks and Caicos, Peter Beckingham at the Creating Climate Wealth Islands Summit in February 2014, when Turks & Caicos expressed interest in joining the Challenge

The Ten Island Challenge

The Ten Island Challenge works to accelerate the transition of Caribbean island economies from a heavy dependence on fossil fuels to renewable resources. Caribbean economies suffer from some of the highest electricity prices in the world—contributing to their national debts, and slowing efforts toward sustainable development. Despite an abundance of sun and wind, Caribbean islands have implemented relatively low amounts of renewables to date. The Ten Island Challenge is tackling this by identifying the technical and commercial solutions that can facilitate low-carbon energy use in the Caribbean.

In 2013, Sir Richard Branson committed his home of Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands to serve as a 'demo' island in the Challenge, and, in February of this year, US energy giant NRG Energy was awarded the contract to transition the island to renewables. More






Friday, October 17, 2014

The Smithsonian Institution Announces an Official Climate Change Statement

Living in the Anthropocene: Prospects for Climate, Economics, Health, and Security

In conjunction with the one-day symposium "Living in the Anthropocene: Prospects for Climate, Economics, Health, and Security," the Smithsonian has released the following statement on climate change:

Rapid and long-lasting climate change is a topic of growing concern as the world looks to the future. Scientists, engineers and planners are seeking to understand the impact of new climate patterns, working to prepare our cities against the perils of rising storms and anticipating threats to our food, water supplies and national security. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that the global climate is warming as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases generated by human activities. A pressing need exists for information that will improve our understanding of climate trends, determine the causes of the changes that are occurring and decrease the risks posed to humans and nature.

Climate change is not new to the Smithsonian—our scholars have investigated the effects of climate change on natural systems for more than 160 years. We look at processes that occurred millions of years ago alongside developments taking place in today’s climate system.

The Smithsonian responds to climate change in four ways: by increasing knowledge of the human and natural environment through research; by making our findings available to the public; by protecting the Institution’s core asset, the national collections; and by operating our facilities and programs in a sustainable manner.

Research underlies all that we do. Scholars use the Smithsonian’s unparalleled collection of more than 138 million objects and specimens, together with our global network of marine and terrestrial monitoring stations, to examine climate change through multiple lenses. Smithsonian research scientists use satellite- and place-based sensors to study the changing composition of air, water and soil. They study climate history at geological and archaeological field sites around the world. Finally, they excel at baseline studies carried out over decades, which are recognized as essential to tracking the long-term effects of climate change.

The 500 Smithsonian scientists working around the world see the impact of a warming planet each day in the course of their diverse studies. A sample of our investigations includes anthropologists learning from the Native people of Alaska, who see warming as a threat to their 4,000-year-old culture; marine biologists tracking the impacts of climate change on delicate corals in tropical waters; and coastal ecologists investigating the many ways climate change is affecting the Chesapeake Bay.

The dissemination of knowledge gained through research is a public responsibility of the Smithsonian. Our scientists continually communicate with the scholarly community through publications and academic interactions. At the same time, the Smithsonian’s unique combination of museums and interconnected array of traveling exhibitions, publications, media and Web-based tools provide platforms to reach hundreds of millions of people each year across the world. Our goal is to explain in clear and objective terms the causes and effects of climate change as documented in our research and the research of our colleagues.

The Smithsonian has assembled collections of scientific specimens unsurpassed anywhere else in the world. These collections provide invaluable documentation of cultures and global biodiversity for scientists, scholars and the public. Extreme weather, rising sea levels and storm surges pose significant threats to the museums and research centers that house these collections, many of them located on low-lying land. Our charge is to protect, now and far into the future, this irreplaceable resource from the impacts of climate change and other hazards.

We are always striving to operate in ways that minimize the Smithsonian’s environmental footprint, meeting Institutional goals to decrease the use of potable water and fossil fuels, reduce direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and increase use of renewable energy. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is set to be the "greenest" Smithsonian museum yet, designed to achieve a LEED Gold rating, and the new Mathias Laboratory building at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is on track to receive LEED Platinum certification.

The Smithsonian will continue, as it has for more than a century and a half, to produce basic scientific information about climate change and to explore the cultural and historical significance of these changes. The urgency of climate change requires that we boost and expand our efforts to increase public knowledge and that we inspire others through education and by example. We live in what has come to be called the Anthropocene, or "The Age of Humans." The Smithsonian is committed to helping our society make the wise choices needed to ensure that future generations inherit a diverse world that sustains our natural environments and our cultures for centuries to come. More



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ebola and Climate Change: ‘We Are Running Out of Time,’ says World Bank President

Not acting on climate change could have the same results as the inaction on Ebola with significant human and economic impact, warned World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim in a speech Friday to the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Group annual meeting. He said that addressing both would further the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

Jim Yong Kim President World Bank

“In a world where natural disasters, conflict, financial shocks and epidemics are becoming more frequent and destructive, we at the World Bank Group must do everything we can to become even more relevant,” he said. “Indeed, we’ve been fully engaged lately in fighting two of these global threats: the Ebola epidemic and climate change.”

Ebola and climate change have a few things in common,” he said. “Most importantly, we are running out of time to find solutions to both. Also, until very recently, the plans to fight them were either nonexistent or inadequate. And inaction is literally killing people–one because of the rapid spread of a deadly virus, the other from the poisoning of the atmosphere and the oceans. And finally, perhaps most critically from our point of view, resolving these problems is essential to development, whether from the perspective of human suffering, economic growth or public health.”

Kim, an infectious disease physician, called the initial global response to Ebola “inadequate and slow” but said “Once engaged, we’ve moved with creativity, speed and purpose.” He said that the World Bank’s world on climate change over the last two years provided a blueprint for its response to Ebola.

“Soon after I started at the World Bank [July 2012], I asked my team a simple question: What’s the plan to fight climate change?” he said. “The responses received from our staff and even from leaders in the climate change community were mostly tactical: new technologies here, some efficiencies there. While important, they were not equal to the challenge of keeping a global increase in temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. So, working with others, we developed our own strategy that we hoped could take us a long way toward achieving this objective.”

That five-part plan including carbon pricing, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, building cleaner cities, encouraging climate-friendly agriculture, and investing in renewable energy sources. He described in detail the World Bank’s campaign on carbon pricing: building a coalition of cooperating governments and businesses.

“At the start of the campaign, we counted 22 countries that would support this goal,” said Kim. “With lobbying, the number kept climbing. Less than a week before the deadline, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, agreed to support carbon pricing. It became the 54th country to endorse the statement. In the four days before the [UN Climate] summit, 20 more countries signed on. At the time of the announcement, 74 governments and more than 1,000 companies and investors had agreed to put a price on carbon. Together, the countries account for up to 54 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, 52 percent of the world’s GDP and nearly 50 percent of the world’s population.”

“Later today, ministers, CEOs and the World Bank Climate Group will join me to turn this pledge into action,” he said.

“We must maintain this commitment because increasing global fragility and volatility will challenge us more and more every day,” he concluded. “In our march to end extreme poverty, conflict, typhoons, floods, droughts, financial shocks and epidemics may at times slow us. But they will not stop us. The Bank will be aggressive and creative and apply large-scale solutions to help states manage, prepare for, recover from and conquer these risks, so they can grow and flourish.” More


Monday, October 13, 2014

I'm fighting to keep my home above water

My name is Milañ Loeak, I’m from the Marshall Islands, and I bring you a message on behalf of my Climate Warrior brothers and sisters from across Oceania.

You've probably heard it all before -- that the climate is changing, that the ocean is rising, that my home in the islands will be the first to go. But the people of the Pacific are not drowning, we are fighting. And the biggest threat to our homes is the fossil fuel industry.

So here's how we're fighting back: there's a coal port in Newcastle, Australia and it's the largest in the world, shipping approximately 617,000 tons of coal every single day. If the port were a country, it would be the 9th highest emitting country in the world. That’s why I have travelled to Australia to shut it down for a day.

Using traditional canoes, I and 30 other Pacific Climate Warriors are going to paddle into the oncoming path of coal ships. Behind us will be hundreds of Australians in kayaks, on surfboards and whatever else they can find, united with us as we stand up to the fossil fuel industry.

But we need more than hundreds of Australians standing with us -- we are going to need you too.

The fossil fuel industry will try to dismiss us. They will launch their PR machine to say that we are just a small group acting alone and that we do not speak for others. But we know that we are not acting alone. We are standing with front line communities around the world when we say it is time to end our addiction to fossil fuels before it destroys our homes, our communities, and our culture.

As the Pacific Climate Warriors paddle into the water on October 17th, show that you stand with us -- click here to sign on to our call for solidarity.

Stopping one day of coal exports alone won't keep our homes above water, but it marks the rise of the Pacific Climate Warriors, and the beginning of our defense of the Pacific Islands.

I ask you to join us in this fight -- because we cannot save the Pacific Islands on our own.

Warm Pacific wishes,

Milañ Loeak, Republic of the Marshall Islands

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Iowa Roots: Speaking Truth to Power

James Hansen writes: I was lucky to be born in Iowa. The nature of my childhood and later education at the State University of Iowa, odd as it seems, have relevance to fundamental political matters that I hope Iowans will think about. I will argue that Iowa could alter our nation’s course on energy and climate, matters of monumental importance to our children and indeed to all life on Earth.

James Hansen

I was born in 1941 in a small farmhouse in western Iowa, the fifth of seven children. My father was an itinerant tenant farmer, moving from one farm to another, sharing crops with the owner.

By 1945 small farms were disappearing. My father took a job as bartender and we moved a small house to a lot in Denison Iowa. Our life then seems hard by today’s standards. There were three bedrooms for nine of us. Even after we got a septic system the toilet was in the cellar, which required going outdoors. The only sink was in the kitchen, which was also the dining room. Washing up was done in turn, quickly. Our parents quarreled vehemently when our mother took a job as a waitress. I shrank in fear from our father’s angry voice.

Yet it was a good life to grow up in small town Iowa in a time of rising expectations. Today’s young people face a harder situation, with diminishing opportunities. That hurts deeply because, as I will explain, it is unnecessary, a result of tragic political machinations for which we adults must accept responsibility.

Politics back then was simpler. My father shouted “give ‘em Hell, Harry!” and slapped the table while listening to President Truman on the radio. My father called the Republican Party “the rich man’s party.” But shortly before my parents divorced he took me to listen to General Eisenhower speaking from the back of a train, as he came through Denison on a whistle-stop campaign trip in 1952. My father decided that he “liked Ike”, so he voted Republican.

Politicians were more honest regarding fundamental situations. Truman was blunt, with courage to remove war-hero MacArthur, thus maintaining civilian control of policy. Eisenhower warned us about the rising military-industrial complex. Below I contrast this with today’s situation.

It was easier in those days for young people to get ahead. I had a paper route from 3rd grade and by high school was the distributor of the Omaha World Herald for Denison (competing with the Des Moines Register for customers). From such a job I could save enough for college, where costs were within reach of all. Costs today have exploded. With our federal government in cahoots with banks, many college students look forward to decades of debt, not a better life.

My good fortune was to go to the University of Iowa. Professor James Van Allen was building instruments in the basement of the physics building, including the one on the first U.S. satellite, which discovered Earth’s radiation belts. In an exciting research environment Prof. Van Allen taught us how science works. The only “authority” was the rigorous objectivity of science.

Prof. Van Allen did not shirk from speaking truth to power and the public. When microwave ovens were introduced and fear of microwave radiation began to spread, Prof. Van Allen offered to sit on a microwave oven while it cooked his dinner. He helped quell irrational fear.

Prof. Van Allen told me about new data on the planet Venus. It led me to study why Venus was so hot and to propose an instrument for a mission to Venus after I joined NASA. The extreme heat on Venus turned out to be caused by the large amount of CO2 in the planet’s atmosphere.

CO2 was known to be increasing rapidly on Earth, because of our burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. What would it mean for life on our planet? I formed a small team at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies to study the problem.

We showed that Earth was warming by the amount expected due to the CO2 increase. Later we showed that Earth was out of energy balance: Earth is absorbing more energy from the sun than it is radiating to space as heat. This confirms the most fundamental physics, as it is the added CO2 that reduces heat radiation to space. The conclusion is based on data, not models.

One implication: more warming is “in the pipeline”, without additional increase of atmospheric CO2. In turn, it follows that CO2 emissions must be reduced rapidly or young people in coming decades will face unacceptable consequences: continually retreating shorelines, shifting climate zones with extermination of many species, increasing occurrence of climate extremes with widespread disruption to food and water supplies, more severe droughts and heat waves, more damaging forest fires, stronger storms, and greater flooding.

Implications for energy policy are crystal clear. Most remaining fossil fuels must be left in the ground, unless the CO2 is captured and buried. There is no serious scientific debate about this.

Remarkably, scientific analysis also shows that the policies needed to achieve fossil fuel phasedown would also address problems such as underemployment and growing income disparities. Why are such policies not pursued, if they are in the best interests of the public?

I learned why when I worked for the government. I was repeatedly warned not to connect the dots in the climate problem all the way to policy implications. End steps must be left to “policy-makers” and, it turns out, to special interests. NASA did not want to annoy the powers that be.

Scientists are trained to analyze complex problems and connect all the dots. If we fail to tell the whole story clearly, if we shirk speaking truth to power, we fail our children and grandchildren.

The truth is that present energy and climate policies of the United States and the United Nations are dishonest and tragic.

Out of one side of their mouths our leaders profess to understand that we have a planet in peril and that we must rapidly phase down CO2 emissions. At the same time they encourage pursuit of almost every fossil fuel that can be found, while knowing that such policies make achievement of climate goals impossible.

The fundamental reason that fossil fuel emissions continue to increase is that they appear to the consumer to provide the cheapest energy. This apparent cheapness is a mirage. Why? (1) We subsidize fossil fuels directly, and indirectly by protecting supply lines. (2) Impacts of air and water pollution are borne by the public; e.g., if your child gets asthma, you pay the costs, not the fossil fuel company. (3) Costs of climate catastrophes are borne by the victims and taxpayers.

We should make the price of fossil fuels honest by collecting a gradually rising carbon fee from fossil fuel companies. It is easy to collect, at domestic mines and ports of entry. 100% of the collected money should be given to the public, an equal amount to each legal resident, distributed electronically to bank accounts or debit cards. Not one dime to the government.

The person doing better than average in limiting his “carbon footprint” will make money. He will have an incentive to reduce fossil fuel use via future purchases. Entrepreneurs will have an incentive to develop no-carbon products. Businesses will be able to plan energy investments.

Detailed economic studies show that a carbon fee of $10 per ton of CO2, increasing $10 each year, will reduce U.S. CO2 emissions 33% in 10 years. That is 12 times more than the amount of carbon in the oil that would be carried by the Keystone XL pipeline.

While a tax would depress the economy, a fee with 100% of the money distributed to the public spurs the economy. After 10 years national employment increases 2.1 million jobs! The simple explanation is that honest pricing of energy makes the economy more efficient.

I should explain why I say that our governments’ policies are “dishonest and tragic.” They are dishonest because they pretend that policies that try to “cap” emissions could actually phase down emissions rapidly, for example the “cap-and-trade” of the Kyoto Protocol or Democratic bills in Congress. These amount to tax increases, they depress the economy, and they reduce emissions very little. And what “cap” would India accept – three times that of the U.S.? This is why governments allow all fossil fuel development, fracking, deep-ocean and Arctic drilling, mountaintop removal – because they know that their carbon policies are ineffectual.

Why tragic? Because policies that would actually work, fee-and-dividend in particular, do not cost the economy anything. They would spur the economy, create jobs, and modernize our infrastructure as we move to clean energies and energy efficiency.

Is it possible that Iowa, perhaps in cooperation with one or more neighboring states, such as Nebraska, Minnesota or Wisconsin, could help avert the tragedy? I believe it is conceivable that Midwest common sense could affect national and international policies by providing an example. A regional carbon fee cannot rise too high without disadvantaging local industry, because states do not have the practical ability to impose border tax adjustments. However, up to a reasonable level the net effect of a carbon fee would be beneficial, if the proceeds went to the public.

There is a conservative tendency in the Midwest. But conservatives are not the enemy of the planet. Historically conservatives have been the environments best friend. Conservation and creation care should be in the blood of conservatives.

A political divide has developed because conservatives fear that liberals will use the climate issue to increase taxes and government intrusion into their lives. These concerns provide fertile ground for anti-science nut-cases (global warming is a hoax!) to flourish.

Most conservatives I know are thoughtful. They do not want to go down in history as being responsible for blocking effective action to stabilize climate. Gaining their support for a rising revenue-neutral carbon fee, which is in fact a conservative approach, is possible.

A rigorously nonpartisan organization, Citizens Climate Lobby, has grown rapidly in the past several years. Their objective is to promote fee-and-dividend. They are unfailingly polite and respectful, but also knowledgeable and determined. They have met with legislators in almost all states. They could be a valuable resource in helping to organize a Midwest climate initiative.

Finally, I point out that, although a gradually rising carbon fee is the essential foundation for a successful policy to rapidly phase down our fossil fuel addiction, there are other requirements. The crucial technical need is abundant affordable carbon-free electricity generation.

Today, except for limited hydroelectric and biomass power plants, there are two options for baseload electricity: fossil fuels and nuclear power. We will not be able to phase out fossil fuel power plants without major contributions from nuclear power.

Most nuclear power plants in operation today are of a 40-50 year-old technology, yet they have saved millions of lives by displacing fossil fuel power plants. Fossil fuel air pollution kills more than 3.7 million people per year globally. Pollution is much less in the U.S. than in China or India, yet thousands of people are killed by it every year in the U.S. In contrast the one major nuclear accident in the U.S., at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, may result in the death of 1-2 people, which is undetectable among the 40,000 cancer deaths that will occur from other causes among the Pennsylvania residents exposed to radiation.

Modern nuclear technology has major improvements including passive shutdown in case of emergency and an ability to cool the nuclear fuel without external power. It is also possible to include reactors in the nuclear fleet that “burn” nuclear waste and utilize 99% of the energy in the nuclear fuel, compared with less than 1% in the older technology. Thus the nuclear waste problem can be solved and, if we choose, we can stop mining uranium because we have shown that an inexhaustible amount of nuclear fuel can be sieved from the ocean.

There is an analogy between the nuclear and aircraft industries. At the time of the earliest airplanes, who would have imagined that we would fly huge aircraft with more than 100 people at altitudes of 10 miles without parachutes! If a window broke at that altitude, everyone could die! So we worked on the technology. Now the chance you will lose your life by flying from New York to LA is much smaller than if you drove your car. Yes, there is still danger, especially due to human error, and we must be vigilant and develop control systems to minimize danger.

President Clinton in his State-of-the-Union message in 1993 made the chilling announcement that he was eliminating unnecessary programs such as nuclear power research and development. However, nuclear technology is not disappearing from Earth, on the contrary, and if the U.S. drifts further toward technical mediocrity, leaving nuclear leadership to nations such as Russia, the world will be a more dangerous place. If the United States chooses to focus on being a petro-state, the economic well-being of our children eventually will decline further.

Fortunately, all clean energy technologies would be spurred by the carbon fee-and-dividend approach, providing a broad revival of our technology leadership in many areas, especially clean energies which should all be free to compete rather than specified by politicians. The result would be greatly improved economic well-being for future generations.

It is not always easy to speak truth to power, but all citizens have the opportunity if they choose. I have one minor, easy suggestion for you to consider, and another requiring more effort. More


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Online Course: Climate Change Science and Negotiations

Climate Change Science and Negotiation

Course Summary

Humanity has just about run out of time to address climate change. Scientists have pointed out that a rise in mean surface temperature of 2º Celsius above pre-industrial levels will put the Earth in dangerous, uncharted territory. Yet we currently are on a path toward an increase of 4º or more this century. The last chance for action has arrived. That chance lies in Paris in December 2015. Either governments will agree to decisive action, as they have promised, or we will look back at 2015 as the year when climate sanity slipped through our fingers.

Fortunately, solutions exist to deeply decarbonize the global energy systems, and put the world on a 2°C pathway: improvements in energy efficiency in the building, transport and industry sectors; the generation of low-carbon electricity, through a mix of renewable energies (wind, solar), nuclear, and fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS); and the shift to low-carbon energy carriers in energy end-use sectors, such as electric vehicles.

"Climate Change Science and Negotiations" is a two-semester course, with the first semester launching in fall 2014. During the first semester, you will learn about these solutions, and how they can be applied in different national contexts, based on the results from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), a global initiative to show how countries can transition to a low carbon economy by 2050, and how the world can stay within the 2°C limit.

The second semester of the course, which will open for registration in late fall 2014, will be a dynamic online climate change negotiation. The negotiation will be modeled on the real negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which are scheduled to reach an agreement in Paris in December 2015, at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21). The outcomes of the second semester simulated negotiations will be presented to global leaders in advance of COP21.

We need you to show the world how an ambitious, fair and effective global agreement on climate change can be achieved. More