United States Extreme Weather Event

Drought in the State of California

Since 2012, California has suffered from a drought that reached its peak in the years 2014-2017. Characterized as an extended dry period caused by lack of precipitation and/or reduction in groundwater, the drought came at a tremendous cost to California and other surrounding states. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that the drought cost the state US$2.7 billion, largely in lost agricultural productivity and employment. Additionally, the drought increased the severity of wildfires and floods, destroying millions of trees and billions of dollars worth of property. As of early 2017, the drought has largely ended in northern California, but parts remain under extreme drought conditions in southern California.

While it is difficult to link individual weather events to climate change, researchers at Stanford University have suggested reduced atmospheric pressure—and subsequent reduced precipitation—as the root cause of the drought. They suggest that such a severe drought would not have occurred to the same extent without global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Another study connected increased global average temperatures from climate change with greater soil moisture evaporation, which increased the severity of the drought.

While the drought emergency has not yet been lifted by governor Jerry Brown, it is expected to be lifted within the next six weeks. Despite the hardship the state endured over the past five years, water policy has not improved as much as necessary to protect the state in the event of another drought like this one. However, water usage in the state remains greatly reduced from pre-drought levels, and monitoring and reporting practices are in the process of being made permanent fixtures of California law.

Learn More

Costs of the drought in 2015:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2015/08/19/california-drought-cost-27-billion-2015/32007967/

Studies linking drought and climate change:
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/september/drought-climate-change-092914.html
https://thinkprogress.org/how-much-of-californias-drought-was-caused-by-climate-change-scientists-now-have-the-answer-56ae9e33555f#.amp1gp8nh

Post-drought outlook for California:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/us/california-drought-snowpack.html?_r=0

United States Media Organizations

Broadcast Media

National Public Radio (NPR) is an independent radio broadcast organization funded by the government and with donations from the public.

From the NPR website: “NPR is a nationally acclaimed, non-profit multimedia organization and the leading provider of noncommercial news, information and entertainment programming to the American public. Launched in 1970 as a radio network by a group of public radio stations, today NPR is among the most successful news organizations in America and a growing presence in digital media including podcasting, mobile applications and social media.”

NPR airs environmental news daily, ranging from science to climate change to global environmental policy. The organization has no stated bias on climate change. They report about the US commitment to the Paris Agreement and about positions both pro and con regarding climate change.

Content Samples:

On January 25th, NPR published an article detailing the possible legal battle between California and the EPA’s potential new head, Scott Pruitt, over emissions standards in cars. California has always been granted a waiver to increase its emissions standards above the level set by the EPA, but in his confirmation hearing, Pruitt indicated he may not grant that waiver as head of the EPA. California governor Jerry Brown has vowed to fight the Trump administration and push for stronger climate-friendly policies in his home state and in others. This is an important issue because it calls to attention the likely inaction of the Trump administration on greenhouse gas reductions, but emphasizes the potential for states to act in climate-friendly ways despite the lack of support from the federal government.

On February 7th, NPR released an article fact-checking the claims of the Trump administration that policies to “bring back coal” would bring more revenue and jobs to the US while promoting a free market economy. The article showed that due to current trends, the energy market is shifting toward natural gas rather than coal because it is less expensive to produce and sell. Offering coal subsidies would increase energy prices and interfere with the free market, as well as inhibit the reduction of carbon emissions. This article is important because it holds accountable the energy industry and makes a case for “cleaner” fuel that releases less carbon.

Contact: An NPR program that frequently covers climate change issues is All Things Considered. One of the senior producers, Art Silverman, can be reached on Twitter using his handle @asilverman.

Press releases can be submitted here: http://help.npr.org/customer/portal/emails/new. The mailing address for the main office is: 1111 North Capitol St. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

http://www.npr.org/search/index.php?searchinput=climate
http://www.npr.org/series/9657621/climate-connections

Print Media

The New York Times is published by the New York Times Company. The contact page for the newspaper can be found here. The page recommends reaching out to an author directly through the link provided by clicking their byline.

The New York Times takes a strong stance supporting both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. They publish stories daily detailing recently-published climate studies, statements of politicians and corporate leaders on climate change and policy, international environmental policies, and other relevant stories. They also frequently release articles fact-checking claims by prominent Americans about climate change and energy policy.

Content Samples:

On February 5th, the New York Times published an article detailing the likely actions of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick for the EPA, to cut its operations and reduce its regulations. The article predicts that Pruitt will act more within the legal framework of the EPA in order to make cuts to cripple the agency in ways that would last far beyond the current administration.

On February 7th, they printed an article titled “No Data Manipulation in 2015 Climate Study, Researchers Say.” This article was a direct challenge to claims made over the past years that a study released in 2015 showing increased global temperatures was done to influence the adoption of the Paris Agreement. The article emphasizes that the study was based on sound methods and had no bearing on the decision of global leaders to adopt the agreement. This article is important because it challenges a common statement of climate change deniers that the “science” behind global warming is being faked in order to influence policy.

Contact: Henry Fountain is a science writer who covers topics relating to the environment and climate change. He can be reached through his contact form or his twitter handle @henryfountain.  https://www.nytimes.com/section/science/

Online Media

The Daily Climate is a website dedicated to disseminating news related to climate change and other environmental issues. It is run by Brian Bienkowski and works as an independent media organization without political bias. The website publishes original content and shares relevant articles from other reputable news organizations daily, often with comment from the editors.

The organization collects news from media outlets ranging from center right to center left, but generally supports legislation to mitigate climate change, as well as the Paris Agreement and the US’s involvement in it.

Content Samples:

Of the original content published recently by The Daily Climate, two pieces stand out. The first, titled “The Holocene climate experience,” describes previous human societies’ responses to large scale environmental change, noting that these societies generally took a strongly reactive approach and as such, saw extremely high early mortality rates or a complete end to their societies. The article warns that in the modern era with such a high population, our society is not equipped to deal with climate change and, if left unchecked, its effects will be catastrophic. This article is important because it emphasizes the importance of climate change mitigation, and of paying attention to history in our predictions for the future.

The other article is an essay titled: “Meteorologists and the sacred position between people and science.” This piece compares the role of meteorologists in the fight against climate change denial to the role of a pediatrician who suspects child abuse and has the legal obligation to report it, even without conclusive proof. The essay emphasizes that even without the acceptance of climate change by many American politicians, meteorologists have the responsibility to forecast decades into the future and prepare the public for the consequences of inaction on climate change.

Contact: The Daily Climate can be reached with press releases through their website. The mailing address is: The Daily Climate, 421 Park Street, Suite 4, Charlottesville, VA 22902. Brian Bienkowski can be reached at 434-220-0348 ext 416. http://www.dailyclimate.org/
Henry Fountain is a science writer who covers topics relating to the environment and climate change. He can be reached through his contact form or his twitter handle @henryfountain.
The New York Times is published by the New York Times Company. The contact page for the newspaper can be found here. The page recommends reaching out to an author directly through the link provided by clicking their byline.
The New York Times takes a strong stance supporting both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. They publish stories daily detailing recently-published climate studies, statements of politicians and corporate leaders on climate change and policy, international environmental policies, and other relevant stories. They also frequently release articles fact-checking claims by prominent Americans about climate change and energy policy.

Content Samples:
On February 5th, the New York Times published an article detailing the likely actions of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick for the EPA, to cut its operations and reduce its regulations. The article predicts that Pruitt will act more within the legal framework of the EPA in order to make cuts to cripple the agency in ways that would last far beyond the current administration.
On February 7th, they printed an article titled “No Data Manipulation in 2015 Climate Study, Researchers Say.” This article was a direct challenge to claims made over the past years that a study released in 2015 showing increased global temperatures was done to influence the adoption of the Paris Agreement. The article emphasizes that the study was based on sound methods and had no bearing on the decision of global leaders to adopt the agreement. This article is important because it challenges a common statement of climate change deniers that the “science” behind global warming is being faked in order to influence policy.

Online Media
Website: The Daily Climate
http://www.dailyclimate.org/
The Daily Climate is a website dedicated to disseminating news related to climate change and other environmental issues. It is run by Brian Bienkowski and works as an independent media organization without political bias. The website publishes original content and shares relevant articles from other reputable news organizations daily, often with comment from the editors.
The organization collects news from media outlets ranging from center right to center left, but generally supports legislation to mitigate climate change, as well as the Paris Agreement and the US’s involvement in it.
Content Samples:
Of the original content published recently by The Daily Climate, two pieces stand out. The first, titled “The Holocene climate experience,” describes previous human societies’ responses to large scale environmental change, noting that these societies generally took a strongly reactive approach and as such, saw extremely high early mortality rates or a complete end to their societies. The article warns that in the modern era with such a high population, our society is not equipped to deal with climate change and, if left unchecked, its effects will be catastrophic. This article is important because it emphasizes the importance of climate change mitigation, and of paying attention to history in our predictions for the future.
The other article is an essay titled: “Meteorologists and the sacred position between people and science.” This piece compares the role of meteorologists in the fight against climate change denial to the role of a pediatrician who suspects child abuse and has the legal obligation to report it, even without conclusive proof. The essay emphasizes that even without the acceptance of climate change by many American politicians, meteorologists have the responsibility to forecast decades into the future and prepare the public for the consequences of inaction on climate change.
The Daily Climate can be reached with press releases through their form here. The mailing address is: The Daily Climate, 421 Park Street, Suite 4, Charlottesville, VA 22902. Brian Bienkowski can be reached at 434-220-0348 ext 416.

United States Subnational Best Practices

Regions/Provinces/States

California—California’s work has had the most impact on national emissions, because of its large population and strong state policy. California’s Assembly Bill 32: the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 set a target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, representing a 15% reduction in 2006-level emissions in a period of 14 years. Implementation is supported by a core “Climate Action Team,” which includes 18 state government departments working hard to reduce state-wide emissions. It is largely funded by a fee collected from the highest emitting sources in California, namely power plants and factories. As one of the first emissions reduction plans in the US, Bill 32 is at the forefront of the fight against climate change and sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.

The California Energy Commission is also a strong player in the fight against climate change. The Commission runs California’s Renewable Energy Program, including the Renewables Portfolio Standard. The Renewables Portfolio Act requires that all electricity retailers obtain a minimum of 33% of their electricity from renewables by 2020. This works as a huge level of support for renewable electricity generation, and has worked to expand capacity not only in California, but in other states as well. Another important initiative in the fight against climate change is the Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System, inspired by California’s Renewables Portfolio Act, which is based in Salt Lake City and works to certify electricity in the western US as “green” while helping to expand capacity throughout the western region.

Because emissions from electricity generation represent the largest proportion of all US emissions, California’s actions to encourage renewable electricity generation while also requiring an overall emissions reduction represents a strong step forward in the fight against climate change, and works as an example to states across the country who may follow its lead.

In a show of defiance to the incoming Trump administration, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and legislative leaders said they would work directly with other nations and states to defend and strengthen what were already far and away the most aggressive policies to fight climate change in the nation. That includes a legislatively mandated target of reducing carbon emissions in California to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

“California can make a significant contribution to advancing the cause of dealing with climate change, irrespective of what goes on in Washington,” Mr. Brown said in an interview. “I wouldn’t underestimate California’s resolve if everything moves in this extreme climate denial direction. Yes, we will take action.” (NY Times Dec 28 Adam Nagourney and Henry Fountain, California at Forefront of Climate Fight, Won’t Back Down to Trump.”
Contact
Alana Matthews, Public Advisor
Telephone: 916-654-4489
Email: publicadviser@energy.ca.gov

New York—New York leads the nation in reducing emissions from transportation, with a state-wide vehicle miles traveled reduction target. The state also has stringent goals for reducing emissions, with a 40% overall reduction by 2030 with a 50% reduction by 2050, including a standard for 50% of electricity generated in New York to come from renewables. New York also emphasizes not only generation of energy, but end-use efficiency—the plan includes a target for a 23% decrease from 2012 levels in energy consumption of buildings.

A large portion of New York State’s success comes from New York City’s success in reducing emissions, and its stringent goals for the future. Together, the city and state lead the way in improving end use efficiency and conservation to reduce the overall amount of energy required, and therefore continue to reduce emissions.

Contact
Telephone: 518-862-1090
Email: info@nyserda.ny.gov

Massachusetts—Massachusetts is at the forefront of emissions reductions, with a plan signed into law in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% of 2005 levels by 2020, with a 80% reduction plan by 2050 to follow. By 2012, the state had already achieved a 24% emissions reduction, and is on target to overshoot its 2020 target.

A large contributor to the reductions is an increase in end-use efficiency, and another is the growth in renewable electricity generation. Recently, the state passed “An Act to Promote Energy Diversity,” a bill requiring the state to generate 1,600 megawatts from offshore wind. Construction of “Cape Wind,” a new offshore wind farm with a capacity of 468 megawatts, will begin soon.

Massachusetts has one of the most aggressive emissions reduction targets in the country, and works hard to create policies that will support these reductions. Based on its success so far, the state can stand as an example to other states in the nation to achieve their own reductions through policy and efficiency.

Contact
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Telephone: (617) 626-1000
Email: env.internet@state.ma.us

Learn More

California Assembly Bill 32:
https://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/ab32/ab32.htm

California Energy Commission:
http://energy.ca.gov

New York State Energy Plan:
https://energyplan.ny.gov

Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act:
http://www.mass.gov/eea/air-water-climate-change/climate-change/massachusetts-global-warming-solutions-act/

Cities

Boston, Massachusetts—Boston has committed to a 25% GHG emissions reduction by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050. The city hit its 2020 goal in 2014, and is currently aiming for a 35% emissions reduction goal. The city is committed to expanding its energy efficiency programs, increasing local and low-carbon energy sources—including direct energy and co-generation, and reducing emissions from public transportation, while reducing overall emissions from both residential and commercial buildings. Currently, the city has 14.3MW of installed solar power, and hopes to generate 15% of its energy from cogeneration by 2020. It has also committed to reducing vehicle miles traveled 5.5% from 2005 levels by 2020.

Contact
Boston’s Climate Action Plan can be found here: www.cityofboston.gov/eeos/pdfs/Greenovate Boston 2014 CAP Update_Full.pdf

Burlington, Vermont—Although Burlington is not a member of the Compact of Mayors, it is the first city in the US to be powered by 100% renewable energy. The city is also committed to reducing its GHG emissions from transportation to reduce its overall emissions.

Contact
Burlington’s Climate Action Plan can be found here: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/sites/default/files/CEDO/Sustainability/Climate%20Action%20Plan.pdf

New York, New York—New York City’s #OneNYC plan includes sustainability as one of its four pillars, and has so far been successful in accomplishing many of its goals, while maintaining a strict commitment to future targets. It is committed to an 80% GHG emissions reduction by 2050, with a commitment to reducing emissions from buildings 30% by 2025. In 2015, the city completely phased out the use of No. 6 fuel oil, the “dirtiest fuel oil,” and planted 1,000,000 new trees. Between 2013 and 2016, New York’s solar energy capacity tripled to become 75MW. Additionally, the city is committed to sending zero waste to landfills by 2030, and between 2014-2015 it increased the number of recycled goods by 5% while expanding its curbside organics collection program by more than 700,000 homes.

Contact
New York’s #OneNYC plan can be found here: http://www1.nyc.gov/html/onenyc/index.html

Oakland, California—Oakland is committed to a 36% reduction in GHG emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 and an 83% reduction by 2050. The commitment will be fulfilled through a reduction in vehicle miles traffic; a decrease in electricity consumption through renewable generation, conservation, and efficiency; a decrease in natural gas consumption through retrofitting buildings, expanding solar hot water capacity, and natural gas conservation. Additionally, the city will divert waste from landfills through waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting. By 2015, the city had reduced its GHG emissions by 14%.

Contact
Oakland’s Climate Action Plan can be found here: https://data.bloomberglp.com/mayors/sites/14/2015/08/Oakland-action-plan.pdf

Portland, Oregon—Portland is committed to a 40% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2050. By 2015, the city had reduced its emissions 14% from 1990 levels, with a 29% reduction in gasoline usage since 1990, and 3 million new trees planted since 1996. Additionally, the city’s overall recycling rate is 70% and currently over 250 green building projects are in progress.

Contact
Portland’s Climate Action Plan can be found here: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/531994

San Francisco, California—San Francisco is committed to an 80% reduction by 2050, with a commitment to supplying 100% of residential and 80% of commercial electricity from renewable sources by 2050. The city is also committed to reducing automobile travel 50% by 2017 and 80% by 2030. The San Francisco Energy Watch program helps businesses and individuals to complete energy efficiency projects, and by 2016 they had reduced GHG emissions by 53,367 mT. By 2015, San Francisco had reduced its citywide emissions 14.5% of 1995 levels.

Contact
San Francisco’s Climate Action Strategy can be found here: http://sfenvironment.org/sites/default/files/engagement_files/sfe_cc_ClimateActionStrategyUpdate2013.pdf

Seattle, Washington—Seattle is committed to reducing its GHG emissions 58% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. In order to accomplish its aggressive emissions reduction targets, it has incorporated input from community groups and individuals when writing its climate action plans. Seattle is committed to expanding public transit and walking/biking infrastructure. It is also committed to a 10% reduction in energy use of commercial buildings and a 20% reduction in energy use of residential buildings by 2030. Additionally, the city requires minimum energy performance standards for newly-constructed buildings and retrofitting of existing buildings to increase efficiency and reduce waste heat.

Contact
Seattle’s climate action plan can be found here: https://www.bbhub.io/mayors/sites/14/2015/08/2013_CAP_20130612.pdf

Washington D.C.—Washington DC is committed to an 80% GHG emissions reduction by 2050. By 2032, the district has committed to decreasing energy use by 50% and increasing the use of renewable energy by 50%, supplying 25% of the district’s food from within 100 miles of the city, and increasing public transit, walking, and biking to 75% of all commuter trips.

Contact
Washington D.C.’s sustainability plan can be found here: http://www.sustainabledc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/sustainable-dc-summary.pdf

Associations

US Climate Action Network—The goal of the Climate Action Network is to bring together a “bigger, better, and broader” network of organizations and communities working to combat climate change. The network includes over 150 organizations representing every state and climate interest.

Contact
Website:  http://www.usclimatenetwork.org/about-us/members

United States Leaders and Opponents

Government Official
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Gina McCarthy was appointed to the position of Administrator of the EPA by President Obama, and has been a strong proponent of clean air programs and limiting greenhouse gas emissions while emphasizing the importance of a strong economy. She was also instrumental in the Obama administration’s opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline. She is an outspoken proponent of measures to combat global warming.

Scott Pruitt will become the Administrator for the EPA under the Trump Administration starting January 20th if approved by Congress. Mr. Pruitt has been the Attorney General for the State of Oklahoma. He is a climate change denier and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. He has vowed to cancel US participation in the Paris Agreement and the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Contact: Environmental Protection Agency  1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20460 Telephone: 202-564-4700 https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/get-involved-epa-regulations

Climate Program Advocate
Al Gore
Former United States Vice-President

Since leaving the Vice Presidency Al Gore has focused much of his work on climate change. He is the creator of the landmark documentary film, Inconvenient Truth, which drew the world’s attention to the dangers of global warming. He is the Founder and Chairman of The Climate Reality Project whose mission is “to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis, making urgent action necessary at every level of society.”

Contact: http://www.climaterealityproject.org

Climate Program Advocate
Dr. James Hansen
Former NASA scientist and current Director of Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions program at Columbia University

Dr. Hansen is considered the “father of climate change” for his work to promote climate change awareness in the 1970s. He is an outspoken advocate of a carbon emissions tax, which he promoted at the Paris talks as a necessary element of the Paris Agreement. He often criticizes policies for not being strong enough to combat climate change, and works hard to bring awareness to climate change and develop solutions.

Contact: jeh1@columbia.edu

Climate Program Opponent
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe
Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works

Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe is an outspoken climate change denier who chairs the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works and has long been opposing clean air and emissions reduction legislation in the US Congress. He was instrumental in blocking many of President Obama’s initiatives for clean air and reduced emissions.

Contact:  https://www.inhofe.senate.gov

United States Leading Research Study

Research Study:  “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment,” published by The Global Change Research Program, 2016

In 2016, the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) published a report entitled, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.” This is perhaps the most important climate change research to come out of the United States in the past decade, because it shows the urgency of combating climate change.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change,” according to its website. It is funded through contributions from several branches of the US government, including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Energy, among many others.

The study was carried out by over 100 experts from 8 different government agencies, and is intended to, “inform public health officials, urban and disaster response planners, decision makers, and other stakeholders within and outside of government who are interested in better understanding the risks climate change presents to human health.”

“The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States” shows that current and future climate impacts expose many people in the United States to public health threats. Climate change has already and will continue to cause elevated temperatures, more frequent or severe weather patterns, and poor air quality. These in turn will have a variety of effects including the increased transmission of disease through food, water, and parasites; injury and death from extreme weather events, or exposure to toxic substances from damage due to these weather events; and stressors to mental health and well-being.

The report breaks the impacts of climate change into several categories: temperature related death and illness; extreme events; vector borne disease; water-related illnesses; food safety, nutrition, and disruption; and mental health and well-being. The report also includes a section on the populations of concern, in which it identifies the sectors of the population at heightened risk of climate change related consequences.

Effects of heightened temperatures include heat related death and illness, and worsened outdoor air quality which in turn can cause premature death or cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. Similarly, extreme weather events—which will be exacerbated under higher average global temperatures—can cause death, injury, or illness, while exacerbating underlying medical conditions. Additionally, these weather events disrupt infrastructure and incur huge damage costs across the country.

Other impacts of climate change include the proliferation of vector borne disease and water-related illnesses. Insects such as mosquitos, ticks, and fleas carry infective pathogens (viruses, bacteria, protozoa, etc.). Climate change will cause earlier seasonal tick activity and northward range expansion, and will likely interact with other factors, such as how pathogens adapt and change, the availability of hosts, changing ecosystems and land use, demographics, human behaviour, or adaptive capacity to affect many more people in unprecedented ways. In terms of water-related illnesses, climate change will cause an expanded growing season for algae and vibrio bacteria, which will increase the risk of exposure to waterborne pathogens and algal toxins that can cause a variety of illnesses.

Notably, climate change will also have widespread effects on food safety, nutrition, and distribution by disrupting the availability of food, increasing contamination and spoilage, and increasing the exposure of food to certain pathogens and toxins. Another finding of the study is that higher carbon dioxide concentrations can lower the levels of protein and essential minerals in many crops, including wheat, rice, and potatoes.

Finally, the report discusses the effects on mental health and well-being, which may be threatened by exposure to natural disasters, which can result in such mental health consequences as PTSD, depression, and general anxiety.

Now that the US has ratified the Paris Agreement, it is time to begin setting policies and regulations or choosing behaviors that will help the US to meet the target. While a contentious battle over the actual existence of climate change rages in the US, under the precautionary principle this report may alert Americans of the real dangers they face if climate change is allowed to spiral out of hand. The report specifically includes projections for future climate impacts under a series of different scenarios with increases in temperatures ranging from 1ºC to 4ºC. These models show the effects that will already happen even if the Paris Agreement is successful in preventing average global temperatures from rising more than 2ºC, and exemplify the disastrous effects of allowing an even greater increase in temperature.

Since this report is sponsored by several branches of the federal government and the US Global Change Research Program is an official government organization, the findings presented within are more likely to be accepted by the public and perceived as more legitimate than non-government research programs. The picture of the future in a warmer world is a catastrophic one, filled with disease, natural disasters, and death that to some level affect every US resident. Therefore, if this information is made available to the public, it is likely to encourage the people to call for action from both the government and private organizations to act at least within the prescriptions of the Paris Agreement, and perhaps towards even greater environmental protection.

Another important finding of this report is that the adverse effects of climate change will disproportionately target marginalized sectors of society: people in poverty, people of color, people with disabilities, and people with physical and mental health conditions. This finding makes the Paris Agreement more than simply an ecological imperative; now it becomes the moral responsibility of legislators and citizens to take strong actions to protect the most vulnerable members of the population.

If any American thinks the Paris Agreement to be irrelevant or climate change to be “someone else’s problem,” it is important for them to read this report, because it shows that climate change is everyone’s problem and that it requires direct, immediate, decisive action. Furthermore, this report demonstrates that climate change is not simply an environmental issue, but rather an economic, social, and public health problem that crosses all sectors of society. The hope, then, is that this report will spur people into action to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement and to fight to stop the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Learn More

The Global Change Research Program’s official website:
http://www.globalchange.gov

Link to the scientific assessment “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States”:
https://health2016.globalchange.gov

United States Emissions Reduction Policy

United States: The Clean Power Plan

In the United States, Obama’s Clean Power Plan has taken shape as potentially one of the most effective US policies in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, specifically carbon dioxide emissions. The Clean Power Plan was put in place on August 3rd, 2015. It outlines a target for reducing carbon pollution from power generation “while maintaining energy reliability and affordability,” with the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the USA by 32% of 2005 levels.

Under this plan, the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency have set the targets and will offer assistance to the states in their implementation of it; the states will, however, be free to choose how they will reach the goal of reducing carbon emissions. The plan takes a two-part strategy, focusing first on a reduction in carbon emissions from fossil fuels in power generation, and second on growth in the clean energy sector. The plan also includes provisions to prevent the switch from fossil fuel-generated electricity to natural gas-generated electricity, which would perpetuate the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. The focus is specifically on power generation because this sector produces the largest percentage of the nation’s carbon emissions.

The plan draws its inspiration from the Clean Air Act, originally passed in 1970 and most recently amended in 1990, which gave the EPA most of its regulatory power in terms of enforcing air quality standards. In October 2016, the Clean Power Plan was challenged in court as states try to fight it. This challenge is based largely on a provision of the Clean Air Act that prohibits “double regulation” by the EPA. Essentially, the EPA cannot regulate an industry based on one set of standards if it is already regulating it based on another. This would prevent the Clean Power Plan from regulating carbon emissions from power plants that are already regulated for air pollution under the Clean Air Act. Despite many states’ efforts to fight it, the Clean Power Plan is largely expected to be upheld in court.

In the year since the introduction of the Clean Power Plan, it has already shown success in several areas. First, and perhaps most significantly, the plan gave President Obama the legal leverage to be involved in the negotiations leading to the Paris Agreement and further legitimized US commitments to global emissions reduction standards. With the legal backing of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama was able to bring the US to the climate change talks and emphasize the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Power Plan has been most successful domestically in encouraging states to create their own carbon emission reduction targets and plans in order to be in compliance with the national targets. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 31 states are already projected to be more than halfway to meeting their 2022 benchmarks. Many companies in the private sector are dramatically increasing their investments in clean and renewable energy.

Finally, and perhaps the most significant evidence for the success of the Clean Power Plan, carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector have reached their lowest levels since 1993, following a significant decrease in 2015.

If the targets are successfully reached by 2030, there is potential for a new emissions reduction target to be set with much higher percentages of reduction. It remains to be seen whether states will fully comply with the current targets. The 2030 plan could be expanded to include more than simply carbon emissions, with an added focus on methane, ozone, or other greenhouse gases that are being produced in sectors besides the power generation sector. The most crucial element in the increase in emissions reduction will be the compliance and cooperation of the private sector, specifically those companies that use oil and natural gas.

There is also potential for the Clean Power Plan to influence other countries if adopted by their federal governments. As the US is a major “role model” in the world which many developing countries use as a basis for their own emissions standards, there is potential for this policy–if successful–to be adopted by them. Many developed countries have much more aggressive emissions reduction targets than those of the US, so a policy like this one might need to be more stringent.

In order to be successful in the US, the plan relies heavily on the individual efforts of the states, rather than a concerted top-down effort by the federal government. In other nations with a stronger federal government and weaker state governments, it may not be possible to rely on state compliance to enforce such a policy, but would instead be based on the standards set by the federal government.

The Clean Power Plan remains one of the most effective current US environmental policies with the most significant impact on reducing American greenhouse gas emissions. The current court case will significantly determine whether or not the Clean Power Plan will be upheld and continue to encourage reduction of carbon emissions from the power sector.

Learn More

https://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-overview-clean-power-plan
https://www.whitehouse.gov/president-obama-climate-action-plan
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/us/politics/obama-court-clean-power-plan.html?_r=0
http://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/reduce-emissions/clean-power-plan-states-of-progress#.V-qF4GXL2AY
https://www.nrdc.org/experts/kevin-steinberger/recent-progress-further-strengthens-clean-power-plan-outlook
http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/reduce-emissions/what-is-the-clean-power-plan#.V-gmOmXL2AY

United States Energy Production Trends

How the Energy System Is Structured

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the United States federal agency that regulates the transmission and wholesale sale of electricity and natural gas in interstate commerce, and regulates the transportation of oil by pipeline in interstate commerce. FERC also reviews proposals to build interstate natural gas pipelines, natural gas storage projects, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, and FERC licenses non-federal hydropower projects.

The top priorities of FERC include:
•       promoting reliable, efficient, and sustainable energy for consumers;
•       ensuring just and reasonable rates, terms, and conditions;
•       promoting safe, reliable, secure, and efficient infrastructure; and
•       enforcing compliance with FERC rules and federal law by detecting and deterring energy market manipulation

A FERC Energy Primer provides a vivid description of the US energy system. Much of the wholesale natural gas and electric power industry in the United States trades competitively; some markets are established through administrative processes based on the cost of providing service. In competitive markets, prices are largely driven by the economic concepts of supply and demand. Underlying the supply and demand for energy are physical fundamentals — the physical realities of how markets produce and deliver energy to consumers and how they form prices.

Wholesale natural gas and electricity markets differ from other competitive markets, however, in critical ways. Demand is ultimately determined at the retail level. Retail use is relatively inelastic in the short-term, although this may be less so with some larger customers. Retail use of natural gas or electricity exhibits some unique characteristics: because consumers have limited ability to reduce demand, supply must match demand instantaneously, in all locations.

For natural gas, this means production, pipelines, and storage need to be sized to meet the greatest potential demand, and deliveries need to move up and down to match changes in consumption. Natural gas has underground and aboveground storage options and linepack, which involves raising the pressure in a pipeline to pack more molecules into the same space. Natural gas flows through a pipeline at velocities averaging 25 mph, depending on the pipeline and the configuration of related facilities, so new supply can take hours or days to reach its destination. That increases the value of market-area storage, which vastly reduces the distance and time needed for gas to reach consumers.

For electricity, storage is more limited, although technologies such as batteries and flywheels are being developed. Hydroelectric pumped storage is available in a few locations; this involves pumping water to high reservoirs during times of slack electricity demand, then letting the water flow downhill through electricity-generating turbines when demand for power rises. Generating plants, transmission and distribution lines, substations, and other equipment must be sized to meet the maximum amount needed by consumers at any time, in all locations. For all practical purposes, electricity use is contemporaneous with electricity generation; the power to run a light bulb is produced at the moment of illumination.

Energy Sources

As of April 2016, coal provides 33% of the energy produced in the United States, natural gas provides 33%, nuclear provides 20%, hydropower and other renewables provide 13%, and the reamaing 1% comes from other gases and petroleum

Profiles of Leading Energy Companies

Duke Energy is one of the largest utilities, providing over 52,000 MW to over 7 million customers. Within the customer base, 6 million Duke Energy customers are residential consumers (over 24 million people), who are charged a higher rate per kWh than industrial, transportation, and commercial energy consumers. Duke is a publicly traded company on the Fortune 125 list. 95% of Duke energy production comes from nuclear and coal, with less than 2% coming from hydropower and renewables. Duke has made significant pledges to increase solar energy production in the future, alongside cleaning up coal production. However, in North Carolina where Duke is headquartered, third party electricity generation, such as installing residential solar panels, is illegal, leaving consumers the option of paying Duke the same kWh rate and bearing installation costs or registering as a public utility. This leaves little incentive for consumers to install renewable generators like solar or wind, rendering Duke a statewide energy monopoly. Further, Duke operates primarily in the South and Midwest region of the United States, where many states have not set standards and goals for renewable energy production.
Source: https://www.duke-energy.com/north-carolina/nc-rate-case/our-energy-mix.asp

Pacific Gas and Electric Company: States in other regions serviced by large utilities have set standards and goals for renewable energy production, such as in California where Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) operates. PG&E is a subsidiary of Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation, a publicly traded holding company. With over 5 million customers, PG&E provides over a third of its energy from renewable resources and hydropower and 23% from non-emitting nuclear. A quarter comes from combined coal, natural gas, and oil production. As a company, PG&E appears committed to policy infrastructure for energy production that does not exacerbate climate change. They left the US Chamber of Commerce in 2009 when the lobbying organization opposed climate legislation, and publicly cut ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate lobbying organization that actively engages in underwriting climate denialist bills and opposes the US Clean Power Plan. http://www.pg&ecorps.com

PG&E has taken advantage of many of the tax incentives for developing renewable energy production and infrastructure resulting from the 2009 US Climate Action Plan, as have many smaller independent energy companies. The 2015 Clean Power Plan would provide greater incentives for established and new energy companies to invest in renewable and clean energy production, but is currently under review, facing opposition from lobbying organization like ALEC, to which Duke Energy is a contributor. Despite stalling at the federal level, many states have taken action to establish renewable energy standards and offer incentives to companies towards those goals, primarily outside of the South. Some start up renewable energy companies have seen staggering growth up to 5000%. Wind power is slated by the US EIA to have the greatest increase in the future.

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Ben Carver

United States Emission Reduction Challenges

Leading Emission Reduction Challenges: (a) Political opposition to climate change legislation; (b) Problems implementing existing climate change policies and programs

 

Current Level of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the US come from burning fossil fuels for electricity production, for heat, and in transportation. In 2014, the US emitted 6,870 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, contributing 16% of global emissions. Two-thirds of electricity production in the US comes from burning coal and natural gas. Since 2005, emissions have fallen 6.5% while the economy continues to grow, thanks in part to federal financial assistance packages. Emissions projections oscillate between continued decreases in emissions and business as usual increases depending on political support.

 

Emission Reduction Challenges

As the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas at 16% of global emissions, the US faces considerable challenges to making the reductions pledged at the Paris summit. The greatest hurdle for the US to hold up its end of the Paris Agreement is occurring at the policy level. A combination of political gridlock on decision-making and political opposition to decisions addressing climate change are preventing much meaningful action at the national level.

Key Republican Congressional delegates opposed the Obama administration’s approach to the negotiations in Paris, and their subsequent outcomes and goals. Little legislative action has been initiated by the Obama administration since December in anticipation of the lack of support from the Republican-led Congress. The current administration has committed to reducing US greenhouse gas emissions with the Clean Power Plan. This Plan aims to reduce GHG emissions from the power sector, currently responsible for 30% of the nation’s emissions. By not addressing the other 70% of emissions, however, the administration has faced criticism from the scientific community for not taking strong enough policy action. The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling for policies to address the rest of US emissions, such as vehicle efficiency standards, standards for methane emissions, and increased efficiency of appliances.

With presidential elections in November, the two main candidates are presenting starkly different climate plans. Republican front-runner Donald Trump decries the reality of climate change, and has stated he would “cancel” both the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan. His America First Energy Plan further intends to revive coal-power production and expand gas and oil extraction within the United States.

Alternatively, the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has laid out a climate-change strategy that includes reducing reliance on oil and gas, reducing energy waste and becoming an international leader in energy-efficient manufacturing, and shifting home energy consumption to renewable sources solar and wind.

Without waiting for federal policy, many states are establishing goals of transitioning away from coal power and towards utilizing renewable resources. Investors in the private sector too have increasingly demanded internal action towards green energy, causing nearly $42 billion to be issued in green bonds during 2015. Despite these state-level and private-sector efforts, it is clear that successes in the US for reducing greenhouse gases will be linked to national political outcomes in the coming months.

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Ben Carver

 

Useful Resources:

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/219038.pdf

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/an-america-first-energy-plan

http://blog.ucsusa.org/rachel-cleetus/us-paris-agreement-climate-change-commitments

http://www.shearman.com/~/media/Files/NewsInsights/Publications/2016/03/Paris-Climate-Accord-Implementation-United-States.pdf

https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources.html

https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/climate/

US Ratification Status

Possibility of Ratification by 2018: Medium

The United States has yet to ratify the Paris Agreement but plans to do so before the end of the year. In the United States most international treaties need approval by the US Congress and then the signature of the President before they can be formally ratified. However, the Obama administration argues that the Paris Agreement is not classified as a treaty. Rather it is considered an executive agreement because it does not require changes in any United States laws and it does not commit the US to mandated emission targets. At most, they argue, it commits countries to a process of reexamining their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen those efforts based on what is feasible. As such, the Agreement can be ratified with just the signature of the President. President Obama has signaled his intention to sign the Paris Agreement before he leaves office. The President is not required and does not want to submit the agreement to Congress for their approval. The right-wing Republican political party has the most votes in Congress and would likely not give its approval to the Paris agreement. Some in Congress are trying to argue that the Paris agreement should be classified as a treaty that requires Congressional approval.

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Ben Carver

Learn more:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/11/30/trick-or-treaty-the-legal-question-hanging-over-the-paris-climate-change-conference/

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/21/jim-demint-obama-bypasses-senate-approval-of-paris/