Category Archives: Greenhouse gas emissions

NPR Science Friday: Climate Deal or Not, Fight Against Global Warming Has Begun

Repost from NPR Science Friday
[Editor: In this 21-minute audio report, Science Friday host Ira Flatow interviews David Biello, Editor, Environment & Energy, Scientific American; Kate Ricke, Fellow, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University; and Robert Stavins, Professor, Environmental Economics & Director, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Harvard Kennedy School.  After you listen, CHECK OUT THE EXCELLENT links at bottom of this story.  – RS]

Climate Deal or Not, Fight Against Global Warming Has Begun

Ira Flatow, December 5, 2014

The United Nations climate meetings began this week in Peru, a dress rehearsal of sorts for treaty talks in Paris next year. But whether world leaders forge a deal or not, Scientific American‘s David Biello and environmental economist Robert Stavins say the fight against climate change has already begun—at the state and local level, and in the private sector. Last year, for example, new solar plants outpaced coal installations in the U.S., and carbon-trading schemes across state and national borders have already begun.

Produced by Christopher Intagliata, Senior Producer
  • David Biello
    Editor, Environment & Energy
    Scientific American
    New York, New York
  • Kate Ricke
    Fellow, Carnegie Institution for Science
    Stanford University
    Stanford, California
  • Robert Stavins
    Professor, Environmental Economics
    Director, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements
    Harvard Kennedy School
    Cambridge, Massachusetts

Review of 30,000 climate studies: Starkest Warning Yet on Global Warming

Repost from The New York Times
[Editor: Huge news worldwide – for more, see:
UN News Centre, ‘Leaders must act’, urges Ban, as new UN report warns climate change may soon be ‘irreversible’;
CBS News (interview with professor Michio Kaku), U.N. panel issues grim report on climate change;
TIME, UN: Phase Out Fossil Fuels By 2100 Or Face ‘Irreversible’ Climate Impact, hope;
NBCNews, Climate Change Dangers Are ‘Higher Than Ever’: UN Report
– RS}

U.N. Panel Issues Its Starkest Warning Yet on Global Warming

Machines digging for brown coal in front of a power plant near Grevenbroich, Germany, in April. Credit Martin Meissner/Associated Press

COPENHAGEN — The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.

Despite growing efforts in many countries to tackle the problem, the global situation is becoming more acute as developing countries join the West in burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here on Sunday.

Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report found.

In the starkest language it has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.

Doing so would require leaving the vast majority of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels in the ground or, alternatively, developing methods to capture and bury the emissions resulting from their use, the group said.

If governments are to meet their own stated goal of limiting the warming of the planet to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level, they must restrict emissions from additional fossil-fuel burning to about 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, the panel said. At current growth rates, that budget is likely to be exhausted in something like 30 years, possibly less.

Yet energy companies have booked coal and petroleum reserves equal to several times that amount, and they are spending some $600 billion a year to find more. Utilities and oil companies continue to build coal-fired power plants and refineries, and governments are spending another $600 billion or so directly subsidizing the consumption of fossil fuels.

By contrast, the report found, less than $400 billion a year is being spent around the world to reduce emissions or otherwise cope with climate change. That is a small fraction of the revenue spent on fossil fuels — it is less, for example, than the revenue of a single American oil company, ExxonMobil.

The new report comes just a month before international delegates convene in Lima, Peru, to devise a new global agreement to limit emissions, and it makes clear the urgency of their task.

Appearing Sunday morning at a news conference in Copenhagen to unveil the report, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, appealed for strong action in Lima.

“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message,” Mr. Ban said. “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”

Yet there has been no sign that national leaders are willing to discuss allocating the trillion-ton emissions budget among countries, an approach that would confront the problem head-on, but also raise deep questions of fairness. To the contrary, they are moving toward a relatively weak agreement that would essentially let each country decide for itself how much effort to put into limiting global warming, and even that document would not take effect until 2020.

“If they choose not to talk about the carbon budget, they’re choosing not to address the problem of climate change,” said Myles R. Allen, a climate scientist at Oxford University in Britain who helped write the new report. “They might as well not bother to turn up for these meetings.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific body appointed by the world’s governments to advise them on the causes and effects of global warming, and potential solutions. The group, along with Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to call attention to the climate crisis.

The new report is a 175-page synopsis of a much longer series of reports that the panel has issued over the past year. It is the final step in a five-year effort by the body to analyze a vast archive of published climate research.

It is the fifth such report from the group since 1990, each finding greater certainty that the climate is warming and that human activities are the primary cause.

“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, and in global mean sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the report said.

A core finding of the new report is that climate change is no longer a distant threat, but is being felt all over the world. “It’s here and now,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the panel, said in an interview. “It’s not something in the future.”

The group cited mass die-offs of forests, such as those killed by heat-loving beetles in the American West; the melting of land ice virtually everywhere in the world; an accelerating rise of the seas that is leading to increased coastal flooding; and heat waves that have devastated crops and killed tens of thousands of people.

The report contained the group’s most explicit warning yet about the food supply, saying that climate change had already become a small drag on overall global production, and could become a far larger one if emissions continued unchecked.

A related finding is that climate change poses serious risks to basic human progress, in areas such as alleviating poverty. Under the worst-case scenarios, factors like high food prices and intensified weather disasters would most likely leave poor people worse off. In fact, the report said, that has already happened to a degree.

In Washington, the Obama administration welcomed the report, with the president’s science adviser, John P. Holdren, calling it “yet another wake-up call to the global community that we must act together swiftly and aggressively in order to stem climate change and avoid its worst impacts.”

The administration is pushing for new limits on emissions from American power plants, but faces stiff resistance in Congress and some states.

Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University and a principal author of the new report, said that a continuation of the political paralysis on emissions would leave society depending largely on luck.

If the level of greenhouse gases were to continue rising at a rapid pace over the coming decades, severe effects would be avoided only if the climate turned out to be far less sensitive to those gases than most scientists think likely, he said.

“We’ve seen many governments delay and delay and delay on implementing comprehensive emissions cuts,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. “So the need for a lot of luck looms larger and larger. Personally, I think it’s a slim reed to lean on for the fate of the planet.”

California Groups Tell EPA: Set Stronger New Standards for Oil Refinery Air Pollution

Repost from EarthJustice

California Groups Tell EPA: Set Stronger New Standards for Oil Refinery Air Pollution

Focus on need for the EPA to do more to protect communities’ health

July 16, 2014 
Conoco Phillips Refinery in Wilmington, CA
Los Angeles, CA — California environmental and community groups—including families living near oil refineries—today provided powerful testimony about why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must strengthen protections from hazardous air pollution.The statements were made during a day-long public hearing in Wilmington, Calif., which the EPA held as part of its 60-day public comment period on proposed standards that would strengthen emissions and monitoring requirements for the country’s nearly 150 oil refineries.In advance of the hearing, Jane Williams, director of California Communities Against Toxics, said:

“The EPA’s proposal is an improvement over the status quo. However, it does not go far enough to reduce the harmful, toxic air that our children are exposed to. More must be done to reduce hazardous pollution spewed by the nation’s oil refineries to prevent cancer, breathing problems and other illnesses in our children.”

Although the proposed standards—to be finalized in April 2015—reduce hazardous air pollution by 5,600 tons each year and reduce cancer risk for millions of Americans, community leaders who have been working for decades for stronger protection say the standards fall short of the Clean Air Act mandate that all sources must follow at least, the average, emission control achieved by the cleanest refineries.

The proposed standards that were published in the federal register last month resulted from a consent decree resolving a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of environmental groups in California, Louisiana, and Texas that argued that EPA missed its deadline under the Clean Air Act to review and update toxic air standards for oil refineries by more than a decade.

The proposed standards, include a fence line monitoring requirement for the first time, which would require refineries to measure the toxic air contaminant benzene at the property line as it goes into the local community’s air. In addition, if benzene exceeds the new action level EPA proposes to establish, the federal agency would require a plan for corrective action.

In addition, the proposed standards would require tighter controls on emissions from storage tanks and other parts of refineries that are major contributors to toxic air pollution (such as delayed coker units) along with controls and monitoring requirements on flaring or the burning of waste gas, which is, too often, used routinely and which creates harmful new pollution.

The proposed standards also finally remove unlawful loopholes that previously allowed refineries to escape scot-free when they violated the air standards.

For EPA’s new standards to provide much-needed protection for communities on the ground, environmental groups are calling for stronger fence line monitoring requirements that would mandate the use of the best current technology to give neighborhoods a real-time, continuous measure of pollution, not just a snapshot or long-term average that masks peak exposure levels.  The standards also must require accessible public reporting and enforceable corrective action so refineries will quickly fix violations. In addition, groups want to see a hard limit on flaring to ban its routine and unnecessary use and to assure refineries minimize flaring in all other circumstances, as well as tighter controls on emissions from other parts of refineries.

Cynthia Babich, of Del Amo Action Committee said she is most focused on the real world health impacts of refineries’ pollution when considering this proposal. “The EPA must do a health evaluation using the most current scientific methods, instead of ignoring dangerous health risks our communities face,” said Babich.

“People who live near refineries are often surrounded by multiple sources of contaminants from other polluters besides refineries, like chemical plants. And in view of this and the greater risk to our most vulnerable children, EPA should find the current, high level of health risk to be unacceptable and set stronger emission limits,” she said.

Jesse Marquez, of Coalition For A Safe Environment, said his organization supports EPA’s proposal to make flares more efficient when they are used, and also calls on the EPA to limit flared emissions by setting a hard cap on flaring that will ban its everyday use.

“The oil industry claims emissions have been decreasing for decades but we found that flared emissions at the four refineries in the Wilmington area increased every year between 2000 and 2011,” Marquez said. “We must have stricter standards to end all unnecessary flaring and improve our air quality.”

Although the oil industry is objecting to the new proposed standards, community groups’ testimony illustrated today how important it is for EPA to reduce toxic air pollution and decrease the unacceptable extra health threats millions of Americans currently face just because they live near refineries. EPA predicts its current proposal will take about 5,600 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, associated with leukemia and other devastating forms of cancer, out of the air.

Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice’s Vice President of health, said: “It is imperative that we fight industry’s unfounded attempts to weaken EPA’s attempt to strengthen health protection, and, instead, do all we can to protect everyone—especially fence line communities and those that are overburdened—from the unacceptable harm caused by oil refineries’ pollution. We must stand behind EPA’s efforts to set strong new hazardous air pollution standards, just as the Clean Air Act requires it to do.”

Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project said: “EPA’s analysis shows that the proposed emission controls are worthwhile and will have negligible impact on the bottom-line of these companies, many of which report multi-billion dollar profits every year. The communities affected by refinery pollution cannot continue to pay for this pollution in the form of medical bills and missed school and work days, which add up to tens of millions of dollars every year.”

Contra Costa Times editorial: Shell’s new plan may serve to blaze new trail

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[This editorial also appeared on May 24, 2014 in the print edition of the Vallejo Times Herald.]

Contra Costa Times editorial: Shell’s new plan may serve to blaze new trail

The Shell Refinery is seen in Martinez, Calif. on Monday, May 6, 2013. The Bay Area's five refineries have moved toward acquiring controversial Canadian tar sands crude through rail delivery. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
The Shell Refinery is seen in Martinez, Calif. on Monday, May 6, 2013. The Bay Area’s five refineries have moved toward acquiring controversial Canadian tar sands crude through rail delivery. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Discussions about reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions often become both heated and hyperbolic. But a plan being advanced by one of the East Bay leading refineries should be neither.

The management of Shell Oil’s Martinez refinery has decided that it can operate effectively at current levels without using heavy crude oil as a base in some of its operations. Heavy crude requires much more energy, water and heat to process than the lighter crude.

We were thrilled to learn that Shell has filed paperwork with the county regarding its intent to shut down its coker operation, one of its dirtiest processes. Shell plans to replace it with processes that handle lighter crude, but not the more volatile bakken crude.

That is, indeed, good news for Shell’s neighbors in Martinez, but it is even better news for the environment.

Shell General manager Paul Gabbard told our editorial board that the process change will cut the refinery’s greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 metric tons a year, which he said is equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the roads.

It is not insignificant, especially during a drought, that this process change also will cut Shell’s water use by an estimated 15 percent. That works out to a savings of about 1,000 gallons of water per minute.

There also will be about 300 temporary construction jobs for local workers as the conversion is made.

But the biggest news is that Shell officials think this change, which they hope to have completed by 2018, will allow the refinery to meet the state’s stringent standards for greenhouse gas reduction before the 2020 deadline.

In 2006 the Legislature passed AB32, California’s landmark effort to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Most oil refiners in the state were not happy about the law.

After all, the legislation was designed to dramatically reduce the levels of six different emissions that are quite often associated with the manufacture of petroleum products.

Not only did it seek to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons emitted, it sought to do so by a whopping 25 percent statewide by 2020.

Many companies moaned that its target emissions were impossible to meet. The bill implicitly acknowledged that the goals were ambitious because it instructed the California Air Resources Board to develop regulations and “market mechanisms” that could allow for industrial operations that couldn’t meet the standards to purchase pollution credits through an auction from operations that had excess credits.

But if Shell’s reckoning is correct, and we think it is, it won’t need to do that — and this action could blaze a dramatic new trail that others in the industry should consider following.