In climate-related news from the past few days:
From Reuters: “Climate change targets are slipping out of reach.”
For all the commentary around a transition to a clean energy system, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is still continuing to rise rapidly and shows no sign of slowing down.
Climate change targets are slipping out of reach as the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to march higher, leaving policymakers confronting uncomfortable choices.
If the concentration continues to rise, policymakers will have to plan for a world with significantly higher temperatures, or rely on untested strategies to remove CO2 from the air later in the century.
Countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have committed themselves to limit the increase in global average temperatures above pre-industrial levels.
Under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, concluded in 2015, signatories are committed to holding the global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Science advisers on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have estimated the limits imply an atmospheric CO2 concentration of no more than 450 parts per million (for 2 degrees) or 430 ppm (for 1.5 degrees).
On current trends, these limits will be reached sometime between the late 2020s and the late 2030s, which leaves less than 10 or 20 years to make profound changes to the energy system and the global economy.
But energy systems are notorious for changing slowly, because they are embodied in long-lived capital investments such as domestic appliances, industrial machinery, power plants, pipelines and transmission systems.
Given the projected life of current equipment and the slow pace of replacement, it is becoming increasingly hard to envisage a scenario in which atmospheric CO2 can be held below 430-450 ppm in the next two decades.
From Yale Environment 360: “Melting Permafrost Releasing High Levels of Nitrous Oxide, A Potent Greenhouse Gas.”
Thawing permafrost in the Arctic may be releasing 12 times as much nitrous oxide as previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, can remain in the atmosphere for up to 114 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The research, led by scientists at Harvard University, involved measuring greenhouse gas levels over 120 square miles of melting permafrost in the North Slope of Alaska. The data, collected using a small plane, showed that the nitrous oxide emitted over the course of just one month of sampling in 2013 was equal to what was thought to be the region’s yearly emissions. The findings back up similar results from other recent studies that used core samples from Arctic peat to measure rising nitrous oxide emissions.
Nitrous oxide emissions have been rising globally in recent decades thanks to the expansion of industry and intense fertilizer use. But scientists had long thought that emissions of the gas from melting permafrost were “negligible,” as the EPA described it in a 2010 report.
“Much smaller increases in nitrous oxide would entail the same kind of climate change that a large plume of CO2 would cause,” Jordan Wilkerson, an atmospheric chemistry graduate student at Harvard and lead author of the new study, said in a statement.
Wilkerson and his colleagues warned that their results provide just a snapshot of what is happening in the Arctic, given that the region contains 5.6 million square miles of permafrost. They said follow up studies are needed to more thoroughly examine the potent emissions.
“We don’t know how much more [nitrous oxide] is going to increase,” Wilkerson said, “and we didn’t know it was significant at all until this study came out.”
From Inside Climate News: “2018's Hemispheric Heat Wave Wasn't Possible Without Climate Change, Scientists Say.”
Subhead: Heat waves are covering wider areas, and people are suffering the consequences. With 2°C of warming, most summers will look like 2018, scientists say.
A study presented this week at a scientific conference in Vienna now shows that last summer's extreme heat was an "unprecedented" hemispheric event that would not have happened without heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution, the researchers said, and that it lasted longer and was more widespread across the Northern Hemisphere than previously realized.
All summers will be like last year if the world warms 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, said the study's lead author Martha Vogel, an extreme-temperature researcher with ETH Zürich Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science. Even with 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, 25 percent of the Northern Hemisphere will experience a summer as hot as the summer of 2018 two out of every three years, she said.
Research has shown that increasing global temperatures are causing more frequent, prolonged heat waves. But this study maps the spreading geographical extent of extreme heat events and shows last summer's heat as a hemispheric event.
From the AP: “California races to deter disaster as towns face fire risk.”
Impoverished towns in the shadow of Mount Shasta. Rustic Gold Rush cities in the Sierra Nevada foothills. High-dollar resort communities on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Ritzy Los Angeles County suburbs.
They all could be the next Paradise.
A McClatchy analysis reveals more than 350,000 Californians live in towns and cities that exist almost entirely within “very high fire hazard severity zones” — Cal Fire’s designation for places highly vulnerable to devastating wildfires. These designations have proven eerily predictive about some of the state’s most destructive wildfires in recent years, including the Camp Fire, the worst in state history.
Nearly all of Paradise is colored in bright red on Cal Fire’s map — practically the entire town was at severe risk before the Camp Fire raged through last November, burning the majority of homes in its path and killing 85 people.
Malibu, where the Woolsey Fire burned more than 400 homes last year, also falls within very high hazard zones. As does the small Lake County town of Cobb, much of which was destroyed by the Valley Fire in 2015.
“There’s a lot of Paradises out there,” said Max Moritz, a fire specialist at UC Santa Barbara.
From CBC: “Arctic is warmest it's been in 10,000 years, study suggests.”
New research suggests Canada's Arctic is the warmest it has been in 10,000 years — and the temperatures are still climbing.
The study was recently published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
Researchers studied permafrost samples in the Yukon near the Dempster Highway and determined that temperatures in the Arctic today are almost 2 C warmer than at any time in the past 10,000 years.
The temperatures recorded today are even higher than the previous highs believed to have occurred during the early Holocene period, about 9,900 and 6,400 years ago, when Earth's axis was tilted more strongly toward the sun, the report states.
Duane Froese, a professor at the University of Alberta and a co-author of the study, suggests that time period may actually be much longer.
"I would guess we're getting back over 100,000 years since we've seen temperatures at least this warm," he said.
From the New York Times: “Central American Farmers Head to the U.S., Fleeing Climate Change.”
The farmer stood in his patch of forlorn coffee plants, their leaves sick and wilted, the next harvest in doubt.
Last year, two of his brothers and a sister, desperate to find a better way to survive, abandoned their small coffee farms in this mountainous part of Honduras and migrated north, eventually sneaking into the United States.
Then in February, the farmer’s 16-year-old son also headed north, ignoring the family’s pleas to stay.
The challenges of agricultural life in Honduras have always been mighty, from poverty and a neglectful government to the swings of international commodity prices.
But farmers, agricultural scientists and industry officials say a new threat has been ruining harvests, upending lives and adding to the surge of families migrating to the United States: climate change.
And their worries are increasingly shared by climate scientists as well.
Gradually rising temperatures, more extreme weather events and increasingly unpredictable patterns — like rain not falling when it should, or pouring when it shouldn’t — have disrupted growing cycles and promoted the relentless spread of pests.
From the Guardian: “Europe at risk from spread of tropical insect-borne diseases.”
Insect-borne diseases such as dengue fever, leishmaniasis and encephalitis are on the rise and are now threatening to spread into many areas of Europe, scientists have warned.
Outbreaks of these illnesses are increasing because of climate change and the expansion of international travel and trade, the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases was told in Amsterdam on Saturday.
Even previously unaffected areas in higher latitudes and altitudes, including some parts of northern Europe, are at risk of outbreaks unless action is taken to improve surveillance and data sharing, the researchers said.
From Reuters: “Record-early Alaska river thaw follows high winter temperatures.”
Key Alaska rivers that are usually frozen at this time of year are now free-flowing, with record-early thaws following record-high winter and spring temperatures.
In the interior Alaska city of Nenana, ice on the Tanana River gave way just after midnight on Sunday. It was by far the earliest breakup in the 102-year history of the Nenana Ice Classic, an iconic Alaska betting pool in which participants predict when thaw will sink a wooden tripod placed on the ice.
The previous earliest breakup of the Tanana, a tributary of the Yukon River, was April 20, a mark reached in 1998 and 1940.
Another record-early thaw happened on Friday on the Kuskokwim River at the southwestern city of Bethel. The previous earliest ice-breakup date for the Kuskokwim Ice Classic was also April 20, in 2016. The Friday ice breakup was the earliest for that part of the Kuskokwim in 92 years of records kept by the National Weather Service.
At both rivers, records show that breakup has been happening, on average, about a week earlier since the 1960s, not counting this year’s record thaws.
This year’s breakups followed an extraordinarily warm Alaska winter with near-record-low ice in the Bering Sea and a record-hot March statewide.
Meanwhile, in business-as-usual news:
From Oilprice.com: “U.S. Energy Consumption Hits All-Time Record.”
Energy consumption in the United States reached an all-time high last year, data from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory showed.
According to the laboratory, the United States consumed 101.2 quadrillion British thermal units of energy, or quads, last year, up on the previous record of 101 quads, reached in 2007. Yet the 2018 figure also represents the highest annual increase since 2010, at 3.6 percent.
The figures reflect a similar surge in energy demand globally. In its latest Global Energy & CO2 Report, the International Energy Agency said last year saw a 2.3-percent jump on the year, which was twice as high as the average demand increase rate for the last decade. This increase was the result of a growing global economy, the authority said, as well as greater heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world.
From Reuters: “U.S. shale output forecast to hit record 8.46 million bpd in May: EIA.”
U.S. crude oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise by about 80,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May to a record 8.46 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its monthly drilling productivity report on Monday.
The largest change is forecast in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, where output is expected to climb by 42,000 bpd to a fresh peak of about 4.14 million bpd in May.
In North Dakota’s Bakken region, shale production is estimated to rise by about 11,000 bpd to about 1.39 million bpd, easing from a record 1.41 million bpd hit in January. In the Eagle Ford region, output is expected to edge higher by 7,000 bpd to about 1.43 million bpd, which would be the highest monthly output since January 2016.
From Reuters: “Exxon Mobil wins three exploration blocks offshore Argentina.”
U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil Corp said on Tuesday its unit and an affiliate of Qatar Petroleum had won three exploration blocks offshore Argentina.
The three blocks will add about 2.6 million net acres to Exxon’s existing holdings in Argentina, the company said. The blocks are located in the Malvinas basin, about 200 miles (320 kms) offshore Tierra del Fuego.
Exxon’s existing Argentina holdings include 315,000 net acres spread over seven blocks in the onshore Neuquén Basin of the Vaca Muerta unconventional oilfield and a business support center in Buenos Aires.
ExxonMobil will have a 70 percent stake, while Qatar Petroleum’s affiliate will hold the rest.
The Argentine government issued a statement on Tuesday saying it received offers for the exploration of three offshore oil and gas basins from 13 companies for a total of $995 million. The country’s energy secretariat was expected to confirm which companies were awarded which areas next month.
From Oilprice.com: “Red Hot Permian Set To Jolt U.S. Shale Output To New Record.”
Crude oil production from the seven key shale regions in the United States is expected to increase by 80,000 bpd from April to hit a record 8.46 million bpd in May, with the Permian accounting for half of the monthly growth, the EIA said in its latest Drilling Productivity Report.
Crude oil production from the seven major shale producing regions is set to increase from 8.38 million bpd this month to 8.46 million bpd next month. The fastest-growing region, the Permian, is expected to see its crude oil production jump by 42,000 bpd from April to hit a record high of 4.136 million bpd in May, according to the EIA estimates—a figure that would place the US hotspot as OPEC’s third-largest producer behind only Saudi Arabia (9.79 bpd) and Iraq (4.52 bpd).
From Oilprice.com: “U.S. Doubles Oil Exports In 2018.”
The United States nearly doubled its oil exports in 2018, the Energy Information Administration reporting on Monday, from 1.2 million barrels per day in 2017.
The 2.0 million barrels of oil per day exported in 2018 was in line with increased oil production, which averaged 10.9 million barrels per day last year, and was made possible by changes to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) which allowed it to load VLCCs.
The changes to LOOP and to the sheer volume of exports were not the only changes for the US crude oil industry. The destination of this oil shifted in 2018 as well, and even shifted within the year as the trade row between China and the United States took hold.
Overall, Canada remained the largest buyer of US oil in 2018, at 19% of all oil exports, according to EIA data. During the first half of 2018, the largest buyer of US crude oil was China, averaging 376,000 barrels per day. Due to the trade row, however, US oil exports to China fell to an average of just 83,000 barrels per day in the second half, after seeing zero exports to China in the months of August, September, and October.
From the Indy Star: “Out-of-state coal interests are funding a battle to keep Indiana coal plants from closing.”
Across the nation, coal-fired power plants are rapidly being retired — a cost-conscious, clean-energy trend that has spurred some of the world's largest coal interests to fund an aggressive effort to keep them running, including here in Indiana.
The Energy Policy Network is leading that effort. The nonprofit bills itself as a national advocacy organization working "to develop energy and environmental policies that balance environmental values, business needs and consumer interests.”
Presentations made by the nonprofit's executive director, however, make its mission clear: keep companies purchasing Wyoming coal. The organization does so by intervening in utility proceedings on the state level, where they employ coal lobbyists to argue against the closure of coal plants.
Now, EPN has set its eyes on Indiana as its next "battleground." It plans to spend $175,000 to fight NIPSCO's applications to purchase wind power to replace its coal-powered electricity, according to an email obtained by a public records request and provided to IndyStar.
From Reuters: “U.S. EPA chief defends big energy projects, says climate not top priority.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will unveil a proposal to speed state-level permitting decisions for energy infrastructure projects soon, the agency’s chief told Reuters on Thursday, blasting states that have blocked coal terminals and gas pipelines on environmental grounds.
President Donald Trump is seeking to boost domestic fossil fuels production over the objections of Democrats and environmentalists concerned about pollution and climate change. On Wednesday he issued a pair of executive orders targeting the power of states to delay energy projects.
“We started working on it in advance, so we hope to have something out soon,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in an interview. He was unable to provide a precise timeline.
Wheeler said he believes climate change is a problem, but that it had been overblown by former President Barack Obama’s administration - at the expense of other bigger issues like water quality.
“Yes, climate is an issue and we are working to address it, but I think water is a bigger issue,” he said.
Wheeler dismissed the findings of a report released earlier this week by EPA scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change that detailed the scale and urgency of climate change.
He said while he encouraged EPA scientists to carry out and publish research, he stressed the recent paper “did not reflect EPA policy.”
From Reuters: “Under Trump, U.S. drilling permits on federal lands soar.”
The United States approved nearly 40 percent more oil and gas drilling permits on public lands in 2018 than it did the previous year thanks to an automated online system introduced in the waning days of the Obama administration, helping reduce a big backlog of applications.
President Donald Trump has made it a priority to speed permitting and reduce regulation as a way to boost production of oil, gas and coal from public lands - an agenda that has pleased the energy and mining industries but outraged environmentalists concerned about pollution and climate change.
The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management approved 3,991 drilling permits in fiscal 2018, up from 2,887 in 2017, the agency said, an increase of 38 percent. The average time to process an application to drill with BLM was cut nearly in half to 63 days from 120 days in 2017.