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Friday, November 9, 2012

EPA fracking study update

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in today's Federal Register that from now until April 30, 2013, it is accepting information - preferably peer-reviewed data, studies, scientific analyses and other scientific information - on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.

EPA said that the purpose of this data gathering is "to ensure EPA is current on evolving hydraulic fracturing practices and technologies as well as inform current and future research and ensure a robust record of scientific information."

This announcement shows EPA's continuing commitment to transparency in its efforts to understand and craft public policy on this angst-ridden issue.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

More on PwC’s stunning report on climate disruption

On Tuesday, I wrote about reports from PricewaterhouseCoopers on climate change and its impacts on business.  One of those reports - Too late for two degrees?- presents some stark, stunning realities that go far beyond the world of profits, balance sheets, and stock prices. 

The report begins chillingly: “It’s time to plan for a warmer world.”

The report estimates the required improvement in global carbon intensity to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 ppm and give us just a 50/50 chance of limiting warming to 2°C.  It says, drily:

“This year we estimated that the required improvement in global carbon intensity to meet a 2ÂșC warming target has risen to 5.1% a year, from now to 2050.”

The context surrounding that number demonstrates the immensity of the challenge:

“We have passed a critical threshold – not once since 1950 has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation in a single year, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years.

The 2011 rate of improvement in carbon intensity was 0.8%. Even doubling our rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with six degrees (Celsius) of warming. To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding two degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.”

PwC concludes that the consensus international goal of limiting warming to 2°C is “highly unrealistic:”

“Now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world – not just 2°C, but 4°C, or even 6°C.”

Can this unimaginable outcome be avoided?  Only with a response that is both “radical” and “rapid”:

“The only way to avoid the pessimistic scenarios will be radical transformations in the ways the global economy currently functions: rapid uptake of renewable energy, sharp falls in fossil fuel use or massive deployment of CCS, removal of industrial emissions and halting deforestation. This suggests a need for much more ambition and urgency on climate policy, at both the national and international level.

Either way, business-as-usual is not an option.”

The report discusses the limited role of shale gas (p. 8):

“A shift to gas away from oil and coal can provide temporary respite, a necessary but not sufficient move to the low carbon challenge.”

However, it’s important to point out that gas is seen by the most pro-renewable thinkers as an essential transition fuel.  And “radical and rapid” measures will require political compromise.  The Council on Foreign RelationsMichael Levi suggests that such steps will eventually require collaboration that extends far across party lines – and that will inevitably require some support for U.S. oil and gas.

Time is running out.  Will we be wise enough to forge the right coalitions with the urgency needed?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The intolerably risky business of climate disruption

Multinational consulting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has issued two reports that find that climate disruption will have increasingly destructive impacts on business.  Global supply chains, assets and infrastructure of fully 85 percent of companies are at risk. 

The first PwC report, 10 Minutes – Risk ready: New approaches to environmental and social change, says that the ability of companies to plan for potential weather disasters is “vital.”  Many companies now view preparation for climate disruption as a matter of resilience, but also as a competitive advantage. 

PwC’s warnings are playing out in real time.  PwC says that only 33 percent of $380 billion lost in 2011 to natural disasters was covered by insurance, and Hurricane Sandy’s total impact on the US economy could total $45 billion in damage and lost production, with the losses from closed businesses and drops in consumption possibly outweighing the cost of physical damage.

The second PwC report - Low Carbon Economy Index 2012 - says the world is heading for an unimaginable six-degree Celsius – 11 degrees Fahrenheit - rise in temperature by the end of the century.   PwC says that companies need to address a more pessimistic outlook when making investments in long-term assets and infrastructure, particularly in coastal and low-lying areas.

PwC says that drought, poor water quality, flooding and other water-related challenges negatively affected 53 percent of the world’s largest companies in the past five years, up from 38 percent last year.  In September, the Carbon Disclosure Project’s 2012 Global 500 Climate Change report found that 81 percent of reporting companies identified physical risks from climate disruption, compared to 71 percent in 2011.  Further, 37 percent of companies perceived these risks as a “real and present danger,” up from 30 percent in 2011 and 10 percent in 2010.  

Those numbers will mercilessly rise with atmospheric carbon concentrations and the global  thermometer.