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Friday, June 14, 2013

Missing the obvious – even thriving species at risk from climate disruption

Most species at greatest risk from global climate disruption are not currently conservation priorities and have been wrongly omitted from conservation planning, according to a new international study.
Identifying the World's Most Climate Change Vulnerable Species: A Systematic Trait-Based Assessment of all Birds, Amphibians and Corals, found that up to 83% of birds, 66% of amphibians and 70% of corals that have been identified as highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate disruption are not currently considered threatened with extinction, and are therefore unlikely to be receiving focused conservation attention.

The study - led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - was published in the journal PLOS ONE.  It draws on the work of more than 100 scientists over a period of five years.  It comes on the heels of a study that found that more than half of all plants and a third of all animal species are at risk of dramatic declines as their habitats shrink over the next seven decades due to climate disruption.

Loss of habitats driven by a rising human population, over-exploitation, and invasive species are now the main causes of extinctions, the study said, but climate disruption looms. Up to nine percent of all birds, 15% of all amphibians and nine percent of all corals that were found to be highly vulnerable to climate change are already threatened with extinction due to unsustainable logging and agricultural expansion and should be the most urgent conservation priorities.

The study recommends that those conservation priorities – such as deciding where to locate protected areas for wildlife - should be revised to take account of the emerging climate risks. They should be integral to climate change mitigation strategies.

We are shredding the web of life as we dementedly continue to conduct the largest uncontrolled chemistry experiment in history - the carbonization of our atmosphere. Isn't it obvious that the growing list of potential casualty species includes our own?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Texas report – natgas and renewables are complementary

A new report from the Texas Clean Energy Coalition (TCEC) says that low-priced natural gas and renewable energy are complementary - not competing - resources, and they together provide a path to a low-carbon Texas economy.

Partnering Natural Gas and Renewables in ERCOT echoes the finding of important work on the same subject done on a national scale by the Worldwatch Institute and others that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. 

The report, produced by the Brattle Group with funding from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, looks at the relationship between natural gas and renewable resources on the grid run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which covers 85 percent of the state.
TCEC finds:

The main conclusions of this white paper are that in the short run low gas prices are extremely unlikely to change the fact that existing renewables will  nearly always have priority over gas-fired plants since, due to the absence of  fuel costs, their  variable costs are lower than those of essentially all  other resources.   Over the long term, as new plants are planned and built, it is possible that new gas-fired plants will compete with new sources solar and wind generation. Which source is cheaper will depend on the levels of gas prices, the existence (or lack thereof) of continued federal (and perhaps state) support and the technological progress of both wind and solar resources.  In addition, it is possible that in the long run some combination of renewables and gas will displace existing coal-fired generation.

This is possible because, despite this competition, there is a strong complimentary relationship between natural gas and renewables.  Not only may increasing concerns about air pollution and associated health and environmental consequences create additional costs for coal-fired generation, but gas-fired generation also matches much better with intermittent renewable generation from solar and wind projects than do coal-fired power plants.  The path to low-carbon generation in Texas will therefore likely require the co-development and integration of both gas and renewable resources.

Low natural gas prices also facilitate Texas’ continued transition towards a low-carbon emissions electricity sector by dampening any potential additional costs of renewable over conventional power generation sources.  The cost of both wind and solar power has decreased significantly, but they are still not necessarily the lowest cost options, at least not without some explicit consideration of greenhouse gas emissions or continued federal subsidies such as the PTC.  However, due to low natural gas prices, electricity bills, as a percentage of household income, are near their historical lows.   Consequently, increased levels of a combination of renewable energy and new lower-cost gas power can likely be accomplished without materially increasing the share of income Texans have to dedicate to paying for electricity relative to the past.

Texas has two legs up in this race because it already leads the nation in wind energy production and it sits atop massive natural gas deposits.  Will the Lone Star State smartly use gas and renewables to create a strong, low-carbon economy and provide an example to the nation and the world?  

Renewable energy investments are shifting to developing nations, the U.S. lags, and it's all not nearly enough

The world invested almost a quarter trillion dollars ($244 billion) in renewable energy in 2012, and investments are shifting to developing nations, according to two new studies.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 2st Century (REN21) has produced its Renewables Global Status Report (GSR), finding that:    
  • Renewable energy investment has exceeded $200 billion for the third straight year.
  • Total global investment in renewables fell to $244 billion in 2012 from $279 billion in 2011, due in part to a drop in the cost of solar and wind technologies.
  • The industrialized world invested $132 billion on renewable energy in 2012, compared to developing nations’ $112 billion - the latter group led by China’s $67 billion of investment in wind, solar and other renewable projects.
  • The U.S., which led the world in renewables investment in 2011, fell behind China, with investment dipping 34 percent to $36 billion.
  • Two-thirds of the 138 nations that now have clean-energy targets are in the developing world.
  • The cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power is improving all the time, and both hit new annual installation records.

The key findings of the REN21 report provides an excellent, dense summary.

The second report - Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2013, produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), finds that:

  • Renewables are "progressively supplementing" established electricity systems, demonstrating that the implementation of suitable policies can enable the successful integration of higher shares of renewables.
  • Global investments in renewable energy in 2012 failed to top the year before - only the second time this has happened since 2006.  They fell  12% - as REN21 also found - “mainly due to dramatically lower solar prices and weakened US and EU markets.”
  • China’s dominance in 2012 renewable energy investment - rising 22% to $67 billion – was mainly due to a jump in solar investment.

This good news needs to be put in some dampened perspective.  Study participant New Energy Finance Chief Executive Officer Michael Liebreich said of the reports: “What remains daunting is that the world has hardly scratched the surface. CO2 emissions are still on a firm upward.” Indeed, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said earlier this year that the global energy supply is not getting cleaner, despite efforts to advance clean energy.  

We are grossly under-investing in renewable energy at our peril globally. That is especially true here in the U.S., where the shale gas revolution affords us the opportunity to drive renewables investment and, if we're really smart, convert gas to a near-zero carbon source of energy at the same time.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Participating in UCS/UCLA forum on fracking in July.

I'm honored to an invited participant in a Forum on Science, Democracy, and Community Decisions on Fracking, organized by the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in partnership with the UCLA Law School, to be held in Los Angeles, California on July 24 and 25. 

UCS describes the forum:
The forum will convene leading thinkers from academia, industry, government, non-governmental organizations, and citizen groups [and me] to delve into some of the most complex challenges around fracking, centered on the following themes:
  • the current state of the science and knowledge gaps;
  • the current policy and regulatory landscape; and
  • public access to information and civic engagement.
Working group sessions on each of the three themes will precede a half-day public event "where leading experts will address these three themes, answer your questions, and invite your ideas on how communities can make more informed fracking-related decisions." 

UCS says that:
The discussions will also be critical in shaping the forum's primary product, a toolkit that empowers concerned citizens and policy makers by providing practical advice and resources on critical questions to ask when faced with fracking-related decisions, reliable sources of information on fracking impacts, and ways to influence fracking decisions.
The event is one of a series of Forums organized by the Center for Science and Democracy to address constraints on the roles of science, evidence-based decision-making and constructive debate in American public discourse and public policy. We are excited to host this event in partnership with the UCLA School of Law.
The event will be webcast.  In-person or webcast reservations can be made at this link.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A difficult and dangerous trajectory

Global CO2 emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012, and the world is on a difficult and dangerous trajectory of temperature increases between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C – up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit, mostly in this century -  far above the international goal of limiting the rise in global to 2 degrees Celsius.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported these sobering numbers today in releasing a new report that calls on governments to “swiftly” enact four energy policies that would keep climate goals alive without harming economic growth.

Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map highlights the need for intensive – and achievable - stop-gap action on four key areas of energy policy before 2020 that can keep the 2 Degree Celsius target alive and deliver significant emissions reductions by 2020. The prescriptions "rely only on existing technologies and have already been adopted successfully in several countries”: 

  • Targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport “with the additional investment required being more than offset by reduced spending on fuel bills;”
  • Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants;  
  • Sharply reduce methane emissions from the upstream oil and gas industry production and transmission; and
  • Phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies.

The study noted the natural gas-aided temporary reduction in U.S. CO2 emissions, which is being reversed as natural gas prices rise. In following IEA’s prescriptions, "no oil or gas field currently in production would need to shut down prematurely," but (d)elaying the move to a 2°C trajectory until 2020 would result in substantial additional costs to the energy sector and increase the risk of assets needing to be retired early, idled or retrofitted. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) can act as an asset protection strategy, reducing the risk of stranded assets and enabling more fossil fuel to be commercialised."

What will it take for the world to adopt IEA's commonsense solutions and get off this perilous path?