Sunday, April 19, 2015

Obama: climate change can no longer be denied or ignored

With Earth Day coming up this Wednesday on April 22 President Barack Obama has released a video saying that climate change can no longer be denied or ignored. He will deliver a speech at the Florida Everglades on Wednesday that will reinforce this message of the threat that climate change poses to the economy and to the world, in one of the most vulnerable habitats in the United States.

United States submits INDC to United Nations

The United States joined 32 other countries submitting their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) by 31 March, 2015. The USA set its climate target at 28 per cent emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2025.

According to the UNFCCC nations, all countries "have agreed that there will be no back-tracking in these national climate plans, meaning that the level of ambition to reduce emissions will increase over time."

The United States commitment is for "an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%."

The current United States climate policy and regulatory action places it firmly on the path of reducing emissions in the range of 17 percent below the 2005 level by 2020.

"Achieving the 2025 target will require a further emission reduction of 9-11% beyond our 2020 target compared to the 2005 baseline and a substantial acceleration of the 2005-2020 annual pace of reduction, to 2.3-2.8 percent per year, or an approximate doubling." says the INDC note.

The INDC outlines how the USA will achieve these targets. Market mechanisms are not going to be used to implement it's target at this point in time. This is already clear from the present quagmire in the US Congress.

Instead, regulatory action on vehicle fuel economy and emission standards, multiple measures to reduce building sector emissions and energy conservation, regulating pollution under the Clean Air Act including heavy vehicles and power stations are all being implemented to meet the 2020 target and set the USA up to achieve the 2025 target.

Importance of China-USA climate deal

These targets were actually announced back in November, 2014 as part of the U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation. Emissions from USA and China amount to a third of the global total, so this deal is significant for addressing emissions targets.

In return for the reduced emission targets of the USA, China's President Xi Jinping of China set a target to peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and also to increase the non-fossil fuel share (Renewables, nuclear) of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030.

There are reports that China has already cut it's coal use 2.9 per cent in 2014. Tim Buckley, IEEFA’s director of energy finance studies, Australasia outlines that one of the big Chinese coal players, Shenhua, is engaging in a strategic shift reducing its volumes, its operating costs and its capital spending. It provides evidence that this is more than a cyclical downturn in the coal market, with the global seaborne coal trade at risk, and the risk of stranded coal assets.

Back to Climate change and President Obama.

No greater threat to our planet than climate change

President Obama opened his address with warning "there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change" and went on to outline the recent warming trend and record temperatures.

In fact this January to March period for 2015 was the hottest such period ever recorded with 2015 shaping up to be the hottest year on record according to Eric Holthaus.

Here is the transcript of what he said:

"2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. This winter was cold in parts of our country – as some folks in Congress like to point out – but around the world, it was the warmest ever recorded.

And the fact that the climate is changing has very serious implications for the way we live now. Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons. The world’s top climate scientists are warning us that a changing climate already affects the air our kids breathe. Last week, the Surgeon General and I spoke with public experts about how climate change is already affecting patients across the country. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.

And on Earth Day, I’m going to visit the Florida Everglades to talk about the way that climate change threatens our economy. The Everglades is one of the most special places in our country. But it’s also one of the most fragile. Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure – and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry – at risk.

So climate change can no longer be denied – or ignored. The world is looking to the United States – to us – to lead. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re using more clean energy than ever before. America is number one in wind power, and every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. We’re taking steps to waste less energy, with more fuel-efficient cars that save us money at the pump, and more energy-efficient buildings that save us money on our electricity bills.

So thanks in part to these actions, our carbon pollution has fallen by 10 percent since 2007, even as we’ve grown our economy and seen the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record. We’ve committed to doubling the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China has committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, there’s new hope that, with American leadership, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it’s too late.

This is an issue that’s bigger and longer-lasting than my presidency. It’s about protecting our God-given natural wonders, and the good jobs that rely on them. It’s about shielding our cities and our families from disaster and harm. It’s about keeping our kids healthy and safe. This is the only planet we’ve got. And years from now, I want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything we could to protect it.

Momentum building for major transitional shifts

The world is step by step moving toward a climate agreement in Paris in December. That agreement may not be enough by itself to limit the global temperature rise to 2C, agreed at Copenhagen in 2009 and confirmed at Cancun in 2010. More important is the momentum building for major social changes, prominent of which is transformation of energy, transport and production infrastructure to low carbon alternatives which better meet the needs of people.

Paul Gilding, ex-CEO of Greenpeace and a corporate sustainability consultant, writes that the dam of climate denial will break during 2015. He outlines 6 drivers of system change: the US-China climate deal; collapse in oil prices; continuing fall in solar prices; market prices reflecting economic disruption; political power of big business shifting sides; physical impacts accelerating driving economic and security shifts.

He reflects that the Paris climate talks in December are more likely to be an indicator of a transitional shift than a major driver. "So while the Paris climate talks this year will be an important step in a process they are not as fundamental as many think. Such negotiations tend to follow rather than lead the system change process. That’s why Paris this year is an indicator rather than a driver of system change and we should look at what drives action to understand emerging tipping points." says Gilding.

Will these shifts be enough? Gilding doesn't answer that question. But Obama's climate leadership and the climate agreement between the USA and China are proving pivotal pieces of the puzzle.

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