Greenlaw from NRDC China, NRDC China Program, Beijing
June 20-27, 2013
NRDC has been working in China for over fifteen years on such issues as energy efficiency, green buildings, clean energy technologies, environmental law, and green supply chain issues. This China Environmental News Alert is a compilation of news from around the world on China and the environment.
Pink Dolphins Face Decline
Wall Street Journal (June 19, 2013)
Hong Kong’s famed population of pink dolphins is dwindling faster than ever, environmentalists say, shrinking 60% in the past decade because of heavy pollution and construction work in the waters they inhabit. The city’s Chinese white dolphins—popularly known as pink dolphins for their skin’s rosy hue—are a beloved tourist attraction. In 1997, the city went so far as to choose a pink dolphin with a smiling face as its official mascot during the former British colony’s handover back to Chinese rule.
Chinese Nonprofits Survive and Thrive
Businessweek (June 19, 2013)
China’s new president speaks emphatically about economic reforms but so far has shown little interest in pursuing political reforms. Since Xi Jinping took office in March, his government has tightened controls on domestic newspapers, the Internet, and social media. But there is one bright spot in China: According to the editor of the newly released Chinese NGO Directory, mainland civil society groups are quickly growing in number—and in ambition. In certain spheres, such as the provision of eldercare or aiding people with disabilities, the central government is actively seeking to partner with and fund Chinese nonprofit groups, a significant departure from the past.
China to Survey Soil Pollution Nationwide, Xinhua Reports
Bloomberg (June 13, 2013)
China is surveying soil nationwide to ascertain levels of heavy metals pollution after the discovery of rice tainted with cadmium spurred concern that crops may be unsafe, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The project will compare samples collected from topsoil and deeper layers to determine heavy-metal pollution caused by human activities, Xinhua reported, citing the Ministry of Land Resources and China Geological Survey. The survey will test for 78 elements in soil, according to the report that was posted to the central government’s website yesterday.
China aims to slash its air pollution by 2017
CHINA may soon breathe a little easier. The nation's State Council has announced strict measures to cut the amount of air pollution chucked out by industry by nearly a third by the end of 2017. It's a big move, but it's only the first salvo of a lengthy battle. Much of eastern China suffers from severe air pollution due to heavy industry and enormous volumes of traffic. In early 2013, the pollution in Beijing was the worst on record. Levels of particles less than 2.5 micrometres across, known as PM2.5, were 22 times what the World Health Organization considers safe . Although the air has been much cleaner in recent months, China's pollution still regularly reaches unhealthy levels, and the country's emerging middle class has begun protesting regularly about the bad air.
California looks to milk China’s growing dairy demand
Center for Investigative Reporting (June 13, 2013)
A growing demand for milk and cheese in China has the potential to bring California’s beleaguered dairy industry back to life – and with it, renewed concern about its damaging effects on the environment. As China’s middle class grows, so does its penchant for dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. U.S. government data show that Chinese demand for dairy products is growing rapidly. For instance, between 2011 and 2012, imports of skimmed milk powder grew by 49 percent and are expected to increase an additional 18 percent this year. And although China is trying to build its nascent dairy industry to meet this demand, it relies heavily on imports of high-protein feed. That includes one of California’s most water-intensive crops, alfalfa.
China and US agree on gas phase-out
ABC (June 14, 2013)
The agreement by China to phase out one of the most potent greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) has led to hopes that progress to combat climate change might finally be made.
China puts up a green wall to US trash
Christian Science Monitor (June 19, 2013)
Have you ever wondered what happens to the soda can that you toss into a recycling bin? Chances are high that it ends up in China – like 75 percent of the aluminum scrap that the United States exports. Or 60 percent of its scrap paper exports. Or 50 percent of its plastic. But a new Chinese edict, banning "foreign rubbish," has thrown the international scrap and waste trade into turmoil and is posing a major new challenge for US recyclers.
China takes cautious step toward carbon emissions trading
Reuters (June 18, 2013)China launched its first pilot carbon emissions exchange on Tuesday, though plans for a nationwide rollout and efforts to apply the scheme to some polluting heavy industries could be undermined by a slowdown in the world's No.2 economy.
Rich Chinese Provinces 'Outsource' Pollution to Poor Ones
Bloomberg (June 17, 2013)
A flurry of citizen-led protests against polluting (or proposed) chemical factories in Chinese cities has recently made headlines. And for good reason, as hundreds of peaceful marchers parading in front of government buildings and waving hand-made signs (such as “We Want to Survive” and “Say No to PX,” a hazardous chemical) isn’t something you see every day in authoritarian China.
China's polluted farmlands carry the seeds of change
China Daily (June 18, 2013)
From poisonous rice to melamine-infused milk, reports of tainted food are a regular occurrence in China. Just last month, farmers in Shandong province were found to be using an illegal and highly toxic pesticide to grow ginger. And a food safety inspection earlier this year showed that almost half of the rice for sale in Guangzhou contained excessive cadmium, a hazardous metal. Not surprisingly, the farmland that produces this food is equally contaminated. According to a 2011 report by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, 21.5 per cent of soil samples from 364 rural villages failed to meet national soil quality standards. There is widespread belief that the real extent of the pollution may be far worse. Earlier this year, when a Beijing lawyer asked the ministry to release its soil pollution data, the ministry refused, stating that the data is a state secret.
Polluting to death: China introduces execution for environmental offenders
RT (June 20, 2013)
China has introduced “harsher punishments” for breaking the nation’s environmental protection laws: reckless violators of pollution standards in the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economy now face execution. A new judicial interpretation taking effect on Wednesday has tightened Chinese “lax and superficial” enforcement of environmental protection laws, Xinhua reported citing a government statement.
(CENA prepared by Tim Quijano)
* The links and article summaries in this post are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Taryn Kiekow, Staff Attorney, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Santa Monica, California
Despite international condemnation – and diplomatic sanctions imposed by the United States – Iceland resumed its controversial commercial hunt of fin whales after a two-year hiatus. It just killed and butchered its first fin whale this week.
(Photo courtesy of Greenpeace)
Fin whales are majestic. Weighing up to 80 tons, they are the second largest animal on the planet (after the blue whale). Known as the “greyhound of the sea” for their sleek build, fin whales are among the fastest of the baleen whales.
(Photo courtesy of NOAA)
Fin whales were the victims of decades of commercial slaughter that killed whales by the tens of thousands each year. With the species on the brink of extinction, the International Whaling Commission adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling.
Fin whales got a reprieve.
That is, until Iceland decided to hunt them. Again.
Over 25 years after the moratorium on commercial whaling took effect, Iceland started commercial whaling again in 2006. Iceland killed 7 fin whales in 2006, 126 in 2009, and 148 in 2010.
Iceland then cancelled its fin whale hunts in 2011 and 2012 partly because Japan – the primary market for fin whale meat – suffered an economic downturn after of the 2011 tsunami.
Sadly, Iceland seems to be making up for lost time: it plans to kill up to 184 fin whales this season alone. Iceland plans to ship the whale meat to Japan, where it will join thousands of tons of other unused – and unsellable – whale meat in giant freezers. Even worse, some of the endangered fin whale meat may end up as luxury dog treats.
It’s unbelievable that these beautiful whales are being killed. It’s unthinkable that Iceland is killing whales in defiance of international law. And it’s time to take action.
If you want to help end Iceland’s illegal whale hunt, click here and sign our petition. Since international diplomacy has clearly failed, we’re calling on the Obama administration to impose tough economic sanctions on Icelandic whaling companies – and companies with corporate ties to those whaling companies. Because no one should profit from the senseless slaughter of these magnificent creatures.
Photos courtesy of Greenpeace and NOAA respectively
Laurie Johnson, Chief Economist, Climate Center, Washington, DC
What do the odds of a catastrophe have to be for insurance to be a wise investment? Apparently extremely low for a father or mother buying life insurance. For example, the probability of dying at age 35 is 0.1 percent. The odds of both parents dying are exponentially smaller. Yet, against these probabilities, parents routinely spend thousands of dollars on this insurance.
Why, then, haven’t we made aggressive investments in climate protection, when the odds of a catastrophe and the number of lives at stake appear to be far larger? One prominent climate economics model (more below) estimates a 10 percent chance of catastrophe if global temperatures increase more than 2°C above preindustrial levels, yet the world’s lack of serious mitigation efforts is putting the world on track for 3.6°C to 5.3°C (p. 9).
In a recent PBS column, reporter Paul Solman asked one very prominent economist to speculate on this dilemma. Martin Weitzman, economics professor at Harvard (and formerly Yale and MIT), presented the economics of uncertainty in no uncertain terms:
These are strong words for an economist: the famous joke about economists is that you will never find a one-handed one (on the one hand…).
The model I referred to above is one of the most popular ones used in the economics literature and by policy makers: PAGE (Policy Analysis of the Greenhouse Effect, developed by Chris Hope at the University of Cambridge and used by, among others, the UK and the US to estimate the benefits of emissions reduction policies).
PAGE’s assumptions are based upon the overwhelming scientific consensus that an increase above 2°C puts the climate at risk of reaching a “tipping point,” where irreversible catastrophic damages could unfold. Corresponding to the 2°C mark is an atmospheric CO2 concentration level of 450 ppm. PAGE assumes an increasingly higher chance of a catastrophic event the larger the temperature increase and, associated with these rises, increasingly higher economic damages.
Of course, passing 450 ppm doesn’t mean there will be a catastrophe. We can only know that the risk increases the more CO2 exceeds that level. But the business-as-usual scenario is of no comfort. In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented a range of approximately 550 to 1000 ppm by 2100; by 2010, CO2 emissions reached levels consistent with the higher end projections. To put this in context, consider the projections relative to historical fluctuations:
FIGURE DESCRIPTION: The horizontal axis goes back in time starting at 0 at the right end, which is the present, going back 600,000 years, from two different ice core records (EPICA and Vostok). The small red bar at the side on the right vertical axis indicates the increase in CO2 concentrations between 1958 and 2007. On this time scale, the 50 years of measurements span less than the thickness of the line, so it appears vertical, as do projections to 2100 (the six arrows above the 2007 mark).
Any rational person should find this graph alarming: pre-industrial levels were around 300 ppm or less, and the natural range between ice ages and warm periods like ours is about 100 ppm. This year, we blew past a milestone of 400 ppm and, if we do nothing, risk reaching 1,000 ppm. For Weitzman, the huge uncertainties associated with this experiment don’t preclude a certain policy choice:
Weitzman's reasoning is not unlike the famous wager proposed by the 16th century Catholic French philosopher Blaise Pascal, which goes something like this: “Given the possibility that God actually does exist, and the infinite loss associated with non-belief (eternal damnation), a rational person should live as though God exists. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.). An infinite cost times even a tiny probability is still ... an infinite cost.”
Replace “God” with “catastrophic climate risk” in the previous paragraph.
Another analogy is the famous “One Percent Doctrine,” coined from Dick Cheney’s assessment of the risks of terrorism:
“If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.”
One might dismiss Cheney’s assessment on grounds that they disagree with his anti-terrorism policies, but his statement reflects the nation’s longstanding approach to national security—we spend a huge amount of resources against unknown risks. Every year, the US military budget is well over $600 billion dollars.
One percent is a small number, but if that is the risk of a catastrophe it makes sense to invest a great deal to prevent it. A ten percent risk of catastrophe is unacceptable. Yet, by one estimate, the Federal government spent only $25 billion on low-emission technologies in 2010 (excluding short-term stimulus).
Instead, we should be taking aggressive actions, like those outlined by the International Energy Agency, to prevent CO2 from exceeding 450 ppm. Time is running out fast: anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, producing a “lock-in” effect that will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change. If we don’t stop locking in high carbon emissions within the next five years the results are likely to be disastrous.
Carolina Herrera, Latin America Advocate, Washington DC
With abundant renewable energy potential throughout the region, Latin America is poised to be a global clean energy leader – but only under the right policy conditions according to a new report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The report, Rethinking our energy future, has interesting implications for Chile, especially during the current election period as energy issues are hotly debated. One of the key takeaways from the report is that Latin American countries, including Chile, must start leveling the playing field for renewable resources if they hope to take advantage of the low-carbon growth opportunities these sources can provide. In addition to environmental, health and energy security benefits, renewables can bring new jobs and investment. Countries that start implementing appropriate mechanisms to boost this sector today will have a clear advantage tomorrow.
The IDB report debunks a series of myths about renewables in Latin America, namely that there is insufficient renewable potential to meet growing demand and that sources are too expensive and burdensome on power grids. In fact, contrary to these misperceptions Latin America has renewable energy potential that is 22 times greater than the region’s expected electricity demand by 2050. The costs of the region’s vast renewable resources are also falling rapidly, and in some cases are already competitive with more traditional sources of energy. The report also points out that the region could facilitate the integration to the grid of some of the more intermittent sources of renewable power by using techniques such as demand response mechanisms, storage technologies and better generation scheduling and dispatch processes. Planning transmission infrastructure to accommodate smaller scale clean energy power plants, rather than centralized, conventional generation would also help integrate renewables.
Chile is a great example of many of the points made by the authors of the IDB report. It has abundant non-conventional renewable energy sources that are broadly distributed through the country’s territory. Moreover, since 2011 Chile’s geothermal, wind, min-hydro, biomass and biogas have been cost-competitive with new conventional energy sources such as large coal plants and hydroelectric dams like the proposed HidroAysén dam complex in Patagonia. Solar energy technologies are also becoming increasingly cost-competitive and attracting investment. Nearly 4,000 MW of the 10,328 MW that are already approved or are under review are solar-based. When coupled with the country’s existing fleet of power plants, an increasing use of LNG and enhanced energy efficiency – especially in the industrial sector – Chile’s abundant renewable options can comfortably meet growing demand.
The IDB report also highlights some key benefits of non-conventional renewable power sources. Chile’s presidential candidates should keep these in mind as they think about Chile’s energy future. While the country’s carbon emissions are currently comparatively low at the global level, they are expected to grow. Renewables can help ensure that Chile follows a low carbon development path while at the same time enhancing long-term energy security, reducing vulnerability to climate-change related changes in hydrological cycles, and minimizing negative public health and environmental impacts. Chile’s non-conventional renewable energies are also job creators that can attract investment. Preliminary outcomes of a new report that NRDC will soon launch show that producing 20 percent of Chile’s energy needs with renewables over the coming decade would create more jobs and add more to the GDP than following the business as usual plan. New data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance also identifies emerging economies, including Chile, as key markets for increased renewables investment.
Significantly, the IDB’s report also points out that non-conventional renewable energy projects can help minimize environmental and social concerns related to large-scale energy projects. Citing the controversial HidroAysén proposal as an example of a project that has met widespread opposition (sixty-seven percent of the Chilean public is against the proposal) the study notes that deploying non-hydroelectric renewable sources would help avoid the grave concerns associated with mega dams in Latin America.
As Chile gears up for its next presidential election in November and energy continues to be the topic of intense debate, one thing at least is clear: Chile’s energy future can be based on clean and low-carbon alternatives, but for this to happen the right choices must be made today. How the country’s energy matrix will look thirty years from now will depend on whether policies are in place to set sufficiently ambitious targets for renewables, facilitate the integration of renewables to the power grid, and define a clear path for enhancing energy efficiency. It will also depend on whether Chile’s decision-makers listen to the growing voices, in Chile and internationally, that are pointing to cleaner and better energy alternatives to polluting fossil fuels and destructive mega-dams.
Peter Miller, Senior Scientist, San Francisco
Energy efficiency is California’s top priority and cheapest resource for meeting our energy needs, but controversy over how to evaluate the state’s energy-savings efforts is limiting their potential to save money and slash pollution.
The lead commissioner overseeing energy efficiency at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Mark Ferron, recently called for a serious look at new approaches to resolve the “thorny technical issue” of establishing energy savings estimates based on successful models in other regions of the country.
Studies show that California must dramatically scale up efficiency efforts to meet our carbon pollution reduction goals under the AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act. In order to accelerate our progress at getting more work out of less energy, we must build greater confidence in our energy savings estimates.
The Evaluation Challenge
Utilities under the Commission’s oversight currently invest around $1 billion annually in efficiency programs that help customers benefit from hundreds of different energy-saving technologies and practices across all sectors of the economy. While there is no dispute that the efficiency programs are saving lots of energy and money for consumers, accurately measuring the savings and tracking the costs and impacts of all those measures is an enormous challenge for statisticians and engineers.
To safeguard the interests of the utility customers funding these programs, the Commission must review these results in a regulatory proceeding. Disagreement and contention among stakeholders over the highly technical estimates and calculations can make it virtually impossible for the Commission to provide effective oversight.
In addition, savings estimates should be consistent across all of California’s numerous efficiency initiatives, including those not regulated by the Commission. The estimates for a high-efficiency clothes washer, for example, should be comparable for a customer of a public utility and a neighboring private utility. A consistent statewide approach will help ensure the resulting reductions in energy demand are accurately incorporated into the state’s long-term planning.
A Better Approach
Fortunately, a promising model has emerged: assemble a panel of technical experts to review the data, work through technical issues, and develop robust, standardized estimates of measure impacts in an open, transparent process. The estimates are then carefully documented and revisited regularly to ensure they are up to date.
This approach provides a number of benefits:
California Can Learn From Existing Models
Perhaps the pre-eminent example of this approach is the Regional Technical Forum (RTF) in the Pacific Northwest. The RTF is comprised of up to 30 technical experts that meet monthly to develop efficiency savings estimates and methodologies for use across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Although it is purely an advisory body that has no authority over state utility commissions or public utility governing boards, its reputation for credibility and accuracy has resulted in acceptance of the RTF’s estimates, increasing program consistency and regulatory efficiency across the region.
A similar approach has been used for California’s climate change program to account for carbon savings from offset projects, which -- like efficiency evaluation -- involve complicated technical questions and the need to define a baseline, i.e. “what would have happened in the absence of the project?” The Climate Action Reserve (CAR) pioneered the use of a panel of technical experts in a transparent process to develop standardized protocols for estimating greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Establishing a Technical Forum in California
To be effective, a technical forum must be tailored to California’s circumstances and needs. Key issues to be resolved include:
Regulatory vs. advisory: Would the technical forum be advisory or regulatory? A forum with regulatory authority could enforce statewide consistency. But creating such a new entity would undoubtedly require legislative action and it is unclear how it would (or wouldn’t) mesh with the authority of existing agencies. In contrast, an advisory panel couldn’t enforce compliance but, as we see with the RTF and CAR, credibility and accuracy can sometimes be more effective than formal authority.
Political vs. technical: Sometimes advisory body members are selected to represent varied political interests, such as consumers, utilities, and environmental groups. The Regional Technical Forum, however, chooses members based on expertise rather than place of employment and adheres to a strict “conflict of interest” protocol to avoid personal financial conflicts.
Scope: Energy efficiency measurement and evaluation involves a wide range of issues and tasks. A technical forum should begin with a definition of its scope. If it’s too small, the potential for benefits isn’t achieved; too large and it can’t perform. A good place for California to start might be with the values with the greatest impact on portfolio savings and/or greatest uncertainty.
Oversight: Clear lines of oversight and authority will help avoid confusion and controversy. A technical forum would likely be overseen by one or more of the public bodies that oversee California’s public and private utilities. Another option would be for the forum to be designed as an informal advisory body that operates independently. Regardless of which option is best suited for California, there will need to be clear guidelines and responsibilities to ensure all parties are on the same page and that the meetings are efficient and productive.
Resolving these issues won’t be easy, but it would greatly help address the evaluation challenges we currently face and allow California to significantly improve and accelerate its efficiency programs, boost the economy, and meet our climate goals.
Luis Martinez, Senior Attorney, Energy and Transportation Program, Asheville, North Carolina
Two weeks ago, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) quarterly pollution allowance auction brought in a near-record $124.4 million. That’s money nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states will use, as the bipartisan group of governors who designed the program intended, to cut global-warming pollution, save consumers money on energy, and create an increasing number of good jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.
The auction results are great news in and of themselves.
But last week’s total—the second highest in RGGI history, and by far the highest since the Recession and plummeting natural gas prices reduced the need for pollution allowances overall—has done something more. It’s proved that the states’ recent plan to reduce the pollution limits allowed under RGGI is working as designed and reinvigorating the program.
Even before the nine states involved—Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Delaware and Maryland—set new pollution limits in February, RGGI had a lot going for it. Since it began operating in 2008, the program has:
• invested in efforts that will save consumers $1.3 billion on energy bills;
• created 16,000 job-years of work;
• kept $765 million in the local economy due to reduced fossil fuel demand; and,
• helped reduce power-plant carbon pollution by more than 30 percent, even as gross regional product has increased by 20 percent.
The energy-efficiency programs that make up the bulk of RGGI’s work typically produce three to four dollars in savings for every dollar invested. In places like the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, in Hartford, for instance, RGGI-funded upgrades are enabling the medical center to save $23,000 a year on energy—benefits that accrue not just to the medical center itself but to its young patients as well. Likewise, at Cayuga Community College, in upstate New York, RGGI-supported solar panels and lighting upgrades allow the college to save $150,000 annually—money it can now put toward educating students.
Despite these successes, though, RGGI was in need of some fine-tuning. By operating under pollution limits established five years ago, pre-Recession and before the natural gas boom, the program’s emission limits were out of sync with actual emissions, which were substantially lower. That’s why, as part of the scheduled program review last winter, NRDC and our allies supported adjusting the global-warming pollution limits to actual levels. After more than three years of experience with the program and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the states agreed, lowering the current limits and requiring power plants to reduce their pollution levels by 2.5 percent annually as the decade progresses.
The success of the recent RGGI auction shows that the adjustments made to the program worked. Two weeks ago, there were more than twice as many offers as there were allowances to sell, and that’s the sign of a healthy market. RGGI is once again able to deliver pollution reductions while allowing the market to figure out the most cost-effective way to do so. It’s investing in our transition to a clean energy future.
The states’ decision to reduce the amount of permitted pollution “sent a strong signal to the market that the states have the political will to make this effective,” explains University of Virginia public policy professor William Shobe, who studies carbon markets. (Shobe was involved in the initial auction design, in writing a report on design possibilities in 2007.)
The advantages of the new RGGI pollution limits, and of the idea that these limits must be adjusted to meet current conditions, can be found in California as well, where the state’s new carbon pollution reduction program has been modeled after RGGI. Last month, allowance auctions in the Golden State raised more than $280 million that California will invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, sustainable communities and clean transportation, natural resource preservation and waste diversion.
Between RGGI and the California program, a full 25 percent of Americans now live in states that effectively control carbon pollution through market mechanisms.
The allowance auction two weeks ago proved, once again, that cutting carbon pollution in a smart way creates jobs, saves consumers money on energy, and builds local and regional economies.
As the Environmental Protection Agency considers how to level the playing field and control global warming pollution as it is required to do, the Agency should take advantage of the states’ proven ability to lead and innovate in their commitment to build their economies and protect our environment.
Noah Horowitz, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency, San Francisco, CA
If you’re a high-speed Internet service subscriber like 88 million other U.S. households, you’ve likely got a couple of black boxes in your home that blink all day and all night long, too, eating electricity as they stand ready to help you access the Internet and move digital content to computers, printers, and other electronics.
We have a good understanding and policies in place to help reduce the energy use of the TVs, computers, game consoles, and set top boxes that our small network equipment feeds. But until now, there’s been virtually no information available on how much energy is consumed in individual households—or nationally—by such equipment as modems that help us link to the Internet and routers to transmit data around our homes.
To fill that void, I hired the consulting firm Ecova to help NRDC measure the power use of 60 various household small network devices and answer these nagging questions.
Today NRDC is releasing the first-ever, in-depth analysis of the amount of energy used – and its cost. Here’s what we found:
The good news is that more energy efficient designs are on the way. Many new models in 2014 will use power-scaling technology, which is a fancy way of saying these devices will automatically use less power when they are just sitting there, waiting to receive or send a message or data. Once again the numbers will really add up, but in a good way:
Replacing today’s wasteful equipment with more efficient models could save U.S. consumers about $330 million on their electricity bills each year. With 145 million pieces of small network equipment in use in America’s homes, making them more efficient also reduces our power generation needs and results in less pollution.
The energy savings will be even greater once you consider the networking equipment in commercial buildings that also will benefit from technological improvements.
And pretty soon you should be seeing those blue ENERGY STAR® labels on the modems and routers on store shelves or you’ll be able to ask your Internet service provider to give you more energy-efficient models as part of your subscription package. The Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program is scheduled soon to approve an energy-saving specification that small network equipment will have to meet to earn the label that indicates the devices save energy – without sacrificing features or functionality.
And having that blue label is going to do a whole lot more for your electric bill than those blinking lights.
Peter Lehner, Executive Director, New York City
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, in a study finally released last week after five years in the making, predicted that areas at risk of flooding in the United States would increase 45 percent by 2100, largely because of climate change. That prediction is dire news, not just for residents of flood zones, but for all taxpayers, who fund FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). With flood risk on the rise, the program will have to insure 80 percent more properties than it does today, and the average loss for each property could rise as much as 90 percent—an increase in payouts that our government can ill afford.
The ailing NFIP, which borrows taxpayer money from the Treasury to stay, well, afloat, is already one of the government’s biggest fiscal liabilities—it’s expected to go $25 to $30 billion in debt after fulfilling claims from Hurricane Sandy—and is just one example of how global warming places tremendous stress on our economy. With its new study, FEMA at last joins a growing number of government agencies, including the Department of Defense and, more recently, the staid, nonpartisan, Government Accounting Office, warning that climate change is here—and that we need to be better prepared.
Today, the NFIP insures 5.6 million properties in flood hazard zones, the so-called “100-year” floodplains. These hazard zones, where the risk of flooding is one percent every year, are plotted on maps created by FEMA, based on historical data. But past flood records have proved to be a less-than reliable predictor of the extreme weather we’ve seen in recent years, or what we’re seeing this year, let alone what we’ll see next year. Carbon pollution in the atmosphere has been loading the dice in this annual gamble, turning once-in-a-lifetime risks into the new abnormal. Just ask the people of Binghamton, New York, hit by a “100-year” flood in 2005, a “500-year” flood in 2006, and then Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, prompting residents to ask, “What year flood is this?”
Or the Midwestern farmers who watched their corn shrivel in the fields during last year’s punishing drought, only to have to delay planting this spring because of heavy rains and record flooding along the Mississippi, Illinois, and other rivers.
Just ask private insurers like Allstate and State Farm, who started canceling policies in parts of Florida and Long Island years ago, no longer willing to face the enormous risks of coastal flooding and storm damages. While these insurers moved to disengage their business from a future of unsustainable losses, the NFIP continues to provide below-market-price insurance to flood-prone properties, essentially using billions in taxpayer money to subsidize people to live in harm’s way.
FEMA, which administers NFIP, has largely disregarded climate change in its calculations, until now. This analysis is long overdue. Last year alone, extreme weather caused $139 billion in damages, and taxpayers footed the bill for $96 billion of those costs. That’s more than we spent on education or transportation. That’s 8 times the budget of the EPA, and 8 times total government spending on energy.
In other words, we’re spending a lot more money on cleaning up after the fact than we are on solving the problem in the first place.
And we do know how to solve it. First, we can act now to slow global warming by cutting carbon pollution from its biggest source: power plants. President Obama can use his authority under the Clean Air Act to do this, and NRDC has an innovative, fair and flexible plan that can get it done quickly and cost-effectively.
Second, FEMA needs to factor climate change into state plans for dealing with disasters, instead of approving plans that rely only on historical data as an indicator of future extreme weather events. FEMA is an emergency management agency—it’s responsible not only for disaster recovery, but for helping states prepare and possibly avoid disasters in the first place. NRDC filed a petition with FEMA in 2012 asking them to do just this, but we have yet to get a response.
FEMA might be a little slow on the uptake, but some states and cities aren’t waiting to get climate smart. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after a 2008 deluge left 14 percent of the city underwater and 10,000 residents displaced, began a voluntary buyout program for damaged homes and business to reduce the risk of future flooding. New York City recently doubled its estimate of city residents living in the 100-year flood plain in 2050 to 800,000 people. (By comparison, FEMA’s estimate, prior to Hurricane Sandy, was about 200,000 people.) The city aims to reduce its carbon pollution 30 percent, and is making plans to adapt its infrastructure to prepare for the increased likelihood and scope of storms and flooding.
In Nebraska, where climate change was once barely considered, the state’s Climate Assessment Response Committee is now required to evaluate the impacts of climate change on water resources, agriculture, and other key sectors, as well develop recommendations to address these impacts.
More states and cities should start similar plans for climate change. With NRDC’s Climate Smart how-to guide on climate preparedness, there’s no excuse to follow North Carolina’s head-in-the-sand example. The state passed a law last year forbidding the consideration of climate change by state agencies in any decision-making. This is sheer folly, especially in a state where sea levels are rising 3 to 4 times faster than the global average.
Finally, flood insurance needs to be priced commensurate with its risks in order for the NFIP to survive. The program was meant to be a deterrent to building in flood plains, and instead, it’s become a resource that encourages developers to do so.
Failing to prepare for climate change not only affects those who live and work in the path of severe storms and wildfires, in flood plains and drought zones. It takes a broader economic toll on the nation, with very tangible costs for all of us.
As a parent, you tell your kids that it is easier to not spill in the first place than to clean up after a spill. In my career as an environmental lawyer, I saw that it was far cheaper to not dump toxic chemicals than to try to clean up afer they were in the ground. And now, on a larger scale, we’re seeing that it is cheaper to curb carbon pollution than it is to repair the damage caused by the extreme weather disasters brought on by climate change.
Amy Mall, Senior Policy Analyst, Washington, D.C.
A new investigation by AP has found that the vast majority of counties where fracking is occurring in seven states are also suffering from drought. The AP found that fracking is presenting new strains on water supplies in some drought-stricken areas of the country. Among the findings:
Colorado: Farmers are used to paying up to $100 for an acre-foot for water, but energy companies are paying some cities $1,200 to $2,900 per acre-foot.
Texas: some cotton farmers are scaling back production due to drought, and local water officials said "drillers are contributing to a drop in the water table in several areas."
California: oil and gas companies want to drill new wells amid avocado and lemon groves, where irrigation comes from an already overdrawn aquifer or expensive water piped in from the distant Sierra Nevada mountains.
There is also a new report from the Carlsbad Current-Argus about water conditions in New Mexico. The report found that in Lakewood, north of Carlsbad, more than a dozen water well owners are seeking compensation from the state after their wells dried up. Other water well owners in the area have been "selling their water commercially and have over-pumped with no recharge in the aquifer."
The president of the Otis Mutual Domestic Water said that "the current trend to sell water to the oil and gas industry is causing its water managers some concern."
Rob Perks, Transportation Advocacy Director, Washington, D.C.
Dump the pump. Save money. Ride transit.
That's the message for Dump the Pump Day tomorrow, an annual event promoted by our friends at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) -- of which NRDC is a proud partner. On this day people who typically drive are encouraged to forego high gas prices and traffic jams by taking transit to work or wherever they want to go.
I'm lucky that I live close to a Metro station so I can conveniently commute to work by train. Every day I get to dump the pump! And more and more Americans are doing the same, as evidenced by transit ridership rising to levels not seen since the 1950's.
In addition to the time saved by avoiding congested roads, APTA’s most recent Transit Savings Report shows that households can save on average nearly $9,800 a year when they “dump the pump” and take public transit instead. Check out APTA's cool fuel savings calculator to see how much you can save by taking transit instead of driving.
For those reasons, it should be no surprise then that people everywhere love transit. APTA's recent public opinion survey proves that there is growing support for an already strong majority of people in favor of expanding public transportation. The survey, Americans Support for Public Transportation, shows that nearly 74 percent of respondents favor using tax dollars to create, expand and improve public transportation in their community -- that's up from 69 percent last year.
That mirrors NRDC's own nationwide poll last year which found that 63 percent (more than three in five Americans) would rather address traffic by improving public transportation (42 percent) or developing communities where people do not have to drive as much (21 percent) – as opposed to building new roads, an approach preferred by only one in five Americans (20 percent).
"This survey provides evidence that there's growing support for an already strong majority in favor of expanding public transportation," said APTA President Michael Melaniphy.
Over the years, APTA and transit experts have called on lawmakers to fund public transportation improvement projects. They argue that walkability and access to rail and bus services are key factors for helping boost local economies. An APTA study released earlier this year found that communities in Boston, Chicago, Phoenix, Minneapolis-St. Paul and San Francisco had retained or improved their property values mostly due to their proximity to transit corridors.
Obviously, NRDC agrees with APTA about the importance of providing Americans with more transportation choices, in large part by expanding public transit to make it a more accessible, convenient alternative to driving. But so does the conservative Free Congress Foundation, which just released a new report calling on America to get serious about investing in transit in metropolitan areas.
The Free Congress Foundation has a Center for Transportation which advocates for pro-transit policies. Here is an excerpt from its website:
American transportation is a system in crisis. Congestion, lack of resources, and infrastructure problems are just a few of the obstacles impeding the efficient delivery of people and goods in many urban and rural areas around the country. Our transportation networks need to be rebalanced and modernized to fit current demand...The Free Congress Foundation Center for Transportation believes we must seek solutions that provide maximum choices for the traveling public. Those choices are impaired by traffic congestion, inefficiency of public transportation and crumbling infrastructure and roads. The Free Congress Foundation will offer proactive solutions consistent with our conservative principles.
In its statement of principles, the foundation insists -- just as NRDC does -- that "the public should have available alternative means of travel from which to choose."
In the book A World Made by Hand a character says this about what the previous generation wrought: "The car wrecked the southland. It wrecked Atlanta worse than Sherman ever did. It paved over my Virginia. They made themselves slaves to the car and everything connected with it, and it destroyed them in the end. Well, here's to the New South. May it rest in peace."
I thought of that sentiment when I read in the New Congress Foundation report [PDF] that young, educated people now flocking to our cities are demanding better transit options. Whereas the returns on investment in highways are declining, transit investment offers substantial economic benefits to metro areas. As the report's author notes, following World War II there was a "flight to the suburbs" but now we're seeing a return to the cities. The new urban residents of the 21st century economy want "walkable communities, social and cultural amenities and good public transportation services that will enable them to access all the opportunities that vibrant central cities have to offer." That certainly comports with what's happening in places like Charlotte, North Carolina, where a grassroots campaign fueld by local college students just persuaded the city council to vote for an expansion of the streetcar line.
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that a right-leaning think tank is embracing public transportation. After all, what's more conservative than a return to America's rail-loving roots when cities thrived on transit?
And what's more American than reducing our nation's oil dependence by leaving the car at home and taking transit? Public transportation use saves the equivalent of 900,000 automobile fill-ups every day, according to APTA, which is 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually.
On this, people across the political spectrum can agree: Dump the pump!
Kim Knowlton, Senior Scientist, New York
Today, NRDC is launching a new webtool that lets you take a ‘Snapshot’ of what climate change means in your area. You can read whether current conditions and trends in your area indicate a higher vulnerability to extreme weather events, such as heat waves, floods, and drought as well as health risks that climate change is fueling, right now.
Here’s how it works: you enter your ZIP Code to get a quick ‘Snapshot” of how your county stacks up in several of the categories from our climate vulnerability maps: Extreme heat, air pollution, flooding, drought, infectious illness like dengue fever, wildfires, sea level rise, and extreme weather. It’s a quick way to get a sense of how these threats can affect the environment and your health, right where you live.
You can also easily share your Snapshot on Facebook or Twitter with the webtool.
NRDC has been bringing together scientific information about the local effects of global climate change on communities nationwide since 2007. We’ve created web tools that let you zoom in and ask, ‘What does climate change mean in my backyard?’ Our online maps connect the dots between climate change and the ways it harms our health. We’ve mapped extreme weather events that are being fueled by climate change, and we also highlight preparedness steps that protect our kids’ health and our own, saving lives and dollars along the way.
Climate change is one of the most serious public health threats facing our nation, but many people don't yet realize how it could affect their local community and health. While climate change threatens all of us, children, the elderly, and communities living in poverty are among the most vulnerable. Storms like Hurricane Sandy and searing summers like 2012 - the hottest summer in America’s history – take a huge toll on health, and are themselves a ‘snapshot’ of what our future will look like more and more, with climate change. We need to be ready.
Why the urgency now?
Hopefully, our new webtool will bring these statistics home for people. We want people to be able to think about and talk about their own local climate-health vulnerabilities -- because taking action to protect the places and the people we love from climate change is an urgent matter.
What kinds of actions could make a difference?
Limiting heat-trapping carbon pollution, which is the root cause of climate change, would make an enormous difference. The US Environmental Protection Agency State has proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants, which would cut about 40% of US emissions. This is a critical step forward. You can ‘Take Action’ here to write the President a letter saying so.
At the same time as we work to prevent and reduce carbon pollution before it gets into the air by moving toward cleaner, less polluting fuels, we need to become better-prepared for climate change, too. State preparedness plans and policies have not kept pace with these health challenges. Only about one-third of US states have climate preparedness plans in place that include public health measures to cope with climate challenges.
We have to do better than this.
We need to prepare and plan for the future, not the past. And the future isn’t an abstraction: it’s where your kids and grandkids will live, and you, too, in a slightly older version. Your local climate-vulnerability Snapshot could be a different picture in the future, if we put the brakes on heat-trapping carbon pollution today and veer away from the worst effects of climate change.
Kaid Benfield, Director, Sustainable Communities, Washington, DC
In Minneapolis, the Trust for Public Land (TPL)’s highest-rated big city for public parks, 95 percent of residents (including roughly the same portion of low-income residents) live within a ten-minute walk of a city park. But in Charlotte, the organization’s lowest-rated big city, that number drops to only 26 percent. In Albuquerque, 81 percent of residents live within walking distance of a city park; in San Antonio, only 32 percent do.
These numbers come by way of TPL’s 2012 City Park Facts and its interactive ParkScore index. I’ve been hoping for a while that some organization would perform this kind of analysis, difficult though it must be, because gross numbers of park acreage and park spending don’t really tell us much about how city parks affect people. Even these access numbers don’t get to quality, of course, but it’s a great start. While I love large, signature parks – such as New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, or Washington’s Rock Creek Park – I love neighborhood parks even more. For me, it’s not about the amount of park land as much as it is about the distribution.
Here are seven cities with especially poor city park access, according to TPL. In each case, over 60 percent of residents do not have walkable access to a city park:
By contrast, here are eight cities with outstanding access to public parks, each with one or more parks within walking distance of 90 percent or more of its residents:
These cities have large parks, but also neighborhood-scaled parks distributed throughout the city, as the accompanying map of parks in Boston demonstrates.
The precise numbers in the two TPL reports differ slightly. ParkScore, for example, looks at the top 50 US cities by population; City Park Facts looks at the top 40. (Minneapolis, TPL’s top-rated city in ParkScore based on a number of factors including, in addition to park access, measures of park size and investment, isn’t rated for park access in City Park Facts.) But the numbers and rankings are generally consistent between the two databases.
As we become more urban as a nation, and many of our neighborhoods and suburbs become denser, access to outdoor facilities and nature becomes more important. Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson is credited with coining the term biophilia, “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms.” Indeed, for our ancestors a keen awareness of the natural environment was essential to survival. When we are deprived of nature, we lose a basic aspect of humanity.
It is not surprising that all sorts of research backs this up. An academically rigorous review of 86 peer-reviewed studies published since 2000, conducted by Danish researchers for the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration, was published in January of this year. It found an immense range of correlations between nature and public health, from reduced headaches to longevity:
“Nature and green spaces contribute directly to public health by reducing stress and mental disorders, increasing the effect of physical activity, reducing health inequalities, and increasing perception of life quality and self-reported general health. Indirect health effects are conveyed by providing arenas and opportunities for physical activity, increasing satisfaction of living environment and social interactions, and by different modes of recreation . . .
“The direct health benefits for which we found evidence on positive effects included psychological wellbeing, reduced obesity, reduced stress, self-perceived health, reduced headache, better mental health, stroke mortality, concentration capacity, quality of life, reduced Attention Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) –symptoms, reduced cardiovascular symptoms and reduced mortality for respiratory disorders, reduced health complaints, overall mortality, longevity, birth weight and gestational age in low socioeconomic population, post-disaster recovery, and reduced cortisol.” [Citations omitted.]
The evidence for positive impacts of urban parks on physical activity was highlighted as “strong,” with the academically established evidence in support of other effects found to be at least “moderate.” (Conversely, when a correlation between parks and nature was insufficiently established in the literature, as with the effects on lung cancer or diabetes, the authors said so.)
Another large study, reported in a monograph published by the National Recreation and Parks Association in 2010 found a direct correlation between health effects and proximity of parks:
“Scientists in the Netherlands examined the prevalence of anxiety disorders in more than 345,000 residents and found that people who lived in residential areas with the least green spaces had a 44 percent higher rate of physician-diagnosed anxiety disorders than people who lived in the greenest residential areas. The effect was strongest among those most likely to spend their time near home, including children and those with low levels of education and income.
“Time spent in the lushness of green environments also reduces sadness and depression. In the Dutch study, the prevalence of physician-diagnosed depression was 33 percent higher in the residential areas with the fewest green spaces, compared to the neighborhoods with the most.”
The NRPA report even cites studies finding lower levels of aggression, violence and crime in Chicago housing projects with views of vegetation than in those without.
People intuitively appreciate these benefits and, as a result, are willing to pay a significant premium for living near nature. According to a 2006 report published by TPL, a review of 25 studies investigating whether parks and open space contributed to values of neighboring properties found increased value in 20 of the studies. Those benefits accrue to the municipalities as well:
“The higher value of these homes means that their owners pay higher property taxes. In some instances, the additional property taxes are sufficient to pay the annual debt charges on the bonds used to finance the park’s acquisition and development. ‘In these cases, the park is obtained at no long-term cost to the jurisdiction,’ [Texas A&M professor John] Crompton writes.”
The TPL report cites corroborating evidence from the University of Southern California, finding that investment in a pocket park in a dense urban neighborhood would pay for itself in 15 years as a result of increased tax revenues. Indeed, parks can help revitalize distressed neighborhoods.
In short, intuition supports city parks and so does evidence.
I sometimes get weary of city or state rankings, which can be sort of gimmicky. Close scrutiny can almost always find details in the data that call some of the comparisons into question. But, in the case of TPL’s study of park proximity, the difference between, say, Louisville (32 percent of residents within walking distance of a city park) and Boston (97 percent of residents within walking distance of a city park) is immense. Adjust the numbers up or down and we’re still talking about one city with much better access to parks than another. If rankings get people talking about the issue, and park proximity becomes a stronger factor in planning and investment, that’s a good thing.
Move your cursor over the images for credit information.
Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Switchboard and in the national media. For more posts, see his blog's home page. Please also visit NRDC’s sustainable communities video channels.
Sasha Lyutse, Policy Analyst, New York
The Meatless Mondays campaign encourages consumers to skip meat one day a week in favor of plant-based foods, and highlights how this simple action can help improve their health and reduce the environmental impacts of their diets. Seems small, but the collective impacts are potentially anything but. According to estimates by the Humane Society of the United States, if every American embraced Meatless Mondays, we would need to raise 1.4 billion fewer farm animals. That translates into a lot fewer toxic chemicals, reduced climate pollution, healthier soils and waterways, and a lot less animal cruelty.
But when a food company decided to implement the initiative in House of Representative cafeterias this month, the conventional livestock industry was quick to pounce—in highly hyperbolic fashion.
In a letter to the House Administration Committee, the euphemistically named “Farm Animal Welfare Coalition” called Meatless Mondays “an acknowledged tool of animal rights and environmental organizations who seek to publicly denigrate U.S. livestock and poultry production.” The group asked the Committee to inform the company that "it must cease immediately" any activity promoting Meatless Mondays. Unfortunately, the effort now appears dead in its tracks.
Last year, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was similarly pressured into removing language promoting Meatless Mondays from a sustainability newsletter to employees after facing pressure from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, which I discussed here. That’s right. Not a press release or any kind of policy document. An internal employee newsletter suggesting that one way to reduce their environmental impact while dining at their office cafeteria is to skip meat once a week.
This kind of bullying—and swift caving on the part of the House Committee—is shameless for sure. But it also suggests the conventional livestock industry knows it has something to worry about when it comes to American consumers. Despite this disappointing episode, public trends speak for themselves.
Meatless Mondays have become a cultural force, and more and more Americans are significantly cutting their meat consumption for their health, as well as a greater awareness of the environmental benefits of switching to plant-based options. On Mondays, it’s not uncommon for the hashtag #MeatlessMondays to be “trending” on Twitter, which means it’s one of the topics being tweeted about most often on that day. Prominent Americans from Bill Gates to Ellen DeGeneres to Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, and even Mike Tyson have embraced a reduced or no meat diet. Entire school districts are adopting Meatless Mondays in their cafeterias.
But while overall meat consumption is down (USDA data indicates that the average American consumed 12.2% less meat and poultry overall in 2012 than they did in 2007), the choices Americans are making when they do choose to eat meat are also changing. While sales of conventional meat are flat or declining, sales of healthier, more sustainably produced meats are up.
For reasons that include personal health, environmental concerns, animal welfare, taste, and quality, many consumers are seeking alternatives to conventional meat products, such as meat and poultry raised without reliance on antibiotics. And this isn’t going unnoticed. Mainstream consumer brands, restaurants, and food retailers like Applegate, Chipotle, Fresh Direct, and Panera Bread have responded to growing consumer demand and are successfully marketing and selling hundreds of millions of pounds of meat and poultry raised without antibiotics to customers across the country each year.
For example, while sales of chicken, turkey, pork, and beef raised without antibiotics remain a small segment of the market—accounting for just about 2% of total meal sales—demand is growing fast. By some estimates sales are up 25% in the past three years. USDA Certified Organic meats, which are just one segment of the no-antibiotics meat and poultry market, were the fastest growing sector of the $31 billion organic foods industry in 2011.
Reduced overall demand for meat coupled with rising demand for more sustainably produced meat is good news. Not just for our health but for the health of the environment.
The impacts of the conventional meat industry are notorious. Livestock production is in many ways the single most damaging sector of agriculture. It’s not only responsible for tremendous habitat degradation and biodiversity loss, erosion and desertification, air and climate pollution, but it is also the largest and least regulated source of water pollution in the nation.
Within the dominant production model, massive numbers of chickens, pigs and cows are confined in giant feedlots—often called factory farms—where they are routinely fed antibiotics to made them grow faster and to compensate for dirty, crowded and stressful conditions. These conditions create a breeding ground for antibiotic resistance bacteria, which escape in the air, water, on workers and the meat itself, getting into our environment and making people very sick. The public health and medical community has warned that this practice is endangering human health by contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistance in humans and putting the essential medicines we rely on at risk.
Swapping out meat for any number of lower-impact forms of protein just one day per week is one of the most impactful things concerned individuals can do to reduce their environmental “foodprints”. Far from some radical endeavor seeking to denigrate American meat and poultry producers, this simple action can also free consumers up to choose healthier and more sustainably-produced meat products when they do choose to eat meat.
Every day, farmers across the country are showing that we can produce meat in ways that are healthier for our families, our planet, and animals. And every week, concerned citizens and consumers across the country are voting with their wallets, simultaneously making Meatless Mondays increasingly mainstream and helping to bring an abundance of alternative meat and poultry products into the marketplace.
More and more, the bullies can’t beat the buyers.
Anjali Jaiswal, Senior Attorney, San Francisco
Secretary of State John Kerry heads to New Delhi next week. The visit is a key opportunity for Secretary Kerry to reinvigorate U.S.-India cooperation on climate change and to continue to make progress under the Green Partnership, the landmark clean energy and climate change agreement forged by President Obama and Prime Minister Singh in 2009.
Since the Green Partnership was signed, the United States and India have made significant progress in creating the foundation for cooperative research, development, and policy endeavors on climate change and clean energy. For example, both U.S. government agencies and businesses played a major role in growing India’s solar energy market, which is now well over 1 gigawatt of installed solar energy. To build on this progress, Secretary Kerry should re-emphasize that the United States recognizes the importance of India’s goal to provide energy access to all, from its booming cities to remote rural areas, through clean energy.
One issue to watch for during these meetings is whether Secretary Kerry and Indian leaders will make progress on phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the potent heat-trapping chemicals used as refrigerants in both room and automobile air conditioners. With a rapidly growing economy, air conditioning use in India is on the rise and this increase is contributing to global warming through leakage of HFCs, escalated fuel consumption for vehicles, and an upsurge in electricity consumption for buildings. Room air conditioning is already responsible for recent peak-load electricity blackouts.
In advance of Secretary Kerry’s meetings, NRDC President Frances Beinecke sent a letter highlighting three priority areas for the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue:
Recently, the United States and China reached an agreement to work toward phasing down HFC production under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer. As part of our ongoing project, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), and the Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), in consultation with the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), the Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Manufacturers Association (RAMA) and the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), we are conducting a study of the business case for Indian companies to leapfrog and phase-down HFCs. We’ll be releasing our findings on June 26 at the Montreal Protocol meetings in Bangkok. Indian leaders and Secretary Kerry could create momentum toward progress in phasing-down HFCs globally under the Montreal Protocol.
The Strategic Dialogue discussions hold much promise for progress on climate change that would benefit both countries. As we’ve seen climate disasters around the globe - from Superstorm Sandy to extreme heat events in India - now is the time for our leaders to take action to protect our economy and communities. We’ll be watching to see what our leaders can deliver.
Photo by Bhaskar Deol, NRDC